The World Nomads Podcast: Tonga
Tonga is an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean made up of more than 170 islands, yet, unlike other islands in the area, was never colonized. Fiji, Hawaii, New Caledonia, Cook Islands, and Samoa left their Pacific cousin behind when building an economy based on tourism. Yet Tonga is a wealthy country, with women and men having equal access to education and health care, and land is awarded without cost by the King. Discover why it's a place Nomads want to go.
What’s in the Episode
00:25 It's not Fiji
01:27 Chantae fills us in on what Sundays are like in Tonga
04:24 "...you have these very small beaches that almost get eclipsed at high tide. The water comes in right up to a line of bush and palm trees."
07:43 Taki and his island home
14:18 "...I think with travelers that come to Tonga, allow some buffer, like don't say you're going to land today and leave on this day, you know. Things happen."
17:40 Travel News
23:33 Francesco likes to travel light
24:45 "...everything is wool so, like on this past trip, out of the three t-shirts, I didn't use one of the shirts. I literally wore two t-shirts the entire trip."
32:44 Why whales head to Tonga
38:37 Next week
Who is in the Episode
Taki Hausia is Tongan man having grown up on the island of Eua, a popular destination for eco-tourists. The resort he runs with his Dad, Hideaway was destroyed by Cyclone Gita and he is currently in Australia seeking funds to rebuild.Chantae Reden is an adventure journalist based in Suva, Fiji, where she explores the country's many shipwrecks and coral reefs through freediving and scuba diving. Follow her antics and explorations on her travel blog Chantae Was Here and read her story, Offbeat Tonga: A Day Trip to Pangaimotu Island.
Rachelle Mackintosh is a wildlife photographer. Alongside her site Faunographic, she also has her own podcast, Wild Lives.
Francesco Arbolino is a traveler known for packing light. He has been to around 110 countries, spending over 5 years traveling. Francesco has a blog which he admits he doesn’t update, but it does have links to his Facebook and Twitter. You can also follow Francesco on Instagram.
Resources & Links
Scholarships Newsletter: Sign up for scholarships news and see what opportunities are live here.
Hear about village life on the islands, stunning treks, incredible dive sights and the street food dish testing the toughest of stomachs in the World Nomads Podcast on the Philippines.
Read more about Lexie Alford, the 21-year-old American woman who claims she is now the youngest person to have visited every country in the world.
Want to Republish This Episode
Next Episode: Amazing Nomad Lia Ditton.
About World Nomads & the Podcast
Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads' Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.
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Speaker 1: Welcome to the World Nomads Podcast. Delivered by world nomads, the travel lifestyle, and insurance brand. It's not your usual travel podcast, it's everything for the adventurous independent traveler.
Kim: Welcome, it's Kim and Phil with you delivering our next destination episode of the World Nomads Podcast on Tonga. So, over to you, Phil, to explain why it's somewhere a nomad would want to visit.
Phil: Well it is a bit of a wild card destination, isn't it? It's something in the Pacific that isn't Fiji. As an example, there are ... look, it's got 170 islands. It's lined with white sand beaches, of course-
Kim: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Phil: and coral reefs. You've got me at that.
Phil: Covered with rainforests, and lots of those 170 islands are uninhabited, so you got plenty of chances to go off and play Robinson Crusoe, if you wanted to. And, if you're still wondering where in the Pacific Tonga is, let's put it in context. It's directly south of Samoa, and it's about two thirds of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand.
Kim: Now we've sorted that out, in this episode we'll hear about rebuilding after Cyclone Gita, chat to a local about his homeland and the traditional use of various plants, and look, while you're watching, I know we covered it in our last episode on the U-S-A with orcas in Alaska.
Kim: But, Tonga is very special for humpback whales and we'll hear that in this-
Kim: episode. But, let's kick off with [Shante] to tell us about Sundays in Tonga.
Shante: So, on Sundays everything closes down. Tonga is a predominately Christian country, and they follow the law of the Sabbath. Which means that restaurants, activities, tour operators all close down on Sundays, so that families can spend time at church with each other and enjoying big meals. So, the only place you can go and really enjoy being a tourist, without having to go to church, are resorts that have restaurants or, sort of, hotels rather than just everyday shops and restaurants.
