NIUATOPUTAPU, TONGA Sept - Oct 2004
This northern most island in the Tonga group, named "Very Sacred Coconut," is really beautiful, a flat luxuriant island with a steep central range of hills. Extensive reefs protect the anchorage which boasts a fantastic view of the steep, tree covered volcanic cone of Tafahi to the north. There are humpback whales outside the reef and turtles in the bay.
I still can't get over losing a whole day as we crossed the international dateline. We entered into tomorrowland. (Yesterday is today) We actually celebrated Bro Bruce's birthday a day late because September 18 never existed for us. We left Western Samoa early on Friday September 17 and arrived in Tonga the very next day, on Sunday the 19. (A good way to get out of turning 50!!!!)
Some cruisers with kids of their own brought kites for all the children... however the Tonga children were made to stop flying them because they are not allowed to play on Sunday.
Pets or Dinner?
We had heard the stories that dogs are raised in Tonga
specifically for the dinner table. I was horrified that I might
end up with Bowser on my plate so I was sure to ask what was
rolled in the taro leaves laid out on the big woven mats for our
potluck. Fish, coconut, vegetables, some kind of
meat.......(whoa) WHAT kind of meat, I asked. "Oh, mutton, I
think...." Okay, when was the last time I saw a sheep anywhere
in the South Pacific?? Would that be Mutt - on? I
passed on that one.
We had heard the stories that dogs are raised in Tonga specifically for the dinner table. I was horrified that I might end up with Bowser on my plate so I was sure to ask what was rolled in the taro leaves laid out on the big woven mats for our potluck. Fish, coconut, vegetables, some kind of meat.......(whoa) WHAT kind of meat, I asked. "Oh, mutton, I think...." Okay, when was the last time I saw a sheep anywhere in the South Pacific?? Would that be Mutt - on? I passed on that one.
Riding back in the dinghy, we noticed huge birds flying overhead that we had not seen before. As they got closer and we got a better look, we realized that they were enormous fruit bats, known also as Flying Foxes.
Boats in the anchorage have reported that cookies and coke are mandatory for a smooth check-in (Although the request for sandwiches has been made). Some boats had their fresh fruit and vegetable confiscated, others did not. And it was suggested not to leave anything lying around. Apparently the officials here take a quick liking to items like watches, sunglasses and just pocket whatever takes their fancy!
When the 4 officials arrived and boarded the boat, they were friendly enough, although their English was very limited. Sure enough, cokes were in order. I had a large plate of cookies but they were 'cookied' out from the other boats they had checked in before us, and it was lunchtime. The best I could throw together was cheese and crackers. However the 'laughing cow' cheese from the Marquesas was a huge hit as they had not seen anything like that before.
|There are no restaurants, bars or any other kind of commercial entertainment destination on the island. There was an airport but it has been unused wince the King decided to start an airline of his own and put Tongan Air out of business. A supply ship comes to Niuatoputapu a couple of times a year.|
The Local Baker
I bought a loaf of bread from the baker cooking in a cinderblock oven in the tiny hot dark space. When I asked the price, he seemed unable to answer so I held out a handful of change. He counted it all out and nodded his head. (The next time I made a purchase, I handed him 2 Tongan Pa'anga and he gave me my change in buns!)
The school uniforms were very unusual. The boys wear a wrap around their lava lavas and the girls wear a woven Kia kia over their skirts. And all the girls have braids with bright red ribbons. I befriended some schoolgirls who were happy to show off their outfits for the camera.
When we stopped at the local hospital to pay our fees, we had an interesting time with the practicing doctor there. He was a very young man from Fiji, who was working on his internship for 3 years in Tonga. He spoke excellent English and explained all the difficulties he was encountering taking on the position.
The hospital was pretty barebones, with wires hanging from the ceiling where there was once light fixtures. Because they do not have a powerful enough generator, there is no refrigeration. There is a severe shortage of qualified personnel to attend the hospital and very often cruisers are called upon to help out. Rick on Emerald spent some time doing dental work the week before, and Catherine on Outer Limits was helping out with her nursing skills when we were there. Cruisers also donated drugs, first aid supplies and books to the hospital.
