Good nutrition whilst travelling can be tricky to say the least. Especially difficult if you are attempting to keep up a nutritiously dense plant based diet whilst in a remote place like Tonga in the Pacific Islands! Although the island we found wasn’t entirely deserted it was not far off it. We also had access to local produce prior to embarking to the island. But don’t be fooled, this was a challenge nonetheless! The aim of the game.. Roughing it on a plant based diet!
The Location – A small island situated just off the larger group of Ha’apai Islands in the Kingdom of Tonga. (19.8472° S, 174.4041° W ).
So given this scenario I have thrown myself into, eating only plant based food meant foraging for fruits, vegetables and nuts. We had 7 days of this “tribal-like” living. So what did an average day look like you might ask. Read on.
And so it begins…
So we set out from the mainland. Just my girlfriend, Jessa (also on a plant based diet), a Tongan boat man and the Pacific Ocean surrounding us. Getting out on the water in the Pacific Islands really puts in perspective how small this chain of islands really is, given they are dotted amongst the biggest and deepest ocean on Earth. Forty five minutes later we arrive at our new tropical home where we are welcomed by the whitest of sand, crystal clear turquoise water and a swarm of frenzied mosquitos.
After figuring out where we will sleep for the night we quickly turned our focus to food. So, the burning question, what can we eat on this island? To name a few ingredients that were at our disposal; papaya, bananas, taro leaves, potato, carrots, sweet potato and last but not least, coconuts which are in abundance here. Perfect for coconut water, coconut milk and desiccated coconut. We had access to rain water so hydration was not going to be an issue and we had come prepared with an emergency supply of PranaOn Super Greens and Mass Gainer. Not that we needed them, but in all honesty it was great to give the immune system a good kick with the Super Greens every couple of days along with the occasional Natural Mass shake to mix things up from time to time and also to add some more protein and carbs to our island diet. Unlike Australia, a positive was that we could light a fire on the beach without fear of repercussion.
Off to hospital we go.
Island life treated us well. Most days consisted off foraging for food/coconuts, sunbaking, snorkelling and amusing ourselves with random games we would make up on the go. But the first hurdle we did hit was whilst snorkelling around the islands. I managed to get entangled with a sea wasp which at first didn’t appear to be an issue besides a small rash but a few days later a strange growth began to occur under my armpit. A day later I couldn’t lift my arm above my head and was in immense pain. We briskly made our way back to the mainland to the local hospital, which in all honesty, didn’t look like much and it lived up to its appearance. The local doctor was called in, arriving in boardshorts and a torn tee shirt and bordering on 200+kg. The irony was, that prior to his arrival we had been reading a poster on the wall about healthy eating, it was becoming extremely apparent that diet was a serious issue for Tongans. Further testament to this was when the doctor leaned over to check my blood pressure, his chair broke away underneath him.
After inspection, the doctor and his staff all looked at each other with grim looks and muttered the word “punga” to each other. Safe to say this sequence of events scared the s#*t out of me. Being far from any serious medical help and with limited transport off the island (the airstrip runs from one end of the island to the other and is dissected by the island’s main road which is shut off by a basic gate and the pigs herded off the runway prior to a plane landing). I was finally put at ease when the doctor explained that it was a form of abscess that is extremely common in Tonga and could have been caused by the sea wasps poison travelling up through my lymph nodes and into my armpit. The town Pharmacist who happened to be conveniently sitting outside hooked me up with some dodgy smelling antibiotics and back on our merry way we went.
Tongan’s don’t discriminate when it comes to food.
The locals eat everything and in large volume. After speaking to a local boy by the name of William, we quickly learned that all animals are on the menu in most households including their pet dogs! The only animal spared is cats due to their undesirable taste.
To their credit, the Tongans are extremely resourceful and practical, living off the land and whatever is at their disposal. In comparison to places like Australia, where we are mass producing livestock on an industrial level to feed a market that is over consuming. The Tongan’s grow and kill their livestock in order to eat and survive.
In summary, all in all the week long challenge was at times tough-going, exciting, wild, gritty and definitely out of the comfort zone but we survived and had fun whilst doing so.
I have always had a fondness for Mother Nature and immersing myself in her creation. Often as a kid I would run away to nature when times got tough to find solitude and peace. If this adventure in Tonga has taught me anything, it is that the shoe is on the other foot and it is now Mother Nature who is seeking sanctuary in us. She is hurting. Exploding population growth, global warming coupled with over-commercialised agriculture and commodities gnawing at her very core. We need to become more aware as a society of the effects our food choices and living preferences are having on our planet.