Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Social Media TMI or How I got a Haircut

I’m always surprised at how much personal info that people share on Facebook and the like. Just a lot more than I want to know. So to keep in that vein, here’s a pic of me getting a haircut in Tonga from a very nice, well trained transvestite hairdresser. Its actually been 5 years since I had a real haircut – time flies. I’ve been better at brushing my teeth more regularly. Good deal for $15 TOP ($7.50 US).  Just in case my fans are worried, it is still long enough to put in a pony-tail.
In Polynesia transvestites are a completely accepted and integrated part of society. We’ve met a number since we arrived in the Marquesas. Here in Tonga, they’re called “faka ladies”.

The Vava’u Blue Water Festival is going on now. The businesses in Opua and Whangarei (pronounced “Fangerey”), NZ fly up a bunch of representatives to encourage all the cruisers to head to their ports for cyclone season and spend their refit money there. We’ve been to a couple of passage planning seminars covering strategies for the sail to New Zealand – pretty good. There’s a number of dinners and some fun races that are part of this festival, but we are being sticks-in-the-mud on most of it. We plan to clear out of customs for the Ha’apai island group (still in Tonga) tomorrow and spend 3 weeks or so exploring that area. Tonga requires that you clear customs each time you move from an island group.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

It’s Overcast -- Again

Our dinghy, completely filled with rainwater after an all night downpour- note the floating gas tank and bailer.
We’ve been watching the BBC 6-part series called ‘Wild Pacific’ that covers the land, sea and life of the Pacific islands. It’s really well done, including a nice ukulele theme song of ‘Over the Rainbow’. As always in these types of documentaries you pick up some odd and interesting facts. For instance, the sooty terns that we see flying around here go to sea for up to four years without touching ground.
After watching all 6 episodes I’m a little unsure of how much to trust the producers. There is not a single overcast day in all 6 episodes. We’ve been in the south Pacific nearly all this year and trust me there have been lots of overcast days – more overcast than sunny. The other night we had a hard tropical rain here in Nieafu, Tonga, that didn’t stop for 16 hours. Check out how much water is in the dinghy in the pic above. Not sure if this is the side-effect of it being an El Nino year or not, but the number of sunny days we’ve had since we were in Bora Bora is pretty low. Oh well, a tough time in a tropical paradise.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Euakafa Island Tomb Hike

vavauIMG_2447 We got a real treat when we went ashore on Euakafa island – Aussies, not like in people from Australia, but Australian Sheppard dogs. 3 energetic and well behaved Aussies for Chris and I to get our dog fix. Chris got a little carried away and left with a case of puppy elbow. Brett, the dogs owner, is an Aussie himself who leased land here to build a little private, off grid, personal paradise and eventually a small hostel type pension(https://www.facebook.com/Euakafa.Island).
Tongans are given a small plot of land in the towns plus 8 acres outside of town for farming. The land that Brett leased would have been decent farm land once it was cleared, but had not been previously farmed. The owner agreed to give him a 50 year lease on the property. 
Brett is a really friendly guy and welcomes visitors. We shared a nice potluck at his place that evening, along with Judy and Sherman off Fair Winds and Keith off Sadiqi, and of course the Aussies.
vavauIMG_2448Brett took us on a hike to the top of the island to see the Tomb of Queen Talafaiva. The story goes she was buried there almost 500 years ago by the King after he inadvertently had her beat to death for sharing her favors with one of the handsome young men of Vava’u.
vavauIMG_2458 The view from the top made the hike up worth it – as much as I dislike hiking uphill – at least this time it was down on the way back. We were hoping to see some humpback whales in the pass. The day before we sailed through this pass coming in to the anchorage and had seen a couple of whales lazing around there… but no luck.
vavauIMG_2464 Brett, Chris and the good Aussies examining the Queen’s tomb. It’s impressive, built of slabs of limestone cut at the reef and carried straight up the hill we’d just climbed. The body is gone now, taken, some say, by her lover.
Before we went to Euakafa, we stopped at a small island nearby to do some shelling since it was a rare calm and sunny day.
The shelling wasn’t good and the island’s large population of sooty terns were not happy about our presence at their island.
As we walked along the rocky shore you could see the shadows of the menacing terns just overhead. OK, true confessions. When I was a kid in Florida and used to walk along the side the rock pits, we would get attacked by terns. At times we’d all have to run off with blood on our elbows from the attacks by these armed and dangerous critters…
The Birds original poster.jpg
Plus, I’ve watched Alfred Hitchcock's the Birds too many times.
P.S. for cruisers: Eaukafa island is anchorage #32 on the Moorings charts. You can anchor off Brett’s obvious blue house and dinghy in through a pass in the reef to the left, looking at the beach. The Aussies are the 3 friendly dogs. Just south of Brett’s place is a pier that is owned by an Austrian expat who has a reputation as being NOT cruiser friendly – i.e., don’t use my pier. He also has 3 dogs that roam the beach in front of his place and who are decidedly not good dogs- you should stay clear of them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Swimming with the Humpbacks

