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Letters From Stardust – September

September 22, 2004 (Wednesday)

All that time with the officials yesterday on the boat and we are still not completely checked in. We have to walk to the third village to pay our fees. There are three villages all together and they run along the lagoon side of island. We put on our walking shoes and headed in for the forty-five minute walk to the last village. We had been told that the kids would be coming out to greet us in search for “lollies” and that was an understatement. They are pretty darn persistent, and the bigger ones are rather pushy about the whole thing. Luckily about fifteen minutes into the walk a pickup stopped and picked us up and hauled us the rest of the way. Luck was also on our side because the first three fees we needed to pay and fill out more papers for where all taken care of by the same delightful young lady. Our last stop to hand over pa’anga (money) was at the health center. Once we finished up we walked, this time all the way back to the harbor. We didn’t encounter to many kids because they were in school. Burned the heck out of my nose!!!

 “Endless” with Marv and Donna, and  Ascension  let us know that there was a craft show in the second village so we decided to walk in to see it.  Interestingly no one seemed to know where it was. We kept asking locals, but the older folks don’t speak English and the kids would just point and even when we got an answer it was pretty vague. We discovered that they think it is impolite not to be able to answer so they will always tell you something, even if it is wrong. Finally we stopped a pickup and asked the driver. We were surrounded by “lollie” bandits at the time and he told two of them to show us where it was. Once we had guides we made it no problem. I don’t think we would have ever found it without the kids. Not much available, but it really showed us how these folks live and survive. There is no electricity here except at the meeting house and that is provided by a generator. The store is only open right after a supply ship comes in, and that doesn’t happen very often. The people here live a subsistence style life. What they eat for the most part they raise themselves. Each family has a plot of land to grow food on, and there are pigs everywhere. There are about thirty cars on the island and the main modes of transportation are on foot or horseback.

Back at the boat we had projects that needed tending to so spent the rest of the day dealing with those.

September 23, 2004 (Thursday)

Gord and Ginny gave us a call and we decided we were going to go whale watching, and maybe get in the water with some of the humpbacks that hebetate these waters. We have been able to sit on the boat and watch them spouting, playing and breeching right outside the lagoon. We carefully made our way through a shallow opening in the reef just opposite our boat and worked our way out to sea. There were lots of whales but we just couldn’t get them to come in closer and we didn’t want to go out to far in the dinghy. So we just sat and watched them play. The week before a couple of boats had actually gotten in and swam with them, and we were hoping to do the same, but it just didn’t happen. Gord did discover that if we put on our masks and snorkels and stuck out heads in the water that we could hear them singing. Wow!! We spent two very quick hours just marveling at their antics and headed back in.

While we had been looking for the craft show we had met the Customs agent on the road. He remembered Robert and very shyly asked us if we wanted to take a tour of the island in his four-wheel drive van. Knowing that they like to trade we asked what he wanted in exchange. His answer was that he wanted nothing but the chance to practice his English. As he talked to us he became more and more fluent as he relaxed. He explained that the others spoke better than he did and that he felt embarrassed to speak when he knew he wasn’t doing it correctly. Of course we were more than willing to do that because we had lots of questions we wanted to ask about the island and answering them would really let him practice. We arranged to meet him after work on Thursday (today).

At four-thirty we went into the dock to meet with Louti to take our little tour. Gord, Ginny, and Marv went with us. Louti was delightful and full of information. Bobby sat up front with him. The roads here are just mud with ruts and we quickly learned why all the vehicles are four wheel drive. He took us up the hills and explained the plantations to us. Each family is given a plot of land to raise food on. They have to clear that land out of what is essentially jungle. At least here they have a couple of tractors owned by the Agriculture department and can have someone come out and till for them. That is if the land is cleared enough for the tractor to work. Many of the plantations.. that is a loose term are covered in the stumps of the coconut trees they have to remove so the land needs to be worked by hand. Luckily it is good soil and things grow very quickly. They take agriculture in school and learn to rotate crops and let land stand fallow to recover. 2/3 of their land is fallow at any one time. No one owns any of this property and it can not be sold or bought. The land is loaned to each family by the royal family, which owns EVERYTHING in Tonga. No one who is willing to work here would ever go hungry, but neither do they have the opportunity to really improve their lives.  Just above village #1 we visited their sacred pools, which are spring fed. The water was so clear it almost looked like it wasn’t really there. But the fish had to have something to swim in right? We still have not figured out how they ended up with fresh water fish? Just one of life’s little mysteries!

