Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Getting Back in the Groove in Vava’u

Vava’u is what’s called a “velcro port” to sailors, you seem to get stuck to it and not want to leave, much like Georgetown in the Exumas and Prickly Bay in Grenada.  There is a morning Cruiser’s Net on VHF 26 at 8:30 that tell’s cruisers about local events and activities and serves as a Q&A board for newbies like us who are trying to locate goods and services.

With over 25 boats in the harbor, in addition to the 22+ World ARC boats, there are crews from all over the world and you never know who you’ll meet at a bar or walking down the street. Another thing that’s amazing about Tonga is the large Kiwi, American, and Canadian expat group that lives here. That makes it so much easier to get advice and get things done.
Lunch with Ken and Julie on Kia Ora at the Falaleu Deli.
We met a couple, Ken and Julie on Kia Ora from Burien, WA, that were moored close to us and had lunch with them the next day.  We went down a residential street to a nondescript blue house called the Falaleu Deli, owned by Bear (I think it’s short for Barry) and his wife from Winnipeg, Canada. Bear makes a mean chicken salad sandwich, along with curing hams, a wide variety of sausages, and generally providing all the delicious meats a cruiser could desire.

This is one of only two Tongan-owned grocery stores (the others are all Chinese-owned) where you can buy everything from tires to bikinis to spam.
Our typical routine in Vava’u has been going to the Tropicana Cafe, where Greg, a expat Kiwi computer whiz has fast Internet and delicious goodies available, then to one of the many small “Chinese” grocery stores where you get a little of what you need at each store, then finishing it off with a short walk up Tu’I Road to one of three ice cream shops where you stand in line with all the Tongan school kids to get a delicious ice cream cone.
Of the three ice cream stands on Tu'I Road, this is definitely the best. Their chocolate (from New Zealand) is amazing.

Calvin runs The Aquarium. We ran into him having chocolate ice cream with his kids. We also learned that along with being a star rugby player, he was also chosen as "Mr. Tahiti" in a beauty contest.
Trace, AKA "Sweet Tea" hangs with us a the ice cream shop along with Calvin and kids.

Having a few beers with Franklin at our favorite hang-out, The Aquarium.
We’ll then most likely end up the day at the Aquarium for a sundowner with other expats to recap the day and talk about our sailing adventures

One morning after the net we were hailed by “Sweet Tea,” an American expat who had been told by church friends in Orlando (Bob and Molly from the cat Bendicita who we had met in Cartagena two years earlier) to keep an eye out for us. Traci and her husband took an early retirement and moved here several years ago for the inexpensive laid back lifestyle. We had lunch with Traci and she was nice enough to take us on a tour of backroads and hidden beaches of Vava’u Island. It really helped us get our bearings for this large and convoluted island. She’s also learning the Tongan language and helped us out a bit. They have one phrase for goodbye if you are the person leaving, another if the other person is leaving, and I’m sure another if both people are leaving. It’s going to take us awhile to pick it up.

Even Paradise has its challenging moments. This was the heaviest rain we'd ever experienced.
This is the closest we even came to sinking our unsinkable dingy. I had to go out in the storm and start bailing.

A short note on Tonga. It is the only South Pacific island to have never been colonized by another country. It is the last remaining Polynesian monarchy and has a highly popular King. The country has over 691 square kilometers of land (171 islands of which only 36 are inhabited) spread over 700,000 square kilometers of ocean. Offshore is the second deepest ocean trench, the Tongan Trench, and waters tend to be very deep around most of the islands. The surrounding waters are rich in fish, including Blue Marlin, Tuna, Wahoo, and Mahi Mahi. Over 102,000 people live in Tonga, with another 90,000 living overseas.
Tongan men wear a taovala, a black skirt often accompanied by a shorter grass skirt wrap.
The Tongans remind me a little of the British, very proud, very reserved, and a little difficult to get to know, but once you know them they are lifelong friends. Most of the little kids love to say “hi” to us when they go by, but the adults are much more reserved. We’ve been fortunate to have Franklin’s wife Tila as a local resource to get more info on the culture here. Like most Polynesian countries, family is the number one priority. Children are raised not only by their parents but by a variety of aunties, uncles, and grandparents, even to the point of living with them at times. Money is a very poor motivator to the Tongans, making it difficult to get things done at times. They are also very religious. Work is prohibited on the Sabbath; men and women dress very conservatively (even when swimming) and the men wear long skirts called taovala.

Locals grow bananas, taro, vanilla, manioke (tapioca) and yams that they sell in the public market.
One thing unique to Tonga are the pigs. Pigs are everywhere. Even though they freely roam the neighborhoods and countryside, apparently everyone knows who owns which pigs.

The country is still a Third World nation with mainly a cash economy and exports based on coconut oil, vanilla, and kava. If you are expecting big fancy resorts like on Bora Bora, this is the wrong place for you. It is common to find resorts and buildings in a decrepit condition, usually from over optimistic investment or hurricane damage. Another thing, the King owns all the land so you can only get 99 year leases on property. 
Whale watching is one of the main tourist attractions for Tonga.

The main tourist attraction is whale watching which begins in June when the humpback whales migrate from Anartica up to their breeding grounds in Tonga. This is the only place in the world where you can actually jump in the water and snorkel with the whales (while using a certified whale guide service). We hope to do this but the timing may be tight. Weather is another plus in Tonga. We’re further south from the equator so the temperature is a nice 80 degrees and getting down to a cool 75 at night.
Flat topped Mt. Talau serves as a beautiful backdrop for this sunset at Vava'u.
The thing we like the most about Tonga is it’s laid back, respectful, and easy going lifestyle. You could not get stressed out here if you tried. If you expect American efficiency in restaurants and other services, this is the wrong place for you. It will happen when it happens, not sooner because you demand it. We sincerely wish we had several months to stay here and explore, but we do need to get moving to Fiji and Australia so we’ll try to enjoy our short stay here as much as possible.

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