There are only a few places in the world where you can swim with Humpback whales. Tonga has a small industry of boats that take snorkelers out to swim with the whales – you aren’t allowed to use tanks. They allow a maximum of four swimmers and one guide in the water at a time.  The whales come to Tonga from June through September to calve and to mate. Tonga has the highest concentration of humpbacks anywhere in the South Pacific. It ain’t cheap to get on the all day whale boats. I was a little dubious about going, as you could get skunked, like a few people we know who went in Niue, and there’s no money-back guarantee. The operators are a little more aggressive in Tonga, they have more whales and a much larger area, so their odds are pretty good.  We didn’t hear of anyone getting skunked on a trip in Tonga. (Per person was TOP$350 or about US$175 for an 8 hour day)
Our first turn in the water was not that impressive, as the whales were down at about 30 feet or so and not that visible on the cloudy morning. After a long ride out into almost wide open seas our Tongan driver stopped near another whale boat that was from the same tour company. This time we hit pay dirt. It was a mother, a baby and a male escort. At times we were probably no more than 10 or 15 feet from the youngster. In the picture above you can see the baby hanging under Mom’s fluke for protection. As an added bonus, when you’re in the weather with them you can hear them singing- which is very cool.
tonga_sm_P9010063Here’s the baby on the right and Mom on the left heading to the surface right in front of us. The calves are curious about the swimmers and like to come close to check us out. A new born calf weighs in at about a ton and is 10 to 15 feet long. All the births are done at home without surgeons or anesthesia, although they do use another female as a midwife. Grown humpbacks can reach 60 feet long and weigh 40 tons. An average lifespan is 45-50 years. After calving season the whales will head back to Antarctica for some well deserved nourishment, as they don’t eat while in the Tonga portion of their migration.
tonga_sm_P9010051 This is our friend Talulah absorbed in taking GoPro selfies oblivious of the whale swimming behind her. These girls from the Canary Islands can be a little strange.
No pictures from the last set of whales we swam with as it was two males bumping into each other, making crashing sounds and frothing up the waters, to show off for the sweet girls in the neighborhood.
Chris got some good GoPro footage of the whales. The GoPro even picked up the whale songs, which were really clear while we were underwater. Now all we need to do is inspire Chris to edit the video so I can post some.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Little More on the Kingdom of Tonga

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A little history and geography for those that aren't too sure where Tonga is. Tonga is the sole remaining kingdom in Polynesia. It is located between Fiji in the west and the Cook Islands to the east, with Samoa to the north and New Zealand to the south. Complete independence came in 1970 after years of various levels of association with Britain. There are about 170 islands with 134 of them uninhabited. Tonga is made up of 4 island groups starting from north to south: Niua group, Vava’u group, Ha Pai group and Tongatapu group, where the capital is. So far we’ve only explored the Vava’u area. New Zealand and US troops were stationed in Tongatapu during World War II and Tongans fought along side the Kiwis in the war. They have all the modern amenities here,  ATMs and very slow Internet.
The main town in Vava’u is Neiafu. Its the only place with stores. The Tongans you meet are friendly and seem to work in a lot of the establishments and run a nice vegetable market 6 days a week. Most of the small businesses seem to be owned by Chinese (the grocery stores) and by-ex-pats from NZ, Australia, US and Germany (everything else – restaurants, hotels, tour companies).
vavauIMG_2340 School boys leaving school in their standard school uniforms.
A local man walking down the street and a woman walking up with the traditional dress that includes a pandanus leaf woven mat, called a ta’ovala, worn wrapped around the waist.
This is the vaka Gaualofa, a traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe. This one is from Samoa and has a female Tongan captain. Seven of these vakas were built and sailed all over Polynesia and as far east as San Francisco to demonstrate the old Polynesian navigator’s ways. If you get a chance, look up the documentary film Te Mana o Te Moana – The Pacific Voyagers that covers their passages. It’s well done. More info here: pacificvoyagers.org
vavauIMG_2342 Parking in the small boat harbor is tight so in typical island style efficiency they park them two deep.