Friday, September 30, 2011

Vava'u in a nutshell

We arrived in Vava'u, Tonga just in time to partake in some of the Vava'u Festival events this year. We also finally caught up with many old friends who we have not seen since Mexico. Unfortunately, we also had to say goodbye to many friends heading on to Fiji and beyond.

The festival started off with a parade and events down in the main town of Neiafu followed by an evening pub crawl with optional "fancy" dress which means costumes in British. I of course insisted that we dress up and we were happy to see most other people in costumes as well. We covered a lot of ground and visited nearly every bar in Neiafu. At the last bar we were treated to the weekly Faka lady show which is basically a drag show. Quite the cultural experience to say the least. Wish I had some pictures to share but my camera has stopped working properly in low light. Jared's camera is a little too nice to bring along on a pub crawl. I did borrow a couple of pictures from my friend Cory from Rutea so you can see our costumes at least. Speaking of Rutea, we were finally reunited after many months at sea! We had not seen them since we left La Cruz, Mexico back in March. We were also reunited with Mark and Yuka on Merkava. Yuka is the one dressed up like a gangster which was absolutely hilarious because she is pretty much the exact opposite in real life.

We skipped the next couple of days of events to go check out some of the many nice anchorages around Vava'u. We headed out to a place called Kenutu Island with our buds on Brittania because we heard that there might be surf there. The swell direction wasn't quite right and the reef was a bit too shallow for us, so we decided to go snorkeling instead. Now that we had come so far west on our journey across the Pacific, the species richness (diversity) of coral and fish was noticeably much greater than at any of the reefs back in French Polynesia. I saw species of fish and coral that I had never seen before and I even found a nudibranch to take a picture of. Unfortunately, there were not many sharks or very big fish as a result of years of unregulated fishing in the area. Shalimar, La Cueca, and Takalani all made it out the the anchorage the next day and Stoph from Takalani found a dead tree on the beach that he decided he needed to burn so we all got together for a beach bonfire. Much to Stoph's dismay, the tree did not want to burn because it had gotten too wet, but after an hour at it he did manage to get a small finicky fire going. We took turns fanning the fire to keep it going for as long as possible while the ants attacked La Cueca's pasta dinner. Luckily, Shalimar had some leftovers to feed the exhausted and slightly tipsy fire makers. All in all, it was a fun night on a beautiful deserted island surrounded by old and new friends. Can't ask for much more!

A front came through the next day and it brought lots of rain and wind from almost every direction. Our anchor decided to pick up a tiny piece of stray coral on the mostly sand bottom and we started dragging through the anchorage a pretty decent clip. We decided to leave instead of re-anchoring there only to be faced with an opposing current and 30 knots of wind on the nose. As soon as we rounded the southern tip of the island we were trying to get around, we headed downwind and had a much better time of it. Unfortunately, even though we found several well protected coves to anchor in, we could not find shallow water or good holding. As we were attempting to re-anchor for what felt like the 10th try in an hour, Ben and Lisa, the festival organizers, were passing by in their motor boat and they told us we could use their old mooring. They sailed to Tonga a few years ago and never really left and they had installed a mooring for their sailboat in the bay where we were trying to anchor. Since they weren't using it anymore because they had acquired an island to live on, they generously offered it to us. Boy were we relieved! The front brought a ton of rain with it and we filled up our water tanks and our laundry buckets within hours. This kind of became the trend in Tonga, with a weak or strong trough (valley of low pressure) and it's associated front moving through the area every other week or so. In between these periodic storms was nothing but sunshine!

The next big festival event we were signed up for was the full moon party. We made our way to the anchorage by the beach where the party was and I prepared my futuristic costume out of some metallic glittery wrapping paper I found, some tin foil, and some glow sticks. The costume themes were past or future, pretty vague. I ended up with a sort of futuristic queen costume so I went around telling people that I was their future queen. Jared threw on a garbage bad and a tin foil cap and was aiming for a sort of post-apocalyptic hobo type thing. His costume took 5 minutes to make and mine took about an hour. The rain finally let up for long enough to make it to shore where we were greeted by about 100 partygoers. I had a great time dancing all night long while Jared stood around with Ryan drinking rum and cokes and complaining about the noise. We skipped out on the rest of the festival events mostly because we don't care for racing and because Jared had reached his socializing limit for the week.

We spent another three weeks just cruising around Vava'u checking out the many beautiful anchorages and hanging out with friends. We rented some scuba tanks and did some diving with Ryan. We went to a traditional Tongan feast. I ran into a guy I used to work with on the dive boats in Santa Barbara which was such a trip! He was out visiting a friend of his who is currently cruising on his Westsail 32, Evangeline, with his wife. We had a great time catching up and also getting to know his friend Daniel. We said goodbye to Takalani, Libis, and La Cueca who went onto Fiji, then Vanuatu and Australia. Hope we keep in touch! We explored some of the tiny outer villages. We checked out some caves. We briefly met a couple of the crew from Aldebaran who first contacted us ages ago when they came across our blog while they were prepping for their trip. We've been pen-pals/radio buddies ever since and we've been dying to meet them for real. Unfortunately, our schedules were a bit out of sink so we will have to wait till New Zealand to really meet them I guess. Tuatara showed up one day and we got to catch up with them for first time since Tahiti. We stocked up on food and then we headed down to the Ha'apai group for our second month in Tonga.

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