Stranded in “Paradise”

The first thing Erwin did when we were moored at Neiafu, Tonga was to try and repair the leak on the engine. Unfortunately, the problem was worse than he thought. The mixing elbow of the engine didn’t just have a small hole but it already corroded due to the effect of salt water. We inquired at a boatyard and workshop if it could still be repaired but they all said the damage was too big and so it could not be welded anymore. That meant we needed to order a new mixing elbow. The first few days we were busy trying to find a dealer that had the spare part and with the help of Guido IJzermans we finally ordered the spare part from a dealer in New Zealand. It would take a week for them to receive the parts from Singapore and another two weeks before we receive it in Neiafu so we needed to wait at least three weeks. Three weeks would have been fine if we could sail to the other islands of Tonga but since we couldn’t use our engine, we couldn’t visit the other islands and so we were stranded here in Neiafu.

In the Caribbean and especially the Pacific islands you realize how you take many things for granted. Simple things like high speed internet, online banking, diversity of vegetables or the ease of walking to a hardware store and finding everything you need. It costs much more time and energy to have things done and it is important that you be patient and flexible.

The town of Neiafu was not a bad place to be for a longer period of time. It is a small laid back town with about 7,000 people and there are several supermarkets, bars and restaurants. Because there are many boats anchored here, it is a very cruiser friendly place. Most of the establishments are owned by foreigners and like many other countries, most of the supermarkets are owned by Chinese. The Tongans are a very warm and friendly people and they make you feel very welcome. They must love eating because majority of the people especially the women are overweight.

We noticed that there were a lot of churches in town (at least 20) of different Christian religions. We have never seen such a diversity of Christian churches in such a small place. We however have not seen a Buddhist or Muslim temple. Sunday is a day of rest so no one is allowed to work and they are very strict about this. The owner of the dive school told us he was repairing something in front of his shop on Sunday and when the police drove by and saw this they told him he had to stop working otherwise they would fine him. When people go to church they wear their best Sunday clothes and most of them even wear the traditional clothing. We went to the Catholic Church for mass and there was a choir that sang beautifully and when you walk around town on a Sunday you hear a lot of singing from other churches.

The King was in town for a conference for a few days and so everyone was busy with the preparations of his visit. They put up new road signs, painted the fences, built a wall around the park, etc. When I asked when the King was coming the people didn’t really know the exact date and time. They told me to just come to town on Monday. When we went there on Monday afternoon they told us that we just missed him because he already passed by and he was now in his palace. When we inquired about other local events they told us that there was a Polynesian dance show featuring the best dance group of Vavau. Since we didn’t have anything to do anyway we decided to go there. There were only locals present so we were the only foreigners there and the Princess (the king’s niece) was there as the guest of honor. The show was quite amateurish and it seemed more like a school show where students put up a dance show but it was interesting to see.

The next day almost everyone was gathered in town for the closing ceremony of the conference. The king was not present but another member of the royal family, the Princess (his aunt) was there as the guest of honor. We were also welcome to sit in and watch. There was a marching band and a Polynesian dance show similar to the one we saw the night before. At the same time, other locals were preparing long tables with food for the feast after the ceremony. We were also welcome to join the feast but we decided to skip this one.

Since we had time to kill we went to the highlights of the island like hiked up the mountain for a beautiful view and walked to the caves. The cave was not that great, it was actually just a hole on the side of the mountain with a pool of water. What’s funny to see is that there are so many pigs in town that roam around freely in the front yards and on the streets.

It’s funny how fast you get used to the weather. Since we left the Canary Islands in Spain the temperature during the day and night was about 28-30 degrees. But since it is now winter in the Southern Hemisphere the temperature at night drops to 23 degrees. In Holland, this would be a great summer’s day but since we are now so used to the warm temperature we actually find it cold and I for one have to wear a sweater and jacket at night.

After two weeks in Neiafu we finally got the spare part we needed for the engine. We were really glad because it arrived earlier than we expected. Unfortunately, we cheered too soon because when Erwin replaced the mixing elbow with the new one he used the old bolts but he didn’t see that the old bolts were already corroded. So, when he screwed in the old bolt it damaged the new spare part. It seemed like God was playing with us and testing our patience because we were having a streak of bad luck. Although it wasn’t easy to find, we finally found someone who was able to repair the spare part and so finally after two and a half weeks of being stranded in Neiafu, we were ready to go.

Our next destination was Fiji but since Tongan waters is famous for the whales that gather in the months of July and August we decided to anchor in a bay the next day to see if we could spot any whales before we proceeded to Fiji.