Wednesday, September 25, 2013

fiji - from the hidden paradise to queensland suburbia

i's been a long time again, since we posted a blog. 
but this time round we have an excellent excuse: we had guests!

Pete and Shannon joined us for their first yachting-experience....and man, we've been very hard on our crew!

we first spent a few days in Savu Savu on the eastern side of Fiji. 
savu savu is a little, however buzzing town with a couple of restaurants (which make fierce curries where mild is almost too spicy for me;) hidden in a lush and green vally.
hugely excited we awaited the arrival of our crew we had asked to fly there. if we would have known what kind of airport and what kind of flight was in stock for them, we might have changed our minds....but as it was, we had nooooo idea! 
when the taxi arrived next to the runway, which was surrounded by plane-trained cows, we couldn't help but have the biggest laughing fit in a long time.
the airport was a tiny shed, the runway was paved in places, and the plane was coming in just missing the tree tops of the hills. once the plane had landed, the pilots came out, lit a cigarette and almost lost their heads on the still spinning props.

but our crew came out smiling and laughing as much as we did.

after a couple of rainiy days in savusavu, we headed off for the western division of fiji chasing better weather.
even though we had a couple of overnight stops, the amount of miles we did meant we arrived at places late and left early. so for the first 3 days our crew was not allowed on shore.
mark and i did not notice at first being so used to long passage making now...but at the beginning of our trip that would have been rather hard on 10 bonus points for our land lubbers;)

Pete caught a beautiful yellow fin tuna which was sashimied first and then rolled in sesame and nut and done on the bbq later.

we stopped in beautiful places like the blue lagoon and waya island - hoping to find those well protected anchorages we were expecting because of all the surrounding reefs....but we simply did not find them.
one night had me airborne on the front bunk it was so rough - but the next morning: crew still smiling! (by that time i started to check on our kava-stash we had as a gift for the villages....maybe kava does that to you, I thought....but i am happy to report: no abuse of legal or illegal substances was found:)

so after a couple of great snorkels and a definitely not great night at anchor we looked for a calm hide out and found it in musket cove on malolo island
we had great meals out at the resort, had fantastic snorkels on the sand bar that appeared at low tide just off musket cove feeding colorful fish - and Pete and Shannon fulfilled one of my childhood wishes when they invited us for a parasail! 

we baked in the sun, got a little bored - as you should on a relaxing holiday - and just like that, the two weeks planned were over again.
we went to port denerau to drop our by then well saltwater proven crew off to fly back home. all our pleading and begging did not help it - they had to go back and we once again got our minds off the recent loss by indulging in boat work.
maloo got a nice little polishing rub and seven loads of washing needed to be the time we wanted to head off for vanuatu the weather had turned against us forcing us to wait another week - but luckily with great internet and the america's cup on, there was plenty to do.
with port denarau resembling a shiny soap bubble of happy tourists and the surroundings of this bubble being full of big holiday houses surrounding a golf course, separated by artificial channels it is easy to forget that you are actually in fiji - which, different from what you might think when being around port denarau, happens to be one of the poorer countries in this world.
a security gate later, when taking the bus to nadi, you all of a sudden find yourself in a colorful but simple neighborhood that feels thousands of miles away from your bubble, and is yet maybe only 1km further inland.
the security gate is like a wormhole that beams you from somewhere up queensland to fiji in a matter of 5 seconds....crazy!

with clearing out procedures changing every day, as it seems, we had to move on to vuda point of the strangest set up marinas we've ever been in. we currently sit right in the middle of this round shaped boat-pool attached to a mooring buoy waiting to have customs on board tomorrow morning.

we will head for Tanna on thursday the 24th of september. another 3 nighter should bring us very far away from the western world for the last time on our trip. another couple of months and our dream of blue water will come to it's end. 
but until then, let us "sleep" a bit longer and explore what there is to explore!

local taxi

Captain Shannon

coral bommie spotting
musket cove anchorage
Pete's catch of the day
....and what we did with it!

what a facepaint


Sunday, September 1, 2013

the kingdom of tonga - where whales and pigs meet for a chat on the beach.

wow - where to start?

we had a long nice break from sailing and waves here in the vava'u group...and a lot of things happened.

to start with: we helped pulling an aluminium yacht of a reef near lape island.
the poor couple somehow managed to get the yacht so high up on a reef that on low tide it was lying on its side surrounded by only 15cm of water.
thanks to Paul and Mary from Bela Via, who did the coordination and support for the two shipwrecked, Mark and Charles, who came up with the masterplan, the superyacht dorothea III who did the muscle work and a crowd of helpers, we managed to get "paje" (so the name of the yacht) of it's unfortunate drydock - and amazingly, she still swims! 
it was a real wake up call to see how quickly you can get into strife! as tonga does not have a proper coast guard rescue service in case of an emergency you are completely relying on the help of other yachties around, and it was reassuring and heartwarming how many were there to help and offering their gear.
luckily paje is an aluminium yacht - with a fiberglass boat like maloo there would have been nothing worth rescuing.
so much excitement for the first week.

