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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Eine Insel nur für uns - eine wahre Geschichte von Einsamkeit und Zweisamkeit

... and here's another clip on BR Fernsehen


Back in November 2010 a young couple from Germany, Nina and Adrian Hoffmann (to say nothing of their dog Sunday) flew out to Tonga to house-sit Villa Mamana on the tiny island of Telekivava'u in Ha'apai in the Kingdom of Tonga.

They were just two in a long line of house-sitters, from Steve Gates to Claudia & Roland Pizarro and Roland Schwara and Horst Berger, who since 2003 had been hired by the owners, Kendall Struxness and Matt Muirhead, to keep an eye on the place and perhaps welcome guests who could book into this luxurious place at US$1,060 per night - click here.

Villa Mamana on the tiny island of Telekivava'u - according to the Lonely Planet Travel Guide "probably the most exclusive and beautiful accommodation in Tonga ... one for celebrities"
For more photos, click here ~ To read more about Villa Mamana, click here

None of the other house-sitters had thought of it but Nina and Adrian wrote several newspaper articles about their stay on the island which they turned into a Robinson Crusoe story. In reality they lived in the lap of luxury in a white villa facing a white sandy beach, spent their days reclining on a shady verandah gazing out to the blue South Pacific and their evenings curled up on a soft lounge watching DVDs, and in their private moments admired the imported marble in the bathroom, before retiring to their four-poster bed. For a reality check click here.

The humble cookhouse ("eine kleine Hütte")

Indeed, they had felt so comfortable in this luxurious tropical island resort, that they came back for a second stint of house-sitting - when was it? - in 2013 but on that occasion they left again immediately because, as he complained to me by email, the toilets no longer flushed, the washing machine didn't work, and in any case they couldn't get the island's two generators started to have electricity. Boohoo!

Of course, according to their newspaper articles and in their recently published book, they were always fighting their way through the jungle, or cooking over a primitive fire in front of their palm-clad hut on the beach. The closest they came to admitting that the island was not just wilderness was when they showed a photo of the humble cookhouse which was a bit of a dead give-away. I mean, does every desert island come with a cute architect-designed cookhouse?

Click here for an aerial view of Telekivava'u

Mind you, when in January 2016 they returned to the island with their three-year-old daughter - totally uninvited and unannounced; had they never heard of trespassing? - reality had come closer to their fiction because, as the owners wrote here in January 2015, "This past year our houses and property were ransacked. Locals stole everything they could fit in boats. We don't know who it was but have our suspicions. The loss is too much to overcome. The jungle and culture wins".

In November 2014 the good ship 'Laragh of Cork' visited Telekivava'u and left these comments and photos - see here and here - showing the devastation caused by Cyclone Ian eleven months earlier. As they wrote, "There were still some brochures from 2008, books and a shed full of odds and ends. It was disheartening to see the roof leaking and moisture coming in to the marble bathrooms ..."

To read a few sample pages, click here and here

Nina and Adrian have now published a book, Eine Insel nur für uns - eine wahre Geschichte von Einsamkeit und Zweisamkeit or, loosely translated into English, "An Island to Ourselves * - a true story of loneliness and togetherness" which has also been made into an audio book - click here. "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story" might have been a better title.
(* The title - in fact, the whole structure of Adrian's book - echoes Tom Neale's "An Island to Oneself" which is his favourite book according to his facebook page (oops! since deleted; I wonder why?). Glad to know you read what I sent you a few years ago, Adrian - click here.)

Things come apart so easily when they're held together with lies: in the book's chapter 4 they write that they met a forty-year-old South African in Fiji who told them about a 'secret island' (echoes of "The Beach"?); Adrian tells the TV interviewer that he found the island by making inquiries with the Tongan Ministry of Lands.

According to Telekivava'u's owners, they had been kicked off the island they'd been on in Fiji and, while looking for another option, found Villa Mamana's website. Having heard from the owners that the island was uninhabited at the time, they went there, totally uninvited and unannounced, to check it out. Of course, they liked it and offered to caretake it for free if they could stay in the luxurious guest house. The owners agreed and met them on the island six months later.

The book's frontipiece contains the words, "Vielleicht wäre es besser gewesen, wir hätten nie eine einsame Insel betreten" (Perhaps it would have been better, had we never set foot on a desert island). Perhaps it would have been better still, Nina and Adrian, had you truthfully reported of the existence of the luxurious Villa Mamana and, better yet, dedicated the true story to the owners of Villa Mamana who so generously made the island's luxurious facilities available to you.

I sampled some of the 300-odd pages but couldn't find any mention of four-poster beds or of marble-clad ensuite bathrooms; or of Nina's father making several trips to Nuku'alofa with supplies of freeze-dried food, solar equipment, etc; or of Nina's father soliciting one of the island's owners, Jamie Woodburn, to take some five-month supplies of food and essentials to the island; or of the fishermen from nearby islands constantly supplying them with fresh fish. This wasn't Robinson Crusoe all over again; this was Tom Cruise luxury!

I won't rush out to buy the book. If I want fiction, I buy fiction.

P.S. And here's the not-so-happy sequel: sometime in late 2016 or early 2017, Nina and Adrian separated which seems to have taken Adrian's mind off remote tropical islands to become a campaigner for divorced fathers' access to their estranged children - here's his campaign website. As they wrote on the book's flyleaf, "Vielleicht wäre es besser gewesen, wir hätten nie eine einsame Insel betreten" (Perhaps it would have been better, had we never stepped ashore on a desert island).