logo Harmonie
Date: 21 Jun 2009 00:09:50
Title: Vegetables, Internet and Sundays in Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga

18:39.515S  173:58.934W
 
It was another homecoming when we motored into Neiafu from Port Maurelle on June 4th.  We arrived in Neiafu with the World ARC rally almost exactly one year ago (6/10/08).  Back then we were freaked out by the inaccuracy of our charts since they indicated we were sailing over land as we made our way through the narrow channel leading into the big, naturally well-protected harbor of Neiafu.  This time it didn't faze us as we motored through the now familiar passage with barely a glance at the semi-useless charts. 
 
It feels even more like home here after having spent over three weeks in the Vava'u area.  In that time, we've stayed eleven nights on a mooring in Neiafu harbor, but not all at once.  The first time we came in we stayed four nights and used the time to stock up on fruit and vegetables at the town market where it's possible to get enough bananas to last a week for the equivalent of $3.  In the market were also a multitude of palm frond woven baskets full of every kind of giant root vegetable known to Tongans (or French Polynesians, Fijians, ni-Van or New Caledonians for that matter).  These very large, dirt covered, whiteish-tan-brown scary-looking things are the very same that when boiled and eaten, sit like so many pounds of lead in your stomach.  In all the times we've been to vegetable markets in the islands, we've never seen a boater buy a giant, scary-looking root.  Only the natives seem to have what it takes to love the stuff.  We boaters stick to lettuce, cucumbers, onions, peppers, tomatoes, bananas, papaya and pineapples.  None of that taro, cassava, giant yam or manioc stuff for us.
 
I know I've mentioned the competitive (or non-competitive as we all claim to be) nature of boaters when it comes to sailing, but have I mentioned competition among boaters concerning long term food storage?  Specifically, long term fruit and vegetable storage?  As in those that can keep a lemon alive and well for nearly two months truly deserve the accolades they receive from other boaters for such a feat?  How about lettuce stored in the fridge without wilting or turning to mush for nearly three weeks?  Definitely something to be proud of.  Definitely something to write home about, which is exactly why I mention it here.  Long term food storage has to be right up there behind sailing in terms of importance.  For example, we left Pangaimotu Island near the capital town of Nuku'alofa on May 22nd and didn't arrive in Neiafu until June 4th.  That's one day shy of a full two weeks without stepping foot in a market or food store (ok, we did get those lemons, papaya and sugarcane from Peter on Ha'afeva Island, but other than that no food shopping occurred).  In that time, we ate well, never had to throw anything out because it was rotting and didn't run out of fresh stuff to eat.  Impressive, huh?  The secret is in the storage bags.  They are super-special green bags that 'breathe' in such a way that the fruit and vegetables stay very happy inside.  All the boaters in the know have them.  And those of us that do, wash, dry and re-use them religiously.  In retrospect, it's a bit sad that we've been reduced to stressing over the storage and upkeep of vegetables, but the feeling associated with pulling out a perfectly good eggplant after five weeks in the fridge is close to pure joy.
 
Back to Neiafu and the internet... 
The first four days we stayed in the harbor were spent stocking up on fresh food and catching up on all things internet related.  One of the cafes here has a wifi system that allows us to have internet on board.  This is a huge luxury and one we try to take full advantage of.  A huge luxury, but extreme patience must be employed as internet speed here in the Pacific Islands is generally ten years behind that of the rest of the world.  One blog entry with ten pictures took a good two minutes or more to send.  The Parallels update for our Mac took four hours to download.  This is internet in slow motion.  Or maybe, more appropriately, this is internet on Island Time.  Surprisingly, dealing with the internet in the islands is not always a bad experience.  Like when we bought five hours of internet time for the equivalent of $25 and initially struggled to get all our internet business done within the allotted time.  After a day or two we discovered we suddenly had unlimited internet time due to some glitch in the wifi system.  It's possible we would have reported this glitch to the cafe providing the wifi, but it was closed for the weekend.   Too bad.  The following Monday the wifi system was fixed and our time limit re-established.  In typical island fashion there were positively no punitive repercussions for the gobs of internet time we used while the wifi system was malfunctioning over the weekend.  Got to love the way business is run on the islands. 
 