Kim: Did that surprise you? Were you prepared for that?
Shante: I did hear that it would be closed down on Sundays, but I didn't realize to the extent. So, you'll hear church bells ringing in the morning and everyone is going to church, and there's not a single person who seems to be working outside of that. I think there are a few bakeries open, just to have people get breakfast before they go, but other than that it's completely silent, and completely closed. So, that was shocking to me.
Kim: You found something to do, and I would love to hear about it. Sounds like an awesome day trip.
Shante: Yeah, so there's a tiny little island about 10 minutes from Nukuʿalofa, which is called Pangaimotu Island. And, because it has this very small resort and restaurant you can still visit it on Sundays. It takes about 20 minutes to walk around the entire island and surrounding it are coral reefs and shipwrecks.
Kim: So, if you wanted to go snorkeling, that would be an ideal spot. What a Sunday.
Shante: Yeah, it's great and there's a known shipwreck that's been there for years that you can go, and underneath it there's tons of reef bommies and schools of fish that you can go and see, and eels and starfish. But, because Cyclone Gita came through in early 2018, there's also a handful of other shipwrecks just off of the island that's about a five-minute swim away that you can also snorkel around.
Kim: Now, we're chatting later in the episode to [Rachelle] about swimming with whales and in your article you mentioned that you can do that if the season is between July and October. What was the snorkeling like, and the quality of the corals and the sea and the fish that you see?
Shante: Well, the whales are in open water so, it was hard to tell exactly how the corals were deeper, but off of the shoreline there were parts where the coral was really thriving and you'd see a lot of starfish, a lot of smaller reef fish and schooling fish, but then there was also parts where the shipwrecks came through between, let's say, Pangaimotu and Tongatapu, that you did see some damage from the cyclone. So, it's a bit of some of it is thriving and some of it is still recovering.
Kim: Okay, so Pangaimotu Island itself you said takes 20 minutes to walk around it. What's it like?
Shante: So, around it you have these very small beaches that almost get eclipsed at high tide. The water comes in right up to a line of bush and palm trees. Then, the middle of it there's a small resort and you can hear piglets running around, you can hear dogs and people just who work at the resort puttering about their day. And then, low tide all the beach and the sand is exposed so you can walk around, and it's very that idyllic South Pacific kind of look to it. And, you can just throw down a towel and enjoy wherever you find a sandy spot and it's kind of a picture-perfect paradise just off of Tongatapu.
Kim: Well, with 170 islands, there would have to be some places where it's only you and your footprints.
Shante: Yeah, definitely.
Kim: What attracts a traveler to Tonga?
Shante: I would say Tonga's more for an adventurous spirit, so if you really want ... because it's not such an overly developed place, I mean of course there are big resorts, but Tonga as a whole, especially Tongatapu and the resorts that are much smaller and they're kinda just [inaudible] made with [inaudible] and really natural materials. You can easily see how Tongans live and if you get in a car you can drive around and find all the best natural features. Island hop ... it definitely takes a bit more of a, yeah, adventurous type of person to really experience Tonga in the best light. And, yeah, then you can enjoy nature and all the culture and the activities.
Kim: Well, I believe you because we'll share your blog, Shante Was Here, but you're actually an adventure journalist and we mentioned that you're based in Fiji. What sort of stuff are you writing?
Shante: I really love to write about ocean sports. So, surfing, diving, free diving, which is kind of also why I was very drawn to Tonga, because it is such a hub for all ocean activities and their ocean wildlife is just incredible. Freediving is one of the best ways, I think, to really see the wildlife and nature because you don't need as much equipment as scuba diving. Freediving is when you basically snorkel on one breath, or I guess advance snorkeling.
Kim: How long can you hold your breath for?
Shante: I can hold my breath for four minutes.
Shante: Which everyone can hold their breath at least two and a half minutes. Yeah, in one day most people can learn, it's just a few skills you learn and easily anyone can do two minutes.
Kim: Tonga, again, great for free diving, you would recommend.
Shante: Yeah, definitely. It's one of the best places to free dive and snorkel.
Kim: Thank you, Shante. Now to Taki Hausia Oh, hope I got that right, Taki. He moved-
Phil: Old mate, Taki.
