Thursday, January 1, 2015


And Then I broke my toe.  My big toe. on my right foot.
Luckily I had done my whale-swimming and my snorkeling, and biking, and really anything that needed any physical activity at all, because pretty much everything was impossible at this point.

This was on Thursday night.

The exciting version of the story is that I was being initiated into a Tongan tribe, and the rite of passage is that they grab hold of your toe and just break it.

The truth is nothing like that.
I was going to try to find "Mike" to relay a phone message. He was possibly staying at the same place as me, so I went outside in the dark to see if he was upstairs (you have to go outside to go upstairs). It was completely dark outside, no outside lights, and as i was going down my 2 steps to the main porch, I realized there was people sitting on the stairs that continue down off the porch (and are quite large and jagged), so I tried to stop quickly as I wasn't sure exactly where these people were and didn't want to fall over them down the main stairs. As I stopped short, I went up on my right toes, but my foot slipped forward off the step, landing in a pointed position, and then the rest of my body collapsed down directly onto my heel, thus making my big toe curl underneath me farther than any toe has ever curled before. And for everyone else's sake, I hope it is farther than any toe will ever curl again, because it was incredibly painful...

The people on the steps in the dark apologized. I asked if the guy was Mike, and he said no, so I limped back to the phone, announced that Mike wasn't there, and just limped back to my room. The people from the steps came to talk to me, but as we chatted, I could just feel my foot swelling. So as soon as I convinced them that everything was fine, I spent the rest of the evening lying on my bed with my foot propped as high as I could get it. I had no ice, but I did have an ibuprofen in my toiletry bag.  So that was my treatment for the night.

Next morning, I wedged my foot into my tennis shoe, and headed to the airport to catch a flight back to the main island group of Tongatapu.
Once I finally made it to my next resort, it ended up being way nicer than I had imagined, and was very relieved to see this room waiting for me:

With this view:

My beach bungalow for the weekend:

After a quick limp around to briefly check out the grounds, I parked it on a beach chair, and didn't get more than 500 yards from it for 48 hours.

I tried to put on a happy face

Which wasn't actually too hard, considering that I was sitting in paradise:

If I got tired of that view, I would hobble over to a different chair for a slight change of scenery:

On the way from the airport, their shuttle driver informed me that I should stop and grab some food as this place is pretty far away from town, and that they don't cook on sundays. Unfortunately, the place we stopped at for food had a bunch of snacks instead of real groceries. So my Sunday diet consisted of cookies and chips and soda. That's it. All day. And if  you think I"m complaining, I'm not. The little store did have some Paracetamol (tylenol), so that was pretty good.

So between the Paracetamol and the incredible weather, I was able to distract myself from the pain.

There were even times I tried to go exploring out on the cliffs on each end of my beach, and once even waded out to the reef edge. These expeditions usually lasted about 5 minutes before i gave up and then had to walk backwards up the sandy beach to get up to where the chairs were. Walking forward involved my toe having to move, whereas if I walked backwards on my heel, I could get through it.

One really cool thing about Tongatapu is that for several miles along the coast, the small barrier reef forms some pretty incredible blow-holes. I was located kind of on the very end of where these start, so there were a bunch of small blow-holes that would blow with each crashing wave. One of the major attractions of the island is to go to the spot where the blowholes are largest, and the water explodes really high into the air with each wave.
These are some of the blowholes in action.

Here's the damage. It doesn't look too bad here, but the bruising was still developing and I kept it propped pretty high most of the time I was there.

Forced relaxation isn't the most relaxing type of relaxation, but I made the most of it.

Here's another pic of the beach.

Needless to say, my elaborate plan of borrowing a traditional waist-wrap from my hotel staff and obtaining an audience with the King (or ambushing him at church) didn't happen. I felt like I needed to be pretty fleet of foot to make that project happen, and I just didn't have it in me to be up and about that much. I did this instead:

Here are some pics from my journeys to the edge of the beach:

It was a really beautiful place, and it was really hard for me to not go running around on all the cliffs and out in the beach more, but the rocks were so uneven and jagged that I just couldn't do it. So frustrating!  (Which ended up being the primary emotion this injury brought to my life for weeks to come...)

Another smile for the camera before the long hobble back to my chair.

I read a book that was set in Tonga, specifically about a mile from where I was sitting, so that was pretty entertaining. It talked about the blowholes a lot, and helped pass a lot of time sitting around.
That bowl of fruit was a bonus gift from the staff at the hotel who felt really bad for me. They were really sweet. The Tongan people are very kind people. They kept coming by to check on me. Saturday evening, a few of them came over together and brought me the bowl of fruit. That was really nice of them, and I was able to hold some of it over for the next day, so I actually ate cookies, chips, soda, and a couple of bananas that day...

There was such a large dining pavillion, but I honestly saw about 3 other travelers there the entire 3 days I was there. I pretty much had the beach to myself aside from about 4 hours the whole weekend. I couldn't believe it.
I was glad, though, because then I could try to limp around and walk backwards up the sand dune and lay in the water and pull myself along the rocks to get out to the reef edge to get this picture:
The water was really shallow for most of the way, only spotted with random deeper pools every so often that made nice little individual swimming holes.

Hoping the ocean has healing powers.

The lagoon.

pretty nice place!

I promise it felt way worse than it looked.

So on Monday morning, the same taxi shuttle driver came to take me back to the airport. He asked if I took any tours or went to see any points of interest, and I told him I really just sat there all weekend because I couldn't walk very far. He felt bad for me, so he drove me by the big blowholes on the way back to the airport so I would 'get to see something good'.  So thoughtful!

So here's what it looks like between the waves:

And then:


So those are the famous blowholes of Tongatapu!  I wish I had more interesting things to talk about from there, or stories of how I got to meet the Royal Family, but things don't always go as planned, and I still think I left Tonga with plenty of memories that I will not be forgetting anytime soon.

By some Miracle, I was still able to stuff my foot into my unlaced tennis shoe, and somehow I ended up with an entire row to myself on my flight back to NZ, where I gathered my luggage, and headed back to the US! By a second miracle, I also had the row to myself on my long-haul flight from Auckland to Los Angeles (and the flight was quite full. there were a lot of people eyeing my spacious row.). The second the plane took off, I propped up my foot and just went to sleep, and stayed that way the whole time. Sorry everyone on the plane, but if you had a broken toe, I would let you have your own row.

And that completed my year abroad!
It was incredible. Indescribable. Irreplaceable.

So thanks to those of you who have been reading along. Thanks to those of you who were a part of the experience. It was quite a ride.

I don't know exactly when I'll be back to NZ, but I will be back. Talk is already starting about a visit. All the good people of Otautau have staked a claim in my heart, and the culture and landscape of this amazing country have made a pretty significant impact on my lifestyle and ways of thinking. I will always feel a connection with this far-away place, and that will keep me coming back for more. I don't know when it will be, but I do know that I am very much looking forward to spending Another Day In New Zealand.

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