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Ashore in Tonga

By Chelsea McBroom

April 27th, 2014

On my first day ashore with Picton Castle‘s port watch, I left the café, having finished my delicious fruit smoothie and walked down the street to the fresh market. This island, Vava’u, is where our shipmate Vai is from and her grandmother and aunt were selling their handmade baskets and carvings there. When her grandmother realized who we were and that we were from the ship, she offered Lily, Maria and I a handmade bracelet.

The market was selling bananas, papaya, apples, coconut, pineapple and the same leafy green bitter vegetable we had been buying- I think a relation to bok choi. There was a wholesale shop next to it selling everything from sugar to matches.

Then we went back up the hill away from the shore to Café Tropicana. The café has a room with two rows of computers for people who want internet, and the rest of the cafe has tables where they serve food or drink and a counter where you can order baked goods and homemade treats. I went to the back where Samantha, Nolan, Maria, Hugo, Lily and Denise sat. It was a covered patio with a loose stone floor and we could hear the marching band that passed through the town.

On one wall that was painted turquoise, joke phrases were written in black all over it and we took turns reading the aloud. I laughed very very hard and my friends all turned and looked at me funny. It’s killing me that I can’t recall any of the phrases now. Oh: “A man was drowning in a bowl of musili and was brought down by a currant” or something like that, I never deliver jokes as they should be. But they’re silly jokes that play on words and they made me giggle. You’ll have to go see them yourselves.

Most of us ate lunch there. Me, Lily and Maria ordered the open faced fish sandwich which was nice. I was very civilized and ate it with a knife and fork. Samantha ordered a fish wrap and Nolan ordered a house-made burger that came with cheese and a fried egg. I’ve noticed, since sometimes I crave milkshakes, that they’re never what I expect in the South Pacific. Sometimes you’ll get the literal flavored milk, shaken with ice – so it’s frothy and still good, but not quite the same as the thick ice-cream soup I’m used to. This happened at Café Tropicana but I still ordered two.

I decided after lunch I should stock up on snacks, so I walked down to the nearest Chinese store and ended up buying a box of ‘beng-bengs’ – these little chocolate/wafer/caramel bars – and chips. When I walked out of the store there were kids everywhere in school uniforms – blue shorts and white polo shirts – and they called out to me “Miss! Miss!” and every time I turned around, confused if they meant me, and they very quietly and shyly mumbled something I couldn’t quite make out. I was confused all the way to Café Tropicana when I sat down to use the internet and a boy who I think followed me all the way from the store, stuck his head through the window slats and asked me for money. I’m still confused as I think about it now – he was clean and adorable, looked healthy and all his buddies were doing it. They hung around the front of the store to see if Lisa, who ran the store, or Greg, the owner, would give them any treats. She may have slid them a thing or two. Teis and Alex joined the group and I went to catch the next skiff back while everyone else went for a hike.

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