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Escape from Tonga - Sharon's Story

 

Rae got crew to sail the 7-10 days Tonga to New Zealand leg of our trip.  I chose the easy way (3 hour flight).  Well things are not always so simple.

On Wednesday Nov. 15, I stood on the dock and waved goodbye to Mustang Sally and crew as they headed south.  After they left I walked into downtown Nuku' Alofa, Tonga to purchase my airline ticket to NZ. My flight to NZ was scheduled for 10:30PM  Thursday Nov 16.

For the last week there had been small groups of people protesting against the government in the park downtown. I spent Thursday walking all over downtown Nuku' Alofa killing time, waiting for my flight.

For the last few days the locals had held low key political protest against the new King in the park.  The protesters setup information booths.  The people had seemed quiet and orderly most of the protest signs were vague wordy proclamations that seemed wordy and lacked focus.  

I noticed that there were many more people attending the protest today but did not think too much about it. The crowds grew and got more vocal all day long till I started to feel uncomfortable. Around 4:00PM I decided the atmosphere had changed and I should probably get out of the area so I went back to my hotel and got my bags.

I stopped at a restaurant next door to my hotel for dinner before heading out to the airport.  While there I heard reports of buildings being set on fire and suddenly the power went out and the owner of the restaurant  kicked everyone out and boarded up the restaurant. I was now standing on the street waiting for a cab to the airport.

No cabs came along but a family stopped and gave me a ride to the airport, skirting most of the trouble in town.  I was very happy to be leaving town and at the airport .....until all flights were canceled.

The airlines felt it was unsafe to land aircraft because more and more buildings were being set on fire. The airport in Tonga is very small and only staffed if planes are arriving or departing so we had to leave and find accommodation.

The hotels in town were burning by now so the city was not an option.  I had been talking to a woman from Australia and she and I went to a Transit Lodge just outside of the airport.  Little did we know that we would become roommates for the next 4 days.

The people we were staying with drove us into the city the day after the violence and we witnessed the devastation.  Over 80% of the town core had been burned to the ground.

Most Chinese business had been looted and burned.  It was so sad to see places that I had visited not 24 hours ago completely gone.  Eight people were killed. The airport remained closed.

My new friend Angela called the Australian Embassy and was told that they were bringing in an air force jet to evacuate Aussies and Canadians. Boy did I hook up with the right person.

We were finally evacuated on the Sunday and flew not to NZ but to Australia where we were met by the Canadian Embassy, the Federal Police, trauma teams and the media.  I was the first person through customs thanks the the embassy guy and was immediately met by the media.

Over the next 3 days I heard myself interviewed on the radio and  read  my interview in the papers in both Australia and NZ but the biggest surprise was  lying in bed in NZ watching BBC World News and watching myself on TV!!!!

My 3 hour flight  took 6 days. Rae arrived 1 1/2 days later.

We are both very happy to be in New Zealand. It is very beautiful and reminds us very much of home.