June 2004 Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga
Sue in Ocelot's cool and airy cockpit.
We eat most of our meals out here.
Wow! Here we are, 6 weeks back into the cruising life, with a 2-week passage behind us, and 1300 miles west of French Polynesia. The Tongans are friendly, warm people, and many speak good English (which is the second language of the country, after Tongan, a Polynesian language). After so many months in French Polynesia I still find myself thinking I'll need to speak French in order to communicate! The passage to Tonga was, well, long. But essentially uneventful, for which I am grateful. We're re-connecting with the cruising community -- meeting new friends and some friends-of-friends from long ago. And the best news is that Chris and Amanda are enjoying their new buddies, Chris (yes, another one, also 17) and Nick (14) on the boat Lady Starlight, now 4 years out of Redding, California. We've been doing a little anchorage-hopping with them, but the national airline of Tonga went bankrupt a few weeks ago and Lady Starlight started ferrying tourists back and forth from the northern islands of Vava'u (where we are) to the capitol of Nuku'alofa in the south, so they've been gone a lot. This past week we've had Nick on board Ocelot with us which has been fun. The boys have also gotten a lot more French done because Nick has a rigid schedule to stick to, and I'm their French tutor, so my Chris benefits as well. Yachtie cruising life here revolves around a weekly casual race on Friday evenings with prizes and music (until too late, if you ask Jon and me), just off the town of Neiafu. The four teens, and often Jon, crew on the racing boats and have a blast. It's great to see the kids getting involved in sailing on other boats...especially since Chris hasn't found sailing to be his favorite activity out here. (I think he likes to go fast!)
At the end of a Tongan feast.
Women dressed in "western"
clothes - T shirts and skirts
The Tongans we have met are friendly and warm and engage in conversations easily. They are very religious, having been converted to Christianity in the 1800's by zealous missionaries of the Wesleyan (similar to Methodist) faith. Today there are also many Mormons and some Catholics. On Sundays the Tongans attend church and then visit friends and relatives and eat. It is against the law to engage in business or sports, to the point that you don't even see them swimming on Sundays. The acappella singing in the churches, which we can hear from the anchorage (and actually out in some of the outlying anchorages as well, since there is a church in every small village) is gloriously inspiring and fills the air with the harmony of voices raised in praise. Walking through the hilly streets of Neiafu on other days I am struck by the number of people in black. Apparently people stay in mourning for many weeks so there are always people in black. Shoulders and knees must be covered -- so we yachties are pulling out more clothing than we're used to wearing. I am most comfortable in town with a long skirt and a shirt with short sleeves. Some of the yachties have opted to wear either something to cover the knees but not the shoulders, or vice versa, but men must always wear a shirt. Sometimes when it is very hot I also compromise. Tongan women wear heavy dresses or skirts that come to mid-calf, and sometimes a jumper-style top with a T-shirt underneath. Men might be in western clothing with long slacks or else shorts that cover the knees. To dress up, both men and women wear an intricate woven "apron" which wraps all the way around so that it covers the lap and the hips. The ta'ovala is like a mat made of woven pandanas leaves which the women tie around their waists with more intricately woven fibers and the men tie with a single string. The Tongans are not small people to begin with, and this makes them look very imposing! We'll be putting up photos on the Tonga page later!
It's Friday mid-day and Jon, Chris and Amanda are off to town with our friends on Lady Starlight. We're both hunkered down in an out-of-the-way anchorage to seek protection from the 25 to 30-knot winds that have been screaming through for a week. This anchorage is near the main island of Vava'u, so there's taxi service to Neiafu and they've all gone in for the races this evening. I have a wonderful day all to myself aboard Ocelot. Just me and the cat. The sun is bright, finally, after several weeks of rain, and the water looks inviting for a snorkel. If I swim I'll be stopping by Lady Starlight to invite their Jack Russell dog, Hinano, to join me. She likes to ride on the shoulders of the snorkeler! I wonder if I could get Arthur interested?
More news later.
Now that we've arrived in Fiji, I look back on the almost five months in Tonga as a really special time in our cruising. We made more friends ashore there than we have anywhere else. Of course it helped that the Tongans speak English...but they are truly friendly people. Well, it used to be called The Friendly Islands!
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