we saw the king of tonga at the agricultural fair, which only happens every 5 years - we did a tongan feast on lape, a small island inhabited by the nicest and most humble people we have meet so far - we snorkeled the most colourful reef we have seen on our trip until now, while hearing the humpback whales sing and we also did one of those whale swimming tours - unfortunately we only got o short glimpse of a mother and her calf. after having seen though how these "shows" operate i am not soooo sure if it is all for the good. there are surly some operators out there that do it well, however, if you have the same people on your boat for the 4th time round paying lots of money and there has been no whale, then the 5th attempt could be a bit stressful for all involved parties as we experienced. we had lovely whale encounters with maloo though and i am still amazed by the sheer size of these animals.

what to say about tonga? to answer the question i asked myself in the last post: yes, it is a long lasting relationship - tonga is simply wonderful.
it is a quiet home with little excitement, a lot of peace and calm waters, where "time" is just a word.
the country itself is very poor and the villages very rough around the edges but still taken care of in their own means. rumors have it that the local wesleyean christian church has more money than the whole kingdom - and looking at the states the churches are in compared to houses and schools i am almost certain this is true.
the church definitely has a huge influence on everyday life. tongans are very religious and you can hear their beautiful singing at the church service almost every morning at the break of dawn. sunday everything is closed (something quite normal if you read this blog sitting in austria/germany and are older than 15 - something unimaginable if you read this blog sitting in australia or the us) and even on the hottest days, ladies are never seen in less than calf-long pants and elbow-sleeved t-shirts.
despite the little resources people make ends meet with growing their own crops and repairing cars to a state of an engine being ducktaped to 4 seats and 4 different sized wheels - but they go!  some foreign aid organizations from mostly NZ/AUS and the churches in the US are here to help out. china and japan support too, trading rights to catch a couple of fish in the tongan waters.
the old and strict system of hirachy with the king on top and then lots of nobles etc. makes progress slow, but maybe this is what keeps the local culture healthy and adapting.
children speak english at a very young age and are happy to try a couple of words whenever they see a "palangi"  - the tongan word for us non tongan-people, which at the moment still has a positive meaning here. and that might be the key to why we enjoyed tonga and it's people so much. 
and being greeted by locals in the streets who just know you for only a week like, as if you were an old friend, might add to that.
the chicken running around, like on all pacific islands are outnumbered here by the pigs roaming the streets and beaches,
heaps of dogs are around too, and like on most pacific islands, in desperate times... or really special ones, dog is on the menu as well.

lots of sailors got stuck here and started up businesses - some unfortunate sailboats rotting away in the harbor are proof of that and i can't blame them to make tonga their second home...i'm tempted too:)
all in all we had a great relaxing time in tonga. it was nice to stay at one place longer (and by far longer than we expected) as we for once had the feeling to really visit a place instead of just quickly stopping by.

after a rather uneventful (don't forget "uneventful" is generally good on a sailboat ;)) 3nighter we will arrive in Savu Savu/ Fiji this morning where we will hopefully find some internet to post this and a couple of photos.

and as usual i finish this post with the promise to myself that i will one day return to tonga - a place where the nights are calm, gentle breezes ripple the water's surface and the distant sound of a whale courting a mate is lulling you to sleep.

ps.: in fiji we are delighted to take temporary crew on board - Shannon and Pete are going to join us for the 2 weeks we plan to stay. unfortunately that will most likely be our last longer stop between here and australia as we run out of time and the cyclone season approaches ever so quickly....can't believe that we're on the water a bit over a year now!

pps.: it took us a bit longer to get fast internet - we arrived on the 29th of ausgust in savusavu.

riding the whale....or taking care of the towing rope for the yacht rescue

paje at almost low tide - photo shot by Michael of  S.V. Galactic

Charles - sitting, Mark - standing and the owner Todd in the back as paje is pulled off the reef

....and she swims!

one of the many school bands

how to transport coconuts

playing solitaire...?

the famous kava-root 

kava-root made into powder 

going for a swim after school

the king of tonga

...and i am in heaven! 

the spit pig at the tongan feast in lape


beach pigs

at the agricultural fair

mhmmm - moray eel!

everyday's market

boring market day

drying vanilla beans 

vanilla plantation


the massive mahi mahi mark caught on the way to fiji