Dad, cows are out; pigs are IN!
19 September 2012 | Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga
Heather & Jon
Greetings. We are underway to Tonga as I write this on my night watch. We're headed for the Vava'u group which is famed to be one of the most beautiful cruising grounds in the country with plenty of great anchorages, diving, caves and walks. By far, the biggest dream we have though is to swim with the humpback whales that congregate here with their calves at this time of year. Since we missed the opportunity in Niue, we've got our sights set on Tonga; I've heard the whales are indeed there. Although there are mixed views on whether they should even allow snorkeling with whales, there are laws in place to protect them and guide conduct so I think that it wouldn't be any different than the sea lions, turtles & mantas we've swam with. We certainly haven't felt like they minded us being there and they actually come over to us a lot of the time.
It's been an especially great passage. We left Apia in a pack of 7 boats. It started out a little wet & wild for the first 9 hours and we were taking sheets of spray into the cockpit, but then by evening it settled down and became quite pleasant. I always think back to the first passage we ever did to Bermuda, beating to windward, and I was struggling to keep the cockpit wiped down- impossible! Now I'm happy with wiping my feet off before going below. I hadn't ever experienced the sound of the waves hitting the hull either so I felt like the boat was just going to break apart. But now, after all these miles, I'm used to the freight train and the familiar sluicing sounds and I can put in my ear plugs and go to sleep. It's been one of those passages where you just look up at the sails, rig and deck and marvel at all that is working together so well to move the boat along. It really is beautiful! And it's the culmination of so much careful thought on Jon's part to rig the boat so well, of so much polishing & varnishing on my part to keep things looking nice, of sacrifices of leaving good jobs, friends & family to do this trip and of some good fortune that it has panned out so far. And then there's the natural, but sometimes harsh beauty of the sea and sky... you can get into quite a quiet, philosophical discussion with yourself, pondering all these things.
Our last couple days in Apia were mainly business. We had a potluck on the dock one night which turned out to be so much fun. I'd made a chocolate mint cake that actually turned out for a change and it went over pretty big. I don't think anyone has EVER asked me for the recipe of a cake I'd made before. A few of us went to a sea park next to the marina one day to snorkel. There were indigo blue, large starfish and a new type of sea cucumber called a Greenfish that was my favorite color- dark green! I forgot the camera...
Checking out of Samoa turned out to be a real adventure. First, Jon went to the marina office to see how much we would owe so that we could get the right amount of money out of the ATM since we did not want to leave Samoa with spare talas (the local currency). We then went to immigration, sat in line (they have a number system like a US deli counter) and then our passports were stamped. While waiting for our number to be called a bunch of the other cruisers from the marina came in to also check out. One of the cruisers brought us a new marina bill as the first one we got was incorrect. We left to do some last minute grocery shopping, laundry, and visited the ATM to get the exact amount we thought we needed for the rest of the fees, plus an extra $10 tala to get a beer for happy hour after stopping at Customs for the final check out procedure. Customs asked us for a piece of paper that we weren't given at immigration (some boats got it; others didn't) and they just HAD to have that paper. So it's 3:30 now and Jon has to get in a cab to save time and go back to immigration for the piece of paper (there goes $5 tala or as we think of it 1 happy hour beer!). He got the piece of paper (which has a single line on it saying we can leave :-) ), sprinted outside and got in a cab again since the lady at immigration told him that customs closes in 15 minutes. He paid another 5 tala (oh man, there goes the second beer) for that cab and got out of the car. When he went to pay the customs official, he reached into his pocket but his baggie (he keeps credit cards, money and license ziploc bag so they won't get wet) wasn't there - must have left it in the cab! He finds out customs closes at 5pm, not 4, then goes rushing out onto the street to try to find the cab and his wallet. After asking a few cabs for help, and no one offering, he starts walking towards town to try and find the cab. One thing to note is that there are a lot of cabs here, and they are all small cars painted white. While walking into town a lady taxi driver pulls up and asks Jon if he is the guy that lost his "wallet". When he explains he has no money to pay she says she will help for free but she needs to go to the ATM first and to wait there for her. Right after she leaves he thinks he sees the cab he was in drive by so he goes off sprinting down the street to catch him (well maybe not a sprint but as fast as he can run ;-) ). With his heart pounding, and the cab getting all the green lights, he can't catch him so slows to a walk. Luckily the lady cabbie sees him running down the road and drives down to catch him. She takes him around to a few cab stands and he doesn't see the cab that he rode in. Then the lady says they have to go to the radio station. Jon was confused by this but soon it all became clear- they hastily made a radio ad about Jon's lost wallet, & the lady cabbie translated it into Samoan & then offered up her cell phone number as a contact since we don't have a phone. Once the ad was written, the lady at the radio station says it'll be a 35 tala fee for the ad..... he just looked at her and said "I just lost my wallet, I have no money". She laughed and said ok, she'd run it, with a smile on her face. Back in the cab minutes later, Jon heard his name on the radio in between Samoan words; he was now a famous Pa'alangi (what we are called here by the locals) although a bit embarrassed. Within a few seconds, the cabbie's phone rang and they had the wallet! She brought him to another cabbie who then brought him to the original cabbie, who gave him back his wallet & brought him back to customs. He asked for 10 tala & Jon paid him but then realized he could only pay him 5 of extra coins he could scrounge up since otherwise he wouldn't have enough money left to pay customs, so the taxi driver was nice enough to accept 5 tala (there went the emergency beer). It was 4:45, no time to go back to the ATM. At the customs window, he turned in the ridiculous piece of paper, paid the bill with the last of his tala and then reflected on all that transpired in a span of about 45 minutes, which oddly enough felt like much longer!
9/21 I had to stop writing this entry since I got busy with ship traffic on my watch but now we are all tucked in on a mooring in Tonga and although it took several hours yesterday for check in procedures, we are mostly done with those too! We still have to go around in town today paying each official, but I guess that'll help us get to know the town. I can already that just like Samoa, there are more pigs than dogs here, although they do run around like dogs. Pigs rule! It reminds me of a lady who owned an art gallery that told my dad to paint more paintings with cows in them since cows were "in".
The passage just got better & better with flat seas and perfect wind, and we had one of our fastest averages at over 7kts for 350 miles. We really lucked out with the weather for that one.
We're booked for a whale dive with Mawari and are excited about the regatta that starts tomorrow. This is another milestone for us since Tonga has always intrigued us- I read that it certainly was a hotbed for cannibalism (yuck) but I think it's the name that just conjures up images of the heart of the South Pacific. It's just plain exciting to be here!