Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Kingdom of Tonga...Drastically Late!

So if you are thinking that I am a slug then you would be correct in your assumption.  I have been so delayed in updating this blog that some might have thought that I had met with an unfortunate accident rendering my typing fingers useless.  Rest assured, I have met with no such events and I am back!  Okay, enough of that and I hope that you all do accept my apologies as I know you have all been waiting to exhale and read the latest updates on this epic journey.

The mooring field in Neiafu Harbor, Vava'u, Tonga.
Tonga.  Many things happened in Tonga; some good and some not so good.  To begin with, Tonga, specifically the Vava’u Island group, was beautiful.  The town of Neiafu, situated on a large open harbor, was just big enough to entice me to wander the streets and meet the locals and palangi (the Tongan word for foreigners).  I made numerous friends during our stay in Tonga; many I will never forget for their kindness.  It was also great to catch up with many of the other boats we had traveled far and wide with along the way from Mexico and through the South Pacific.  It’s amazing that you can go weeks or even months without seeing these friends and suddenly they are anchored right next to you and you just pick up where you left off; no questions, just tales of other places visited by other boats.  So a big shout out to all those boats and friends who made our stay in Tonga a memorable one.

The outer islands in the Vava’u Island group are quite beautiful.  Tracts of untouched tropical lushness growing right up to the sable colored sandy beaches, clear blue water and unspoiled coral gardens scattered through over forty separate islands in this boater’s paradise.  We visited a handful of these islands and shared beach bonfire potlucks, hikes, and snorkeling adventures with our friends and watched the sun set over one or another of the green islands.  Truly a feast for the senses. Indeed, the colors, sounds and smells of Tonga are intoxicating.

Our Lape Island hosts for the Tongan feast.
On Lape Island (pronounced "la-pay"), the locals put on a traditional Tongan feast and Richard and I and about 35 other yachties partook in the festivities which included a tour of the small village (there are only about 40 people living on Lape), listening to the traditional Tongan feast songs, and then enjoying a pig cooked in an umu (underground oven) complete with Tongan side dishes.  The announcement for the feast is given a week in advance on the cruiser’s net broadcasted over the VHF.  As part of the announcement, Kohelo, the unofficial ambassador for the island, stated that entertainment would be provide by the Village People so naturally we expected to see a construction worker, policeman, etc., etc.  But no, the entertainment was provided by the people of the village.  Ha!  So no “Y-M-C-A”; instead we got “L-A-P-E”!  In any event, a great time was had by all.

The idyllic location for the Tongan feast on Lape Island.
The feast is by donation and the village uses the donations to help keep up the island.  In a previous year, they used the money to build a dock so that cruisers could visit the island.  Their current project is to purchase a proper working toilet.  Apparently the children on Lape travel to Neiafu for school and are embarrassed because they do not know how to work a flushing toilet.  In some cases, they are inadvertently breaking the school toilets.  We take so much for granted in our first world nations and a flushing toilet is certainly one of them.  More on toilets later.

The next morning, a couple of us cruisers dinghied to shore and delivered school supplies to the local teacher.  I also gave Kohelo a fishing pole and other fishing supplies for which he was very grateful.

Me, Jeanne and Cole.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Jeanne and Cole of s/v Divided Sky who were kind enough to take the crews of Osprey, Calico Jack, and Gallinago to Mariner’s Cave and the Coral Gardens on their boat.  It would have been impossible to dinghy to Mariner’s Cave and you can’t just drop the hook outside the cave and swim on over due to the steep drop off outside of the cave’s entrance.  So the eight of us headed out one morning and with Jeanne and Cole on their boat stationed close to shore, the rest of us donned our snorkeling gear and swam over to the cave.  To get into the cave you have to swim down about four meters and then swim straight ahead for another seven to ten meters, then up another three or four meters before surfacing in the cave.  The cave itself is pretty big, about ten meters in diameter and ten meters to the roof from the surface of the water.  It’s also deep inside the cave and there were schools of fish swimming in there with us.

Lunch on s/v Divided Sky after snorkeling in
Mariner's Cave.
After exploring the cave we headed back to the boat for a potluck lunch and then we were off to the Coral Gardens.  The Coral Gardens are a large tract of unspoiled living coral in every hue of the rainbow.  The gardens consist of canyons that you can dive into and swim along, all the while watching colorful fish, and octopi!, swimming along the walls of the canyons.  Finding Nemo was easy in this unspeakably beautiful area.  Nemo is actually a specie of clownfish or anemonefish, and comes in a variety of different color combinations.  

Fiesty Clownfish.
These guys are feisty too!  When you get close to them they dart out from their homes and a couple of them actually came right up to the GoPro camera in a threatening manner.  They live among the anemone and are immune to the stinging tentacles.  The clownfish have a symbiotic relationship with the anemone in that they preen the anemone and drive off predators, and the anemone provide protection for the clownfish and their young because other predator fish are not immune to the anemone’s toxins and know to steer clear.

