Our first week in Tonga, Part 1
24 September 2012 | Neiafu, Vavau Group, Tonga
Before arriving in Tonga, we really hadn't done much research on the kingdom. Most of our research was centered around French Polynesia with the mind set of, Tonga is down the road, it's the last country we visit before summer hits in the southern hemisphere . We really only knew that there were a lot of islands, around 170 islands in Tonga and that we wanted to spend about 1 ½ months here so we could explore the many different islands.
Here's just a little knowledge we have read about The Kingdom on Tonga. The kingdom is located next to a major crustal plate boundary. To the east, is the deep Tonga Trench (more than 10,000 meters deep) and the islands are low platforms of coral rock and reefs. To the west, are more of the volcanic islands. There is such an island, named Lateiki Island that forms and then disappears. In 1979, volcanic action formed this island, 1060 feet long, 400 feet wide, and 50 feet high, with a combination of volcanic ash, pumice and loose lava rock. Once the volcanic activity stopped, the island disappeared because of wave erosion. Then, in 1995, the volcano erupted again, forming a 21 acre island and rose 178 feet. Once again, the process of erosion took place and today, nothing exits of Lateiki Island. Tonga is the last remaining Polynesian kingdom and has successfully retained the family-subsistence basis of its ancient culture. Since 1900, Tonga came under the British protection; Tonga retained its independence, while the United Kingdom handled its foreign affairs and protected it from attack. In 1970, Tonga became a fully independent country, free from the United Kingdom. Tonga is a strong Christian country and very conservative. Most Tongans are a mixture of Melanesian, and represent about 96% of the population. The rest are Europeans, Asians, and other Pacific islanders. Most of the cars that are driven around are old clunkers compared to in French Polynesia which were all brand new cars. Tongans drive on the left side of the road and the driver sits on the right side of the car. Instead of stray dogs running around, pigs run wild here and are also pets which leases. Ok, enough with the classroom talk about Tonga....so what have we been up to in our first week in Tonga??
HAVING A BLAST!! After our Saturday "arrival party" with a few other cruisers, we hung around the boat Sunday and Monday, getting rested up and relaxing (ok, we really had a very bad hangover and didn't want to go anywhere). On Tuesday, feeling back to normal, we headed over to the fishery dock, to a company called "Trouble in Paradise." It's a fix it all type of shop, owned by an Aussie, who Tom had already talked to about having a look at our outboard; we've only been able to motor a little higher than idle since Bora Bora. We left the dinghy with them and walked the short distance into town. We dropped off 2 bags of laundry, consisting mostly of towels, sheets and blankets, most of which that have been in a bag for the last 2 months, awaiting laundry service instead of hand washing. We walked the streets, grabbed some smoothies, had lunch, picked up fixed dinghy (free of charge, nice guys). That evening, we had grilled steaks with a group of friends and had everyone (Norwegians and Sweeds) back onboard Tanga for some night caps.
Wednesday, we picked up our freshly cleaned laundry (we were really excited about having super clean sheets and towels; we haven't had access to laundry service since May!) and dropped off 2 more bags of dirty clothes. In the afternoon, we went over to SV Aud, sailed by 3 Norwegian guys: Chris, Andres and Mario, joined by a Swedish couple: Kristine and Hendrick, and we had a Kava party! What is Kava? It is the root of a pepper tree and the root is traditionally chewed, spit and drank for weddings, birthdays, funerals, or any other special occasion. Per se, this is the natural alcoholic drink in this area. A local, named Loafie was also onboard and he showed us how to make the Kava. Chris, one of the Norwegians, had bought some ABC kava, "already been chewed" kava, that was in powder form. Aboat 1/3 cup of powder kava was put in a cloth bag, dunked into about 4 cups of water, then rang out, repeat process until the water is a cloudy dirt color. We added a splash of rum (not required) and we all shared in the kava experience. It tasted like clay water, slightly numbed our tongues but no one experienced any other affect from it.
With time passing on by, we all headed to shore because we had tickets to the Circus!!! Yes, that's right, here in Tonga there is a circus! The one man show, Billy, was the door greeter, the ticket taker, the Usher and also the Ring Master. There were only 3 performers, all of which were fleas; yes, this was a Flea Circus! It was held in an 8x12 room, with no ventilation which became very hot. The flea performance lasted about an hour, was quite comical, really just stupid, but we all tried to have a good time with it. Billy, the owner, actually did a really good job, but it wasn't our cup o tea.
Afterwards, came the real exciting fun for the night. The big thing in town on a Wednesday night is the Drag Show. The bar was packed with yachties, locals and tourists; and we had such a great time! During the last performance of the night, another very drunk performer came stumbling on stage, trying to steal the show. The drag queen pushed the other off stage, the drunken one came back, and then received 2 hard man slaps to the face. A wig went flying and he hit the floor. Two guys came and picked him up off the floor and took him back stage. The performance went on and it was hysterical. Tonga style Drag show!
On Thursday, we found the local fast food place in town. Back when we were clearing into Tonga, the immigration officer told us about a place that serves "kentucky" chicken. It's in a tiny structure that definitely doesn't look that they serve food. However, for $5 panga (Tongan money), about $2.50USD, we were served 2 pieces of deep fried chicken, 2 sausages and a huge pile of fried breadfruit (very similar to potatoes). Excellent food for a great price, also the only thing on the menu. That evening, the same group went over to Loafie's house and had, what Loafie described, a Tonga Feast. We were all excepting a roasted pig, chicken, fish, and other yummy treats served buffet style. When we walked into his house, all the small plates were already served, wrapped and awaiting us. The food was minimal, a few pieces of chicken, pork ribs with no meat on them and hot dogs. The best part of the experience was meeting his family , seeing a different part of the village, and hearing the pigs snorting outside of the windows while we ate. The experience was not what we had expected and was definitely not a traditional Tonga Feast. Afterwards, we all hung out at the Norwegians boat for the night.
Friday, we took care of a few things around the boat. Tom remounted & secured the hydrovane to the stern of the boat and I did a little clean up around the boat. We also went to town and finally hit the grocery store and the local market. The local market is great here; we picked up tomatoes, green peppers, onions, potatoes, and cucumbers. In one month, mangos will be in season again, which is probably our favorite fruit in the world and can't wait to eat them again. We called it an early evening because we were being picked up at 7:15am on Saturday morning for a "once in a lifetime" tour we had scheduled, swimming with humpback whales!
Added a new Tonga picture gallery. Many more awesome pictures to follow.