Kim: Yeah, old mate, Taki. He moved to Australia in the mid '70s from Tonga and when his dad moved back there in the 90s to build what they call a resort. Now, they aren't resorts, they just thought that that's what you call accommodation.
Kim: So, that's why they referred to accommodation as resorts, but they're definitely not resorts.
Phil: White sand beach, coral reef, and rainforests, I'm in.
Kim: Yeah, well, exactly. So he went there to help his dad build the resort, join him as manager, taking wildlife tricks, but let's hear from Taki himself about his island home and his take on Tonga.
Taki: Yeah, it's basically there are three groups, or there are four groups of islands through the whole country. And, the one I'm from is called ʻEua. Tonga is made up of, I think, over about 180 islands and I think only, I think 60 are inhabited.
Kim: Yeah, well that's the thing, there are, as you said, over 170 to around 180 islands, and a lot that are uninhabited.
Taki: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Kim: Is that one if its charms or, because one of the reasons why we're focusing on it as this destination episode is that it's this jewel in the Pacific that's not Fiji, it's not trendy. Am I making sense? It's one of those places that someone could go and walk on a beach and you're probably the only person that's done that in the last couple of months.
Taki: That's exactly what Tonga is. It's not Fiji. Probably a good way to describe it, there's a difference between tourist and travelers. So, Tonga is ... type of people that visit Tonga are traveling people, not so much the mainstream travel ... tourists, you know what I mean?
Kim: The tourist-
Kim: versus the traveler.
Taki: Probably a good way to also describe Tonga is, it missed the tourism trying, when it was sort of booming in the Pacific. Fiji and mainly Hawaii and New Caledonia, Cook Islands, they all jumped onto the tourism, sort of, train when it was, sort of, booming. So, Tonga wasn't ... didn't really get onto that-
Kim: But, why not? You look at images of Tonga and it's stunning. It's like, why haven't I been there before?
Taki: I think our government and our monarchy has something to do with it. Because, we were ... if you talk about indigenous nations that were colonized by, let's say European powers, they developed quicker in the western, sort of, culture. Tonga has never been colonized, and so a lot of the locals say that that's the reason why we've sort of been left behind. Up till today Tonga still hasn't been colonized. That has something, I'm sure, that that had something to do with its slow development in sort of western culture, even up to today.
Kim: Well, it comes down to advertising too.
Taki: Yes, yes. Some of the locals I've heard, they've said the reason why we're behind, you know, in sort of like western cultural ways, like marketing and development, is because we weren't colonized. And, of course, you know, there's always two sides of the story. And, of course you're going to get locals saying we should've been colonized, and then there's a majority of locals say, no it's better that we kept it.
Taki: My home island, where I'm from, there was basically no tourism there at the time. When we started there, it was already at, sort of like, close to rock bottom, so the only way was up no matter what you did, there's going to be an improvement to it. So, it was untouched.
Taki: I think, Tonga's got a very unique land system because we haven't been colonized, from day one up till today, the land has never been taken. Which means, the land is owned by the people. Ultimately owned by the Crown, by the King. So, the King made it law that his country and land is for his people. So, when he gave his land to his people, there's no fee for it. He basically gave his land for his people, and he basically said it's illegal for you guys to sell your land that I've given to you. So, it stays in the family line. You inherit land in Tonga, you don't pay for it because it was given to you.
Kim: So, how does that work then, with encouraging travelers? If you're sharing that land that's been gifted to you.
Taki: Now, well, see, you get a piece of land and it's up to you what you do with it. Whether you build a house on it, or you do agriculture on it, or you build a little motel on it, or whatever you want to do as long as it's legal of course.
Kim: Now, you and your family had land and you built this, we'll say resort, inverted commas, and it was blown away by the cyclone. How affected was Tonga by Cyclone Gita? And, how affected were your family, your immediate family and the income stream that you generate?
Taki: Yeah, the country was pretty badly affected, which was February 2018. Of course, you know, the Pacific, we're all living in a high cyclone proned area. Climate change is taking its effect. There's more cyclones now than my grandparent's days. Also, sea rising is taking effect. That's the type of things you live with when you live in the Pacific. There's a lot of aid that comes into the country and I think, in the Pacific, you just move on. You just get on with it and you keep going. You become ... that type of environment makes people very resilient.
