Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Events on Niuatoputapu

September 12, 2008--On Tuesday after lunch, we went ashore and walked down the dirt road that runs the length of the island. We needed to go to Customs, which is located at the other end of the island, to exchange some American dollars for Tongan pa'angas so that we could pay our fees for entering Tonga. Along the way we met several friendly school kids, who had just gotten out of school for the day. After a short distance, a pickup stopped and offered us a ride, which we were more than happy to accept because it was hot. She dropped us off right in front of the Customs building. We went inside where Lauti, the Customs official, exchanged money for us, took our fees, and, last but not least, sold us some Tongan postage stamps.

While Steve was finishing up, I went next door to speak with Sia, who organizes activities for the "yachties" as she calls us. We discussed a pot luck, a trip to the neighboring island of Tafahi, and perhaps a tour of the east side of the island. We had already set up a trip to Tafahi for the next day, so I was simply getting additional information. The government building is made of wood and is very old, and there were even some boards missing in the floor. Lauti's receipt book looked like something from the 1930's, and all receipts or other documents are written out by hand. When Steve was finished with Lauti, we began our walk to the Health Department to pay a fee to them. The Health building is also very old, and the facilities are minimal, so we were more than happy to pay a small fee to them. When we finished we began the long, hot walk back to the wharf. Once again, we had not walked very far when the same woman stopped to give us a ride back, and she even drove us all the way out to the end of the wharf. By now it was very hot so we were even more appreciative.

In the evening, Sia and her husband Niko picked up nine of us and drove us to the Catholic Church community hall where a dance and kava ceremony were taking place. Kava is a drink made from the crushed root of a pepper plant. The powder or pulp is strained or mixed with water in a large wooden bowl and drunk from a coconut-shell cup. Traditionally, only men would participate, but women are now allowed to join in. Most do not, however, because they do not like the taste, and I have to agree with them. I had one cup, and that was more than enough for me, but Steve had six cups throughout the evening.

Inside, the dance was slow in getting started. Very loud hip-hop music was playing and a few women were dancing with one another. After awhile, the men began to leave the Kava drinking and take up dancing. Quite a few of the young men asked the three women yachties to dance. When Steve finished visiting with the men at the Kava bowl, he came in, and we danced for quite awhile. The locals use these dances to raise money for different causes on the islands, and there was to be another dance the next night. Around 10:15 Sia and Niko drove us back to the wharf, and we returned to our boats--we had an early morning ahead.

At 6:30 the next morning, Sia and Niko, along with 3 young men, picked us up on our boat. We then picked up Ann and Barry on sv Cat's Paw IV and Ernst on sv Accord. All ten of us left in a small, wooden boat to cross the 5.5 miles over to Tafahi Island to hike the volcano. About half way across and in 10- to 12-foot seas, we hooked a fish, and when the guys brought it in, it turned out to be a 5-foot sailfish. All the guys were lying on it to hold it down, which was difficult. Finally, Niko had to stick a knife into its brain in order to kill it. We then proceeded to the south side of the island. One young man named William gathered up a bundle of fishing net and prepared to get off onto the reef. Before William could step off, the prop struck the reef and threw the boat up on its left side sending William into the water. He was struggling with the net so Niko and one of the young men drove in after him, which was okay because Sia said that they were all going to fish while we hiked. The last young man drove the boat around the island to the west side or lee of the island where we pulled into an opening in the coral and tied the boat up on the shore. We were all very wet from the crossing, but luckily we had all worn swimsuits. I must say that we were all a little concerned about the structural integrity of the boat after hitting the reef.

We proceeded along the beach and then climbed 154 concrete steps to the village. Niko has a house here as well, so we stopped there to pick up his cousin (I can not remember his name) who would be our guide for the hike. He wore a red t-shirt with the word "official" printed on it. We were joined by two dogs--one adult and one small puppy. The climb to the summit, which is 555 meters or 1800 feet, is challenging to say the least. We were walking through thick jungle on a very narrow path. At times the path was steep enough that you had to hold on to trees or bushes in order to help pull yourself up. We stopped several times and our guide would cut down coconuts for us to drink or papaya for us to eat. We finally reached the top and were rewarded with the most spectacular view of Niuatoputapu and the anchorage, and the clouds were floating just above us. We took some time to rest, drink more coconut juice, take pictures, and just enjoy the view.

Soon it was time to go, so we headed back down the trail. It was a little easier going down the mountain; however, the trail was slippery at times, and just about every one of us went down at least once. One time when we stopped, our guide gathered oranges for us. These were not as sweet as the oranges that we are used to, but they tasted really good on a long, hot hike. Finally, we were back at Niko's house, hot and tired but glad that we had made the climb. We don't know how long it took us to make it to the top and back because not one of us had worn a watch, which means that we are all in the cruising mode.

We walked back through the small village of 8 to 10 homes, taking pictures of a family of pigs under a shade tree, a grass house equipped with a solar panel and a satellite dish, and the small Methodist Church. When we returned to the beach, Sia and Niko had fish and plantains (bananas that taste like potatoes)cooking over a fire. The food was served on large leaves, and it was delicious. The meal also included coconut juice to drink. We were all pretty hungry. Steve and I took a quick walk on the beach, and then we noticed three small boats coming back through the cut in the coral. The locals had gone over to Niuatoputapu to pick up gasoline, generators, and a few smaller items. The men would roll the 55-gallon drum over the side of the boat into the water. Then another man would roll the drum up onto the beach. Each boat carried several drums. When a boat was unloaded, logs were laid out from the water up past the high-tide line. All the men, including Steve and Barry, would then push the boat over the logs and up the beach. This was done with all three boats, and it was amazing to watch.

We loaded up our boat and left to return to Niuatoputapu. The seas were not as big on our way back, but we were just as wet when we arrived. We were grateful to be back because the boat had no life jackets, no backup engine, and no VHF radio except the one that we had brought. The good news is that it did have a bailing bucket that was used constantly on each trip. On our way across we spotted several humpback whales in the channel, which are always so much fun to watch. We arrived back at our boat at 3:45 and were given papaya and limes in exchange for a few beers. We very tired but also very happy that we had gone. It was a very full and interesting day.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

No comments: