12/13/2012, Apia, Western Samoa
A beautiful scene in Western Samoa
We either had such poor internet or lacked the time to upload these pictures from Western Samoa. This was a beautiful country with truly friendly people. We went on an overnight adventure with a group of fellow cruisers and saw the sights shown in the photo gallery "Western Samoa". We hope you enjoy these pictures.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Western Samoa who are being hit with Cyclone Evan as we send this post.
11/08/2012, Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga
Ben completes his advanced diving certificate with Keri and Helena from S/V Merilelu
November 4, 2012
Find Your Inner Flea
No, I haven't gone looney, and no, I do not have fleas. I have, however, recovered from a nasty staph infection on my hand and face - courtesy of the very loving children of Niuetoputapu - so no more painful oozing sores for me, yay!. So what's your inner flea you're wondering? Well, as we thoroughly enjoyed a live performance called Augustine's Circus Spectacular the other night, I had to keep pinching myself. Who would have thunk we would be treated to such talent in the tiny capital of Vava 'u? And yes, this show was a flea circus (damn, I forgot my glasses so I couldn't see the little devils!). What a creative delight it was with a great moral to the story - hence "Find Your Inner Flea". In all of us, deep down, lies a bit of the strengths of the three main characters of the show; Hercules, Jimmy, and Fifi, and this is what each and every one of us needs to get in touch with. Like Hercules, we need to find our courage - to forge ahead and stay strong when times are tough. Like Jimmy, we need to maintain our openness and innocence. And like Fifi, let your inner and outer beauty shine through at all times. Within the next few days all of these things will be put to the test for us as we wait for a weather window to make our run to New Zealand. We need to stay strong and healthy for what will probably be the hardest passage of our life as of yet. We need to have faith and believe in ourselves and our boat. And, we need to have extra love and grace in our thoughts and our actions towards each other as the stress of this long passage builds.
Vava 'u, Tonga has been a true cruisers paradise. Accessibility to the town of Neiafu, for groceries (albeit the worst provisioning as of yet this whole season), internet (albeit slow), restaurants (there are a few pretty yummy ones), and beautiful anchorages all within an hour or two from each other make it so. The water for diving and snorkeling has been the clearest we have seen as of yet, and the coral in a few places simply amazing. We arrived here right at the end of the humpback whale season, as they have now all left to make their long trek back to Antarctica, so we were very lucky to have had the experience we did in the previously posted video. It has been distressing to learn of some of the changes and possible threats that have taken place here within the past few years. The first, as with many places in the world I'm sure, is the condition and/or death of the coral. One of the problems here now is the fact that apparently there is a lust for the sea cucumber for the Chinese. So what happens, is that the locals see it as an easy way to make money and simply go out and pick them up by the buckets full to be shipped out. Anytime the balance in nature is disrupted there are consequences. But what is so surprising is how quick this happens and when we speak with people who have been living here and are witnessing these changes it is frightening. We can attest to the fact that as we travel through these countries, and see time and time again an Asian country who is donating solar power to the homes, or building bridges or stadiums or highways or schools, all great things, but these "free" things are not really free. I know I sound harsh, and I do apologize for this, but this has been a common running theme for several years now and we are appalled and sick of hearing about it. The new threat we are hearing here is the possibility of the Tongans opening up their waters to the Japanese for their whaling quota - in the name of research I'm sure. Bottom line is, the way people are eating and catching fish/marine animals now is not at a sustainable rate and the fragile balance in the entire ocean eco-system is at risk. It is very, very sad.
As of last Friday, we were all cleared out of the country, fueled up, and well provisioned for several weeks. The plan was to let Ben finish up his advanced scuba certification, say goodbye to several of the local friends we have made and head directly to New Zealand, with a possible stop in Minerva Reef if the weather called for it. By Saturday morning however, on the advisement of our weather router Commanders Weather, our plans were put on hold due to a low that was building over Fiji, heading our direction and looking like it was going to cause high winds and seas. Sigh...these are the trials and tribulations of sailing, only this time there are so many boats that we know that are in various positions of this journey that our thoughts are all consumed with their safety. We listen morning and night to the crackling SSB (single side band radio) noting their position updates and conditions. I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about them and pray for their safety. My stomach feels like it is in knots. We are tired, we are ready, and we just want to get going.