That evening after dinner we went over to Sirona to play games and visit. The games turned out to be kind of a free-for-all and Bobby, especially, was glad when they were over.

September 24, 2004 (Friday)

We had talked about leaving today, but the winds did not cooperate. Looks like tomorrow should be the day. There are five or six of us waiting to leave. Two boats left yesterday and listening to them on the radio we could tell they were getting beat up pretty bad out there. On short passages we don’t have the option of falling off ten or fifteen degrees to make the ride more comfortable and then when the winds switch making that ground back up. Short passages are often the PITS and must simply be endured. But with all the weather info available we do try to lessen the impact if we can.

Instead of sailing we decided to go hiking. Three boats of us set out to find the trail to the top of the mountain in the middle of the island. We picked up a teenage guide in the middle village and off we went. Turned out he was on suspension from school and mom relished the idea of not letting him nap the day away.  These folks DO NOT believe in switch backs and soon we were climbing hard. Well, we had not done much walking for more than a month and pretty soon the old lungs gave out! Combine that with the fact that we waited until the hottest part of the day to go and it was 90 degrees with 85 percent humidity and I wasn’t going to make it. Bob and I headed back down. He was a sweetheart to go with me. We ended up taking different route back because the path is pretty non-existent and when you do find a path they lead to the small plantations set in the hillside. Hard to imagine having to climb way up here everyday to work your crops and to gather and carry it back down.  We figured as long as we were headed down we would eventually get there and we did. One plantation we skirted was being cleared. There was one chainsaw and everyone else was working at removing limbs and other vegetation with machetes. But they were smiling and working hard. I feel bad that Bobby had to miss out on the last of the hike. Although we found out later that the trail only got worse so I am glad I decided to hang my head and come back down.

We finished the day getting everything ready to go in the morning. The wind is started to slowly back around to a direction that should allow us to sail. It will be another thirty hour or so hour passage to the Vava’u Group, the middle islands of Tonga, and the place we visited and loved last time.

September 25, 2004 (Saturday)

Picked the dinghy up at seven this morning and pulled up the anchor. We were on our way out of Niuatoputapa by 7:30 a.m. The winds clocked and once we get around the outer reef that extends several miles out from the point of the island we should be able to sail. As we went around the reef a mother and calf humpback came out to say good-bye. The splashed and played just off our port side. Slapping those big old dorsal fins of theirs and looking like they were waving to us. Momma even breeched gracefully out of the water for us!

The winds cooperated fairly well for us to begin with. Four more boats left behind us but slowly but surely gained and then passed us by. It did give me the opportunity to take some great pictures of their boats under sail. But alas we were on the sunny side of them and they could not return the favor!! Sigh!! We sailed comfortably until late evening and then the wind began to clock a bit and lightened a bit. Finally about daylight it dropped to below five knots of wind and we stopped moving. We fired up the iron jenny.. engine and motored for the next eight hours.

September  26, 2004 (Sunday)

About 2:30 p.m. we entered the Vava’u group of Tonga and by 3:30 p.m. we were tied to a mooring ball in Neiafu and enjoying the quiet!! Sowelu and Gypsy Wind invited us for dinner. It will be great to see everyone that we haven’t seen since Bora Bora. It is a shock to be in someplace where the radio seems to go non-stop! We use our VHF like a phone and everyone uses channel 16 as a hailing channel and then moves off to other channels to chat. But it is very NOISY!!

When we came around the corner to enter into Neiafu my jaw just about hit the deck. This place has CHANGED!!! When we were here before there was one little open air restaurant called the Double Dolphin, two stores, one bank, Moorings boat charter outfit, the Paradise Hotel (where all the cruisers hung out), and one little outboard repair place. Not now, the place has grown ten fold! The mooring balls are new because before we all anchored at the end of the bay in 50+ feet of water and wrapped around the coral on the bottom to stay put!

Bobby slept, I cleaned and relaxed and at 6:30 Boja came and picked us up and took us to Sowelu for dinner. How’s that for service? We hated to eat and run, but the v-berth was calling our tired names!! It was almost too calm and quiet that night so it took me a while to fall a sleep. Bobby just crashed!!