Posted George Rajna
After three glorious weeks on the beautiful islands of Samoa, we boarded the two hour Air Pacific flight from Apia to Nadi in Fiji, the most convenient access point for Tonga. We noticed there that the onward flight from Nadi to Nukalofa, Tongatapu was likely delayed and could not seem to get any accurate information from anyone. No big surprise, just another typical traveling experience.
Suddenly, we heard an announcement stating, “Air Pacific Flight FJ211 to Tonga will be boarding shortly.” I turned to Lisa and said, “I guess we can wonder around the shops for a while.” Literally as these words left my mouth a second announcement trumpeted, “Passengers on flight FJ211 to Tonga, please proceed to the departure gate.” I gazed somewhat dumbfounded toward my wife who stated, “They have to announce that they will be boarding the plane before they can board it.” Ah, that explained the heads-up advisory seconds before the actual boarding announcement.
The flight to the island of Tongatapu was scheduled to last an hour and thirty minutes. A few massive Samoan passengers among us were also boarding and I quietly prayed that none of these giant people, who should really have two seats each, would be placed next to us. Thankfully, a quite delicate great grandmother from Oregon but who had been living in Taveuni, Fiji sat next to me. She was loquacious and amiable and informed us, “I have to make this same trip every four months because I cannot get residency in Fiji. I think it is because I am too old. I purchased a plot on Taveuni but now I’ll have to sell it and move back to Oregon.” I listened to her story and thought that she was quite gutsy for a lady of her age. Later I tackled a Suduko puzzle and read some of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”.
It was then that the pilot announced that we would be arriving shortly in Nukualofa and that the flight attendants should prepare the passengers for landing. While Lisa dozed, catching flies with her mouth agape, I watched the plane descend in darkness toward the well-lit airstrip. The next thing I knew, we were ascending back into the clouds and night. The pilot spoke over the intercom, “The conditions are such that we were unable to land the plane. So, we are going to swing around and try again from another angle.”
I sat in my seat and tightened the belt buckle. I waited and hoped that our second attempt would be successful. We again approached the runway and it seemed that we almost touched down on the tarmac and suddenly, vroom!, we zoomed up at a steep angle. I tightened my belt even more and looked at Lisa, who was still asleep. I thought, “No point in waking her up for this.” After the pilot abandoned the third attempt I began to question if he had the confidence and ability to land the airplane. He had not spoken to the passengers since the first failed attempt. I was concerned and slightly frightened. Finally, on the fourth attempt we landed, skidding, and slowed. The passengers rightfully applauded the pilot and the Tongans ended their prayers.
Our next challenge was getting through Immigration. We stood near the end of the line because we boarded an airport shuttle thinking that the baggage claim area was far. But the vehicle came to pick us up only due to the heavy rain, the same reason that the aircraft had such difficultly landing. I later acquired this information from a Tongan lady at the airport candy shop. This line was not terribly long but with Chinese and Tongans cutting into it we were at a standstill for a good 45 minutes. The Chinese seemed to proceed via both the foreign and Tongan lines, and even utilized the “disabled and elderly” queue, although the majority of them appeared to be in their thirties and were traveling with children.
Finally, after an hour, we cleared Immigration. Our bags were sitting there already and our hostel pickup service was ready to head into town. It was already well after 8:00pm due to the delays and night had fallen. We were greeted by Peter, who held a Toni’s Guesthouse sign and sported a massive goiter on his neck. We entered the van with about a half dozen travelers, all who were to stay at Toni’s Guesthouse. After roughly ten minutes, Peter stated, “Everyone will get out here and Toni will take you the rest of the way. I am going back to the airport to get more people”. We looked at each other somewhat shocked; it was still raining. But all the tourists followed his instructions. Toni arrived in another van within a minute so we did not get terribly wet.
