My fascination with the correctional systems of the South Pacific started in Rarotonga. You might recall the day we buzzed past the Prison Craft Shop on our scooter, only to slam on the breaks, skid to a stop and make a wobbly U-Turn to pick up a Prisoner-carved wooden club for Phil’s 40th Birthday (www.oddgodfrey/oddlog/rarotonga) Even then, I was amused/concerned that Rarotonga’s convicted criminals were given a sharp carving device and a hunk of wood with the instructions or at least consent to make traditional island tools of war.
Tonga treated us to an equally fascinating lesson on correctional procedure when an American sailor killed his wife in Tonga. He was hauled off to jail to await transfer to Nuka’olofa. In the meantime, they posted him at the front desk to answer phones and allowed him to check on his boat once per day. No handcuffs, hobbles, bars, wires, or chains. All the expats were taking bets on how long until the man escaped, until one day during the fuel shortage, he boarded his boat and sailed away. The Tongans took chase, but the Evil American shot at them - some accounts say it was a real gun, others claim it was a flare gun. No matter, the Tongans were pushed back, and he made his great escape. At least until he was identified while trying to fill up on fuel in American Samoa.
The Tongans were quite offended by this man’s behavior, and rightly so! As was explained to us, when a Tongan does something wrong, his or her fellow citizens simply walk over to their home and arrest them. There is no fight about it. They know they are guilty and they head off to jail where they sit peacefully and pay their consequences. An escape? That is such a shameful way to act. It just is not done.
I mulled these charming memories as I hiked along a trail shared with three men in orange jumpsuits, two carrying machetes and one carrying a chainsaw.
What led to this turn of events?
After our beautiful dive on the White Wall, we were still enjoying Viani Bay so we stayed a little longer. The mornings are our favorite time. As the sunlight breaks over the bay, the sea turns golden, the palm trees glow, and the dry grassy hills light up. We would take our coffee mugs out into the cockpit and enjoy the cool before the tropical heat sets in. We would watch the “school bus” gather up all the children from the far reaches of the bay and shuttle them to school. Each morning, they would give me a cheery wave. This is a remote bay, no roads in or out, so everyone travels by boat.
When Jack arrived for his daily fruit-bucket delivery we invited him aboard for papaya and coffee. (I'm turning into a papaya!)
“And he said to me, Jack! Why are you using those oars to paddle? So, I said to him - ‘these are racing oars. I will make you a bet….” We hear of fishing bets. Free diving bets. Scuba diving bets. Coconut opening bets. Hiking bets, swimming bets, boxing bets. As you might expect, Jack always wins.
Andrew was still trying to catch a fish.
And, we couldn’t leave until we enjoy some epic snorkeling and free diving with Jack as guide. On our fourth morning in Viani Bay, Jack instructs Andrew and I to tie Grin to his aluminum dinghy (held to a mooring with little more than a string of dental floss) and come aboard S/V Prince Diamond. We are all going out to snorkel on the rainbow reef and the cabbage patch.
Aboard Prince Diamond, we motor out to the reef, and anchor the big boat. Jack follows the four of us in Prince Diamond’s dinghy, showing us the way to snorkel and offering to fetch us if we get tired. The reef is stunning.
We cap off the experience floating over a coral that looks like a Cabbage Head the size of a football field.
The next day, Jack offers to take us to Tavenui Island to explore the town, play in the waterfall slides and see the 180 Degree Meridian - the official International Date Line between Today and Tomorrow. $10 per person + gas. That sounds great! So, we agree.
Jack arrives in a panga with his nephew driving, and three others from the village. They are taking the ride over, too, to shop for groceries. The Forty Horsepower Yamaha growls as it pushes us the 15 or so miles across the Somosomo Strait. It is just like traveling from my hometown to the “city” over waves instead of highways.
When we arrive at the other side, Jack’s nephew points the bow of the panga in just the right spot for Jack to throw over the anchor. Then, he reverses gear and backs up to the beach. “Nalco Parking” Andrew exclaims, remembering his decade + of having to back his vehicle into all parking spots per company policy.
We tie the boat off to the tree, unload some supplies, then head into town to find a Taxi. Jack arranges everything, and before we know it, we are bouncing up a rough road to the waterslides. As we pass on the road, several men in orange are cutting down jungle overgrowth. They have one guard, he is smoking and chatting with the men. A dog stands at the knees of one orange jumpsuit, enjoying a head pat. The men stop to watch the truck bounce by. They smile, wave, and call out “Bulla!” They are no more intimidating than any of the other Fijians we encountered in law abiding society. I wave back before I realize why they are all wearing orange jumpsuits. A few feet more up the road and we pass the “prison,” a small rectangular building surrounded by fence, topped with razor wire.
Soon we are at our destination. Our taxi driver drops us at the trailhead then sputters off, to return at 11:30 a.m. We begin our hike along the river. It is then, I look up and see three chainsaw/machete toting men smiling and waving at us from the other side. “Bulla, bulla!” “Bulla!” “Hello!”
“You have GOT to get a picture of this,” Andrew says, “Ask them to hold up the chainsaw!” I refuse. I figure I should engage as little as possible with unsupervised criminals. We smile, wave back, and carry on. Brian from Prince Diamond laughs and says: "I'm sure they are serving time for minor theft offenses."
With all the rain we have had, the water slides were rushing with water. Andrew tried to find a safe place to jump in, but it looked risky. It seemed like if you didn’t stop yourself at just the right moment, the next curve was around a ten foot waterfall landing over several sharp and pointy rocks. There are no instructional posts, no locals and no warning signs. So, we chicken out and float around in the river instead. Andrew found some snazzy new shades.
After we finish cooling off, we reverse our hike and were relieved (or maybe a bit concerned) to find that the orange jumpsuits were no where to be seen.
The taxi driver picks us up, and takes us to the Meridian.
We drive back to town where we explore, shop and meet Jack for a rather tasty lunch at his favorite shop.
On our drive back to the boat, Brian asks the taxi driver, “There is a prison up the road we drove to get to the water slides. What crimes are they serving time for?”
The lesson here: Don’t ask questions to which you don’t want to know the answer.