Tonga to Fiji
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Fri 19 Oct 2007 21:59
Perhaps because it rained such a lot we found Tonga a little disappointing. The people are very laid back, apparently not very prosperous and there is a casualness that we thought more reminiscent of the West Indies than other Pacific islands we have visited. We were in the northern group of islands, Vava'u, whereas the capital is in the south. May be we should have found things different on Tongapatu. The Vava'u group is most attractive with many sheltered anchorages and for many years The Moorings charter company has had a presence there. It seems to be a well run operation and they are very helpful to visiting yachtsmen; we took one of their buoys. Most of the other small businesses that we had dealings with are also run by incomers.
The Tongans are very proud of their country and fiercely loyal to their kingdom but have kept themselves a little apart. They appear to be rather unaware of the goods and services on offer in other parts of the world. Mags wanted to cook a chicken curry and went looking for chicken breasts. The shop assistant showed her chicken legs. Mags said she would prefer breasts. After further exchanges the (English speaking) assistant still failed to understand and Mags found herself in the interesting position of trying to describe in mime what she wanted. She had to make do with legs. We are just a bit apprehensive as to how Tongans will get on as the big, bad world encroaches further into their lives.
The four day passage to Suva, Fiji was a pleasure despite a good deal of motoring. The sea was flat and the stress level low so we were in very good spirits when we anchored in the quarantine area of the harbour about 9.30am on Monday. We had a long wait for the officials - they had six Chinese fishing boats to clear in the morning but they were a delightful group who dealt with us swiftly and without hassle when they eventually came out at about 4.00pm.
The following day we took out temporary membership of the Royal Suva Yacht Club, caught a taxi and went into town. The first job was to pay our dues to the Health Authority but in looking all over the place for the correct office we failed to cover ourselves in glory. Enough said! Morale was revived by an excellent and inexpensive curry for lunch and by the time the evening ended with another very good meal in the clubhouse we had formed very favourable early impressions of Fiji.
One feature which distinguishes a harbour or anchorage from another is the amount of chit-chat on the VHF radio. We usually leave it on in case a friend wants to contact us or there is general information to be gleaned. But in some places it can become very tiring. Our American cousins are particularly fond of the radio; it is part of their boating culture. Charterers are keener than most. We can understand why; it is one way of getting the most out of a short holiday. It is not that it is ill disciplined, generally, but ever present and wearing. They have developed little ways and mannerisms on the airwaves which are recognisable wherever we go and sometimes we long for a bit of peace and quiet. This was one of the first things we noticed that set the big commercial port of Suva apart from some other places. Not too much chatter. Bliss!..........Unless the Chinese fishing fleet is in!
Suva is a big bustling town with a mix of ethnic Polynesians and Indians which could be part of London except that everyone smiles, is friendly and helpful. There has been a political coup recently, not an unusual event, and Australia and New Zealand have expressed their displeasure by imposing sanctions. This has made the coup leaders angry. However, the people on the streets appear to be happy enough and they are very friendly to foreigners. The police are generally unarmed and do not appear to be menacing. We really enjoy the atmosphere. The yacht club is a real club with professional bar staff, efficient ladies in the office and well set up premises. Water and fuel are available from the pontoon and the laundry lady could not be more helpful. What more could we ask for? Actually, a wi-fi connection; for the first time in months we shall have to look for an internet cafe. It has been raining a good deal again but I don't think even that will dampen our ardour.
Son Glyn is a journalist by trade, making his living as a publisher, mainly of sports and business magazines. I always look forward to his e-mails, particularly on sporting topics, which are witty and well informed. Having been rather out of touch for a week or two I asked him, a few days before the Rugby World Cup final; what was the word among the cognoscenti about our lads' performances. Were we really playing well at last or was it all smoke and mirrors? In giving his encouraging reply he broadened his canvas to forecast a wonderful weekend of sport which might include successes on the international and domestic fronts including the possibility of Lewis Hamilton winning the F1 Drivers Championship. I thanked him for this surprising and invigorating news although, while wishing Lewis Hamilton every success, I had to confess we had never even heard of him. The lad was aghast. Never heard of Lewis Hamilton? - young, highly talented, ice -cool, brilliant, black and British? The ether sizzled with his dismay and disapprobation. Surely the supposed pleasures and benefits of a world cruise would have to be re-appraised? How could the aged parent have fallen so deeply into ignorance that he had no idea about major events unfolding round the world? I can foresee one of those “more in sorrow than in anger” lectures when we get home in January, leaving me with the impression that I had better pull my socks up or risk some searching questions about the value of what we were doing with our lives.
I further confess he does not yet know the depth of our ignorance. When we were in Rodney Bay, St Lucia we had a hard copy of The Times On Line each day and kept our fingers pretty well on the pulse. Since then, we now realize, as the Greenwich meridian has slipped further and further round the other side of the world, we have become aware of less and less. We know that Mr Blair has been succeeded by Mr Brown and that there is a new president of France (although we cannot quite remember his name), but we have no idea how the new men are getting on or who their chief lieutenants are. Some news gets through - we gather it has been a really wet summer in Europe - but we have no idea about the cricket or Wimbledon. (I think we were told about Wimbledon, but we have forgotten). October. Hmm. I suppose we are into football again now?
To be fair a few correspondents have kindly drawn interesting events to our notice; for example the America's Cup races in Spain - we were given a wonderful blow-by-blow account. But in general our lack of awareness is profound, and deplorable.
We have caught wind of no cataclysmic events back in the UK so when we land at Heathrow on December 31st we shall expect to drive out of the airport on the left hand side of the road still and pay for fuel with pounds. However, there could be some really big surprises for us out there. We shall try to remain on our toes.