November first was a day to celebrate with Earl (owner of Big Mama's) and his son as they celebrated Earl's 60th Birthday and the son's 12th. Big Mama's invited all of the 'yachties' to a traditional Tongan dinner in their honour and about 150 people showed up. It was a wonderful evening of fun and fellowship, excellent food, fantastic music (8 person band) and lively dance. The Tongan's at this party were not the reserved Tongan's we've read about and met!
The Tongan people are very spiritual and traditional in nature. Just before we left Nieafu we witnessed a funeral procession. The procession was lead by a 50 piece marching band, followed by a pick up type truck which was covered with a long woven mat that extended back from the truck about 20 feet, women, I presume family members, carried the mat high above their heads and they marched through town and they were followed by several cars. The funeral lasted six hours and we witnessed the same procession returning through town. It is customary for the mourning family to wear black, and everyone wears a Ta'ovala (waist mat) as a sign of respect to "God, King, and Country".
All school children wear uniforms and many of the uniforms, especially for the older kids, also include a Ta'ovala. The kids are very friendly and just like the kids at home, love to go to the store for a treat when school lets out.
As usual, weather is the hot topic amongst the cruisers and sometimes an impromptu weather pow wow will take place, like this one at the Friends Café - Jay, David - O'vive, Bernd - Upps, and Isaac - Tulavie, which happened just following our delicious lunch.
The fish market at Nuku Alofa was a sight to see! There is no ice, no enclosed cases, in fact, there is no building, just a roof in a parking lot, under which are several concrete tables. Each of the fishing families arrives at dawn to display their catch and they stay until dusk in hopes of selling their fish. At the market, you can buy fresh octopus, a bag of assorted reef fish, a pop bottle filled with assorted fish guts, a palm sack filled with sea weed and either whole sea urchins or already
shelled sea urchins as well as giant clams.
One of the last tasks prior to departing Tonga was to fill our tanks with Diesel fuel. This was not as easy as in Canada, that's for sure, as we first had to obtain a duty free certificate from the port captain then go right to the fuel company to order the fuel which was transported in 200 litre steel drums. The gas company delivered the drums to the dock, along with a hand pump, and we hand pumped 1000 litres of diesel between us and O'vive, the kids thought this was quite an interesting experience.
Jenny pumping fuel!
We departed Nuku Alofa on Sunday morning with Minerva Reef as our intended destination. Minerva Reef is a submerged reef 250 miles South of Tonga, a perfect place for a rest. We anchored at Minerva for one night in order to rest and to fix a wiggle in our mast and to load our dinghy on deck. While at anchor, we were contacted by New Zealand Air Force Orion which was flying by doing a routine check, Upps took this picture of Malachi & O'vive with the airforce plane in the background - it was very cool.
Just five boats at Minerva Reef.
New Zealand Airforce Orion bids us all farewell!
Minerva Reef looking East out to sea, the closed land in this direction is South America!
Sunset at Minerva Reef
Malachi and O'vive anchored inside Minerva Reef. At high tide the only above water evidence of the reef is the rocks you see in the foreground.
During our passage between Tonga and Minerva Reef, we encountered so nasty weather that seemed to cling to us rather than pass by. For several hours, we were surrounded by heavy rain, wind and lightening and it was so dark we could not even see the bow! We hove to in order to wait it out. Jay and I were in the cockpit with all of the canvas zipped up and we still had to wear rain gear! After several hours we were finally free and able to comfortably continue to the reef. It took us two nights to get to Minerva and we stayed there for approximately 22 hours to rest and load the dinghy as well as a couple of other chores. The trip between Minerva Reef and Opua, New Zealand took five nights and we arrived at the customs dock at 11am Monday morning. Check in was a breeze and the people are very friendly and lighthearted, what a lovely welcome.