Now Sundays...
Tongans are extremely religious.  Which means Sundays are truly a day of worship and rest.  No shops are open (except for the bakery for a few hours in the afternoon), everyone goes to church, no one does the laundry, no one weeds the garden, nothing.  It's illegal to sign a contract on a Sunday.  The national airline does not fly on Sundays. Tongans go to church and then they eat and then they rest.  After being here for nearly six weeks, we've gotten used to the weekly rhythm of Tonga.  Monday through Friday run on Island Time, Friday night is the big party night, Saturday morning is spent at the market buying food for Sunday's feast, then church, eating and complete quiet on Sunday.  Quiet, except for one thing - singing.  Tongans are known throughout the Pacific for their singing - usually done with no musical accompaniment and in perfect harmony.
 
John, Sue and I went to the Catholic church in Neiafu the first Sunday we were there.  We were the only boaters in the church.  The only foreigners, actually.  The only foreigners in a sea of cocoa brown faces with black, flashing eyes, impossibly long wavy hair and dresses all kinds of blues and pinks and whites mixed in with traditional mats wrapped around waists.  And there we sat at the end of one pew toward the back of the church with our blue and green eyes, pale freckled faces, and dressed in our stodgy boater version of church clothes.  No wonder the little kids in the pews around us couldn't stop staring.  This church service had more life and color and emotion in it than the Wesleyan service we attended in the capital of Nuku'alofa with the Queen Mother.  The priest must have noticed us in the congregation (no surprise, we stuck out like lumps of cauliflower in a sea of hibiscus flowers) and welcomed us in English.  And then the singing started.  The air felt thick with sound.  Heavy, but soaring.  I could almost feel and see the voices swirling around me and on up to the vaulted ceiling as the hair on the back of my neck stood up.  Unbelievable.  'Stunning' as Sue described it.
 
Picture 1 - The crowd exits the church.
 
Picture 2 - Sue and John in their church clothes (Sue's outfit complete with official Tongan tapa cloth fan).
 
Picture 3 - When we returned to Neiafu a second time after spending five days anchored in the Hunga Island lagoon (subject of a future blog entry), Sue and I spent a few hours on a Sunday afternoon wandering around the almost completely deserted town streets.  As we approached the waterfront, we heard what we thought was an entire church choir singing.  The day was hot and humid with no wind so the voices carried perfectly on the heavy air.  We walked closer to the source of the sound and realized it was not an entire choir, but just a few girls lolling on one of the piers at the waterfront, swimming and singing. 
 
Picture 4 - We approached the girls and told them how incredible their singing sounded and they seemed both embarrassed and pleased to hear it.  Embarrassed maybe because they were swimming and therefore were less covered up than usual, although their swimming outfits consisted of shorts, sports bras and in some cases t-shirts.  When Sue asked if we could take their picture, they giggled and agreed, but scrambled to pile on more clothes before the picture was taken.  Some of the girls were sisters and they were all part of the Seventh Day Adventist church choir.  They promised to sing a song for us and as we walked away they broke into a 3-part harmony version of 'Old Time Religion' in English.  Our very own Sunday service.
 
Picture 5 - A view of the moored sailboats in the Neiafu harbor.  We have almost the exact same scene in our collection of pictures from last year.
 
Picture 6 - The full moon setting in the west as the sun rose in the east.  We are not often awake at sunrise, but just happened to catch this scene on a very still morning.
 
Picture 7 - Leaving Neiafu the first time on our way to Hunga Island, we (Harmonie with Storyteller ahead of us) had our first encounter of the cruise ship kind this season.
 
More on our Vava'u adventures later.
Anne
 
 
 
 
 

JPEG image

JPEG image

JPEG image

JPEG image

JPEG image

JPEG image

JPEG image


Diary Entries