Kim: Well, what would be your advice then to a traveler? Because, it is a place that's going to attract a traveler not a tourist, and we love that. Not putting words in your mouth, but respecting your culture and respecting the fact that the land's been gifted to you.
Taki: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Kim: What would you like to say to people that want to visit?
Taki: If you want to visit Tonga, you know, it's not a regimental time table. Like the ferry time table, that comes to some of the islands, you know, it's not catering for tourist, it caters ... the ferry service is for the local people. So, when you catch a ferry or when you participate in something in Tonga, it's not tourist accommodated for, it's local accommodated for. So, you're basically integrating in what was going to happ- ... what's happening in the country, does that make sense?
Taki: It's definitely got its own time. I think with travelers that come to Tonga, allow some buffer, like don't say you're going to land today and leave on this day, you know. Things happen. Sometimes a flight or sometimes a ferry, you've got to ... it's that type of destination where you go with the flow. And, you've got to allow for some, you know, some sort of, you know ... their things don't run on time all the time, you know. And, the cabs can be a little bit late. The ferry can leave late. Your flights can land late or leave late. Now, you know how westerners are used to like thinking ahead-
Kim: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Taki: of time. What's happening on this day? What time does it start? You know, they're thinking like a few days ahead. Wrong place to do that.
Kim: Look, I did want to ask you because I had read about this understanding of traditional use of plants.
Taki: Yes. Ah, yes.
Kim: Okay, so, is there one tip if you come across, I don't know, what ... if you're likely to be bitten by mosquitoes-
Kim: in Tonga, is there one plant that you can use to-
Kim: rub on yourself that takes the sting away?
Taki: There's several plants that you can use that will take the sting away, take the swelling away. There's also plants for infections. There's plants for earaches. There's plants for asthma, coughing. I think Japan is taking some ... they're exporting, there's a plant called a Noni juice, I think that's pretty well known throughout the Pacific, throughout the world now.
Kim: Yeah and, Taki, just touching on Japan-
Kim: you grow a lot of squash for Japan.
Taki: Yeah, the Pacific was doing it and Tonga was taking it out of the cay, and I think it's sort of come to a little bit of a halt now. I think the squash market is sort of ... it was booming probably about, probably a little bit less than ten years ago. And then it's ... there's not a lot of land, you know, on 100 and sort of 80 islands, so you can only grow so much commercially. You know, I think, I think we just got to go back to our roots, you know, and I think the less commercial things we try to tap into the better. You know what I'm saying?
Kim: Yep, but at the same time welcoming like minded travelers.
Taki: Yes, and just travelers that are looking for an off the beaten track experience. You know, sitting in the back of the truck, riding around town, that sort of feel, you know? No hustle and bustle, you're basically the only person on the beach. Kids running around, you know, very friendly, low crime rate. It's that type of ... that sort of a feel for that type of traveler.
Kim: Taki, by the way Phil, is in Australia to get a loan to rebuild their resort, or their accommodation.
Phil: Ah, okay, best of luck to him. And, by the way a section of 'Eua Rainforest, including limestone cliffs and caves, were protected as a national park in 1992 with trees found nowhere else in the world.
Kim: Okay, what's travel news, Phil?
Phil: All right, big news and the dust is still settling on this one. The U-S Trump administration has tightened the rules on Americans traveling to Cuba. The ones that were relaxed by President Obama back in 2016. Look, they've banned cruise ship operations from the United States and cruises have already started redirecting and they've eliminated that people to people educational travel for Americans, which most people were using. And, American tourists who traveled on the ... under the Support for Cuban People category in the visa [inaudible 00:18:13], when they have to provide an itinerary that includes meeting with local Cubans, attending cultural events, and staying at a homestay in Cuba, a [Spanish] instead of a hotel. Look, Americans can still travel to Cuba but it's going to be really hard to find a way and no cruise ships for now, which is actually quite a good thing, I think.
Kim: That is a good thing, but with the greatest respect because I know there are people that like Trump. Was he bored? Why did he just decide to do that?
Phil: It's just, he is saying that the communist regime in Cuba is using American money to fund Venezuela.
Phil: So, yeah.
Kim: Let's not get political. [crosstalk]
Phil: Yeah, no let's not [crosstalk]
Kim: I want to take you to task before you continue on your-
Kim: travel news. You are just back from, what I would pronounce as [Napole 00:19:06], but you're not ... you now know-
Phil: No, I've gone all posh.