The entire time we were snorkeling in the cave and at the coral gardens we could hear humpback whales singing.  We didn’t see the whales, but their songs were so loud that I was able to capture their singing on my GoPro underwater camera even though it is housed in a plastic casing.

So thanks again Jeanne and Cole!

The Kava Master serving it up fakatongan (Tongan-style).
During one of our beach bonfire potlucks, and while celebrating Kyra's birthday (from s/v Nyon), we drank kava.  Kava is a root that once dried, is ground into a fine powder, mixed with water and served, ceremoniously, from a bucket using a half coconut shell as a cup.  I scored some kava in town and once we had finished eating birthday cake, I put the concoction together.  You place the ground kava in cheesecloth or some other fabric to make a giant teabag that you then dunk in the water exactly like you would if you were making a cup of tea.  Once the kava has steeped long enough, stirring constantly, you serve up the grog in the coconut shell.  I was the kava-master that evening and tried as best as I could to respect the kava culture by offering the kava to each individual in the same order as we went round and round the group.  Of course, because it was Kyra’s birthday, she went first followed by the rest of the group (there were ten of us) and then I had my cup.  

The Kava Circle at Kyra's birthday party on the beach.
Kava is nasty tasting; some say it tastes like dirty dishwater which it strongly resembles, others say dirty socks.  Either way, you’re not going to like the taste necessarily but the intoxicating effects are quite sublime.  It’s not like alcohol.  It starts with a numb feeling in your lips and mouth and for the most part that’s about it until you reach a certain threshold.  Once you are there, and it depends on how strong the kava has been brewed, a calmness overtakes you and you are suddenly feeling very chilled out.  This relaxing feeling lasted through the next day for me and was actually recognized by others who commented on how quiet and calm I was the next night (and for those who don’t really know me, quiet and calm are not characteristics typically associated with me).  There are more elaborate kava ceremonies throughout the South Pacific with the kava supposedly getting stronger and stronger the further west you go.  I also hit the local kava circles in town with some other palangis and had the opportunity to experience a typical kava circle which is predominantly men only.  Women can stir the kava but are not usually invited to partake except in the touristy kava ceremonies or in situations like ours on the beach.  But hey, gals, at least they let you stir the kava...LOL!  Oh yea, kava is legal.

Local school marching band celebrating something.
Tongans really get into marching bands; especially
for funerals which seem to occur weekly.
So toilets.  Yea, toilets.  Can’t live without them and if the one on your boat is out of order, it definitely curbs your cruising.  Ours stopped working due to calcification in the hoses that carry…well, you know, from the toilet to the holding tank.  Richard worked for many, many days pouring chemicals (acids) into the hoses, letting them sit and then siphoning them only to repeat the whole process hundreds of times.  And then, just when we had decent “flow” Richard noticed a leak in the apparatus that was too big to ignore.  He ordered a replacement that had to come from Auckland, New Zealand and that took quite a long time while we waited patiently, or not so patiently, in Neiafu harbor.  You really can’t go anywhere where there isn’t a working toilet and I am no bucket boy, so that option was out, and we waited for the part to arrive while other boats explored many more islands than we got to.  Oh well.

Stephen and Carl, owners of the Poolside Cafe in Vava'u.
I spent a lot of time at the Poolside Café and got to know the owners, Stephen and Carl, the chef, Mary, and the girls who worked the kitchen.  Stephen and Carl hail from Ottawa and opened this business a few years ago. Mary is amazing in the kitchen.  Her take on traditional Asian, Canadian, and Italian dishes is remarkable.  Poolside Café boasts the best poutine in the South Pacific and having tried it, several times, I would have to agree.  From nasigoreng to arancini, Reuben sandwiches to creamy mushroom risotto, Mary can do it all.  And don’t even let me start going on and on about her homemade spicy Italian sausages!  Unbelievable!  Ask for it in the Eggs Benedict dish with Hollandaise sauce and she will probably ask if you know me as I ate that several times and thoroughly enjoyed every artery clogging bite of it!  Hats off and spoons up to Mary and her girls in the kitchen for providing the most interesting, delicious and globetrotting cuisine in Neiafu.

Connolly and me (with Mary in the background)
working the bar at Poolside Cafe in Neiafu,Tonga.
On a couple of occasions I got to work behind the bar with my mate Connolly and we each earned ourselves a coveted Poolside Cafe staff shirt which we both wear proudly.  Who knew that slinging beers and mixing cocktails could be so fun?  While we may have lacked the moves of Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail, I think we made up for it in spunk and smokin' good looks. Ha! For those of you are worried about what I'm going to do for work when I get back to the States, let's just say that I have added bartender and bar manager to my resume so we'll see if that pans out for me!

