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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.

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Traveling The Ha’apai Group

With Nuku’alofa and the Tongatapu group of islands far behind we have made our first stop at Nomuka Iki (pronounced: No mü kī kē) in the southern part of the Ha’apai group of islands here in Tonga. 

There are 62 islands in the Ha’apai group and only 17 of them are inhabited. In total there are approximately 8000 people living in 30 villages throughout the islands. Only the four largest islands actually have electricity, telephones and running water and none of the islands have television so for those binge TV watchers out there you probably wouldn’t be all that happy living here.            

I awoke from my post watch nap around 0630 to weather that was quite a bit more nautical than I was expecting. We had 25-30 knot winds and three meter swells beating us up pretty good. Dan was getting soaked in the cockpit as the waves crashed over the side of Dazzler. I stayed below because there’s really no need for both of us to get soaked right???

Just one of the many reefs surrounding Mango Island.

We had hoped to stop at Mango Island which is just a short trip from Nomuka Iki  but as we neared the entrance to the anchorage I was on deck and I just didn’t get a good feeling about it. The anchorage is very small and it’s surrounded by coral reefs. There wasn’t much protection from the wind and swell either. If winds changed during the night and we had to bug out it could have gotten pretty dicey so we opted to continue on to Nomuka Iki. It is just a short distance away but due to the sea state and winds it took us a good two hours. Needless to say we were both very happy to get the anchor down and enjoy the ceremonial anchor down beers.

Technically they ask you to do an inter island check in each time you move from one island group to another. For the Ha’apai group you have to check in at Lifuka but that’s further north and coming back down can be tricky so we decided to just make an overnight stop here to wait out the winds and weather. The fact is that we are legally checked into the country so we weren’t all that concerned about making a stop or two on the way to Lifuka. And, they can’t prevent you from taking safe harbor in bad weather.

Nomuka Iki is a small uninhabited island near the larger island of Nomuka. The remains of an old prison are on this island and the Takuo fishing vessel is beached on her shores. This boat hit the reef during a storm and several of the men were lost. The hull later washed up on the beach where it remains to this day. Sadly it reminds us all of how incredibly dangerous these reefs can be.

Just after we dropped the hook the sun came out and the winds started to die down a bit so we spent a lovely afternoon and evening here on the hook. The water is beautiful and life is good! Now it’s time to plan our next stop. Hmmm….so many choices out here. Where will we go?

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

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Ha’apai Group, Tonga

We left Mounu in the wee morning hours to head to Lifuka in the Ha’apai Group of islands here in Tonga. We arrived late in the afternoon under the cover of clouds and mist. It’s not the ideal way to enter a new anchorage but we did get just enough light to be able to see the bommies under the surface.

The following morning we headed to shore to do our official check in with the authorities. In Tonga you must check in with each island group even though you’ve officially checked into the country at your first port of call.

Once on shore we start to seek out the appropriate office for checking in. This turned out to be a bit of a challenge. One person says “go here” and another says “go there”. Ironically enough we stopped at the police station and were told to go to the building next door. When we got there they told us the office had moved. How is it that on an island of less than 3000 people the police don’t know where the immigration office is located??? Well, it turns out that the office had just moved to their new location the day before so I guess we’ll give the officer a break.

The key to handling the difficulties you experience in these third world countries is patience. We obviously wanted to get our check in done expeditiously but we also got a great tour of the village as we walked from place to place so we just tried to enjoy the adventure. Once we found the office we checked in and out at the same time. We didn’t plan to spend any time here in Lifuka as we are trying to work our way south to Nuku’alofa to prepare for our jump to New Zealand.

After checking in it was time to find some grub. The sweet young man who checked us in needed to make a copy of our paperwork and since the office was not yet set up with a copy machine he had to go back to the other city offices. He offered to drive us there and then to wherever we wanted to go. Once the copy was made he dropped us off at a restaurant we’d heard of from the cruiser guides. We went to the Mariner’s Cafe.

As with most of the little restaurants in the islands it’s not much to look at but it certainly has character. We sat at a table near the street and chatted for a bit. Across from us sat two Tongan men wearing their traditional Tongan garb that includes the taʻovala (woven mat that is worn around the waist). Before long we had struck up a conversation with them.

