Well, after ten days in Neiafu we decided it was time to move on and see more of the Kingdom of Tonga. There are 70 islands that make up the Vava’u Group of which 17 are inhabited. This leaves a lot of room to explore. The anchorages are actually numbered and you can buy a chart that shows the best spots. Of course we generally like to go where there are fewer people but it’s that time of year when all the cruisers are making their way south to hide out for cyclone season so there are lots of boats everywhere.
We chose to leave Neiafu the weekend the Bluewater Festival began. This is a festival given by the folks of Tonga in conjunction with New Zealand businesses. It includes dancing, parties, races and lots and lots of talks from New Zealand businesses and their tourist council. It’s very similar to the Pacific Puddle Jump party that’s held in Moorea each year. While we would probably enjoy the dances and a few parties, it’s the mass of people and the “sales talks” from businesses trying to get you to utilize their services that we aren’t really into experiencing. So, we headed out while everyone else was headed in.
Our first stop was Port Maurelle. This beautiful little anchorage was the perfect place to spend a few days. There were a couple of charter catamarans there, which made for some fun and interesting people watching. It’s always entertaining to watch “part time” boaters try to anchor or catch a mooring ball. We keep saying one day we are going to make up large cards with numbers on them so we can act like judges in the Olympics.
We spent two days here waiting out some strong winds. One day we took the dinghy and headed out to explore the islands nearby. We found an absolutely beautiful, deserted island. The waters here are so clear and the colors of blue, green and aqua make you feel like your looking at a painting rather than something in real life.
After a couple of days here we decided to head to Anchorage #15, Nuapapu Island, the Village of Mata Maka. We’d read that the people in the village can always use a bit of help from anyone who is willing to lend a hand and we were hoping to get a chance to be of service. We arrived here to find no other boats in the anchorage. YIPPEE! Grape Ape was so excited he went up on deck and started dancing!
After we were settled in we took the dink to shore to see what we could find. Here would be a good time to tell you that in Tonga women are expected to adhere to a very modest dress code, especially on the remote islands. Knees and shoulders are to be covered at all times. Now when you live on a boat you spend a great deal of time in bathing suits, shorts and sundresses so I don’t really have much in the way of “cover up” clothing. And, since I was currently dealing with four broken toes I had no choice but to wear my tennis shoes. Dan and I laughed hysterically as I tried to find an appropriate outfit that met their guidelines and went with tennis shoes. I must have changed four times and each one made me look like an old grandma. Finally I managed to find something that would work even though I felt a bit uncomfortable. But, as they say, “when in Rome” or this case Tonga!
The village was very clean and well kept and there was a dirt road that led behind the houses on the beach through the main part of the village to the church and the fale (meeting house). We approached the fale and found an older woman sitting on the floor inside on a huge mat. She was weaving this mat from palm fronds. We peeked in the door and she motioned for us to come in.
We greeted her in Tongan….”Mālo e lelei. Fēfē hake.”She replied, “Sai pe” and then started to continue on in her native language. At that point we stopped her and explained that hello was about the extent of our Tongan speaking skills. She laughed and then started speaking in English. Most Tongans speak pretty good English. The are required to learn this in school. This sweet lady’s name is “Dinghyie”. No, it’s not pronounced Dingy…it’s pronounced, (Din yay). We spoke with her for a few minutes and then she directed us towards the beach to find the chief so we could ask for permission to visit their village.
We left the fale and turned left at the church. It is a quaint village church with the bell that actually hangs from a tree. Just down the path from there is another fale. There were two men inside but no furniture. They don’t use it. They sit on the floor. One man came to the doorway and greeted us. His name is Maury. He was a kind looking fellow with a big smile. Dan explained that we wanted to pay for the mooring and also that we would like to donate some supplies to the village. Maury suggested that we come back later in the day as everyone was still sleeping. Too much Kava the night before. LOL Well, we paid him the mooring fee and headed back down the beach to the wharf.
That afternoon brought with it significant rains so we decided we’d wait until the following day to go back ashore. The next afternoon we gathered the food, line and other goodies we had for the villagers and headed out. As we walked down the beach toward the fale we heard loud chanting and saw people scattered about outside of it. We approached a young couple sitting on a tree and asked where we could find Maury. The young lady said he was in the fale and that they’d be done with their ceremony in a few moments. It was a ceremony for the school children.