Kim: He's gone all posh. So, apparently this is how Phil says Napole now.
Kim: Napole. Right, he says it like that.
Phil: It's Na- ... it rhymes with PayPal.
Phil: And, its Napole.
Kim: We have heard from Shante who says Tonga.
Kim: I think you've put a bit [guh] in your Tonga.
Kim: I say Tonga. Let's find out from Taki how you actually say Tonga.
Taki: The Tongan language, like the T's are D's, so it's like we don't say the [ttts] we say Tonga. Tongatapu. Yeah, my name is like in ... like the white fellas would say Taki, but in Tonga they call it Taki.
Kim: There you go.
Phil: All right. But, when we were having this discussion in the office the other day, when I got picked at for being a smartypants, for pronouncing it-
Phil: correctly now. But, and then, as Issac said, so why don't we say Paris then and why don't we, you know?
Kim: But, Issac, our social media manager who you would have heard on previous podcasts, he says Cuba.
Kim: When he was chatting about the travel news that you just delivered Cu-
Phil: But you know, when you ... but I was there and I noticed my very Australian accent, when I was going, Napole. And everybody else was saying Napole.
Phil: So, you know.
Kim: It'll look-
Phil: I'm not being ... I don't think I'm being a showoff. I think I'm trying to be respectful.
Kim: Don't worry, you'll forget about it-
Kim: in a couple weeks.
Phil: Maybe I'm being just a big-
Kim: Yeah, ponce. Anymore travel news?
Phil: Yeah, got a couple bits if we've got time.
Phil: A 21 year old American woman, Lexie Al-Alford ... now you've got me, I can't pronounce anything. Lexie Alford, has become the youngest person ever to visit all 196 sovereign nations. She earned her Global Degree at the end of May, when she stepped into North Korea. Same room that Tony Wheeler was talking about last week. Lexielimitless, as she's known on Insta, says she did it to inspire others to travel and to understand the world. Good on her.
Kim: Are we getting at an interview?
Phil: Yeah, I'll be able to track her down. I know the guys from Global Degree that she did it with, so-
Kim: Did you meet them in Napole?
Phil: [crosstalk] Sorry. Okay. Something a bit serious here, now I want your opinion on this one. There's an environmental movement, which has emerged out of Sweden, and it's spreading across Europe at the moment. And, they're using the tag, flight shame. And, it's growing some momentum and its dedicated environmentalists are saying that we should shun plane travel, because of the carbon foot print that it does. And, there's another hashtag growing alongside that one as well, which translates, it says train brag. So, people are using over land transport, trains, instead of flying on a plane.
Kim: So, surface transport.
Phil: Surface transport.
Phil: Which we've-
Kim: We've covered.
Kim: And, we will be aware of that and chasing an interview about that hashtag.
Phil: Flight shame.
Kim: Flight shame. You have the choice to add to your ticket a carbon offset fee.
Phil: True. True.
Phil: And look, and it's okay for, you know, intra continental travel. So, you can do all of North and South America without getting on a plane if you-
Kim: Yeah, yeah.
Phil: You can do all of Europe, all the way down into Southeast Asia, but, you know, there are some places ... it's like getting between continents, which I think is going to be bad.
Kim: And quickly.
Phil: And quickly, that's right.
Phil: I know, but it's a choice you have to make I suppose. I mean, if you can limit airplane travel within a continent, and only use it to travel between continents, I suppose that-
Phil: sort of reduces your footprint. Anyway, keep an eye on that. Flight shame.
Kim: Something to think about.
Phil: There you go, I'm done.
Kim: Okay. Now, you mentioned Tony Wheeler, he was our latest amazing nomad and he's the co founder of Lonely Planet. When we interviewed him, he had one piece of advice for travelers.
Tony Wheeler: Oh, travel light, you know? That's far the way that ... every time I see someone dragging this enormous bag around behind them ... and, you know, it's really, it's, you know, it's everyone starts off doing that. They go "I need this, I need that, I need-", no you don't. And, you soon find out you don't.
