Familiar landscapes in Tonga

With 20 to 2 knot winds on the beam, we finished the ~750 mile passage from Suwarrow to Tonga in four days. The middle days of the journey were too bouncy to fish, but what a relief to be in millpond waters of the protected inner bay at our landfall of Neiafu.

When we came around the top of Vava'u, the chief island in this group, we felt like we were coming home. With only a small mental leap to assist, the view looked just like coming through the San Juan islands in the familiar waters of Puget Sound. We meandered past heavily wooded islands, carved from limestone by eons of waterflow. If you fuzz out your eyes so the palm trees look like conifers, there's nothing to say you aren't passing Sucia or Matia on your way over to Orcas.

Even once we completed our check in, there was something about the sleepy town that continued to remind us of the Northwest. Neiafu's dozen or so blocks line up at the waterfront with shops and restaurants, and meander inland over gentle hillocks. Shiplap homes stand cheek by jowl with low key storefronts. With a little more imagination, we were in Friday Harbor on an offseason weekday.

I'm pretty sure, though, that back at home the dress code is a little different. Although the nights are blissfully cooler- how much easier to sleep when it's 70 instead of 85!- there's no fleece. Locals wear wraparound sarongs- called tupenu for men, vala for women- with a mat on top, the ta'ovala, woven from leaves of the pandanus tree. The mat is a sign of respect for the king: relics of a time gone by, when sailors arriving from afar would wrap their woven sails to cover their nakedness before meeting royalty. Although there are a few pairs of jeans on the younger set, continues to be worn by most people.

Tonga was given the namesake of "the friendly islands" by Captain Cook, after the welcome feast in honor of his crews during a stopover on his third voyage. He misunderstood the friendliness- the celebration was actually the setup for a massacre and looting, which did not occur only because of squabbling by the Tongans. But the moniker stuck, and it feels entirely appropriate today. We have had more casual conversations with Tongans in the first few days in Vava'u than we had in a month of French Polynesia. I sought out a woman in the market, Tema, who was recommended by our fellow Kitsap cruisers on the s/v Carina. Upon introducing myself, I barely got past the referral "…from Philip and Leslie…" when she threw her arms around me with delight. Pure, unfiltered joy shared with a stranger is a wonderful gift! Philip and Leslie had given her seeds from Seeds of Change; she proceeded to fill our grocery bags with the bounty- eggplant, basil, tomatoes, radishes and more.

We're sure that our time here will fly quickly. Every time we look at our itinerary, we seem to chop off destinations. Fewer locations to visit means more time in the places that remain, and feels more in sync with our modus operandi.

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One Response to Familiar landscapes in Tonga

  1. First Mate PJ Baker August 18, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    Miss you guys. We are at the Beach – a welcome respite from re-entry madness. Can’t wait til we hop on the Clipper to meet Brad and head north. I am definitely not done yet! ~PJ

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