Sunday, June 14, 2009

Paradise lost

We resume normal transmission, Legion of Fans (LOF). Mrs Blog and I have returned from the South Paficic with all body parts intact, having escaped being eaten by cannibals and (more realistically) food poisoning at the hands of the "chef" (read chief-defroster) at the Nukualofu International Airport Hotel.

Had us a great time, LOF, of that there was no doubt. I'd never fancied myself a cruise ship passenger (at least not for another 40 years or so), but I tell you, after a week aboard the Pacific Dawn I certainly had my sea legs (or was that the copious amount of beer I was drinking in the Lido Bar in between speaking engagements?). My favourite spot on the ship, however, was the poop deck, where Mrs Blog would lounge in our deck chairs in the sun and barely have to raise an eyebrow to attract the unifromed drink waiter's attention.

It was very, very relaxing. And WARM. Bloody hell, LOF, who turned off the heater in Australia while we were gone, eh?

I learned a new saying on Tonga: "Island Time". Island Time is remarkably similar to something else many of you will be familiar with - "African Time". Let us just say that unlike the snappy ship-shape service on the Pacific Dawn, things happenned ashore at their own pace in the Friendly Islands, and rarely without being asked for three or four times.

But how could you not be laid back and blissfully uncaring of interlopers' concepts of time and service when you lived in paradise? The people of the South Pacific (if one were to generalise) remind me of the good people of Botswana (if one were to generalise again). They live in a very nice place, run their own show, and don't much give a fig if tourists arrive late, early or not at all. I have to admire them for that.

Another similarity between the islands and Africa (apart from questionable and variable adherence to the rules of the road when driving) was the ever present spectre of times-past. I saw several charming old colonial homes and administrative buildings in Tonga and many of these had been allowed to go to rack and ruin. Why? Who knows. People don't have the time, inclination, or threat-of-flogging to keep the walls painted and the grass mown, I suppose.

The coast of Mozambique, I noticed (warning, warning, self-promotional segue approaching) is similarly studded with once shining touristic colonial jewels that are in dire need of a dip in coca cola or a scrub with the toothbrush.

In my soon-to-be-released sixth novel IVORY the lead character and modern-day pirate King, Alex Tremain, is trying to restore a once grand, but now run-down hotel on an island off the coast of Mozambique. Alex was born on the island, the priveleged son of the hotel's owners, but he and his family were forced to flee Mozambique when the Portuguese left en-masse in the 1970s.

I based Alex's hotel and the ficitious island where he lives on a number of similar old hotels and beautiful locales on the coast of Moz, from Xai Xai in the south, to the Bazaruto Archipelago, where I travelled extensively in search of inspiration and tax-deductions.

I had a pretty good idea in my own mind of what Alex's hotel must have looked like in its heyday, and how it looked these days. However, truth always being better and more interesting than fiction, I was de-socked to open an email from my ex-Zimbo friend Viv, and find this series of pictures which shows the Grande Hotel in the coastal city of Beira during the olden days of Portuguese rule in Mozambique...

...and then this pic which shows what the exact same hotel looks like these days!

And here's the swimming pool, circa Sasha Distelle...

... and today, where's it's still in use as a mosquito and malaria breeding facility.

So, if/when you pick up your copy of IVORY post August 1 and you want to get an idea of how things were/are in Mozambique, you could do worse than referring back to these amazing pics.
I spent some time in the coastal town of Vilanculos while researching and writing IVORY and was interested to see that its local concrete palace, the Hotel Dona Ana, was undergoing frantic restoration. Mozambique was devastated by civil war for many years and tourism is playing a key role in rejuvenating the country's economy.
It's a funny thing... part of Mozambique's attraction at the moment is that it is relatively quiet and low key in some places (outside of South African school holidays) and the infrastructure (or lack thereof) is keeping out mass tourism. I'm not looking forward to the day when I have to arm wrestle some Teutonic tourist for a sun bed and umbrella by the pool, but another part of me hopes that one day more of these grande olde monoliths will once more be gleaming with white wash and brimming with people in sandals and socks.
The very fact that so many of these colonial hotels are still standing on the coast is a tribute to the Portuguese colonialists' appreciation and mastery of the art of concreting. They mightn't be as attractive as a low-key, eco-friendly burres made of palm fronds and rafia work, but they do stand up to the odd cyclone and the test of time very well.

African Time and Island Time are all well and good, LOF, and I'd hate to sea the Indian Ocean coast of Mozambique built-out from north to south, but there's room on the beach and in the market for a few more of these concrete colonial casas and their snappily-attired and snappily-moving drinks waiters to make a come back.


Herr Doktor said...

Thanks for that! Island time and African time are exactly the same. This has always been a sore point between my wife and I. You know me I run to schedule, timing is everything. Mrs Herr Dok,being African, runs on her own time, this has caused quite a bit of drama over the last 25 years. Especially catching a plane in Africa no one seems to worry about getting to the airport on time. Still that's one of the great things about Africa, the casual disregarding of tourists and their timings! Also I see you are teaming up with the Painted Dog Society again in Perth looking forward to catching up and drinks, see you then!

Trin said...

Fiji has Fiji time, which would be very similar to Island Time. It basically means "when you feel like it" and is always delivered with a shrug of the shoulders or a laugh. Ask when the early morning is happening - after breakfast comes the reply. That could end up meaning after breakfast tomorrow. Tonga sounds very much like Fiji.

Re your comment on room for more casas. I guess I'm a little opposed to development of this nature - generally speaking and having not been there. There is a lot of development going on in Fiji (relatively speaking)and I dislike seeing what used to be virgin land being built on at a great rate of knots - where there used to be a spit of land, you now see concrete buildings with six inches between them if they're lucky. But it isn't only the building, it is what follows. Instead of sitting on the beach without a sound other than the waves lapping and the slurp of your straw sucking up the creamy tropical cocktail in your hand, there is now the sound of a sightseeing helicopter or plane overhead - it's "civilzation" intruding. And more people, then more commercialism etc. etc. - it kills the simplistic essence which to me is the beauty.

Anonymous said...

Tony, sounds an awful lot like Mauritian time as well. Stayed on the west coast "Flic-in-Flac" (real name)in 1992 - don't suppose much has changed - my folks said it was the same in the 1960s...nuf said. Anyway, my Mum was born there so I guess she would have known.
Still like you say there are worse places - outer Mongolian or the Gulag would be be worse.
Hope to catch up next time you & Mrs Blog are in Audrey