Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Kingdom of Tonga—Part 2

Well, we had planned to leave Tonga on Monday, but it's Wednesday and we are still here.  The forecast is showing that we probably can't leave until Saturday due to winds and rain.  So while here, we are making the most of it and we are still enjoying ourselves in Tonga (in spite of the rain that is pouring down on AMARA as I type).
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Taking the dinghy into Swallow's Cave on our outdoor adventure.
Last Thursday, we took a trip out to Mariner's Cave where you swim out to the side of a rock and then dive down a few feet, cross underwater another few feet, and then end up in a cave on the other side.  I was a little apprehensive at first because I wasn't sure about the deep dive.  David assured me that he would go first and then I could dive down and see his fins on the other side.  Martin stayed outside with me for moral support.
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Diving down into Mariner's Cave
I ducked down under the water just to take a peek but somehow, at that moment, I got the courage to keep diving and took off down under the arch leading to the underwater cave.  I could hear Martin giving me instruction, so I just kept diving down.  Pretty soon I saw Dave's fins on the other side and knew I was almost there.  Once I popped up on the other side, inside the cave, I had to laugh because I knew Martin thought it would take me at least three tries to work up the courage to do the dive (which is usually correct).  A few seconds after me, Martin popped up and we started laughing because I had taken off like a rocket, instead of making up excuses as to why I didn't want to dive so deep.  It was a proud moment for my husband as I am getting bolder and bolder and putting my fears aside.  Sailing can do that to you if you aren't paying attention.
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Martin and David making their way through the cave.
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We really are so lucky to have David and Sue because it's like having our own personal tour guides as we head into each new location.  David and Sue spent 6 weeks in Tonga last year, so they are experts on all the local diving locales as well as little surprises like Mariner's Cave.  In fact, they took us to a beautiful coral garden that was a little tricky to get out to, but Sue had reminded me before I left that I was to, keep swimming because once I got to the garden, "It will be worth the swim."

What we had to do, was swim out to a reef and then swim directly into the waves.   The waves kept crashing down wanting to push us back to where we were trying to get into the water.  So, we started counting waves and timing the intervals between each wave.  Once I saw a window, I put my head down, put my snorkel in place and just started swimming as fast as I could.  I could hear Martin and David yelling, "Go! Go! Go!"  So I kept swimming hoping that I was swimming deep enough that I wouldn't catch a wave that would carry me back to where I had started.   After what seemed like a long hard swim, I got to the other side and Sue's words came back to me… It was worth it.  Beautiful coral with all different shades and colors.  I just swam and swam looking at the beauty of it all.
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Pretty soon, Martin and David joined me while Sue stayed on the beach and watched Lily for us.

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While out in what seemed like the middle of the ocean, Martin and I came upon a local Tongan diver who was fishing that area for octopi and eels.  Of course, Martin was in heaven watching the diver swim down to what looked like a rock to me and launch his two spears in between the rocks, reach into the hole and pull out an octopus.

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Being a fisherman in Tonga is one of the most common occupations here.  Each week, the fisherman gather at the market and sell their catches to other locals.  By the time we had met up with the diver out on the reef, he had already caught eight octopi and one eel.
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The octopi & eels tied up on the line, while Noa continues to fish.
Pretty soon, Martin got in on the action and the fisherman/diver was all too nice to let Martin give it a go.
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We were so mesmerized from watching the fisherman that Sue said she watched a mother whale and her calf swim right past us.  We were so busy with the fisherman, that we never even saw them!  I was more than disappointed when I found this out, but still we had such a fun time "helping" the fisherman.
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Here is where the story gets interesting.  In between coming up for breaths and in the course of our conversations with the fisherman (Talanoa-"Noa"), we figured out that he was a member of our church (Mormon).  He was a leader in his local congregation on the island of Mata Maka.  He told us that the following Sunday would be stake conference (where all the congregations from the outer Tongan Islands gather together once every six months), and we were welcome to join him and his family.  In fact, he gave us his phone number and said for us to call him to arrange a ride to the chapel.  Which we did.
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We really loved the kindness of the Feaomoata family.  They went out of their way to make sure we were welcomed at the conference.  In fact, Noa's son, Seniti (who had served a mission in Australia) met us at the local bank with a car and picked us up and took us to the chapel.  There Noa was there waiting with ear phones for us to wear that would transmit the translator that he had set up for us to enjoy the meeting.  Once at the conference, imagine listening to hundreds of people sing hymns in unison with voices in perfect harmony.  It was such a sweet experience for our family.  I have to admit, I get a little teary-eyed every time I think of the kindness of the Feaomoata family.  How lucky were we?
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That same Friday that we met "Noa," we went to the island where he lived (Mata Maka) and visited the local school there.  The island is small and we had heard that the school welcomed outside visitors and any school material that we might have to offer to the children.   Martin and I had purchased a small arsenal of school supplies in St. Maarten, knowing that we wanted to visit schools along the way.  

With our school supplies in hand, we went to the school where we were greeted by the school principal/teacher and the children of Mata Maku.
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There, the children sang to us in english and even sang, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to Lily.  Then each child stood up and said in their best english, their name, what their parents did for a living and what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Then each of us shared a little bit about where we were from as well as asked them questions about their life in Tonga.  Likewise, they asked us questions about America and Australia.  

It was a special experience, and Lily especially enjoyed the interaction with all the children.
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Saturday night, we went to a local feast on the local island of Laipai.  The only problem is that it was pouring rain, so getting to the feast made us dress in our finest slickers to avoid getting too wet.
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There we were greeted by the town (pop. 26) and were treated to a feast of local cuisine which always starts off with a roasted suckling pig.
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Lily was more than tuckered by the long day and it was "lights out" for her regardless of there being a feast.
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Lastly, while here, Sue and David have a good friend here in Tonga who does "crew shirts" for the "yachties" and they sent in our information before arriving to have her make up some T-shirts for us.  We love our new shirts.  Lily especially loves hers.  On the front is a little logo that I had made up for us and on the back is a picture of AMARA.
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The crew in their crew shirts holding up the ceiling... literally.
We love Tonga, and have loved our stay while here.  Here's hoping that the weather lightens up and we can start heading to Fiji by the weekend.  I'm a little excited to get to Fiji because there is consistent wi-fi, shops and restaurants in abundance.  Let's hope we can leave on Saturday!