Carelbi in Tonga

Wed 27 Sep 2006 22:24


                                    CARELBI IN TONGA




This is the lovely Catholic church attached to the convent. Religion is a very strong influence in Tongan life and Sunday services are attended by every family from grandma down to smallest baby, all togged out in their best finery. The singing is tremendous and Chris and I go every Sunday we can find a church nearby.


One of the first things we did on arriving was to try and find out what had happened to the Hausia Brothers Band, whose music we had loved and purchased on our first visit four years ago and which has been played to many friends all over the world. We discovered them in the Sovereign Restaurant, old home of the Princess of Tonga and they were as good as ever...




Some Tongan children showing us a bird they had tamed.


Rainbow over the village where we had been walking.


It wasn't really very fair! This is Sir Peter Blake's first Around the World Whitbread Race yacht in which he came second, going on to win it later on in another one called Steinlager.  It was handicapped by having to start 15 minutes after the rest of us, but it wasn't long before we were straining every sail to stop her from passing! Lovely boat, though, it deserved to beat us.


To our delight we discovered that some of the Hausia Brothers were also in the Ano Beach group so we settled down as close as we could to listen to them while our feast was being prepared.


The dancing we saw that night was not the most skilful but was definitely the most charming, the children danced with such joy and happiness that you could not help smiling and being happy too.


As always happens, after the professionals have danced, the amateurs get pulled onto the floor to try and copy their supple movements, not easy.


Steve and I , replete with the remnants of our meal around us. Clearing up was dead easy, the mats were rolled up with all the discarded bits of food and organic containers inside and carted off to feed the pigs and be recycled!


The day we were out we were only able to find a pod of rumbustious testosterone-filled males who were having a jostling, adolescent pecking-order fight. Too dangerous for people to attempt to get in the water with them, but beautiful to watch these huge animals at such close quarters... a great end to our stay in Vava'u.


Photos by Steve St Paul, Chris Smith and Fiona Campbell. Text by Fiona, no responsibility taken for any errors or omissions!

This is our third visit to Neiafu, capital of the Tongan group of islands called Vava'u. It is one of the friendliest places, the bay usually holding some forty boats or so, who come and go as the need for deserted beaches and solitude in one of the thirty or more lovely anchorages of the archipelago seizes them. Here we have the Mermaid Cafe, the mainstay of yachtie social life with the Catholic convent above, where we have friends from many years past, and yacht repair facilities to the side. There is an excellent local market where one can buy fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs, herbs and, particularly, the lovely basketwork woven by local Tongan ladies.


This is the Neiafu anchorage.


Late Friday evening at the Mermaid with Holly on the microphone. Without her there would be little yachtie social life in Neiafu, the Mermaid, which used to zing when she was running it, is now a shadow of its former self; she has moved on to Whalesong, one of the whalewatching tour boats and is an now expert on these lovely animals who come to give birth and mate in Vava'u waters every year.


We spent a few days recovering from our passage in Neiafu, replenished the larder and went off to spend time in some of the little anchorages. Tongan villagers are very welcoming, and this little girl took Steve by the hand and would not let go of him until we had to leave. Chris loves the pigs of the Pacific, I plan a Pacific Pig photo collage for our bathroom in France! These dear little porkers are destined to be spitted, roasted and eaten as succulent treats at some not far distant celebration...


Vava'u villages are always beautifully laid out and kept immaculate, all the jungle detritus carefully swept up and removed. We are walking down the High Street, edged with shells and upturned beer bottles and hugging the curve of the lagoon. The houses are behind their gardens facing the lagoon.


Steve preparing for race which takes place every Friday evening in the Neiafu anchorage.


The following  night we went to an 'umu' feast at Ano Beach. The 'umu' is the underground oven in which Tongans cook the most delicious food, wrapping the meat and vegetables in palm or banana leaves, marinating them in freshly grated coconut and lime juices. Here one of our hosts is preparing the umu, which takes about an hour to cook from the moment the food and hot stones are covered with sacking cloths and earth.


Here I am trying to teach the village children, who are going to dance for us in a few minutes, a very silly trick with your hands and your nose, which ends up with you totally trapped pinching your nose if you get it wrong, which I frequently do!



The feast was beautifully presented on long mats woven from palm leaves, the food was heaped onto biodegradable plates made by splitting bamboo lengthwise and chopping off appropriate sections. After a welcome from our host and a blessing for the food we all dived in with our fingers, sitting cross-legged on the floor around the mats.


The day before we reluctantly left Neiafu we spent the day whalewatching with Holly on her boat Whalesong.


We were not as lucky as other friends who had been whalewatching on previous days. The very best is to find a mother with her new baby, they are surprisingly tolerant of humans and will on occasion allow the baby to approach really close to a human in the water. They are also intensely curious about us and inspire real affection in the people who come whalewatching year after year, spending days on end looking for them with the reward of perhaps five minutes in the water at the end of the day if they are lucky.