Nov.8 - The storm passed over us last night as we were still safely tied on to a solid mooring ball tucked in Neiafu harbor, very happy that we did not take off on Saturday. To our horror this morning there are currently three boats in treacherous conditions, one that has turned around to try and get back to the boat that was rolled over, with injuries to the sailors and now the boat is taking on water. The third boat has sent out a distress call but that is all anyone knows.
We are also very sad to say that we have just learned that Larry's mom has gone through a series of tests, finding that her cancer has returned in several areas. We can only imagine what she is going through and it is killing us that we are not there to play a supportive role. On the other hand we realize how blessed we are that once we do get to her, after getting the boat squared away in New Zealand, we can stay indefinitely due to our lifestyle.
One day at a time, is all that any of us can do. Make it a good one, go out and put a smile on someone's face, and look deep inside for your "inner flea"...I know it's there! XO
PS: November 9, 0745 Update of the sailboat that rolled over. Another sail boat turned around and went back for them in high winds and high seas. They could only make 2 knots and where 30 miles away. They are standing by with the stricken vessel. A freighter was also asked to respond and arrived on scene at 2100hrs last night. As of this morning the seas where to high to safely remove the injured sailors from their vessel. So they will wait for the seas to calm down. A Warship is also responding and will arrive later tonight. They are all in our prayers.
10/30/2012, Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga
October 23, 2012
Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga
There are only a couple places on earth where you can actually swim with the whales. We were fortunate enough to do this in Vava'u.
After the music ends in the video you will see the calf swimming past the camera. She was following us back to the boat. Mama whale didn't like that and you'll see her roll over as she swims toward the surface. She did a huge fin slap and created chaos. You'll see the camera flying around and hear the guide asking "Is everyone ok?".
Hope you enjou the video!!!
10/29/2012, Niuetoputapu, Kingdom of Tonga
View from Niuetoputapu of what we call "Hersey Kiss Island"
Oct. 7, 2012
They Like White Meat
"They like white meat." This is what I am told by the locals time and time again as I am slapping at myself and waving my arms around either like I am having a seizure or a schizophrenic attack whilst being swarmed by mosquitoes. Seriously?! I mean, seriously a mosquito can tell the difference between darker skin and mine? Exactly how much darker do I have to get?! Ben already calls me "burnt toast", and yes I do wear sunscreen... most of the time. It's just hard keeping up with the sunscreen, the bug spray etc...and when you constantly are applying it to your skin you start to break out in a rash and it just gets old feeling like a slimy, greasy, sweaty thing walking around all the time. Now, please don't let me discourage you in any way from visiting these islands and what we have experienced. The good far outweighs any negative aspects of these islands, (and by the way I got many more mosquito bites in Mexico), but it is funny that it is always me with the halo of the little blood suckers. Once again I provide the humor for my family.
So here I sit, at a restaurant/bar called Mango's in Vava 'u, Tonga, listening to the soundtrack from the movie Xanadu watching a gorgeous sunset in the most placid anchorage I think we have EVER been in. As I reflect back, the past six months of this journey seem like a lifetime. I feel like I have really lived. I have really accomplished something. I have really been somewhere. Can you honestly say, that if the big man finally decides that your life is over that you would go, "Okay, I'm ready". But it's kind of that feeling you have at this stage, this tired stage for us boaters, the stage where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel (New Zealand and five months of rest), the feeling of satisfaction that you have faced your fears head on (sometimes literally) to live your dream.
Our first stop in Tonga was the tiny island of Niuetoputapu. Population 800 (and at least the same amount in pigs running around). No electricity. Heavily damaged by the 2009 tsunami. One supply ship a month. Two stores (one in a storeroom attached to the kindergarten). THIS is the real Tonga. "Bring it on", we said, and jumped right into a week full of relationship building, fun, charity, love, and experiences to lock away into our memories forever. (I want to cry just writing this now!) This was definitely the most meaningful of stops this season because it wasn't all self serving for us. It was a chance for us to get down and dirty with the locals, provide needs and add a little joy into their everyday life. It was a chance to lighten up the load again (do we really need all this stuff?). Ben donated his 30 lbs. of Leggo's to the local kindergarten where they will be built and rebuilt for years to come. We handed out his matchbox cars to the children and helped them build ramps to race them down, (some we're 50 year old cars that were Larry's when he was young). We blew up balloons as we strolled along in the local village and the children would squeal in delight chasing after them, (see what I mean, don't you want to cry?).
