Sunday, October 21, 2007

October 18, 2007 - Neiafu, Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga

By royal decree, the day begins in Tonga. So, even though we have not yet really crossed the dateline, we have shifted our calendar and clocks a day ahead.After two and half weeks of offshore passagemaking and time spent at Beveridge Reef, it was wonderful to see land again as we approached the Vava'u group of islands this morning. The islands' geography is different than that of the volcanic islands and atolls that we had grown used to in French Polynesia. There are steep cliffs, dotted by white sand beaches. It is really beautiful.

After the overbuilt and well maintained navigational marks of French Polynesia, we were amused by the underbuilt, and somewhat worse for wear (this one looks like it came out on the losing side of a battle with a power boat) Tongan marks.

We arrived in Neiafu, the capital of the Vava'u group, midmorning. We picked up a mooring and had breakfast and some much needed coffee. While Sten put the boat to rights, I went to deal with our clearance. Technically, we are supposed to bring the boat to the customs dock. But we didn't much like the look of it, so I went ashore with the hope that we could avoid it. My flimsy excuse was that we had not brought the boat to the dock because we didn't think they would want us to, what with their navy ship tied up there. The customs officer asked me several questions, including why we didn't have children yet. Once I reassured him that we planned to have children when we returned home from our trip, he determined that it was okay that we leave the boat on a mooring. My morning also involved some paperwork with the agricultural officer and a visit to the immigration office and the bank to get some Tongan to pay them all.

The customs, agricultural, and immigration officers, and many of the men that I saw around town wear traditional dress of a long skirt, paired with a button down shirt, and topped off with a woven grass wrap around their waist. Most of the women wear huge oversized t-shirts and long shapeless skirts in drab colors, hiding as many of their curves as possible. The missionaries' influence has been a lasting one here. There is a church on every corner and 22 schools, most of which are affiliated with one of the many sects of Christianity. The school children's uniforms are similar in style to the clothing worn by adults, but they are made of brightly colored cloth, such as red, orange, or blue. The children study English in school, and everywhere I went groups of kids greeted me with smiles and shouts of "hello" and "bye".

After clearing in, we joined Nell and Brian of Storm Along for lunch at the Crow's Nest, which claims to have the best burger on the island. I don't know about that, but they did have a pretty solid book swap, so we all came away full and happy. After a walk around town, including a stop at the ice cream stand, we headed over to the Yacht Club to pick up our New Zealand Border Agencies Information Packet. We had a beer with an Australian couple who had bought a former charter boat in Tahiti to take home to sell in Brisbane. As it turns out, he does CAT diesel generator installations. We'll file that one in the "small world" category. After that, we headed back to the boat for long night's sleep.

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