I stayed to talk to the young couple as Dan walked saw another older gentleman and went to talk to him. The girl asked me what we wanted with Maury and I told her we were here to donate items to the village. She and her guy friend started chatting in Tongan and then she told me we needed to see Chief Ladu, not Maury. She went on to say he would be coming out of the ceremony too. I thanked them for the information and went over to where Dan was standing. Maury had seen him and came out to greet him.
We stood there talking as Dan showed him the line and the bags of food. I then asked him, “Is Chief Ladu okay with us doing this? We’d really like to meet him.” There was a moment where I thought I saw a bit of nervousness in his eyes as the chief walked over to greet us and before we were done with our introductions to the chief Maury had vanished. Hmmmm…
We introduced ourselves and Chief Ladu welcomed us to the village with a huge, kind and warm smile. Dan presented him with a gift of Kava and asked for permission to stay at the anchorage and visit the village. He kindly gave us his approval. We spoke to Chief Ladu as well as the local schoolteacher for quite sometime. It turns out Ryan, the schoolteacher, works for the Peace Corps and has been in the village for two years. He was set to move to his next assignment just two weeks later.
In our discussion with them we learned that only the young children attend school on the island while the older children are taken via boat to Neiafu each Monday and gathered up again on Friday. They spend the week there going to school. We told Ryan we also had some pencils and other school supplies we would bring back the following morning for the children. He was especially excited by the fact that we had glow-in-the-dark bracelets, beach balls and frisbees. He said the kids would love them as they don’t get much in the way of toys down here.
Chief Ladu and Dan spoke at length about the village and their needs. The chief was very pleased with the food and line we brought. He did ask Dan if we could help out with some money so they can repaint the bottom of the boat they use to transport the children to Neiafu each week. Dan didn’t have much in his pocket but gave him what he had.
They invited us into the fale to partake in the ceremonial feast but we already had dinner made and declined. Looking back I wish we would have stayed but we plan on returning next year and hope to stop there again. Maybe this time we can actually do some physical labor to help out the village.
I asked Chief Ladu if he would mind if we got our pictures taken with him. He was so friendly and agreed without a moment’s hesitation. Ryan too our picture and then the chief reached in his pocket and pulled out an Iphone and handed it to Ryan and told him to take one of us as well. I about died when I saw that. Who would believe they’d have smartphones on a remote island in the middle of Tonga? After a quick photo session we bid farewell to Ryan and Chief Ladu and made our way back down the beach.
The following day we went ashore to take the school supplies up and drop them off. As we headed toward the wharf we saw Ryan’s dog way out on the reef. The tide was out and the dog was walking all over the reef. Of course I was concerned for his wellbeing but Dan assured me he was fine. And, he was right. By the time we tied up at the wharf the dog was up there greeting us. He ended up escorting us all over the island that morning. He even walked us back to the wharf to see us off when we left.
The village was rather quiet on this particular morning. We had been told they were taking all the young children to another island for some sort of school outing. We strolled along the beach and up the hill to the schoolhouse. It’s actually rather nice. The dwelling that Ryan calls home, however, is very, very meager and seems more like a hut than a house. God bless him for doing what he does.
On our way back we took one last stroll through the village where we saw Dinghie in the fale weaving away. We decided to stop in to say, “Goodbye”. Once again she greeted us with that beautiful smile. I asked her what the mat will be used for when it’s complete and she told us it’s a ceremonial mat that is used for religious ceremonies, weddings and funerals. It is 20’ x 10’ and by the time it’s finished it will have taken her 3 months to complete. That’s working 6 days a week on it. Here in Tongan Sunday is a mandatory day of rest. They don’t even want cruisers working on their boats on Sundays.
Dinghie looked at out hats and then asked, “Are you the ones who donated the food to the village yesterday?”
Dan replied, “Yes.”
She said, “Thank you very much. That is so kind. I got a can of New Zealand butter. It’s my favorite.”
Dinghie went on to tell us that after we left the village Chief Ladu went around to each home and let them choose one item out of the food bag. The smile on her face made me want to go back to the boat and get more food for them. To think a simple can of butter could be so appreciated.
We said, “Goodbye”to our new friend and as we departed she called out, “May God bless you and your travels.”We both left with huge smiles and full hearts.
Our stay in Nuapapu was short but wonderful. We do hope to return here next season and possibly spend a bit more time. But, for now there are many more islands to see in Tonga and we don’t have much time before we will need to be heading south to New Zealand for cyclone season.