Davita and Kenny work for the Tongan Commission. Once they learned Dan was a retired officer we started a rather lengthy discussion. They talked of the problems Tongans face with drugs and crime. Yep…even in remote islands such as this drugs are a problem. ICE, methamphetamines, is their biggest issue. Apparently in the outer islands such as this one it’s not too bad but on the “big island” of Tongatapu it’s becoming a huge problem. How does this become a problem all the way out here??? The Internet! Since the internet has hit the islands the kids learn of all the things they don’t have but want. How can they get money to buy these kinds of things? Selling drugs. How to they learn the “recipe” to make crystal meth? The internet. It’s just unbelievable. And, the worst of it is that there are few jobs in these islands so the kids are sitting there with nothing to do so they form small gangs. It’s really very sad. It reminds me of an old saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

Anyway, we had a wonderful conversation with Kenny & Davita. They gave us a gentle warning to be sure we keep everything locked up tightly in Nuku’Alofa as things disappear rather quickly there. We told them our plan is only to check out of the country, pick up some supplies and top off fuel so we won’t be there long.

After they left we struck up a conversation with Tonu. His wife who is from Poland, owns the café. Their young son was there as well. He was another very interesting person to talk with about the area. He had a slightly different take on things but then he may have just been trying to downplay the criminal side because their business caters to tourists and cruisers.

The following morning we headed back to shore for some quick provisioning before setting off to the next anchorage. There was a Tongan Navy ship in the harbor. They were pretty laid back and very friendly even allowing me to snap a couple of pics.

A typical store in the islands.

We made our way through town from store to store as always. You can never find one store that has everything you need. It’s like hunting and gathering in the islands. Once we had everything we wanted we headed back to the boat and hauled anchor.

We motored for just about an hour and anchored down at Uoleva Island. John & Lynn of SV Danika were there and Dan knew John from Mexico. John left there a couple of years ago and has stayed in the South Pacific. On the way we saw three or four humpback whales playing. That is always such a treat.

The anchorage here is truly beautiful and there’s actually a real sand beach…not crushed coral! That’s something to find down here as most beaches are not really sand. You actually can sink up to your mid calf in this soft, squishy sand. It’s quite a bit of exercise just getting from the shore up the beach.

We only stayed here for two nights. The first evening we had dinner on shore at the Sea Change Eco Resort with Lynn & John. The food was excellent but the resort is rather odd, at least to us. It’s an eco-friendly resort. Everything is solar powered and there is no indoor plumbing. It’s like high dollar camping. Sailing is more my idea of high dollar camping! LOL! It’s definitely not the type of resort I want to pay to visit but I guess if you’re into that kind of thing this is supposed to be one of the nicest.

While we were there I had to go to the little girl’s room. Becky, our server, led me there. It’s a grass hut about 50 or 60 feet behind the restaurant. You walk down a pitch black path and all you can see is the light in the hut. Once you go in you realize you have been transported back in time. It’s a composting toilet that is seated upon a raised concrete slab just like a royal thrown. HA HA . It is two tall steps to get to the toilet. I’m not sure why but when you open the lid there is a funnel in the front section of the bowl. Honestly, I had to go so bad I could have cared less. It smelled a little but you know…when you gotta go, you gotta go. To wash your hands there is a small bottle of soap and a hanging shower bag filled with water. Yep…this was different. When we got home I told Dan I don’t ever want to stay at an Eco Friendly Resort. He assured me that will never happen! LOL

One thing that is quite disturbing for us is the way the whale watching boats get so close to these animals. In Tonga, in particular, they sell these “swim with the whales” packages for tourists. In order to get the swimmer close to the whales they zoom up really close and then drop in the swimmer. What’s even further disturbing is the fact that the Sea Change Resort goes to great lengths to sell the fact that they have virtually zero carbon footprint and are all about the environment yet they have one of the largest swim with the whales businesses. So I guess if you are eco-friendly it’s okay to molest the whales? Yeah, this is not something that sits real well with us. Had we known this we likely would not have had dinner there.

We spent two days at this little island and then decided it was time to move on. I think we’re both getting a bit antsy about getting to New Zealand. And the passage there is not for wimps. We’ve heard it can be a bit rough if you don’t get the window just right so we really want to get to Nuku’alofa and get provisioned up and ready to take the best weather window.

We really wanted to see more of the Ha’apia Group but as usual Mother Nature had her own plans. It appeared that the best time to head towards the Tongatapu Group was about to be upon us so we decided we better reevaluate our plans. Dan began studying the weather and reviewing the charts as I prepared the cabin for our next passage.

Until next time…

Jilly & Dan