From Vava'u Tonga
We continue to enjoy the final weeks of the cruising season in Tonga. The migration of boats to New Zealand will begin in the next two weeks. Frequent weather systems and the potential for uncomfortable conditions, not to mention the cold temperatures we'll encounter make for a little anxiety but we'll use a weather router and hope for the best. One thing's for sure, New Zealand is certainly beckoning like some kind of paradise. We can't wait to get there. The things to do seem endless, the running paths look fabulous and the boater's facilities seem really well thought out- we'll see! Plus, we're all running low on our food stores and of course New Zealand is the first "first world" country we will have seen since the US so maybe I can make a grocery list and actually find something that's on it!
We're still snorkeling a good part of the time. But the water is cooler, and the air is feeling drier as we inch south. Most of the time the wind is either east or southeast, and the more south it is the cooler it feels since our cold wind comes from the south in this hemisphere. We're still traveling closely with Bob & Sue since we all love to be in the water. We've found so many new creatures and have gotten some real close up pictures. A few days ago Sue spotted a peacock mantis shrimp which is about 4 inches long, with very colorful blue fins and a funny, nervous personality. Since it was hard to get a still photo of him, Sue set up her Go Pro camera right outside his hole and we left the area to snorkel further down the reef. We came back 45 minutes later to pick the camera back up and see what we'd captured. Of course we were all excited to see that he did emerge from his hole while we were away and scurry around for a bit. The funniest part was watching the four of us huddled around the computer screen last night watching the footage together. The corals here have been amazing- colors of purple, blue, bright green, browns, like nothing we've ever seen. The variety opens up even more once we get to Fiji, but that is planned for next year. We've seen fish that literally tumble through the water looking like a dead leaf, beautiful cowries hanging out in groups, various types of lionfish, a beautiful, striking black & white striped sea snake (they need to surface to breathe) and in Vava'u, lots of our diving & snorkeling was set to whalesong. It's amazing.
From Vava'u Tonga
A few days ago, we did an overnight sail to the next island group called Ha'apai. These islands are more atoll like and have a barrier reef on the eastern side. It was a pleasant overnight with lots of starlight and great sailing conditions. One of my favorite parts of cruising is how the boat can take you to a whole new area. I know it's a slow mode of transportation but in a way that leaves you time to sort of "close out" one place and then get ready to start exploring the next. There's always reading to do about the next port and planning for what we want to see & do and that helps build the excitement for it. I've grown to really enjoy the passages and how our boat, our magic carpet, has carried us to these interesting places.
The island we first anchored at was called Ha'ano. It has several tiny villages and lots of very friendly people living a subsistence lifestyle. The four of us took a long walk on Saturday to the end of the island on a beautiful dirt road that ran the length of it. It passed by three villages where the kids were out playing with homemade kites made of paper or plastic & sticks, old pieces of colorful yarn for streamers and various lengths of string rolled around an old can or bottle. Along the road, a horse & homemade carriage of rebar, rolled along the path with kids riding in the back. They all yell out "Bye!", and we continue to not be able to figure out why everyone, adults included, in all the parts of Tonga we've visited, calls out bye instead of hi. Anyway, as we walked along the road, we passed a particularly spiffy house and paused to admire the yard. A nice lady named Juliette came out to greet us as the church minister's wife. She invited us to her house for Sunday lunch the following day and the four of us accepted.
So we had a lovely day this past Sunday. We took a great beach walk around the northern tip of the island with Bob & Sue and then sat under a shady tree native style for a bit until it was time to head over to William & Juliette's house for lunch. Turns out they'd prepared a Tongan feast! William had just finished ministering to his congregation (for the morning session anyway) and he came home dressed in a black suit with a very long jacket, completed with black flip flops, of course! The 6 of us ate together and talked a fair amount about what life was like as a Tongan. We asked lots of questions of each other and really enjoyed the experience! They'd roasted a small pig (they said they prefer to eat the small pigs), they made the traditional fish ceviche, fish w/ bananas, breadfruit, cooked papaya, yams, taro leaves cooked with coconut w/ both beef & fish, fruit salad for dessert and we drank cold coconuts. In exchange, between us we'd brought them batteries, powdered milk, fish hooks & line, plates, mayonnaise, a book, and a money contribution since they have practically no way of earning cash but they do need cash to pay for dinghy fuel, school fees for their 4 kids and for limited electricity (4 hours/day). They explained that Tongan life is peaceful, there is plenty of food to eat, plenty of natural materials to make good shelter and meet their basic needs but there's little way to make money, to move forward or to join the modern world. William tried once to get a work visa to come to the USA- he had to buy a ticket to travel to Fiji, the closest embassy, secure a place to stay while he completed the paperwork & waited for an answer and was ultimately denied entry. So he came back to Tonga and became a minister and the family now moves around Tonga at the whim of the church of Tonga. In order for the kids to go to school beyond elementary, they have to live on the main island with family and they only come home when the family has petrol to go get them. Talking with William sort of confirmed what I've been seeing these past few months in these island countries. It is a simple way of life, void of much true opportunity to leave it, but I sense acceptance rather than bitterness and a determined focus on family, culture & tradition and the church. At first I felt that the number of churches on these islands could be a distraction from what was really important and perhaps even a financial drain, but I can see now that it could also provide a framework for life and a sense of purpose. Maybe it even contributes to the incredible kindness that we've experienced in the Pacific islands. Not overstated, it's made this trip special. We've tried to return that kindness whenever we can. But Juliette sent us home carrying leftovers and bags of mangos, papaya and bananas. We can't keep up with it!