Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Entering The Kingdom of Tonga

Our first stop after leaving Samoa was a tiny little island that was about half way between Western Samoa and the Vava’u group of islands in Tonga.  While it’s only about a 30 hour passage, it’s one to be careful of since these waters can be unpredictable due to the South Pacific Convergence Zone.

After carefully consulting the weather, we set off with a prediction for 12-15 knots of wind on the beam.  Unfortunately, we got 22-28 knots on the nose instead – NOT FUN!  After so much downwind sailing this was a rude reminder of how different it is to sail in the big bad ocean versus the Puget Sound.  We were also reminded how badly our forward hatch leaks under those conditions when we captured a whopping 3 buckets (5-gallon buckets!) full of sea water that had leaked though our hatch – and that’s just the water we caught!  Suffice it to say that it was an extremely wet and uncomfortable trip and we were very glad it was a short one.

The kids in Tonga are ADORABLE!

I’m happy to report that the sun was shining when we arrived at Niuatoputapu (often referred to as “New Potato” by cruisers as it’s a bit of a mouthful to pronounce) and we were able to drag everything out onto the deck to dry out.  Ahhhh the joys of this cruising life!

Big Sia
Little Sia
When we first arrived there were only two other boats, but by the next day there were about 8, many of which we already knew from Samoa.  We soon met the rest when we did a tour of the island with Sia, the resident self-proclaimed greeter and tour guide of Niuatoputapu.  Who knew you could fit 17 people in one truck!  Sia basically calls you on the VHF when you arrive and assists you with checking into the country and showing you the island.  She has an adorable little girl – also named Sia.

Woman weaving
During our tour we saw some interesting things, but one I found especially fascinating is the traditional weaving found throughout Tonga.  Hand-woven mats are used for a variety of functions in Tonga including clothing, sleeping mats and floor coverings.  They are a huge part of Tongan life and are often presented as gifts during weddings, births or deaths.  Each mat is unique and they are greatly treasured within Tongan society.

Weaving in process.
It is not uncommon to come across a house where several women (or perhaps an entire family of women) will be working on mats.  In this region the weaving is most commonly done with Pandanus leaves which can range in length, but are typically about 4-6 feet long.  Suffice it to say that there is a crazy amount of work that goes into preparing the leaves before they can be used for the weaving, and to complete a 4 x 6 foot piece can take two women up to 2 weeks to finish.  We really wanted to buy one as a memento so you can imagine my surprise when we later purchased a beautifully finished mat at the market in Tongatapu for just $40 USD.

Check out that detailed work - WOW!

Grave sites of the 9 lost during the tsunami of 2009
Something else worth noting is that this area has greatly benefitted from relief efforts via the World Bank after being hit by a devastating Tsunami in 2009.  Nine lives were lost and countless homes were destroyed.  Many islanders were left with nothing after their homes were damaged or washed out to sea.  But in the aftermath the World Bank came in and spent 5 million to rebuild and repair the infrastructure of the island.  In the end, they retrofitted 60 buildings and built 73 new houses – plus a new school.  The people of the island still speak of that day with fear, but at least they are now well on their way towards getting back to a “normal” life thanks to this reconstruction project. 

Boys playing in front of one of the new buildings

Some friends Brett made.
Brett had a great time getting to know some of the local children in the village.  In many of the places we’ve gone the resounding cry has been for a “lolly” (aka candy), but on this island we were only asked for pencils and pens for school.  How sweet is that?  Of course we were happy to oblige.

All in all Niuatoputapu was a wonderful little place to stop and regroup after a nasty passage before continuing on to the Vav’u group.  We enjoyed the people, but we especially enjoyed the children and their unabashed pleasure in just being alive.  It’s amazing how little people can have, and still be completely happy and content.  It’s a good lesson for all of us.