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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Tokelau, at Last!

TOKELAU | Monday, 7 November 2016 | Views [946] | Comments [1]

A few days ago I was told, the day after the Cubs wrapped up the World Series, that the Tokelau boat for Sunday was full. I walked into the office and Joe's secretary said "Oh Chris, my poor brother" and I knew I was gonna receive some bad news. My heart sank as Joe told me the news. He asked me “how badly do you want to go to Tokelau?” and I said “very badly.” He told me he did all he could and that he was going to bring me as part of his official delegation. He said I deserve to go and could see how much it’d mean to me. Joe has been extremely helpful but everyone else has mucked me around enough. Immediately thereafter, I felt like “you know what, I’m showing up at 5 AM sharp for the boat on Sunday morning and hoping somebody doesn’t show up.” It was another time where I needed to work my magic again with another of those only-Chris-can-do-that moments. Yesterday morning, I did surely that. Lagi and John normally go to the fish market very early on Sunday so they offered to drop me at the wharf. John told me to call him if I didn’t get on the boat. My alternate plan was to stay another night at their home and go to Manono on Monday. Bleary-eyed with all my gear, I was told that I stood out and that I’d be the first person on the boat if there was a no-show. Tokelau has caused me a lot of frustration, sweat, and tears and this was day #27 in Samoa waiting round. The official departure time is 6 AM yet everything was going on island time. As I watched each passenger go through the gate I kept hoping the line would slow down to a trickle. At 7 AM, Ruby the immigration officer said “Chris, we have some no-shows, you’re on!” With a gasp, I felt “oh my God, I’m actually going!” Euphorically I was excited and wanted to scream “I’M GOING TO TOKELAU!!!!!!!” but instead used my last Facebook opportunity for awhile to update it as part of my status. As unbelievable as it was that the Cubs won the World Series, I’m going to Tokelau! Ruby stamped a “Government of Tokelau permit” stamp in my passport and I had to pay the fare of NZ$286. It’s cash-only but the fare is a real bargain for an 8-day return trip and all food is provided. Fortunately I had enough cash, with a combination of NZ dollars and Samoan tala, otherwise I would have had to make a mad dash for the ATM. Nearly every passenger stopped at McDonald’s before boarding, including one passenger bringing back a large crate of cheeseburgers to Fakaofo. The most interesting person on board is a half-Tokelauan, half-Black man named James. He’s from Houston, travelling with his two sisters and nephew for their aunt’s funeral. It has taken four flights and a 24-hour boat ride for them to reach Tokelau and they’re stopping off on Atafu for only three days since they have to return to work. I was told only about half hour before boarding that I only have a permit to land on Atafu although Joe, who is on the sailing, said I’m permitted to get off and go ashore on the other two atolls whilst the boat is in port but can’t stay when the boat leaves. Ruby said I’ll have about a half day on Atafu and that’s it. Would the journey be worth it to do an 8-day return with only a half day on shore? As I watched Apia get smaller and smaller as we sailed away, the boat immediately started rocking back and forth. We had to all go on deck whilst the captain explained the emergency procedures and where the lifejackets are located. An emergency on a ship is seven short blasts on the bell followed by one long blast. I had just a bite or two of brekkie and about half a cup of coffee before I went into the cabin to rest. At first I grabbed a bed with a porthole but negotiated with another passenger to move toward the centre of the boat due to motion. The only time I didn’t have a headache was when I was lying down. Yesterday I skipped lunch and dinner and saw this as an opportunity to rest: no internet, no books, no music, no phones...just rest, rest, rest, and more rest.

This morning however, my sea legs sprouted. The chefs made a rather creative of brekkie of toast filled with canned Wattie’s spaghetti and corned beef. On the boat there's a nice, convivial atmosphere. People sit around and casually chat and kids run around and do their thing.

The rocking of the boat didn’t bother me nearly as much today. By mid-morning today we spotted Fakaofo. My first sight of Tokelau is most certainly exciting and one I’ll never forget.

Putting together a small day pack with my camera and a bottle of water I jumped in the barge and smiled, ready to plant my feet on one of the most far-flung places on Earth.

Tokelau to a dedicated traveller is like a Ferrari to a classic car collector. Ashore I was! The police officers greeted me and I even got a photo of them and the village chief, or pulenuku.

The police instructed me where to get a passport stamp and I had about half hour to have a look around. My goal for Tokelau is to plant my feet on all three atolls. This is my first time visiting an atoll of any kind. Keeping a sharp eye on the boat, I got back on the barge ecstatic that I’ve finally reached Tokelau. The three atolls of Tokelau are no more than a few metres above sea level and are not visible from each other. So great are the atolls under threat from global warming is that Tokelau could be the first country to sink beneath the waves. At 11 AM we were on our way to Nukunonu (sounds like nookie-no-no). A headache crept up on me again so I went down to the cabin for another lie-down. Unlike yesterday I couldn’t sleep today even for a midday nap. Lunch was a simple one of instant kimchee noodles. The boat is much more comfortable than I expected but the ride has been a lot rougher than I expected, though yesterday was worse than today. At 2 PM we pulled into Nukunonu. Incredibly, I wasn’t allowed to get off and have a look. An agent from the office came over on the barge, saying that my paperwork never reached the atoll. When I explained that I was going to buy a couple of postcards I told him I’m obviously more valuable on the island than on the boat. He offered to stamp my passport for me, but I’m not getting it stamped unless I myself am on the atoll. Every bit of information I’ve been given about Tokelau has been misleading. It’s as if Tokelau doesn’t want visitors; if they’re going to be this difficult then they might as well just say “we don’t want visitors.” The agent said he’d speak with the police and see if I’m welcome to get off tomorrow whilst the boat is in port. As the MV Mataliki pulled away I watched Nukunonu grow smaller, worried that I may only be able to visit two of the three atolls. The chefs certainly know how to get creative with canned and instant food; dinner tonight was rice and chicken mixed with instant noodles in teriyaki sauce. Allow me to add that this food is by no means gourmet, just creative. The boat travelled slower than normal and I sat on the port side with a cuppa, watching the sun dip toward the horizon.

This journey may not have started comfortably but this journey is a dream come true. Travelling nearly the same way as Captain Cook, Magellan, and the explorers of yore, I sat contently listening to the waves as we drifted and sailed toward Atafu. I could see the tail of Scorpio so that prompted me to wander to the starboard side to see if I could see Orion. In Greek mythology, Orion and Scorpio were enemies and therefore never seen in the sky at the same time.

After yesterday and today, I can definitely say I'm most definitely content. As I watch the majestic stars and listen to the soothing waves, I have that amazing feeling of reaching Tokelau. Tomorrow morning we shall reach Atafu...



How was Atafu? I’m heading there soon

  Vince Mellars Nov 25, 2018 10:28 PM

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