Brian is not only the fakaleiti show emcee,
she was also a sweetheart that I got to know.
Fakaleitis are basically the Tongan equivalents of drag queens and provide a rowdy source of entertainment in Neiafu at a bar called Motele on the old harbor.  We spent several evenings with friends watching their shows and dancing the night away. Everyone walks out to the bar from town along dirt roads with pigs and chickens everywhere (yes, they roam free everywhere in Tonga). All I can think about when I see these animals running around is what lovely entrees they would make!  Anyhow, the show doesn't start until around 10 PM and you get a free drink with the price of admission which is only $5 pa'anaga. The more you clap, shout and cheer the fakaleitis on, the better the show gets so make sure you have plenty of pa'anagatip liberally, and hoot it up like you just don't care! After the show, a DJ spins music till the wee hours and everyone, cruisers and locals, and of course the fakaleitis, dances the night away.

For the first time ever, Osprey raced in the Vava’u Regatta.  The weeklong festivities involved a dressed up pub crawl, a cornhole tournament (I know, it sounds naughty but it’s basically tossing bean bags around and trying to land them through a hole cut out of a board ten meters away), and two days of races separated by a white party on the beach and resort of a tiny island.

Osprey crossing the finish line in the
Vava'u Regatta 2013.
So this is how the race that we entered went.  Having never raced before we had no clue on how to properly jockey for a position close to the starting line without ramming into any of the other boats.  So we hung back and when the horn rang to start the race, we were way in the back of the field.  We actually crossed the start line last and a full five minutes after the last boat had crossed the line.  Not to be put off, we sluggishly made our way out of the harbor and came upon the second to last boat in the pack.  We smoked by them at a whopping 1.something knots and I turned to Richard and said, “See that Halberg Rassey up ahead?  Their next!  Let’s catch them!”  So at a blistering 2.something knots, we overcame the HR and left them wallowing in our wake.  HaHa!  Racing is fun!  We ended up passing six boats in total, our speed eventually rose to a very respectable 6.something knots, and we saved our dignity by not coming in last…which was our only goal of the day.  We consider ourselves having come in “first in class” because we were one of only two Island Packets and we beat them despite their boat being bigger.  With Richard deftly at the helm and me handling the lines, who knows, maybe we missed our calling and should have been bluewater racers.

From left to right: Seleni (jellyfish), Carl (zombie chef),
me (King Neptune), Mary (Queen of Tarts),
Stephen (gladiator), and Richard (cowboy with blue steer).
While lots of other cruisers left for Fiji and beyond, we remained in Tonga waiting for our toilet part to arrive.  The good news was we got to spend Halloween in Tonga.  The Aquarium Café throws a raucous Halloween party and most of the cruisers who were still in Neiafu attended as well as many locals and palangi.  I met up with Mary, Stephen, Carl and Seleni at Mary’s house where we prepped for the party.  Once we were all ready, we piled into a truck and drove to the party.  To really experience Tonga you have to ride in the back of a truck, standing up and holding on, counting the pigs on the side of the road, as you drive from one place to another.  Mary got to sit in the front because she had a pie strapped to her head and a ball gown on as part of her costume (she was “Mary, Queen of Tarts!”).  The party was a big hit and it seemed like all in attendance had a great time.

With our toilet finally fixed, we left Tonga and headed to New Zealand…but that’s another story for another day!

More pics of our time in Tonga…enjoy!

This one's for you Nicole!  Angel the bar pig.
Tongan Pig Roast.
Rest assured, neither of those pigs are Angel!
The booby and me.

Traditional Togan outrigger.
They are EVERYWHERE!  Even on the beaches!
Adam believes that a machete makes a great pizza
slicer and Aaron doesn't seem to mind or disagree.
The lovely, lovely vegetable market in Neiafu (inside joke).
Entrance to Swallow's Cave.
Dinghies inside Swallow's Cave.
Me and Richard celebrating one year at sea.
Potluck on the beach Tongan style.
Nicole and Aaron of s/v Bella Star relaxing at the potluck.
Joanne and Travis of s/v Calico Jack about to dig in.
Idyllic, secluded beach in the Vava'u Group, Tonga.
Baby goat on Lape Island.  No! I did not think
about how tasty he would be 
on a skewer.
Adorable little Lape Island girl.
Tongan Feast on Lape Island served on a banana stock plate.
I swear, Travis and Joanne do more than just eat!  HA!
I called this beach "Starfish Beach," can you guess why?
Me, Stephen and Mary, up to no good.  No good at all!
Local Tongan and me at the kava circle in Neiafu.
Not sure if you can tell, but I am SO mellow in this picture.
At a certain point on Halloween,
things began to spiral out of control.
Me, Richard and Connolloy.
Where's Richard's blue steer?
Ah Ha!  And who might you be?
And why do you have Richard's blue steer?
Tongan women are sweet but I wouldn't mess with them.
What happens in Tonga, stays in Tonga!
Unless you post it on the internet!  Oops!
Mary, me and Connolly watching the bar at Poolside Cafe.
Rick and me at the fakaleiti show.
The Girls, Nicole, Kyra and Joanne, are up to no good!

Me and my peeps, Heidi and Joe of sv Huck.


  1. Fun read! Ah Tonga... Want some news! Email us when you can! Hugs from Nyon

  2. Fabulous blog. Miss you my "b". Take care XOXOXO - Heidi

  3. Always on my mind, H, and Joe too. Hope all is well in Opua! xoxo, ~b

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