05 August 2010 | Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga
(Last night) We are 20 miles from the Kingdom of Tonga, visible in the darkness only because a soft light glows on the horizon -- the late-night lights of a small Tongan town, although I'm not sure which. Alpha and Beta Centauri have just slid below the horizon, and the Milky Way dominates the sky above, like a cloudy umbrella. We lost our wind, the seas have laid down, and we're motoring slowly in calm water and warm night air toward the northern tip of the island.
This is the time of night I always become extra vigilant, nearing daylight, knowing that around the world the fisherman are waking up and heading out in their small boats for the mornings' catch. Not to mention, the capsized catamaran still hasn't been sighted, although in our radio conversations last night with a few other cruisers headed this way we all agreed the current was actually a SW drift, so the boat should be way south of us, and quite likely embedded on a reef fringing the eastern shore. Not a cheerful thought, but one that has the scavengers starting to talk.
(Later) We've arrived in Neiafu, Vava'u (Va-va-oo) and it's -- really, it's the best. I think I have cruiseheimers bad, really really scary bad, because I'm like the idiot who forgets the joke you told them yesterday, so you can tell it again today and they laugh just as heartily. I love everyplace I go and forget how much I loved the previous one. I seem to have no ability to compare, I just take each new place as it comes and feel like a kid in a candy store, it's really sort of pathetic, but it's fun for me. And amusing for others, no doubt.
Tonga looks much like Niue from the sea, but rather than one long flat pancake it's a whole lot of pancakes tossed about. Low-slung, palm tree encrusted lumps of land are everywhere, some with a few houses on them, many uninhabited. We snaked around on blissfully glassy water through the channel that leads back to Neiafu and saw almost no one, and then we rounded the last corner and came face-to-face with one of the most popular cruising meccas in the South Pacific. They even have a morning Cruisers Radio Net here, which we haven't encountered since Puerto Vallarta. We tuned in at 8:30 as we motored through the fiords, and got the scoop on who's having a BBQ, where to swap books, get transmission fluid, and even got some info on the check in process. We understand Tonga is much like the popular cruising spots in Mexico where cruisers go, fall in love with the place and forget to actually go cruising, or go home. They stay. They buy businesses, volunteer in the community, set up services for cruisers, hang out. Tonga apparently has a very well-embedded sailing community from around the world. They arrange benefit dinners for education and school supplies for the local kids, set up trash pick-up days, hold yoga classes and boat swap meets.
We tied to the wharf and were immediately visited by the Quarantine guy and the Customs guys. Over cold Cokes (nice to have an ice maker aboard ...) they took all our info, gave us some official paperwork and told us we could pay our fees later when we get money. We left the wharf and picked up a mooring, of which there are many in this quiet, protected harbor, and set off to get said money and pay our debts, as well as be available to help the boats coming in behind us. The exchange rate is very good for us, and it will be an affordable stay, which will be nice.
S/v's Paikea Mist, Serenity, and Curious came in an hour or so behind us, and we greeted them and set off for lunch. The Aquarium Cafe is right near our boat, and is one of many waterfront cafe's with a dinghy dock, great food, and free wifi. So here I sit, working on my second Mata Maka, the local Tongan brew, having polished off a delicious fish curry. Allan is napping on the boat and I'm trying to beat my battery to the punch and get this posted.
The breeze is blowing softly, spinning the wind generators on the cruising yachts in the harbor into a gentle whirl, and wafting the scents of Tonga onto this second-floor open-air deck where I am camped. Scents of fragrant trees, cooking food, lush vegetation. Yeah, I could be one of those people who forget to leave ...