|Just like the brochure - Tapana island (right)|
|Cruising chart of Vava'u in the cockpit|
|Looking towards the eastern anchorages|
What if….you didn’t go back?
|Boat and kayak - what more do you need?|
We’ve never asked ourselves that question. It doesn’t apply. But some people don't go back. They put off making the next ocean passage, they settle into (insert name of tropical paradise) and the years slip by, in multiples of 10.
|Seems like a long way from Neiafu, but town is only a short taxi ride away|
|Some dreamer wants to put a golf course up here|
Maria and Eduardo sailed into Tonga 22 years ago. These two have swallowed the hook, as the saying goes. They moor a small yacht off the white sand beach on the island of Tapana, below their restaurant La Paella, but it’s a day sailer. It won’t take them out to sea again.
|Boy on a hobby horse in Neiafu|
The other night Maria cooked us the best food we’ve eaten in a year (since we left Spain, actually). It was a surreal experience. There we were, sitting in a rickety, palm-fringed opened-sided building high above the anchorage, on cushions made from finely-woven matting, while Maria brought to the table dish after dish (eight different tapas that we can remember), each absolutely able to hold its own with the best we tasted anywhere in Spain.
A heavyweight black and white goat called Chiquita with elegant curved horns and a mean butting action roamed the restaurant until Eduardo put a bench across the strip of red carpet at the front “door”. In the fullness of time, a rotund orange moon rose over the eastern islands of the Vava’u archipelago. (This is one of the nights we forgot to take the camera....so unfortunate).
Maria is from Valencia, and Eduardo is from the Basque country – “the two best regions in Spain for food”, our new friends Gonzalo and Karina from the Spanish-flagged catamaran Kazaio said. They shared our table along with Martha and Bryce (Silver Fern). Maria cooked her paella over an open fire. Her cheese was home-made, as was her chorizo. In the islands, where you are only one feast away from boiled or baked fatty meat, starchy root vegetables, and variations on the familiar (though delicious) themes of bananas, papaya, fish and coconut milk ,the breadth and subtlety of Maria’s cooking was a miracle.
|Island food (and below)|
Eduardo played blues on his guitar that night with a friend from Madrid on harmonica – the best harmonica player I’ve ever heard. Maria joined them for a bit on percussion, and then Martha got involved. She can sing, that woman. Maria backed off into her kitchen, where she got Gonzalo and Karina’s three children (aged 18 months to 6) into aprons and into the sink. The kids were in seventh heaven that night.
|Dropping by -- Kazaio and Silver Fern tenders tied up alongside Enki|
|Getting Tristan sorted....stirring old memories (and below)|
Just across the bay from Tapana are another couple of old runaways. Sheri and her husband Larry live on a houseboat known as the Ark at the southeastern tip of Pangaimotu island. They sailed to Tonga from the US but that boat’s long gone. They built the Ark 15 years ago, and iftfunctions as home and office. Sheri sells her prints and souvenirs at the “entrance” to the Ark and they live out the back in a room with a view which revolves as the wind and tide turns the Ark on its mooring in this very sheltered anchorage.
|The Ark, at anchorage #11|
They have rent out government-registered, hurricane moorings – we’re on one now. Most moorings seem to be occupied by boats whose owners have gone elsewhere for a while, leaving Sheri and Larry to boat-sit. Presumably that pays a bit too.
|Larry's boat project, and bonfire site|
Last night we sat around a fire on the small stretch of sand they call their beach, squeezed between the high tide and Larry’s boat project. The sunset was so lurid you will assume the colours are photoshopped, but they’re not.
Larry smoked a pipe, and Sheri talked non-stop. They make a bonfire every Saturday night, and invite whoever’s around, she’d told me. If no-one’s around, they still make a fire. But I got the impression that aside from ourselves and Silver Fern everyone else there – a bunch of eccentric male single-handers, all of a certain age –came ashore to that fire most Saturday nights.
|View over the Ark's anchorage - and out to the east|
And the locals, you might be wondering, what of them?
They’re around too, moving in the same physical space but in a separate world. Alex’s pictures show slices of Tongan life - the villages, the market, the churches, the kids - but most of it is invisible to us.
|A barrowload of plantains, papaya, breadfruit and bananas for the yachties|
|The kids go to Sunday school|
While we were gazing into the fire, a couple of men appeared out of the dark with high-powered torches, and spear guns. It was low tide. They were crossing over to the reef on the windward side.
“They’ll stay out fishing until about 2 or 3 am,” Sheri explained. Four of five hours in the water, in other words. “They’re tough”. Most likely they’d swim around the island, in through the pass, through the anchorage (we might see their flashlights under the water), and then back along the shore to the Ano beach where they’d maybe left a car.
I bought one of Sheri’s prints. I don’t love it the way I love the length of tapa cloth I bought in Neiafu – the colours she uses are about as subtle as the sunset that night. But I do wonder if there’s an adjustment which I haven’t yet made to what’s in front of my eyes. Dazzling or garish – whoever asks that question of a parrot fish or a hibiscus flower? Sheri is no Gaugin, but I’ll try to see in her print what the king of Tonga sees (apparently he owns the original).
|How Tongans decorate a grave mound|
PS The El Nino effect continues to trouble the weather in the islands. This weekend, the first boat left Neiafu bound for New Zealand, but most cruisers are holding off for more settled weather. The photos below were taken by Alex at the market in Neiafu before the bad weather broke and we moved out to the anchorages. They show how dreary the place can seem when the South Pacific Convergence Zone drops down over Tonga.
And when the rain stops and the cloud lifts, it's as if someone has turned on the lights again.