As I said earlier, there are pigs EVERYWHERE. Baby ones and big ones, little ones and skinny ones, and even pregnant ones. They all just roam around freely...as well as the dogs and chickens. All of the pigs have an owner, and each owner has a special way that they call their pig...I guess if they need it to come home or they decide it's time eat them. Apparently, sometimes the pig will come home and squeal at their owner if they are hungry and want to be fed. One man I met had to show me his pig, that was absolutely GInormous and had a permanent injury to its leg, and told me the story of how after the tsunami he ran down to see the damage to his home and came across this tiny piglet that was hurt. He scooped him up and they have been best of friends ever since. You could see the love between them. This was his miracle pig and these are the kind of stories you get to hear when you come to a place like this.
The children...oh the children...never have we been to a place as of yet that they are so loving. It was easy to have three hanging on to me on each hand, or hugging me, or braiding my hair. I don't ever think I have felt so loved in my life. Then I fell in love with one girl in particular, Ma 'ata. She is twelve years old, very pretty, and apparently very smart - or so her teacher says. And she and all her friends had their eyes on Ben. He takes it so well and is such a sport! Larry and I just giggle!
On Saturday, some of us cruisers decided to throw a little spontaneous carnival for the children. We prepared cakes and cookies, and walked through the little town yelling, "Who wants to play?" I think we ended up with at least forty kids, and even the older teenagers came and joined in the volleyball game we had put up. We had music, and face painting, and played all sorts of silly games like one legged races and the water balloon toss. The "hit" game was tying a string around your waist (like a belt), then having another string hanging off the rear with a nail tied on. Then you place a bottle behind you (like a large beer or a wine bottle) having to carefully and steadily sit back, trying to get the nail into the bottle. It's challenging - you should try it! As a matter of fact, it could be a super game at a family reunion I think! The kids loved it...then Elder Jenkins showed up. Now we had met Elder Jenkins earlier, who is a nice young man doing his mission trip for the Mormon Church, (the Mormon Church has been prevalent throughout all of French Polynesia and now Tonga, even building a beautiful high school in Neiafu, Vava 'u). We really enjoyed talking with him and I wish I could have talked with him more, finding out just exactly it is that he does. Anyway, it kind of made me feel a little funny, as we danced around sillily (if that isn't a word, it should be!) giggling with the children as he stood by and watched, and of course there was always the ever present group of children squatting - trying to get the nail in the beer bottle! Oh well, this was the way we chose to show our love to the people that day, no judgments I hope!
The next morning we waited on the road for an open bed flat truck that drives around town and picks people up who are going to church. We climbed into the back with the other locals and bumped down the road to go to the Catholic service. Even though the service is in Tongan, if you are ever in this part of the world do not miss a service as the choir and the singing of the members is exquisite, melodic, and powerful, leaving you with goose bumps. But no one came up to us and said "hello". No one approached and said welcome. Even the children were very serious (not at all like at our carnival the day before), dressed in their best clothes and frilly dresses. Even the babies were dressed to the nines. Sunday is a seriously religious day for the Tongans, a day of prayer and rest. Apparently not even fishing or swimming is allowed on this day of rest.
As we sat at anchor, safely tucked in behind the reef, watching the humpback whales swim their usual route each day on the outside of the reef - occasionally getting frisky and thrusting their bodies into the air in a breach, ending in a white water explosion as their 45 ton bodies land back in the water, one after another of our friends departed heading for their next destination. But we had been invited to a feast at the school on Wednesday, which takes place once a year after the children have completed their exams, that all of the school mothers put on. How could we say no? We felt honored to have been asked. Again here was a wonderful way to donate colored paper, ink and felt tip pens, pencils, books and magazines in English (they just ate up Ben's Kids National Geographic magazines, thanks Grama Sandy and Aunt "B") as their entire library was wiped out in the tsunami. We gave Ben's old science books including all the rock samples and supplies for the chemistry experiments. The teachers were thrilled. Once again we saw the flat bed trucks, bumping down the road with these decorated two tiered wooden structures filled with the food for the feast, and then draped with lace tablecloths to keep the flies out. When we reached the school we were sat on a bench in front of the elaborate food structures, someone from the school said a prayer (I think) and then everyone lifted up the lace covering and dug in...literally...with just your hands. There was whole pig after whole pig, with coconut crab and lobsters piled on top, with small plastic boxes of octopus, or egg salad, or unidentifiable things. There were white yams that were roasted in foil, and huge slices of watermelon. Packages of cookies and chips were tied all over for decoration, and apples and sodas balanced on top. And no one said a word. They just sat there stuffing their face (literally), as school official after school official spoke (in Tongan) about - oh, I suppose - school stuff. We were kept company by the many flies buzzing us, and the starving dogs that were scrounging at our feet. It was quite an experience and quite an orgy of food for the local people as they certainly do not eat like this on a regular basis. But, when it came to poking my fingers through the pig's skin to grab a handful of its meat, I just couldn't do it. And when everyone was finished, we all stood up and the next group moved, sat down, and dug in.