Toni was quite a character with his strong Liverpool accent. He advised, “Tomorrow is Sunday and everything will be closed. So if you want, we can stop at a shop and pick up food for tomorrow.” We all agreed that it was a good idea even though I knew the Chinese restaurants would still be open. At the shop we purchased eggs, peanut butter, crackers, canned pineapple, bottled water, coke, cup-o-noodles, and milk for our cereal. We re-boarded the van and a lady with a draconian accent ordered Lisa, “You will close the window.” Lisa either did not hear her or chose to ignore the instruction. Dracula repeated loudly, “You will close the window!” Lisa said, “No. I need the fresh air.” The lady growled to herself and muttered, “She won’t close the window” under her breath. Then she began sniffling, an indication that she was falling ill.
We subsequently discovered that this lady, a Ukrainian, verbally and almost physically attacked another girl the following morning whom she mistook for Lisa. The victim, Jackie, was at first stunned by these unwarranted attacks and then was able to ameliorate the situation when she realized that the whole affair was a misunderstanding.
At any rate, after Toni turned off the main road, swerving to avoid a cluster of potholes, he asked who was staying in the green house. We were not sure what he meant but Lisa said, “We booked online but I’m not sure what color house we are staying in.” Toni said, “Well, what’s your name?” “Rajna?” “No.” “Niver?” “No.” “Lisa?” “Yes, Lisa, you will be in the green house. A couple, right?” Right.
We dropped off a Finish couple and the other solo travelers at the blue house. We thought that we were heading to the upscale green house. Then Toni stated as if factually, “So there are only two of you left, right?” I did not say anything even though the Dracula lady was still with us. He asked again, “So there are only two, right? I can’t see back there since I’m driving.” A Tongan girl who accompanied Toni finally said, “There are three.” “Three!,” he shouted. “How can there be three? Who else is there? Hello? Where are you staying?” Unfortunately for Toni, Dracula did not understand him. Toni briefly stopped the car, exasperated. He turned to see who was left. When he noticed the Dracula lady he yelled, “For Christ’s sake! She’s already staying with us. We’ll drop her off with her bags, that’s where she needs to be!”
We debarked at the green house. The Tongan girl in the van showed us to our room. We had requested a room with a private bathroom; the ugly brick room that we were shown had the toilet and shower outside the room and open toward the courtyard, not at all an en suite arrangement. I must have looked disappointed because the Tongan girl said, “This room is not very nice.” I said, “No, it’s not very nice.” She followed with, “The yellow house is much nicer. I think that it would be better for you two.” I asked, “Is it available?” She said, “It is available but it costs 40TOP and the green house is 30TOP (about $5 US more). I requested to see the room in the yellow house. It was much nicer, an actual home. We took the larger room that shared the bathroom since no one else was there and being that the country shuts down on Sundays, we knew that no one would be there until Monday at the earliest.
We requested a towel, key, and matches that were not wet so we could heat water in the morning. The helpful Tongan girl brought us everything we asked for and mentioned that Toni was going to have an island tour that would depart at 10:00am. Since everything was closed on Sunday, we deemed it a good idea and agreed to head out on the tour even though I generally detest tours. After she left us, I poured us two rum and cokes with the duty free alcohol that I had purchased in Fiji and we toasted to our “safe” arrival and laughed that after three weeks of sleeping in beach fales (Samoan beach huts) that we had a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house to ourselves, with photos of two children placed above the television entertainment center.
I thought, if this arrival was any indication of our upcoming Tonga experience, we were in store for quite a ride.
George and I hope that everyone is safe after Hurricane Irene. Sending our best to family and friends on the East Coast who weathered the storm.
For those in Los Angeles, hope to see you Sept 6 for a travel book reading by Rachel Friedman. Save the date, Oct 18, for our LA event which is part of the National Event for Meet Plan Go happening in 17 cities across the USA on the same night! We started to upload our videos from this summer, more to come!! Check out our channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/WeSaidGoTravel
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August 26, 2011 | 5:48 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
When asked in the moonlight on a gorgeous beach in Fiji, “Will you go with me on my life dream and travel in South East Asia for a year?” I, of course, said “YES!” I mean after kissing all those frogs to look for my prince, what American-born girl raised on Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White does not know the answer to that question!
