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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Not-So-Funny Money: Tonga Pa’anga (TOP)


Not realizing we’d arrived just before a currency change,
we didn’t get the significance of the Pa’anga poster
we saw in the banks.
We carry credit cards, but they are often not accepted for the majority goods and services where we travel, which are for the most part second-world countries.

Thus, before we depart for a new country, Wayne makes a habit of acquiring some currency for the next country from a local bank.  That way if there’s no ATMs available or working – often the case -- and we need cash for check-in, or food or who-knows-what, we’re prepared.

We were glad we allowed plenty of time for the exchange before we left American Samoa to acquire some Tongan dollars, called TOP or pa’anga.  It took 45 minutes and quite a few of the bank personnel’s involvement before we finally got our US dollars exchanged for TOP. 

The last portion of the delay occurred because when Wayne looked at the cash, fortunately while the teller was still with us, he noticed some of it said Fiji!  With much additional ado, the Fijian portion was exchanged for TOP.  We left with a little less TOP (about $170 USD – most of which we’d pay for our Tonga check-in) than we wanted because the bank didn’t have much TOP, even though Tonga was a neighboring country.

This is the Tonga $50 that went obsolete as of October, 2015.; as well the $1
bills were replaced by a coin.  All other currency remained the same.
When we went to the tiny bank in sparsely populated Niuatoputapu, Tonga, our first Tonga stop, Wayne decided to get some additional cash.  The bank there had no computers.  Their cash simply sat on desktops.  All transactions were recorded on paper and locals tracked their transactions in hand-written passbooks.

Shortly after arriving in Neiafu, I decided to get my hair cut, making sure I had the 50 TOP cash (a little less than $25 USD at current exchange rates) on me we’d acquired just a few days prior in Niuatoputapu, Tonga.

“Oh!  You do know these 50 TOP bills will be no good at the end of this month, right?” asked Fatima, the hairdresser. 

I did not!  I thanked her and assured her I’d get them exchanged at the bank, though she laughed, suggesting, “Well, you can always just spend them!”  The next day the topic was also brought up on the cruiser’s net, though there was some confusion on which bills were the new ones, and which were not.  “Green is good; brown is bad” was my simplistic explanation to other unsure cruisers, who of course re-checked with the bank officials before taking my word for it, though the were amused about our relying on the bill’s color, rather than  “The ones being discontinued are of the old King, the new ones are the new King….”


The tellers in Nieafu were surprised when they heard we got the about-to-be-discontinued bills so recently from Niuatoputapu and astonished at our description of the Niuatoputapu bank (cash on the desks, no computers.  Then again, we were glad there were 2 banks with ATMs in town in Nieafu as one of them was out of order for days….

The $1 bills are also now replaced with $1 coins.  A local tradition for dancers is to oil up, fo fans to "paste" cash tips on them.  "It'll be interesting seeing if the $1 coins stick to 'em," mused a cruiser.

Location Location
This post was written and pre-posted in Nieafu Tonga ( S18.39.649 W173.58.956).  When it posts, we hope to be exploring Tonga Vava'au's outer islands.

Cruising Progress by the Numbers
As of our start, December 7th 2014, from Jacksonville FL NAS, USA until our current (September 26, 2015) travels around the Neiafu, Tonga are -- ~9 months, we’ve spent about a third of our time --120 days -- sailing and covered 8,724 nautical miles.  The prior 2 years combined, we sailed 3762 miles.  By the time we arrive in New Zealand in November, less than a year from when we set out, we expect we’ll sail over 10,000 miles this year.  That’s a lot of miles for a boat with a hull speed of 7 knots; we usually sail far slower than that.