What ended up being the most special part of that day was when we had the pleasure of having over two of the young teachers from the primary school, husband and wife Vea and Theresa, for dinner that night. And even better yet (was this a God thing?), when it came time to dinghy them back to shore, a fierce storm passed through and we just could not safely get them back to land - therefore they had to sleep over. They loved the bed (mattresses as we know them are not an option here for most people). They loved the Oral B toothbrushes and Colgate toothpaste I had for them, and they got to try things like Dr. Pepper, and a latte the next morning. Just watching the revelation on their face as they tried new things, things that they had seen in a movie once, was priceless. We all had a great time, and talked and talked. By the morning the weather had cleared and with tears in our eyes (Vea, the husband cried, which was explained to us that Tongan men are not even allowed to cry at their own father's funeral) we hugged and said goodbye, vowing to stay in touch - possibly even return next year.
Niuetoputapu will forever stay in our hearts. What a great first stop in the Kingdom of Tonga. With a heavy heart, and a very empty Lisa Kay (and I do mean we are absolutely out of everything!), off to Vava 'u we sail, to the land of some restaurants, grocery stores, and internet...'ish!
10/01/2012, Apia, Western Samoa
One of many beautiful waterfalls in Western Samoa
Sept. 27, 2012
Lying halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand is Samoa, made up of ten islands. Western Samoa became the first Pacific nation to gain independence and is celebrating its 50 year anniversary this year. Having its own unique culture - known as fa'a- Samoa, the Samoan way of life, we have truly felt the warmth in the people here making this stop in our journey a real treat. This devout Christian nation is so peaceful , and being closely tied with New Zealand most people speak very good English as well, which certainly enhances our experience - being able to communicate! Samoa has been the most used location for the American TV show "Survivor", four times, and there are rumors of the German version filming here next month. We opted to pass the island of American Samoa and check into the country of Western Samoa on the island of Upolu and our first marina since January of this year. Woo hoo!!! A dock to step off on whenever I want! Unlimited water! Shore power for air conditioning 24/7...not so much, and it is HOT here, let me tell you - like dripping, sweating, boiling hot! But alas the land of 110 volts is over for us, which is something we are going to have to figure out how to overcome as everything here on out is 220 volts. Perhaps purchasing a super duper transformer is in our future?
We really had a rough trip here from Suwarrow, meaning the highest winds and seas we have been in as of yet. We knew it was going to be boisterous so we were prepared and we handled it very well. I had lots of food prepared ahead of time, easy to throw in the microwave. We all three took anti-nausea pills before we even pulled out of Suwarrow, and we had our genoa sail all set to go - poled out on our spinnaker pole so we could finally sail downwind successfully and not be trying to mess with it in the rolling ocean! We were escorted out of the pass into the ocean by a pod of dolphins, and at one point during the three day trip we literally sailed under a perfect rainbow as if we were going under a bridge. You can't help but feel Gods love then! Again can I just say, we feel very lucky that even in 15 foot waves we are able to stay snugly dry in our cockpit. And in sustained 38 knot winds, it doesn't seem so scary when you are all enclosed, but for several of our friends who were traveling close by - they were not quite so comfortable with cockpits open to the weather and closer to the seas. But everyone here are troopers and we all pulled in with our stories to tell, a helping hand to catch a line or lend support in a repair, or just a pat on the back to say, "Well done mate!"
