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Lifuka to Nukunamo


After a couple of beautiful days in Ha’afeva we decided it was time to continue north to Lifuka to do our official inter island check in. After four hours of mostly motoring we arrived at the anchorage. We are the only ones here. NICE!
We drop the anchor and lower the dink so we can head to shore. Last year when we arrived here we spent the better part of an hour searching for the Customs Office. Apparently they had moved to a new location that very day and even the police didn’t know where to find them. We were hoping they were in the same location.
Once tied to the wharf we headed southeast three or so blocks to where the office was the last time we were here. To our great surprise they had actually installed a very nice sign that showed the office location. Signage in these third world countries is weak at best so when you find a good one it’s a bonus. The office was, in fact, exactly where we left it last October.
There was another group of boaters there checking in so we waited our turn in the small office. It’s a modest office with tile floors and empty white walls. There are two desks, a few chairs, a copy machine/printer and not much else. The doors are open to provide “air conditioning” and there is a small back room hidden by a piece of fabric that one can only assume is some sort of break room or storage area.
We were greeted by the very same Customs Official who checked us in and out last season. He’s a young, handsome man with beautiful dark skin and kind brown eyes. He’s got a perfectly white smile that shines brightly against his tan face. His black hair is cut short and he appears rather formal yet somewhat casual in his light blue uniform. You know he’s an official yet he seems to be someone you’d want to have a beer with and get to know better.
We chat as Dan fills out the required paperwork. He remembers us from last year. We remind him that they had just opened the office and he didn’t even have a copy machine there to give us a copy of our paperwork so he drove us to the old office to get the copy and then dropped us at the local bar, Mariner’s Café. We all laugh about the circumstances that surrounded that day. It seems like we are there mere minutes and with little effort or time we have checked in and out of the Ha’apai group of islands. Tomorrow we will leave to head to the Vava’u group.
After leaving the Customs Office we walk back toward the center of town. Now when I say the center of town let me assure you this is not anything like you are likely to conjure up in your mind. These streets are concrete with very narrow sidewalks. The homes and businesses that line them are mere shacks. Many have no doors or windows and almost all have laundry drying on lines with odd items and broken appliances in their yards. Everywhere you look there are pigs roaming freely. Along the way we see small stores that sell the very basic of supplies and food. You can find just about any bit of Chinese plastic you want in these stores but the stuff you really want is nowhere to be found. Interestingly enough they sell a lot of snack foods like chips and cookies. Sodas are a big thing as well. Most of the stores here seem to be owned by Asian people, which is common in these islands. We’ve heard that the Chinese and Japanese have taken over quite a bit of the commerce in Tonga. They donate a lot of money to these islands too. It would be easy to assume they are working hard to gain the rights to fish Tongan waters but no one seems to want to talk much about it.
Along the way back toward town we see that school must have just been let out. There are lots of school children in their bright blue uniforms walking along the streets. They all seem to be somewhat enamored with us. Yes, as Pilangi (white people), we surely stand out walking through their little village. A group of young girls followed us from store to store. I finally asked if I could take their photograph and they eagerly posed for several photos. Of course they immediately wanted to see the resulting picture. They all giggled and said, “Malo” (Thank you), then walked away. Wait, wasn’t I the one who should have thanked them? Hmmmm….
We grabbed a couple of items from each store. Cokes for my treat during my midnight watches, eggs and a couple of other items are scooped up as we see them. Here in the islands you live by the Costco mentality. That means if you see it and want it, you buy it. You never know when you’ll see it again.
After a little shopping we head to Mariner’s Café. It’s really the only restaurant/bar in the general area. There are others on the island but they are part of resorts, which makes them more expensive and a taxi ride away. We just want to stop and have a beer or two and this place is just fine.
At Mariner’s we met four youngsters out sailing the seas together. I don’t remember the name of their boat but they were all substantially younger than us. Jess, from Canada, and her friend Amber, from the US were flying out the following day. Caroline from Ireland and her boyfriend, Danny from Australia are to continue on from here. They had come in from the Marshall Islands. It never ceases to amaze me how many young people we run into who have boats and are also living this dream. And these “kids” aren’t all living off of Mom & Dad. They work their way around the world and live a modest lifestyle to do it. It’s pretty awesome to see them live their dreams at a young age instead of getting caught up in the rat race of society.
Another boater we know from Mexico showed up with his temporary crewmember. Apparently he picked her up in New Zealand and she made the crossing to Tonga with him. From what we understand she will only be on the boat until they reach Fiji and then will fly home. He’s got another crewmember arriving from Canada in a few weeks. It’s not uncommon for single-handers to pick up crew to help them make longer passages. And, it’s no secret that there are plenty of women who will gladly hop aboard and do whatever needs to be done just to get the opportunity to sail and live the cruiser lifestyle. Unfortunately there is a derogatory name for women like that, which often gets applied to the rest of us females out here. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s still a man’s world on the high seas. I’m just thankful that I’m here with a man that I dearly love and who is an amazing captain. I can’t imagine hopping on a boat with some virtual stranger whose skills you know little of and whose character you know even less.
After a few brews in the café we hit one last store and head back to Dazzler. We enjoy a beautiful sunset together sitting on the back of Dazzler. The other two boats who came in after us are far in close to shore and it’s like we have the entire place to ourselves. There’s nothing like sitting on the rear seat of Dazzler having cocktails at sunset with the man I love!
The following morning we head out around 0830. We move just a few miles north to Nukunamo. Oh my! What a beautiful place this is with its crystal clear waters, tall swaying palms and beautiful beach. It’s would be a picture postcard if it weren’t for all the rain clouds surrounding it.
There’s lots of bommies everywhere so we’re thrilled that the sun came out just in time for us to anchor. It takes two attempts for us to get anchored in a place where we feel comfortable. Fortunately we are the only boat in the anchorage so we have it all to ourselves. We’re only going to be here for a few hours but it’s still wonderful to be alone in this paradise.
We have to sit and wait a bit before we can leave the boat as there are squalls coming by every few minutes. Finally we get a break in the weather and hop in the dink to head for shore. We’ve heard there is good shelling here and I’m always up for finding a few unique shells. Not sure what I’ll ever do with them but I do gather them and log where they are from. Something tells me there will be some pretty cool crafting in my future.
As we approach the island we can hear the Pacific Ocean pounding on the opposite shore. It never ceases to amaze us how on one side the vast ocean is crashing on the shore with the ferocity of the devil himself and on the other it’s as calm as can be. Just a tiny strip of God’s land tames the giant, watery beast. Nature is truly amazing!
After an hour or so on the beach where I scored some really cool souvenir shells, we went back to the boat to prepare for our overnight passage to Vava’u. We loaded the dink on the foredeck and Dan took a nap while I made our favorite passage meal of frijoles de la hoya as well as some sweet and tasty coconut macaroons.
At 1545 we were underway and headed north for our overnight passage to Neiafu in the Vava’u group of islands. By the way, in case you are wondering, the locals call it VaVA’u with the emphasis on the second VA…like ahhh. Many of the Pilangi here call it Vavow, which makes me absolutely crazy. After all, if you are going to be in their country….you should at least try to pronounce it their way!
Until next time,
Jilly & Dan

