From Tonga to Fiji
The Vava'u archipelago is the most popular part of Tonga among tourists, with its dozens of islands, beautiful anchorage on white beaches with swaying palm trees, and Neiafu, the most important village right in the centre of the archipelago.
Tonga is a very Christian country and in that respect, Neiafu is a bit like Urk or Staphorst: on Saturday evening at midnight, all the bars and discos have to close. On Sunday, only one small restaurant is open. We respect Sunday rest and we start walking in a direction which we hadn't explored yet last year. After about an hour, we see an old sign at the side of the road. Apparently, there's a cave with a fresh water spring somewhere near here. We climb down along a rather indistinct path. The view of the azure water with the coral reefs in the background is stunning and we do indeed arrive at a cave. It's very dark and if you look over a wide stone edge and let your eyes adjust to the darkness, you can indeed vaguely see the rippling surface of a pool, deep down in the depth of the cave. They say you can swim in it, but we're not that courageous.
On a moped
The new owner of Coconet, an internet café-cum-launderette-cum-restaurant, has just bought two brand new Chinese motor scooters and rents them out at a very reasonable price. Together with Hans and Jose of the Pim we decide to explore the area around Neiafu. With Hans and Jose following in our tracks, we race all the way to the southeastern part of the island. Since Hans isn't a very experienced rider, they quit halfway through the day. We continue to visit the beautiful, rough northern coast. There we meet Harrie, who picks a ripe but sour tangerine from a tree for us and opens a coconut the contents of which taste like the contents of a Bounty chocolate bar. "Free food", he keeps saying and when we reach the coast, he points to a beautiful small island, his island. On the way back, he continues on his own to go fishing; more free food. We return to Neiafu via the eastern part of the island.
It is time to leave for American Samoa, because we don't want to miss the "Festival of Pacific Arts". There's a good wind, so we should be able to complete the trip in three days. Unfortunately, the direction of the wind isn't very favourable and we sail close to the wind. This makes the sea sickness, which we always suffer from to some extent, a lot worse. On the second day, we throw the food we cooked beforehand overboard. We barely manage to eat small pieces of bread and some light food, but every now and then we vomit it out again. We know from experience that it usually wears off on the third day, so it's no use taking medicines. Big disappointment: even on the third day, we are still vomiting. At last, after three long days, we arrive in the bay of Pago Pago, and once Happy has been anchored, we could eat a wild boar.
Pago Pago: the bad
We can tell two types of stories about Pago Pago: the bad and the good. Pago Pago, by the way, is pronounced as Pango Pango.
We had already been warned that Pago Pago's anchorage is dirty and smelly. The sea bottom at the anchorage is bad as well, because there's a lot of rubbish on the bottom. Every day, we smell the stench of tuna, from a huge canning factory.
After a beautiful day on shore, we arrive back at our Mini Monster and discover that our oars have been stolen. That is very inconvenient, but fortunately these were the old oars from our old, always leaking Maxi, which we left behind on Tahiti. So we still have a pair of oars and hope the thief is happy with the old ones.
A few days later we arrive back at Mini in the dark and we find her lying on the jetty. Once we have lowered her back into the water and try to start Mickey, the outboard motor, it turns out that Mickey is stuck. The starter cord won't budge. First we row for a while against the wind, which costs a lot of effort, but then we row with the wind, which is a lot easier, and we row across the huge anchorage back to Happy. Only then do we find the card that fellow sailors left for us. Mini had capsized as a result of the strong wind and Mickey was upside down under water. The same evening we follow the advise of another sailor and fill Mickey with oil below the sparking plug. The next morning, it seems to be recovering and we work all day to repair our loyal Mickey. At the end of the day, it's purring happily again.
The next day, while walking towards the festival grounds again, Dory suddenly makes a wrong step. Fortunately, there's a First Aid station nearby. We cool the enormous swelling with ice, but we have to conclude that her ankle is sprained. That means we will have to take it easy for a few days.
Pago Pago: the good
The 10th "Festival of Pacific Arts" was the reason for our trip to Pago Pago. The first day we go on shore, we are immediately treated to dance and music on a stage on a small beach. It is beautiful and the weather is great too. Apparently, it has rained here for a whole month and it's finally dry now. Every afternoon and evening we enjoy dance and music at various locations all over the town. All countries sent their best dance groups, so the performances are of excellent quality.
On a large festival ground, there are many stands from all the different countries participating in the festival. We learn about countries such as the Mariana Islands, Guam, Kiribati, Palau, Norfolk and Pitcairn, names we have never heard of before. There are also many countries we've already got to know on our way here, such as Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Tonga and New Zealand. Back on board at night, we look up where all these new islands are and discover that there still remains a lot to see in the Pacific. We had already decided to try and find work in New Zealand in November and now it has become even more important to earn a bit of extra money, so that we can travel around the Pacific for a bit longer.
After ten days of dance, fire dance, music, art, food, fashion shows, film and all the beauty that all the cultures in the Pacific have to offer, we visit the closing ceremony along with a couple of fellow sailors. As with the Olympic Games, the delegations of all the participating countries enter the grounds one by one. This is followed by several long speeches by a couple of bigwigs, which are boring for us. Hundreds of people dressed in white then form a long chain which ends up forming a circle around all the participants of the festival. Finally the ceremony ends with an impressive fire dance and then it is all over.
At last we have time to visit the island. We take a long walk during which we sometimes have to climb up using rope ladders, but our efforts are rewarded with beautiful views of the bay. Later we hear that the walk was easier along the other route, but then foresight makes everything easier; we don't mind the extra effort. We walk up to a few old cannon from the second World War, the foundations of which are now inhabited by hundreds of toads.
Then it's time to prepare our departure. We do our grocery shopping at "Cost U Less", a huge cheap American supermarket, and then we hoist the sails.
Samoa used to be called Western Samoa, but since its independence it's called Samoa. Sailing boats are not allowed to anchor here, you have to anchor at the marina, which we find very uncomfortable, especially during the first few days. We walk to Apia, the capital of Samoa, and soon we find a wonderful, huge vegetable market. For 50 euro cents, you can eat a kind of doughnut filled with delicious meat, and a a glass of lemonade is included in the price. In other words, Samoa is cheap, friendly and you can find a lot more original culture here than in American Samoa.
Together with other Dutch sailors we drive around in a brand new rental bus for a whole day and we see a large part of this beautiful island. The typical Samoan houses stand out, they usually consist of just a floor, a few poles and a roof. There are no walls, doors and windows.
One day we are invited, along with Cornelia and Henk from the Matahari, by Remy, a Dutch guy who has lived here for years and has a family with a Samoan woman. We are invited into their grandfather's house, which has been decorated for the occasion. There are several other houses on the huge grounds with families living in every house, and everyone is related. We have brought Happy Monster balloons and this soon keeps the small kids busy. Henk managed to wangle a strong piece of rope from an Australian marine vessel and the children use it to make a swing. A volleyball completes the scene and within 10 minutes at least 20 children between the age of 3 and 20 are actively playing.
The men cook a traditional meal for us. First they make a huge fire with lots of stones in it. As soon as the stones are hot, they extinguish the fire. They create a package of coconut milk mixed with tarot leaf, wrapped in the leaves of the breadfruit tree. This is put underneath the hot stones. The coconut milk was made on the spot; the coconut is grated, squeezed and sieved to get the most delicious tastes out of it. They fill half a coconut with fish and coconut milk and put it on top of the hot stones. This is all done by the men and it keeps them busy for a few hours. The women cook meat and fish on a regular stove. Again, we are pleasantly surprised by the taste of all the dishes and we had a good feed. The coconut milk makes everything taste very good.
No bus back
We get on the bus again to drive to a part of the island we haven't seen yet. We get out in a small village and there the people tell us there will be no bus back today. So we have to hitchhike and fortunately this is very easy. A pickup truck lives up to its name and picks us up. The view from the back of the truck is wonderful. When the driver stops for a lunch break, we continue on foot and enjoy the view. After more than an hour, we haven't seen one other car and we begin to worry about how we are going to get back. But then the same pickup truck passes us again and takes us back to Apia.
The wind has shifted and the marina is becoming more and more uncomfortable. Happy nervously tugs at its ropes. It is time to leave for Wallis.
Wallis is a French island in the middle of an English-speaking area, on the border of Polynesia and Melanesia, and therefore a separate island. Everything exudes prosperity, everyone has their own car and there is no public transport. The houses are western and have walls, unlike the houses in Samoa. We hitchhike to the capital, where we find several well-stocked supermarkets and even an internet café with a fast connection. We try to find out what the tourist attractions are, but since there are hardly any tourists, there is no information available. So we set off by ourselves and try to hitchhike around the island. On our first ride, we see a large number of parked cars and waiting people, so we get out. Dory tries her best to ask in French what is going on and it turns out people are gathering here for a demonstration against high taxes for entrepreneurs. Several English-speaking entrepreneurs advise us to go and visit a crater lake, lake Lalolalo. We leave the demonstration and walk in the direction of the crater lake. On our way there, we pass a monastery. It's a modern building, but it's surrounded by a thick, old wall. The view from the elevated monastery is beautiful; those monks have it all figured out.
Once we are back on the main road, we get a ride in the direction of lake Lalolalo. When we get out, the friendly driver explains to us that we have to turn left when we see a cross. We walk through a beautiful environment and turn left at the cross. After having followed the path for more than half an hour, with an occasional glimpse of the lake to our right, we end up on one of the many patches of farmed land. Papayas and bananas are growing in the trees, there are pineapples and of course the most common vegetable, tarot. We rest under a shelter and walk back along the path, because this will never take us to the lake. Back on the main road we continue for a while and within five minutes, we see the lake on the left side of the road. Dory's French wasn't good enough to take us to it in one try, but we did have a beautiful walk. The lake is impressive: steep walls rise up dozens of metres along the lake's shores, which makes it impossible to get to the water. We enjoy the view for a while and then go back. The sun is high up in the sky and we only have a little bit of water with us, so we hope to get a ride soon. Fortunately there are a few houses along the road and we ask for water at one house with a view of the beautiful lagoon. We are given lemonade and this while keep us going for a while. There are only a few cars here, but after an hour a car finally passes which takes us back to the civilised world. The demonstration is over and the supermarkets have reopened. We do our grocery shopping and hitchhike back to the boat.
Before we leave for Fiji, we anchor at one of the uninhabited islands around the Wallis lagoon. Together with the sailors from the Roxi and the Do It we snorkel and drink coconut milk on the beach from coconuts we slashed open ourselves. Then, when the weather is right, we leave for Fiji. Hans checks the anchor chain before we raise the anchor and suddenly he cricks his back. Crooked with back pain he enters the cockpit and Dory can get to work. During the first day of the trip, Hans lies flat on the couch, but despite this our trip to Fiji is great.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)