Kim: Well, Francesco Arbolino, pretty much sums that up. He's traveled to over 110 countries as an extra light backpacker. Plus, he's had some pretty amazing experiences which you'll hear. But, what do you get into a 26 liter pack? And sometimes smaller, depending on where he's going.
Francesco: You get plenty of stuff. I carry usually three t-shirts, and they're all made out of wool. So, they can be worn 10 days in a row and they don't smell. And, they're also good in hot and cold climates. Normally I carry one, like, button down shirt. Something a little bit nicer. I carry like a light down jacket, that can pack down into like the size of a tennis ball. I carry one pair of sandals, three pairs of underwear, three pairs of socks, one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, one pair of swim trunks. All my toiletries, you know, but like all small things, you know, like a little thing of shampoo, a little thing of conditioner, bar of soap.
Phil: Are you a roller, not a folder? You have to roll stuff to get into, all that stuff into a pack, so-
Francesco: No I fold it, yeah.
Phil: Folder. Oh my God.
Phil: There goes my theory.
Kim: Well I'm interested in the rotation, if there's three t-shirts, three pairs of underpants, three pairs of socks, blah blah. Does that mean you're washing every 3 days or do you-
Francesco: No, no. Because, I carry ... everything is wool so, like on this past trip, out of the three t-shirts, I didn't use one of the shirts. I literally wore two t-shirts the entire trip.
Phil: And where were you? Where'd you go?
Francesco: I was in New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa and Vanuatu.
Kim: How did you get into traveling?
Francesco: What happened was, I dropped out of college and I had a friend who wanted to travel the U-S with me. I bought a Volkswagen Vanagon, like a Westfalia, sort of like a little camper van in it, and we traveled around the U-S. And then after that was done, I wanted to go other places. So, I went to Mexico and then England and then just started traveling everywhere. I went back to college eventually and then I would take one month every winter and go to one country and when I graduated college I said, I'm going to work, I'm going to probably take a year and a half to save enough money to travel for a year.
Francesco: I saved enough money to travel for a year. And, basically I budgeted about $50 a day. Throughout that trip I was like, you know what, if I can spend $25 a day I could travel for two years. And then I was like, well if I can travel for $25 a night, I can travel for $12.50 a day, I could travel for four years. So, I just like kept lowering and lowering my budget and then getting more and more extreme in what I was doing, like hitchhiking, and couch surfing, and tried dumpster diving a couple times. So, I was really able to spend very little money and in the end that trip was like two and a half years because I ended up coming home. I was just tired of traveling and I still had money left.
Francesco: And then, I worked in New York for another six months and then, I actually moved to Australia for a year. And then that year in Australia, I traveled for three months and then afterwords, me and Molly traveled for a year and a half afterwards.
Phil: Good luck living in Australia on $12.50 a day.
Kim: Yeah, how'd you do that [crosstalk]
Francesco: Well, luckily, I had a job there.
Francesco: And, I was making good money and it was great.
Kim: You visited those countries, but from what I've heard about you, there almost seems to be a story everywhere that you go. You and Molly, for example, waking up to AK-47s being pointed at you.
Francesco: That was in between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. And, we were hitchhiking and I had done a little research online and found out, not to hitchhike. It was basically like, this is going to take you three days, don't do it. Just take a, you know, paid like, shared taxi. And then I was like, nah let's hitchhike.
Francesco: We got to the boarder and we were actually, we met these two other Lithuanians along the way and they were also hitchhiking and they were also a couple. And, we got to the boarder, we crossed over the boarder by foot and then we waited an entire day and not a single car passed. Not one.
Francesco: So, we were at about 3,500 meters at the time, so it was quite cold, because you're up in the mountains and at night it was going to hit negative four degrees. We had a tent and we had sleeping bags, but they were rated to maybe two degrees, so we were going to really be cold. And, there was this little shack across the street so we picked the lock on it, we just kind of turned it sideways and it came out. When we went inside there was a pile of blankets up to our chins. So, we were like, oh my God, this is the best. So, we slept in these blankets, we were super warm.
Francesco: And then in the morning, me and the Lithuanian guy went to the river to go get some water. And, the river was towards the boarder with Kyrgyzstan. So, when we were there I saw some soldiers walking, and I didn't think anything of it. And then, when we were walking back to the shack, I was like, you know what? I should probably make sure that the front door is closed in case they were going to walk past the shack. And as I was pushing it closed, because it was open maybe an inch and a half, I saw some camo behind it and I started to push and I go, uh oh, that's some soldiers.