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You Live Here?

We awoke to find one of God’s most perfect days. The skies are beautiful and the air is warm. There are great winds for sailing and we’re going to take advantage of them. We don’t waste a moment getting things together and preparing to get underway. By 0830 we have pulled up the anchor and are heading north to Ha’afeva. It’s a remote island with just a few people living on it so we’re hoping to get a chance to get to know some of the villagers.

With the anchor up it’s time to hoist the mainsail. Dan begins working the lines as I turn Dazzler into the wind. Within minutes the sail is flying, we’ve cut the engine and we’re sailing along at 5.5 knots. Ahhh! Now THIS is living! The only sound is the wind and the sea as we cruise through the electric blue waters looking at the many beautiful islands all around us.

The trip to Ha’afeva is just about four hours. We near the island and find three other boats anchored there. One just happens to be SV Manna. We met Curtis and Julie in the Marquesas but never really got a chance to spend time with them and here they are some 4000 NM away from there. It’s crazy how we cruisers seem to meet up in some of the most remote corners of the world.

The water here is really clear and the anchorage is perfect. We radio over to Curtis and Julie and they tell us they are going to be heading to shore to meet one of the villagers. He’s going to give them a tour of the island and take them to meet his family. Dan asks if it’s okay for us to tag along and they agree.

We put the dinghy in the water and a couple of hours later it’s time to go ashore. We pick up our friends along the way and as we approach the wharf we see a young Tongan man standing there beside a wheelbarrow. He’s not a big guy at all, maybe 5’6” with a smallish build. He has black curly hair that stops at his shoulders. He’s very dark skinned and has a wonderful, kind smile.

He shows us where to tie up the dink along the dilapidated concrete wharf and we all climb up the stonewall to greet him. We introduce ourselves and the kind young man tells us his name is Lotu. It means “prayer” in Tongan. His eyes are brownish green and just a bit glassy. Maybe he’s been into the Kava this morning. But that’s not important now.

