We went and found Laura, a British lady who is gamely trying to run a small guesthouse: a project made more difficult by the recent demise of the local airline. She was about to go back to the UK to make some more money for next year – her husband and 2 children had stayed there this season – and was quite apologetic that she could not offer us any hospitality. Everybody else that we met in Niuatoputapu was equally kind and friendly. We were adopted by a local ‘girl’, Leilani, who spoke wonderful English, and took us walking up the nearby hill. In spite of her clothes, attitudes and aspirations, she had been born a boy, but was adopted by her aunt and brought up as a girl: insurance for the aunt’s old age and not unusual in Polynesia.
Leilani is by no means stupid and very much enjoys the stimulation provided by visitors. She asked us to Sunday lunch; we arrived in good time, but there was nobody there. We thought that perhaps her aunt had gainsaid it, so after wandering around the village and paying a fruitless return visit half an hour later, we went back aboard and ate from our own lockers. An hour or so later, Trevor, working on deck, heard voices from the shore and looking through the binoculars, recognised Leilani and a couple of her friends. He went and fetched them – complete with lunch! Leilani sat us down and gently took over the galley. Finding cutlery and bowls, she tastefully laid out the food she had brought and placed it on the table. (Her ambition is to open a little restaurant for the yachties: she certainly has the touch.) We were moved at all the effort she’d been to, and upset at our inability to do justice to her feast. But apart from having just eaten, Tongan food can be heavy going. Even omnivorous Trevor balked at the grey, slimy shellfish and neither of us is very good with kape – an outstandingly stodgy root, related to taro. Tongans eat this in large quantities; it has no taste and a consistency similar to very dry, hard fudge. To say it sits heavy in the belly would be a gross understatement. However, we enjoyed the coconut, papaya and (cold) fried eggs and Leilani and her friends polished off the rest. I then made lots of coffee, which they all appreciate: instant coffee is the norm, but all Polynesians seem to relish fresh, strong – and, of course – sweet coffee.