In February 2012 I received this email from Joe (Jörg) in Berlin:
|Hi Peter, |
I lost Horst's email address - horstberger??@??. Do you have it? Do you know if he sometimes checks it?
Regards from a very chilly Berlin,
Joe & Lola (formerly residents of Teleki'vavau Island, Ha'apai)
Hotel Pension Senta
Bundesallee 137, 12161 Berlin
Telefon: +49 (0)30 - 850 73 73
Fax: +49 (0)30 - 852 11 66
I first heard about Joe when I visited Tonga in 2006 and quite by chance met Horst Berger who had at one time been caretaker on Joe's property, Villa Mamana, on tiny Teleki'vavau Island.
Joe had come to Tonga in 1994 following a royal visit to Germany by the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. during which the king had invited German citizens to come and live and invest in his tiny kingdom. Joe, a pilot, had been looking for the right place to start his seaplane business in an island country with many islands and sandy beaches with shallow lagoons. He thought the Maldives were too Islamic, the Bahamas too screwed up, Fiji too Indian, but Tonga just right: very authentic, relatively untouched, with nice people and beautiful weather, and foreign investment officially welcomed.
However, with the Government delaying the issuing of an operating license for his seaplane, he and his by now Tongan wife Lola decided to wait and in the meantime build, as a support business to their original plans, Villa Mamana on Teleki'vavau. For more than six years he created, single-handedly with just the occasional help from some local fishermen, this most exquisite resort. It must've been a labour of love because the logistics and the costs to transport material and build on this tiny and remote island must have been quite daunting. Finally, he was able to welcome his first $500-a-day paying guests as well as Astrid and Martin, two non-paying "Weltenbummler", from whom he hoped to receive some much-needed publicity.
Eventually, with their two children needing schooling, Joe and Lola put Villa Mamana up for sale and moved to the main island Tongatapu, where there was little else to do but grow some vanilla and look after some cows and papaya plants.
This travel blog, written (in German) in April 2008 by Sandra and Thomas, two Swiss visitors to Ha'apai, mentions Loli (or Lolani, Roland Schwara) , a German who'd come out to Tonga in the mid-1990s, operated a diving school in Ha'apai and was then employed as caretaker at US$3,000 a month by Villa Mamana's new American owners who visited no more than two or three times a year for just a few days. Loli was making his once-a-month three-hour round-trip to Pangai, the administrative centre of Ha'apai, which, at 30 knots, cost 100 litres/hour of fuel, or US$600. At $1,500 a night, he only had three paying guests at Villa Mamana in the last 1-1/2 years and perhaps felt a bit lonely because he invited our Swiss travellers to stay on the island for a month for free and even offered them a few months' paid work as relieving caretakers!
According to a passing yachtie's blog dated 24 July 2010, "Telekivavau used to have a one guest house resort on it but the people have left and everything is boarded up, but we managed to tap into one of the water tanks and catch up on washing again. The front of the guest house looked lovely with all our washing strung between the coconut trees out front. There were green bananas and papayas, beans growing along the ground but nothing ripe yet."
And now Joe and Lola have returned to Germany and operate a 'Hotel-Pension' in the centre of Berlin! What I like to know is how somebody who's lived for over a decade in the South Seas can put up with the cold and crammed lifestyle in Germany? As he writes, "We all had the best time of our lives on the island, and will always miss it - unless we find another island and build a 'Villa Mamana Lite' just for us."
If home is where the heart is, where is Joe's heart and where is his home? The South Sea Islands are great cannibals; they have eaten the hearts of many of their visitors, who will never be wholly at home anywhere else again.
P.S. The current owner of Villa Mamana, Matt Muirhead, asked me to resurrect the old website www.villamamana.com which I have done although I was not able to secure the old domain name.
P.P.S. Since then Matt's dream of paradise in the South Seas has turned to ashes - see here.