Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tonga, the place where time begins!

We were time travelers when we sailed 180 miles in 25 to 30 knot winds from Samoa to Tonga on September 12th, the same day as my grandmother’s 103rd birthday. Good thing Grandma Anita wasn’t with us as she would have missed her birthday because we crossed the International Dateline, and were launched into the future 24 hours (changing from GMT minus 11 to GMT plus 13).

Here in Tonga, we are in the place where time begins; we are the first people in the world to start the day. When we talk to people at home in the states, we’re often a day ahead and have to talk to the past. Pretty strange!

At first, I didn’t know much about Tonga, except that Captain Cook dubbed them “The Friendly Isles” and one of their kings was in the Guinneas Book of World Records for being the heaviest monarch. Weighing 444 pounds, King Taufa’ahau Toupou IV (King George for short), ordered his people to go on a diet. Since then, the King lost a mere 125 pounds, but was still big enough to be revered. Size is greatly admired in this society; religion and pigs are also important.

At Niuatoputapu, we found hundreds of pigs squealing through the streets, five different churches, tons of coconuts palms, gorgeous kids wanting their photographs taken and anything else that we had to offer and a community in the midst of recovery.

Last year’s hurricane on September 29th, 2009 in Samoa and September 30th in Tonga (remember we’re close to the Date line), had devastated the island, demolishing many of the wooden and straw homes. However, like the story in The Three Little Pigs, the concrete structures, including the Methodist Church, withstood the powerful tsunami.

Yet, despite this fact, the Red Cross and some other non-profit organizations sent the town kits to build hundreds of 10 x 20 foot wooden homes. Together with a few fellow sailors, Tim spent a day building a home for a very appreciative family. Even though the tsunami had happened one year ago, for many, it seemed like it was just yesterday.

Niu (in the Niuatoputapu) means “coconuts” in Tongan and it’s an appropriate name for the island because of all the coconuts. One could also call this island “pig island,” in honor of the big and little pigs rambling around, rooting in the mud flats, and burrowing underneath homes. I have never seen so many pigs in my life.

For pig population control, Sia, our welcoming local, invited us to her newly constructed wooden home for a pig roast. She also prepared Tongan fare, including baked sweet potato, taro with coconut milk, fresh fish and more. We ate extremely well.

Tim ventured one night to a Kava party, where he gathered with the men to sample the potent numbing pepper drink famous in this part of the world. He reported that the men played fantastic music, all of them singing together in multi-part harmony. I heard beautiful harmony while attending a church service where people wore the traditional ta’ovala, woven mats worn over their dresses and skirts.

Meanwhile, Maya, Kai and I rode horses bareback – but not on Sunday as it’s against the law to do anything strenuous on Sunday. Apparently, anything business related negotiated on a Sunday is null and void.

Take a look at cowboy Kai!

Here's Cowgirl Maya.

Maya and Kai also had fun building a fort with the other boat kids at the uninhabited island just behind our anchorage.

They gave decks of cards to the kids in town and taught them how to play the game, war.

On September 17th, wind conditions were predicted to be 10 to 15 knots for our next passage. We had finished sewing the metal ring onto the clew of our main (it blew out in our windy journey from Samoa), so it was time to leave. Next stop Vava’u Islands!

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