Francesco: And so, they kind of kicked open the door and then they had ... yeah, there was like six of them, and they had AK-47s and they were yelling in Russian to like, you know, get outside, get outside, get outside. And, so they pushed us outside, and luckily the Lithuanians spoke a bit of Russian. And, they kind of got us out of it. But, in the end they were like, basically, okay you're not allowed to be here. This is no man's land, start walking to Tajikistan right this second. And Tajikistan was 23 kilometers over a 4,200 meter peak. So we just had to hike, we had no other option.
Francesco: Molly was actually feeling sick so she started throwing up. And, finally one car passed and it was like a five seater, little car. And there were boxes and boxes stacked on top of the roof, and there were seven people inside. We stood in front of the road and we basically made them stop or run us over. And, when we said, listen, you need to take Molly because she's feeling sick and the rest of us can walk. So, she got in and like sat on like a 70 year old man's lap in the front seat, and she just took off, and she left to get to the boarder. And then me and the two Lithuanians had to hike the rest of the way. And, yeah, and then we finally, we met her at the other side after we were extremely exhausted and had altitude sickness.
Kim: I reckon the AK-47s pointed at you would have tested those woolen underpants.
Francesco: Oh yeah, you know, I was actually extremely happy to walk 23 kilometers. I thought that we were going to be put in jail or they were going to, you know, somehow ask for some unreasonable amount of money, like $3,000 or something that we didn't have.
Kim: Well you do like to test it, you also hitchhiked in a small cargo boat, loaded to the brim with 6,000 liters of gasoline.
Kim: To reach a remote settlement in the Amazonian Rainforest.
Francesco: That was in between Suriname and French Guiana, and yeah, believe it or not, there was actually some rapids as well. It was on a speed boat with that much fuel on it. So, there were a couple of sections where I was like, oh my God, there's no way this boat is going to make it, we're going to capsize. And it took all day. It was like ten hours on a boat, just sitting on a barrel of gasoline. It was pretty extreme, I don't know if I'd be able to do it again.
Kim: So, what did you do-
Kim: when you were, I think from memory, you sat in a hammock or slept in a hammock and ate mangoes, once you reached your destination, what was it all about?
Francesco: Yeah, the way I found out about it was actually through couch surfing. There was a host, and I was actually with two Danish guys, and she basically was like, oh, you know I have, you know, I have some family living in this village and there's like a once a year death ceremony. So like, they basically celebrate everyone who's died in the village in the last year. And, they basically just have this giant party. And, there's only about 600 people living there, and it's actually and island in the middle of this river. So, they're pretty isolated. I remember walking around and seeing like two, three year old kids and they would just cry upon seeing us, because they had never seen white skin before. So, it was pretty cool. And yeah, just slept in a hammock and just ate mangoes.
Phil: Sounds like something you could easily do in Tonga, along with pineapple and guava. Yum.
Phil: Well, our next guest, Phil, we have heard from Rachelle [Mackintosh 00:32:23], the photographer who [inaudible] water.
Kim: I know, she's wonderful.
Phil: Yeah, she's great, isn't she? Well, she's a big fan of Tonga, Tonga and hints off the review the humpback whales are migrating, and I know, as I said at the start of this episode, we recently mentioned experiences with killer whales in Alaska, but there's a special reason why whales head to Tonga.
Rachelle: Then when you see them in Sydney, they're going somewhere, right? So, they're on their migration to go somewhere. Tonga is where they're going. They're going there to rest and to recuperate, to breathe, pretty much to party like the young whales actually can't be born in their [inaudible] because they don't have enough blubber on them to withstand the cold climate. So, everybody goes up north for the babies to be born, for more babies to be made, it's just a free for all for whales. And they're going to tropical areas like Tonga and northern Australia to do that. So they're very chilled and really relaxed in those kind of places.
Kim: So do you go on your own, or do you go with a team and what do you do once you're there?