George found me online after I had survived numerous first dates, including the five Steves, a lawsuit involving It’s Just Lunch and nearly going on the TV show Judge Judy. I had almost given up on online love but listened to a friend and switched to a new site to look for Mr. Right. Amazingly my first date with George lasted over five hours and within six months we were watching sunsets in Vanuatu and Fiji together.
Most of the career break stories I hear are about the person who cannot wait to go. My story is the opposite. I wanted to want to go, but I was so afraid. Off the beach and back home, all I had were the WHAT Ifs? What if we don’t get along? What if there is nowhere to stay? What if we get sick? I had lived on a cruise ship for nearly seven years, so I knew I could leave and come back, but to travel with George without a set plan; this was a challenge I was not sure I could handle.
Together George and I figured it all out. We rented our condo, found a home for the cat, and brushed up our resumes. I did not have a leave of absence like George but interviewing for a teaching job by Skype from Don Det, Laos before the generator stopped working was a great story. I wish the Career Break Basic Training class existed before we embarked on our trip. Such a course would have helped me so much especially about all my fears and concerns.
I leaned on George for support and we worked through all the issues, problems and concerns as a team. We found or created options that worked for our situation and managed to laugh through most of our self-created dramas.
Being away together we learned so much about each other and we learned to travel using each other’s styles. Six months into our travels, while underwater in Koh Lipe, Thailand, we got engaged. Now that was a surprise! This time I knew to say yes and I knew it would work out!
This article was first posted at Meet Plan Go! as part of the KICK ASS HOST SERIES! Meet Plan Go! National called our story “A Career Break Fairytale!”
We hope to see you SEPT 6 in Los Angeles for our TRAVEL BOOK READING with Rachel Friedman, author of - The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure. Click here for more info.
We are very recently back from Samoa and Tonga, an amazing summer of sunsets in the South Pacific. Two videos are posted of Schoolchildren of Manono Island and Flying in Tonga!
George and I will return to our regular posting schedule now that we have running water, electricity and internet! We look forward to hearing about all your adventures and travel dreams. Send us your news about where you want to go next.
Save the date OCT 18 for our Los Angeles event as part of the Meet Plan Go National event happening in 17 cities across the USA! See you Sept 6! Lisa and George
August 19, 2011 | 12:52 pm
Posted by Lisa Niver Rajna
Calling all travelers: Rookies, Veterans and Dreamers
Do you long to escape your cubicle and strike out to discover the world on your own terms? If so, it’s time to take action. Looking for inspiration and ‘how-to’ advice regarding career break planning and travel? At Meet, Plan, Go! we are leading the career break movement in North America; encouraging and teaching others how to travel the world and have it be beneficial to your career. We envision a world where the term ‘career break’ is a part of your overall career strategy.
Gather with us at Traveler’s Bookcase to share stories, toast to future travel plans and inspire others to take to the road especially the one less traveled.
Lisa and George Rajna of We Said Go Travel and hosts of Meet Plan Go! Los Angeles will talk about their travels and how to make it happen!
Travel author, Rachel Friedman - The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure- is flying in from New York City for the FIRST West Coast reading of her book! Meet her and hear about her journeys from the road past and plans for the future.
Rachel Friedman’s life was as neat, orderly and structured as any high-achieving, parent-pleasing college student when she suddenly decided to abandon the American mantra of “go to school, get good grades, get a job.” A perennial good girl who unexpectedly finds that her carefully calibrated life plans no longer inspire her, she makes a series of life- changing decisions – first dropping out of music school and then off the beaten path altogether – and finds a world of adventure across Ireland, Australia and South America.
We look forward to hearing your travel stories and travel dreams. Come meet other travelers and wanderers to share stories from the road and go travel!
When: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 at 7pm
Where: Traveler’s Bookcase 8375 West Third Street, LA, CA 90048