A view of the city of Neiafu from the top of Mt Talau
After several weeks of difficulties, we are happy to report that Tonga has brought us safe anchorages and sunny skies. As Wendell Ritchie, a colleague of Mark's from Baystate Health, wrote to us, "Even though you've had some bad weather and exciting (stressful) experiences, as you already realize, the memories and friendships you are making along the way will be so wonderful in the future. The rainy days (or weeks) and anchor slippages will melt away into the glistening ocean views, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets and times enjoyed with your fellow travelers." Tonga has done just that for us!
Tonga is the oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy and the only Pacific nation never to be brought under foreign rule. The total land area of the Kingdom is only 691 square km although the 170 islands are spread over 700,000 square kilometers. The population of Tonga is approximately 100,000 people with half living from subsistence agriculture, fishing and collecting. Both men and women in Tonga wear a traditional woven mat around their waist called a ta'ovala. The men secure theirs with a coconut fiber cord while the women wear a kiekie waistband. The dress is conservative in Tonga with women covering their shoulders and wearing skits that cover their knees. Religion is a very important part of life in Tonga. We went to a Catholic church service while we were here. Much of the service was sung and all of it was in Tongan. Everyone was dressed very well to attend church. The people here are some of the kindest we have yet encountered on our journey. It is an exceptionally relaxed and happy lifestyle.
We spent all of our time in Tonga in the island group of Vava'u. It is one of four major areas in Tonga. Vava'u is known as the most scenic region and we were not disappointed. In Vava'u alone there are about forty pristine anchorages with beautiful white sand beaches. We spent much of our time in the city of Neiafu and then went on to several of the recommended anchorages.
Two of the most interesting things that we did while here was visit two caves with entrances on or under the water. The first cave was Swallow's Cave on Kapa Island where we took the dinghy into the cave. The caves had many bats on the ceiling and a magnificent rock formation. We took this picture of At Last from the entrance to the cave. The second cave we visited was Mariner's Cave on Nuapapu Island. We had to swim through an underwater tunnel to get to the cave. You swam down about six feet then across about 12 feet to the opening of the cave. Many thanks to Dave (s/v Southern Cross) who was the first one into the cave and led the way for the rest of us. It was incredibly worth the effort and anxiety once you were inside the cave. Shadow (s/v Zoe) took some amazing pictures with her underwater camera and a video of us swimming out of the cave. She is getting them to us and we will post them in the near future.
Another highlight of our trip was the anchorage off Tapana Island. There was a floating art gallery there called "Ark Gallery." In addition there was an excellent authentic Spanish restaurant called Le Paella. There were 16 of us from the fleet who went one night for dinner. We had a delicious meal of croquettes, Spanish tortilla, gazpacho soup, and a huge dish of paella. There was also a very friendly dog and a goat who was happy to give a little head butt to anyone who was willing to do the same to him. They even had a helmet available. After dinner, the chefs surprised us by donning instruments and singing some beautiful Spanish music. We liked the paella so much we ordered some from the restaurant and picked it up the next morning. It is now in the freezer ready for the passage to Fiji.
I cannot believe how much we did here. We had a fantastic hike to the highest point in Vava'u. We had a rousing game of Liar's dice one night on At Last with Steve (s/v Southern Cross), the entire Zoe clan, Mark and me. We had two trips on At Last with a whole crew of people from three other boats to visit the caves. We did some amazing snorkeling at a place called the Coral Gardens, which is a perfect name for such an amazing place. We went to a dance performance which was a fundraiser for a local dance group.
But probably the biggest news for the trip to Tonga is a status on our hair. Odd thing I know but here is the thing. Mark's hair is now in a ponytail. Not a big one, mind you, but a ponytail none the less. Several people in the fleet have commented on how it suits him. My, how things have changed. I also got my hair cut for the first time in eight months. We found a delightful woman named Fatima who has a hair studio in Tonga by the same name. She is married to the nephew of the couple who own the Le Paella Restaurant. She sat me in a chair and told me my hair was a mess - a truer statement could not be made. I told her I was open to whatever she wanted to do as long as I could put it in a ponytail. She made me a redhead again and I love it. I was growing tired of the plethora of grey hair on the top of my head and the bleached out blond hair on the bottom. Five of us from the fleet got our hair done that day by Fatima and we ended up there for most of the day. It was so much fun to be pampered for the first time since the spa in St. Lucia.
We are quite sad about leaving Tonga. It is a beautiful place and we have had an amazing time. We would love to figure out a way to return. We are leaving tomorrow for a three day passage to Fiji. We will be reunited with the rest of the World ARC fleet there. We will be there until July 7th when we leave for Vanuatu.
By the way, we crossed the International Date Line on the passage to Tonga. We actually skipped the day June 11, 2012. It is lost to us forever. It is now June 22, 2012 for us and June 21, 2012 for you. We will catch up to you again as we do time zone changes from here back to the Caribbean.