Rachelle: I go with my friends actually to Tonga. So friends of mine from Sydney who I go out with whaling, whaling as in positively whaling. Looking at them to photograph and things like that. Where all people cause whale tragics, I think whale celebrance is nicer. I'm not tragic at all mate, there's nothing tragic about this. But, so we go to a place called Ha’apai, which is one of the central islands of Tonga. A lot of [inaudible] is kind of centered around [inaudible] I think north of Tongatapu, but Ha’apai is just a much more chilled environment. There's less people, it's a beautiful spot really. Pretty much I think there's 62 islands and only 17 of those are inhabited. So, it's just old school, chilled kind of place. And we go there, friends of ours actually who run whale boats here in Sydney, and in [inaudible 00:34:20], they actually own a whale business over there as well, a whale swimming business. [inaudible] It's just a good time for being with great friends and people who are ethically minded about whales swimming and, yeah, it's just awesome.
Kim: Well, I'm glad you mentioned that word ethical because people do get jittery when you put a whale and getting on a boat together. Or even whale and swimming together.
Rachelle: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Absolutely, and I think, you know, the rules are so stringent, for people to be able to get a license in Tonga and to maintain that license, the rules are very, very strict in that you can only ever have four people in the water with the whale. Four people plus the local guide who has to be licensed by the government over there. Very, very strict rules in terms of how many boats can be around a whale. In Ha’apai I've only ever been in the one boat that has been in the area because there's nobody around, so we've never had to share whales.
Rachelle: But every interaction because it is free swimming must be whale led. Now what that means is when you see the whale from a distance you must then, you know, from a few hundred meters away, and gage whether or not they're interested. So, if they are interested, then they're usually pretty relaxed they'll mosey on over and they'll demonstrate the curiosity by doing passes, maybe some [inaudible] and just general calm behavior. It may start jumping around and carrying on, or they zoom off, then you know that they're not into it, so you can't, there's no point in chasing away on the ocean, they're just going to run off anyway, or swim off.
Rachelle: So yeah, every whale interaction is led by the whale. So, if you do see a whale that demonstrates those things that it's calm and it's curious, you gently get in the water a few hundred meters away and then you just kind of float around and wait and see what it does. And, in this kind of environment because they are chilled and they're ready to interact, they'll often just approach you and come within a few meters for a bit of a look. Interactions can be as long or as short as the whale decides. When they've had enough of you, they'll just disappear back into the ocean again. So yeah, basically as long as it's whale led, I don't have a problem with it, and as long as people aren't touching.
Kim: Wait, how do you find Tonga?
Rachelle: The things that we have in the city, the hustle and the bustle and that crazy kind of like [inaudible] energy, the whole reason we go to islands is to ditch that, right? So when we go to islands, we want to chill out and the reality is that the people that live there are living on island time and we want to feel that kind of relaxed approach. So, you kind of just have to go and go with it and yeah things might not start at the time that was allocated but, everything is done with a smile and with respect and as long as you go with it and you don't push against it, you're going to enjoy yourself. The Tonga people are the gentlest, coolest, most laid back people. Why would you want to make somebody like that upset?
Kim: Well, I understand why you go back each year. I know you're about to head there.
Kim: So, enjoy and thanks for filling us in on that little part of the world.
Rachelle: Thanks so much for having me.
Phil: Thanks Rachelle. Hey look if you liked this episode of the World Nomad's Podcast on Tonga, you can also enjoy one of our other episodes on the Philippines, I reckon.
Shante: I think one thing that we had to our advantage is that because we were part of this guided excursion that was being led by locals who were raised and grew up and still live in these villages, we immediately had this local connection through our crew that made us more welcome and more invited into these very remote areas where I think, you know, if a tourist or a traveler just showed up in their own boat and walked in, it would probably be pretty alarming to them.
Phil: We'll have a link in show notes, so you can find the latest episode through all of the popular podcast apps. All the good ones and some of the bad ones. That's safe to say. But, the easiest way to listen to us is to go to WorldNomads.com/podcasts.
Kim: See? Slash.
Phil: Slash. [crosstalk]
Kim: Napole and slash.
Phil: And if you want to have a chat with us you can email us at [email protected]
Kim: Well, next week another amazing nomad [Leah] a licensed captain who's said the equivalent of 8 laps of the globe, spent 73 days in a row naked and ate an over two years worth of freeze dried food. We'll see you then.
Speaker 1: The World Nomads Podcast. Explore your boundaries.