The first real Pacific tropical island

Trip Start Sep 13, 2007
Trip End Apr 24, 2008

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Flag of Tonga  ,
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Still trying to catch up to my current spot.  Uploading pictures takes forever so I will try my best.

We motored out of the Pago Pago harbor on Sep. 16th enroute to an island chain called the Kingdom of Tonga, the only kingdom in the southern hemisphere and I believe the longest lasting in the Pacific, maybe the world.  I had never heard of it before this trip.  We set the sails in about 15 knots of wind, and 8-10 foot seas which gave the boat quite a bit of movement.  This would be a two day, one night trip along with 4 other boats that were in Pago Pago. 

The sailing itself was a lot of motion, with the waves sometimes hitting the bottom of the catamaran's cabin with a loud bang, and the occasional heavy rain storm.   We averaged around 6-7 knots with a rough night that consisted of 2 2-hour watches, but a few other times as the squalls at one point brought 30 knots of wind and our speed peaked at 13.5 knots, which was exciting.  Jon and Susan said this was probably the second most rough passage they had sailed in a year since leaving North Carolina, so a rapid intro to open water sailing for this guy. 

First land to be sighted was a now hopefully extinct volcanic cone rising up out of the sea just to the north of our island destination, called Niuatoputapu (sounds about how it looks).    As we approached this was truly one of the Pacific islands of travel photos and brochures- coconut trees covering a small, hilly island right up to a thin strand of white sand beach, surrounded by crystal clear deep aqua blue and light green water covering large areas of coral reefs.  

We had heard before leaving Samoa cigarettes would prove to be a strong bargaining tool in Niuatoputapu.  Sure enough after dutifully asking if we had firearms or fruit onboard, they asked if we had cigarettes, which we did and supplied them to the customs officials.  They in turn gave us some mangos, coconuts, and papaya as a welcome gift- definitely the better end of that bargain.  Some of the cruisers had not produced cigarettes out of principle which I could understand but it did go a long way towards generating good will.  Most if not all of the men on the island smoked and had run out a couple of weeks prior to the supply ships' next visit.  They became a useful gift for rides into "town", fruit, and lobster.  Even without the cigarette currency the people were extremely friendly and did not hesitate to give people rides, invites to dinner, and welcomes into kava circles (more to come). 

Each consisted of various odd jobs around the boat, snorkeling, a nice dinner either onboard another boat or ashore, and prepping by kiting equipment until the wind died the day after arrival.  The snorkeling was very good, all kinds of cool-looking fish, a huge sea worm that barely move but managed to spit out some long stringy stuff after being handled, interesting coral with rapidly disappearing sea worms that looked like plants until disturbed, and large bright blue starfish.  Made me wish I had an underwater case for my camera.  All the boats were invited to a pig roast on the second night at the home of the anchorage supervisor.  Showed up to a spread of homemade beer (very sweet but good), coconut-mango juice, boiled papaya, bread fruit, and two pigs mounted on poles being rotisseried by hand over an open fire. 

The food was all good, with the pig being a bit fatty and very juicy, with the roasted skin being very crispy and tasting quite good.  Very generous of the hostess.

After the dinner we were invited to a dance put on in an open air building.  There weren't many in attendance as it was early but we were then invited to the back where a circle of local guys were drinking kava, a traditional drink made by women chewing tree roots, spitting the remains into a container, and straining the remains into water.  It is supposed to produce a minor buzz, but probably since these days it is made by drying the roots, grinding them, and then straining with water (no saliva contribution) I didn't feel many additional effects.  But the ceremony consists of the head guy passing a common bowl around a circle of cross-legged participants, having filled it with kava until it reaches the next in turn who drains it in one drink.  He was very good in that when the bowl ended up in a tourist's hand it was about half full but was always full when it was a local's turn.  I've also heard other islands make it stronger, so hopefully I will have a chance to check this out. 
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