Saturday, May 16, 2009

Around Tongatapu

May 16, 2009--Friday was our day for touring the island. We decided that we would take a bus to Houma on the other side of the island to see the Mapu'a 'a Vaca Blowholes. We went to the bus areas (one to go east and another to go west) and finally located the right bus. We climbed aboard, relaxed, and watched the scenery go by. We had to keep track of where we were so that we would get off the bus in the right town. We were discussing where we were when a young man sitting behind us asked us where we were going. Steve told him and he said that our stop would be coming up soon. His name was Joel, and he and Steve chatted for a bit. When he pointed out our stop, we all got off the bus. Joel is a fireman in Nuka'alofa and was headed home after his shift. He talked with us as we walked down the street. Since there was no sign to the blowholes, we appreciated his showing us the way.

We could hear the rumble of the blowholes, and when we came out of the trees and onto the beach, we could see several miles of white spray along the coast. We walked out onto a viewing platform and Joel told us the legend of these blowholes. We arrived at high tide and watched as the water would spray up to 30 meters from some of the tubes. There was a roaring sound as the water would enter the tunnels and then come spraying out of the tubes. It was quite impressive, and we stayed for about an hour watching the geysers straying up all along the shoreline. Joel then walked back to the bus stop with us, where we said goodbye. We promised to send him a picture of the spray behind him. We had to wait about 30 minutes for our return bus, but we enjoyed our time saying hello to the locals that passed by.

It was lunch time when we returned to Nuka'alofa so we spotted a Chinese restaurant and went in. We enjoyed a lunch of Sweet and Sour pork on fried rice. When we finished, we left the restaurant and walked next door to a large Free Wesleyan Church. Across the street were the Royal Tombs where Tongan royalty have been buried since 1893. We thought about catching another bus, but we decided to rent a scooter for the next tour that would take us to the other end of the island. We found Sunshine Rentals and were able to rent a lovely yellow scooter for half a day. We took our lives into our hands and headed out of Nuka'alofa. Our first stop was the Captain Cook Memorial where Cook landed on Tongatapu. The Ovava (banyan tree) is an offspring of the original tree under which Cook was alleged to have rested after anchoring HMS Endeavor in the lagoon.

Our next stop was clear out to the northeastern point to see the Ha'amonga Trilithon, also known as the Stonghenge of the South Pacific, which was erected in 1200 A.D. It was not as large as we expected, but it was still impressive. We walked around the area and, of course, bought some souvenirs and then got on our scooter to return to town.

We were driving along enjoying the lush scenery when the scooter suddenly died. We discovered that we were out of gas even though the woman at the rental agency told us the tank was full. Lesson learned--always check! We were concerned that not many cars drove this road but were amazed when a car came along just a few minutes later and stopped to see if we needed help. We told them the problem, and they said they would go to get us some gasoline. We told them we didn't have a gas can, but they said, "No problem, we have a two-liter soda bottle" (try filling a soda bottle with gas in the states). Several other cars stopped, but we told them that we were fine. About 15 minutes later the family pulled up and handed us the soda bottle filled with gas. We asked what we owed them, but they would not take any money from us. We tried again, but they refused, so we thanked them, and they went on their way. We were quite touched by their generosity. We poured the gas from the bottle into the tank, and the scooter started right up. We arrived back in town in time to make quick stops at the post office and a small store. It was rush hour and maneuvering through intersections was a real challenge. Steve then dropped me off at the boat and took the scooter back to turn it in.

We returned to the boat tired but happy with our day and with our wonderful experiences with the people on Tongatapu.

On Saturday morning we decided to go to the Saturday Flee Market that was set up just across the harbor from us. There were clothes, shoes, DVDs, cakes, and other miscellaneous items for sale. I found a very nice lava lava skirt that I bought, and Steve found a pair of flip flops. We stopped at a cafe and enjoyed a delicious breakfast of eggs, sausage, hash browns, tuna, and toast. While we ate, we watched the fishing boats preparing to go out. It was a delightful morning.

Nuka'alofa does not have the greatest reputation, but we have really enjoyed ourselves so far. We plan to stay in this moorage until some windy weather passes on Monday, and then we will move out to some of the nearby islands.

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