November 21, 2011

Tongatapu Island, Tonga.

Kingdom of Tonga has been an amazing mix of danger and beauty for Daria and I during the last month but our adventure through these beautiful islands was sadly drawing to an end. Out last stop in the island chain was the capital city of Nukalofa on Tongatapu Island.. We had just spent two of the most relaxing weeks we have had in a while enjoying quiet deserted anchorages all to ourselves in this island paradise.

We had weather building out of the south so we set sail on the 18th with the wind still blowing out of the NE pushing us nicely 45 miles south to our destination. As always we were trolling lines and this trip we caught a nice Wahoo that Daria reeled in. We anchored away from the pack the first night for our last night to ourselves aboard Downtime for the next few months. We would be picking up Tim and Chris on the 20th and Daria would fly back home on the 23rd, well to Russia anyways since she now feels Downtime is her REAL home, she would be in Russia for the next month to visit family and friends and to renew her passport which was quickly running out of unstamped pages.

The next morning we jumped in SD and explored some of the outer uninhabited islands. There was one 7 miles to the north that had some of the softest white sand beaches I had seen since Barbuda. We put two sets of footprints for a mile around the island and had a relaxing morning. Later we moved Downtime to the anchorage with the other cruisers and gave away some Wahoo and went to find Tim and Chris, friends of mine that would help sail Downtime to NZ.

Nukalofa is the biggest city in Tonga and Tongatapu has about 1/3 of the total land mass of the Kingdom. There are roughly 200,000 Tongans and 2/3 live here on the main island. Tonga is the most densely populated islands in the south pacific with 150 people per Sq/kilometer three times that of Fiji and twice that of the Cook Islands. Traditional law was that each male was given the right to rent 8.25 acres of farm land and also 1/3 acre in the village to build a house on for literally nothing. Their increased numbers are already to great to provide the constitutional land for each male adult and now there is a trend to emigrate to other countries. Around 3000 Tongans leave each year and most emigrate to New Zealand 60%, The States 25% and Australia 15%.

One day we hired a car to take us around the island. We started the morning by going to the Saturday market where at least a hundred vendors had their booths set up. This was like one huge garage sale and you could find just about anything. Food vendors were barbecuing chicken, lamb and goat, others were frying meat pies and other good tasting snacks. The fish vendors were selling all kinds of interesting seafood from sacks of clams to gallon size bags full of way too small fish! Others sold just about anything you would see on the reef from moray eel to sea urchins. We bought some chicken and apples for the road and were soon on our way.

 It was interesting to see the narrow 8.25 acres strips of land being cultivated. Most the work is still done by hand but there are community tractors that pull small two gang discs to break out new ground. Most the tractors I saw were small 50 to 60 hp Massy Ferguson's. We arrived during watermelon season and there were thousands to choose from for $3 to $8, a great value at those prices!

Other roadside stands sold taro root in all sixes. Apparently there are three main varieties that are as small as a potato and others that are three feet long and 10 inches around!! Taro is a starch rood similar to potatos and has to be baked whole or ground to a flour and made into a cake like bread. It is the main staple here and goes good with just about anything.

Other fields were fenced and had grazing cattle munching grass under the coconut trees. We even saw one coconut tree with three tops on it!! Now that's one nutty tree!

Then there were always pigs running around.. Our driver was funny, when I asked does any body steal pigs? He said "yes and then they go to jail." I asked "for how long" and he said "depends on how big the pig is" small pig is a week and big pig is a month. So I guess "No squealing or you go to the poky Literally" The pigs are for parties and special occasions and everyone respects each others pigs and property here.

Continuing around the island we traveled to the south coast that had miles of rugged coastline with hundreds of blow-holes shooting water into the air. We were lucky to have timed this right being there at low tide and having big sea pushing waves into the jagged shore causing them to splash wildly into the air with a loud roar.

Continuing around the island we stopped at some caves and took the $10 tour that was worth the money. It was no Carlsbad Caverns but was interesting to see the island geology.

After that we stopped at a nice resort and had a beer looking out one the ocean with the place to ourselves. Tonga only has about 20,000 people visit each year and if you wanted to go somewhere off the beaten path this is definitely it. This is high season and there was just a few people checked into this resort. There are some really nice resorts here and I was amazed to find so few people enjoying them?

To sum it all up, I was impressed with the amount of farming here. There is a big export demand from countries like Japan to grow pumpkins and other root crops along with the big seafood demand. About 50% of the countries income is from farming exports and 25% from seafood, mostly tuna contracts and 25% tourism. The people are friendly and helpful. The country has a 99% literacy rate and most everyone speaks English which is nice for us travelers.

After a day of sightseeing we headed back to Downtime for a good nights rest. The next day looked promising for kite surfing and I was able to spend a few hours on the board. Then the wind slowed a bit and I gave Tim and Chris a lesson! Well Kite surfing looks easy to some anyways.. Chris did a great job flying the kite and done some body dragging and was soon worn out swallowing his fill of salt water. Tim on the other hand was not quite as good with the kite and did some wicked launches out of the water with a nice face plant finish swallowing gallons of ocean each time!! It did not take him long to put up the white flag!! Lessons over we headed to the boat. I had one more brief run that afternoon launching of the back of Downtime but soon ran out of wind.

We took SD for one more adventure the next day to Atata Island where there is a small resort and a village of 200 people just 7 miles to the west. We hoped to see a few whales on our way out bu just were not so lucky this day. The resort was currently being renovated and has some 40 bungalows available for rent. Again there were just a couple rented out and we had the place to ourselves.

Sunday was the big Rugby tournament but we could not find one place open to watch the game. Tonga and many of the other islands we have been to closes everything on Sunday. The Methodists did a pretty good job converting everyone here in the 1800 and now about 35% of the islanders attend church on Sunday. Tonga has the highest percentage of Mormons in the worlds up to 15% and the Mormon church owns the biggest building on the island. They send tons of money over here and provide more support to the people than the government does. We drove by the Mormon High School and the property was something to see! I understand if you are Mormon you get to go to school for free and also to college in Hawaii for little or no cost to the Tongans. Needless to say lot of families become Mormon when their kids get to high school age.

All in all we enjoyed Tonga, it is not to be missed if you are cruising though the pacific. Tonga like any country has its pluses and minuses but for the most part it is a great place to explore, just enough off the beaten path to still be an adventure!!

In our next adventure we will be sailing south to New Zealand!

Until then, Live Your Dream!

Peace!! Capt. Pedro and Daria