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Monday, February 6, 2017

The story of Villa Mamana may turn grizzly

Villa Mamana in late 2014 after cyclone Ian had struck


Neglected by its owners, vandalised by locals, and damaged by cyclone Ian in January 2014, there isn't much left of what the Lonely Planet Travel Guide had described as "the most exclusive and beautiful accommodation in Tonga".

I've had a love affair with Villa Mamana on the island of Telekivava'u ever since I heard about it from my friend Horst Berger during my trip to Tonga in 2006. He's been a resident of Tonga since 1994 and had 'house-sat' the place for its original creator, Joe Altenhein.

Joe and his wife Lola sold Villa Mamana to a bunch of Americans in 2002 and returned to Germany. The Americans employed a string of 'house-sitters', notably Steve Gates who stayed for a whole three years, and most recently Nina and Adrian Hoffmann from Germany who still enjoyed all the luxuries that Villa Mamana had to offer - see here.

And that may have been it until this email arrived from Switzerland:

"I am a Swiss biologist and have always had a tendency for nature, wild animals and the outdoors. For years I have been travelling to Alaska to live with wild grizzly bears. Now with two little girls, my wife and I thought that it is time for a new adventure. For years we have been thinking about going to Tonga and now we have 3 months off for an extended visit. After having done some research, I came across your island and since Adrian and Nina Hoffmann are German, of course, we have heard about their story and book. I have no idea what the current status of your resort on Telekivavau Island is, but spontaneously we thought we give it a try and write you a short email. My wife has been working in the hotel industry and I myself have guided many trips to the bears in the past years. We were wondering if you are looking for a caretaker of your house on Telekivavau Island between June and August?! With warm greetings from Switzerland. David"

After a bit of GOOGLEing, the writer turned out to be the 39-year-old bear fancier David Bittner who made a name for himself in his native Switzerland for living too-close-for-my-comfort with grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness.

He and his wife Cécile and their daughters Leonie and Rowena, six and three years old respectively, to say nothing of their cat Gomez, seem to be looking for a climate change far away from grisly grizzly bears.

Good on you, David and Cécile! But before you go, please watch this movie of 18-year-old Martin Popplewell's desert-island adventure in 1989 and his return trip to the island twelve years later:

After seven months on Ulithi Atoll, they gave this closing interview:

With the help of GOOGLE, I found out that this 18-year-old kid who first took 30-year old Helen and then his high-school dream girl Rachel to his private island, turned into a prominent gay, while Rachel got married and then divorced and turned lesbian. Is that what a desert island does to you? ☺

But back to you, David and Cécile: are you still keen on Telekivava'u? If so, I'd be happy to carry your bags even though your 'Switzerdeutsch' (Swiss German) is almost unintelligible to me! ☺