After the introductions are complete Lotu begins using his machete to open up four coconuts. He offers one to each of us. They are large and fairly heavy and the hole he creates is not all that great for drinking so we all seem to spill some of the sweet nectar down our shirts as we enjoy Lotu’s kind gift.

He has other treats in his wheelbarrow as well. There’s tiny red, hot peppers, lemons and oranges. He brought them for Julie & Curtis as he had met them earlier in the day.

We drink as much of the coconut water as we can before it’s time to move on with the tour. I was pretty cautious about drinking too much. You may or may not know that coconut water is a very good, fast acting laxative. That said I certainly didn’t want to find myself somewhere on this remote island looking for a tree and a banana leaf.

Before we start the tour Dan offers Lotu a gift of Kava. It’s a root Tongans grind up into a powder. They mix it with water and drink it. It’s said to have some intoxicating affects. We bought a whole kilo of it in Vava’u last year. It’s something you offer to the chiefs of the islands as a gift for allowing you to visit. I tried it once and it made me sleep pretty good but it tastes like I would imagine dirty sock water would taste. I think I’ll stick to vodka or beer. Lotu smiled big as Dan handed over the packet of ground Kava.

Lotu speaks some English. It’s not perfect by any stretch but we are able to communicate rather easily. He takes us on walk down the beach. The coral sand is warm and a little rough and in some places you sink down to your ankles. It’s definitely good exercise. A few minutes into our hike and Lotu stops, picks up a coconut and cracks it open with his machete. He gives us each pieces of the fresh coconut inside. There’s nothing like fresh coconut!

After walking about ten more minutes down the beach we come to a small opening in the trees. Lotu walks up and points to the trail so we all follow him. At this point I can’t help thinking that we are all pretty trusting. After all, a man we don’t know is carrying a machete and leading us into the jungle. We have no idea what awaits us in there and yet we just follow him like he’s the Pied Piper.

Of course I know my Dan and he’s watching every single move but still it’s a bit unnerving even though this young man seems so friendly. I mean it was just 8 years ago on the island of Nuka Hiva in the Marquesas that a German sailor was killed and assumed to be eaten by an islander. The man even tried to kill the sailor’s girlfriend after he coaxed her into following him into the woods saying that her boyfriend was hurt and needed help. Fortunately she got away and the murderer was caught but, of course, her life will never be the same.

As we continued through the jungle this story was sitting like a dark cloud in the back of my mind. I kept trying to push it away but it was there and it wasn’t leaving anytime soon.

A few minutes into the jungle Lotu stopped at a large tree. It was the biggest mango tree I’ve ever seen. Beside it was a very large orange tree as well. He picked up a couple of oranges and sliced them open for us. The fruit inside was very sweet with few seeds. The sticky juice covered our faces and hands. It felt as if we were living like locals as we stood there wiping our hands and faces on our shirts.

We continued on through the twisty turning paths under the shade of the giant trees and soon there was a large clearing. There were at least a dozen or so pigs ranging in size from small to extra jumbo! They were eating something off the ground but I couldn’t tell what it was.

Lotu’s wife Ata immediately greeted us. She seemed sweet and had a nice smile. Sitting on a blanket on the ground was Ata’s mother. She was older with gray hair, dark skin and a large, round belly. There were several children running about including a toddler who was literally covered in black dirt from the jungle floor. Lotu’s uncle was sleeping peacefully in a hammock that had been hung between two trees nearby.

A look deeper into the clearing revealed several makeshift shelters. They had no walls; merely a flat roof perched upon timbers that were stuck into the ground.  There was a small fire nearby. The smoke from coconut shells is supposed to help to keep the bugs at bay. I wanted so much to take a few photographs of this campsite that is home to these people but I was afraid of offending them. After all, I am a visitor in their home so I didn’t want to appear like the rude American tourist.

They were all very friendly and welcoming. It was very interesting to see how these people live here on this island. There’s no power, no running water or anything that even closely resembles a modern convenience. There’s no store on the island to buy anything at all so they eat what the land and sea provide. Their entire life revolves around survival, family and God. While we didn’t see it we heard there is a tiny church on the island as well.

They live out here exposed to all of the elements and yet they all smile and seem genuinely happy. And even more, they offer to share what little they have with complete strangers. It really makes you think about what’s important in life. It certainly isn’t all the things people of today’s society seem to covet. No, when I look at the people of these islands I am humbled and honored that we have been given the opportunity to get to know them and experience their culture.  Each new encounter changes us just a little bit more for the better.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

To read more about the killing of Stefin Remin, Click Here.