Journal 30; Tonga
August 27 - October 1, 2010
We spent September in Vava’U, the northern chain of islands of The Kingdom of Tonga. It was a great month and we found it to be an oasis surrounded by ocean. Tonga is a series of 170 islands, 134 are uninhabitable due to a lack of fresh water. The Vava’U islands are in close proximity and combined with the many reefs the waters are quite benign and beautiful. It was so tranquil we thought we were back in the Chesapeake, not in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!
Tonga is a very poor country and it is sad that many of its citizens are forced to leave the islands for New Zealand, Australia and the United States to support their families. The majority of Tongans are big people and on formal occasions both the men and women wear long, black skirts with a woven mat wrapped around their waists. With the mats enlarging their waists, it is understandable why Tongans play rugby front line positions. To view Tongan’s unique dress, please double click the following link: you tube
Tongans are Polynesian and they speak their own language. English is taught in their schools but their comprehension is limited. When walking past children, rather than say “hello” they call out “good-bye.” That seems wrong although they are half correct.
We attended several church services throughout Polynesia and the singing has all been superb. With that said, Tongans are the best. At the local Catholic Church the congregation almost “blew the roof off” with their a’cappella style of singing. It was quite dramatic and we unable to properly describe its beauty. Tongans really enjoy their singing and the 6am choir practices provided El Regalo heavenly morning wake up serenades.
We had the pleasure to attend a Tongan feast that was a fundraiser for Lape Island. They made a marvelous feast that included a roasted pig. For every dollar donation Canadian AID pledged to donate three dollars to rebuild their jetty destroyed by several cyclones (hurricanes). We got to talking with the local coordinator, Kelo, and this is a shortened version of his story and views of life on Lape Island:
Kelo’s wife was born on Lape Island and therefore inherited land. However, soon after marrying they moved to American Samoa where their children were born. He now has two in the U.S. military; one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan. A few years ago they moved back to Lape Island where the population is currently 28 people. The island has a school house with three elementary students. When students reach high school age they move to Neiafu, the largest town in Vava’U, where several private (church sponsored) and a public high school are located. Students from remote islands live with relatives or make other arrangements so attending high school can be a financial hardship. As found throughout Polynesia the homes are very small, usually only two rooms, maybe one long table and a few chairs. Families sit on the floor and spread out blankets and mats to sleep.
We had time to take some pleasant walks on several islands. While walking in the countryside we observed huge spiders that were EVERYWHERE! They were creepy! We also saw fruit bats hanging upside-down in the trees during the day. These guys were also a little scary but the screeching noises they made throughout the day were entertaining!
There were two big organized activities while here in Vava’U; a fishing tournament and a sailing regatta. The fishermen landed over 23 marlins and released all of them except for two (these were dead by the time the hooks could be released). The sailing regatta was a week full of activities including two yacht races, which of course being broken we couldn’t participate in. The highlight of the regatta was the Full Moon party, which of course being what we are, we did participate. A lot of fun!
Snorkeling has been good though we have found that the coral, while alive and doing well, is not very colorful. There were a few isolated colorful pieces along with these bright blue starfish that were plentiful. The small reef fish were abundant and curious so we managed to capture two precious pictures.
We will now make our way to the southern islands of Tonga and then look for a good weather window for the difficult 1,000 mile passage south to New Zealand. Our forestay is still broken so we will be sailing slow. Roaring Forties here we come!
All the best to everyone,
Brian and JoDon