The most common aliment is diabetes, which affects 40% of the population as a result of diet and lifestyle. It is no wonder when the Tongans have such an appetite for sweets, candies, chocolate and cake.
Walking back through the middle village, a woman offered us some ripe bananas. We followed her back to her house where we started up a conversation and before we knew it, she had invited us to Sunday dinner. Her name was Fahea and she worked at the school. Predictably, when I asked what I could bring to the meal, she suggested cake, as her grandfather loves cake. Unfortunately, we may not be able to stay here long enough to take advantage of her invitation.
Land of Pigs and Churches|
It was evident that Tonga really is the land of pigs and churches. Definitely more pigs than lunch puppies roaming around (taste preference?). The denomination is primarily Roman Catholic, although there is Protestant and the presence of the Mormon sect also. Church bells ring every morning at 6 am and everyone attends church every day, with an additional mass once or twice a week.
Along the road, we met Simon who was using his horse to collect the palm fronds that had been soaking in the sea and were to be used to weave mats. Simon is about 14 years old and befriended us quickly.
By the time we got back to the boat we were pretty tired from the long walk so sacked out with a movie.
Fresh Coconut Milk
That evening Sia and her husband Niko (the couple who put on the potluck on the motu) came to supper on Endless. I made vegetable soup and Donna made lasagne. We had an extremely interesting evening talking everything from what's grown on the plantations to the King's role in the lives of the Tonga people.
Hike Up the Mountain
We found Simon's house and he willingly agreed to take us up the mountain. The path cuts through sometimes dense brush... you really have to know the way and Simon made the hike much more lively with his bits of information, his singing, and his teaching us some Tongan words (including the swearwords). The hike took us through plantations and jungle but proved quite difficult and very steep so Bob and Becky decided not to continue to the very top.
We were pretty tired and sweaty when we reached the summit but the views were spectacular. We continued through the brush to the other side of the ridge for another view and a trip to the small cave in the lava rock.
The steep walk down the mountain, sometimes sliding on our butts, didn't take too long. Simon took us to his village and we met some women in his family (who's names all started with the letter "L). They were sitting in their fale weaving mats and got a kick out of having their pictures taken.
View of third village
Women stripping leaves and weaving. Each mat takes a month to make.
View of second village
|It was time to head back to the boat so we bade Simon farewell giving him presents of fish hooks, T shirt and rice for his wonderful tour.|
We stopped at Sia's house to trade for some fruit. She gave us papaya, mangos, breadfruit and bananas in exchange for a plastic basket, rice, flour, garlic, T-shirts and ziplock baggies.
That evening we were invited to attend a community dance that was held very close to the anchorage. We were enthusiastic in spirit but by the time 8 pm came, we were just too beat and settled for listening to the music from our boats. We have found that our bodies really know that 8 o'clock is our bedtime now and it is a struggle to stay awake past that time!
Donna and Marv decided to take a hike up the neighbouring volcano island. We opted out for a day of snorkeling and whale watching.
We joined Bob & Becky (Stardust) in a trip across the reef in the dinghy in search of a closer look at the humpback whales. We were not disappointed as they were soon seen frolicking around the boat. It was an awesome sight to see them flipping their huge fins out of the water, spy hop at us, then their tails would stand straight up as they sounded, to reappear again close by. We were hoping that the whales would come close enough for us to jump in the water and snorkel with them, but they were a little too illusive. So we opted to snorkel for a while on the reef instead, listening to their magnificent sounds that resonated underwater.
Touring the Island
Later that afternoon, Leuti (the customs official) picked us up in his van to take us for a tour of the island in exchange for the opportunity to practice his English. It was interesting to see the numerous plantations inland and get a feel for their meagre subsistence lifestyle. And Leuti's English improved significantly in no time at all.