Our second night out, after some particularly high winds and rough seas, we had been thrown around a bit and not realizing it, Larry's tool box which we thought we had safely stowed in the v-berth had slid across the floor getting a tad bit too close to the compass in the hull that controls our auto-pilot. Around midnight it was my turn to take over the watch. It was a moonless, pitch black night in squally conditions. We only had our main sail up at the time with one reef in it and the boat seemed to be happy for the conditions, and although we would have liked to put a second reef in we felt it was too dangerous to go out on deck. The auto pilot started failing on me several times, which it does occasionally if it feels it is being overwhelmed by the seas so I didn't think too much of it. But my problem is my night vision. To put it nicely, it sucks. And without a moon it is hard for me to see what the seas and wind are doing therefore when the autopilot failed for good I over corrected the wrong direction doing an accidental gybe. That got Larry up in a hurry because it sounds like you've broken the boat in two! Needless to say, after two more accidental gybes, Larry and Ben went out on deck (despite the less than desirable conditions) dropped the main sail completely and we motored through the rest of the night, then discovering what had happened with the toolbox and the autopilot. Did I break the boat? Yes. Badly? No. Our preventer we had on the main did its job nicely and there is not much my amazing husband cannot fix.
The highlights of Western Samoa for us, besides some amazing wines from New Zealand for me(!), have been the really nice people, a few pretty good restaurants, decent provisioning, beautiful church choirs, and a road trip arranged by our friends on Gypsy Blues. Fifteen of us from seven different boats loaded into a tiny van and off we went exploring waterfalls (gorgeous), lava tubes, swimming holes(stunning), ancient lush volcano craters now known for the bats that hang from the trees, and more waterfalls, ending up staying the night at a Samoan hotel sleeping in fales, pronounced "foul-ehs". A fale is a traditional Samoan home - a concrete pad, or sometimes a wood floor raised on stilts, with posts every few feet around the perimeter that holds up the roof - which is sometimes thatch or sometimes something more permanent. There are no walls on the exterior or interior, only a pad on the floor to sleep on...the extended families all live together. Their loved ones are buried in the front yard - usually with beautiful headstones. We are used to seeing these burial sites in front of the homes since our arrival in the Marquesas and have continued to see this through all of the South Pacific. Guess people don't move very often here? Anyway, we have been pleasantly surprised with the beauty and the tropical lush rainforests on this island. When you get away from the capital of Apia it truly is gorgeous.
For those of you who know me, this hotel was a stretch for me as I have a lower tolerance in the "eww" factor than most, and this was pretty much glorified camping. I have improved greatly though and can pee with the best of 'em in the bush now even burying my toilet paper. In this particular case there was a bathroom across the road and it even had soap in it part of the time. The three of us lucked out and got a private fale with walls on it and Larry's and my bed was even raised off the floor. Tucked under the mosquito net we slept like babies despite the thundering surf nearby. By breakfast the next morning, our second family style meal there, I even commented that maybe I could do this for about a week...well maybe.
This past Saturday was the anniversary of the tsunami that hit here in 2009. Sixty or so people died that day, on this island alone - the devastation still evident on the south side of the island where we stayed in the fale/hotel. We have met numerous survivors here, all with their unique story of how they survived, how fast the three waves came in, how high they were, and their sad stories of the loved ones they lost. We felt honored to stay at the family owned hotel, which had been rebuilt after being wiped out in the tsunami losing eleven family members.
Well, the clock is ticking, the seasonal cyclone clock that is, and we are feeling the pull to Tonga, wanting to spend a good month there in their famous cruising grounds before making the leap to New Zealand. About eight of us came back from our little road trip with a case of the flu, or as I like to call it, the "Samoan sniffles". After several days of fever, aching joints, colds, coughing, and diarrhea for Ben and Larry (I'm too mean, I don't get this stuff!) we are ready to depart. Now has come the painful time to say "goodbye" to our good friends on Sea Wings, Brian and Juliette. This truly is the worst part of cruising, worse than any storm, worse than any deprivation. We all dread the goodbyes. But, we look forward to seeing them in Australia next year when we make our way to them at that time!
We are hearing internet in Tonga is sketchy at best so if there are no new posts that is why.
09/29/2012, Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean
You really want to pay attention to the signs here! The sharks were so violent, you will see a hand come up in front of the camera as they were splashing so much water is was getting it wet!!!