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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tonga Kapa Creep Out


These local Tongan poisonous water snakes don’t worry me
as they are not known for biting humans.  This snake seemed to pose
for us by our dinghy our first day in Neiafu, Tonga.  It was
about 3’ long with about a 4” wide body.
We anchored off Port Maurelle, Kapa Island Tonga along with another 15 or so boats.  The sun was not shining, but I was still itching to get off the boat and explore, and Wayne was more interested in getting some boat work done with me out of the way.

Generally, I’m pretty comfortable taking off on my own kayaking and hiking.  Knowing I don’t possess any health care coverage encourages me to minimize my risks when it comes to staying within safe bounds. 

With no particular plan in mind, I beached my kayak and tied it off.  Then I pulled my t-shirt and sarong out of my dry bag, and put them on, making sure my sarong covered my knees, out of respect to the local conservative dress customs. I set off down a muddy road, figuring roads are easy to follow and lead somewhere.


This cemetery on a bluff marked my turnaround point
for my solo walk on Tonga’s Kapa island.
Despite passing a couple residences and plantations, it was a while before I saw anyone.  If they looked, I smiled and waved hello.  As I entered a village, several folks asked, “Where are you going?” with a bit less friendliness than I generally encounter.   With a shrug of my shoulders and a smile, I answered, “No place in particular; just walking, following the road.” 

Eventually I saw a bay on the opposite side of the island from our anchorage with a dock, so wandered over to get a better view.  Noticing a nearby knoll with a cemetery, I ambled up for the view; seemed like a good time to turn around and return back to the boat. 

Leaving the village, again, I was stopped and asked where I was going.  It felt a little weird.  Tongans are renowned for their friendliness, and most of my interactions with locals have been good.  I felt that even though I was walking down a road, perhaps it was considered intrusive.

Finally, as I neared the anchorage, a fellow who appeared to be in his mid twenties stepped onto the road, a machete in his hand.  Machetes are commonly used in the Polynesians, as much of their food comes from subsistence farming, whacking down papayas, cracking open coconuts, etc.  As with everyone else I came across, I said hello.


This dock was just below the cemetery on a bluff
on Tonga’s Kapa island.
Again I was asked, “Where are you going?”  Back to my sailboat, I replied.  There was a little other small-talk, and then, “Where is your husband?” Back on our sailboat, I replied. 

“I like your skin,” he said.  I laughed, saying, “Different is always interesting.  I find Polynesian skin beautiful,” picking up my walking pace more.

Then it got a little weirder.

“Can I touch it?” he asked. 

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the Tongan culture, touching, even hand-holding with members of the opposite sex in public is strongly discouraged. and At this stage, I was studiously avoiding eye contact, walking quickly.

“No. That would make me uncomfortable,” I replied emphatically, walking faster, still.


Fatima, a Nieafu-based hairdresser who obliged me with an
“after” photo of her haircutting prowess. While she hails
from American Samoa, she’s typical of the Tongans
we meet, genuinely warm, friendly and quick with a smile.
He repeated the question, adding a “pretty lady” and I repeated my refusal.  Shortly thereafter, I saw the anchorage beach, and practically dashed out to it, making sure I was in clear view of all the anchored boats.

He did not follow me.

Perhaps he meant no harm.  But given what I know about Tongan cultural norms, I can’t deny he creeped me out.

From now on, on Tongan out-islands less accustomed to Palangis (foreigners) walking about, I will not walk alone.  My stranger-danger radar’s served me will in my solo travels, but I prefer not to test it unnecessarily, and told Wayne as much, explaining that kind of creepiness was not something I encountered in French Polynesia.

“He’s just one creep,” Wayne said, as he sometimes believes I over-react on prospective gender-related concerns.  “You could have experienced that anywhere.”


Still, for the next month or so, I am more likely to err on the side of caution when considering solo walks in less traveled areas. I will continue to strive to behave in the same respectfully friendly fashion as most of the Tongans I meet, while not ignoring my usual stranger-danger radar, should it trigger again.

Neiafu Tonga anchorage; where we post our wifi from.

Location Location
This post written in Port Maurelle, Kingdom of TONGA (S18.42.024 W174.01.801), and posted on Nieafu, Tonga (oops -- don't have my lat/long with me here ashore at Tropicana cafe today -- will current lat/long update later).

Communication Access
There was no wifi in Port Maurelle, so posts were written awaiting arrival for sporadic wifi access in Neiafu, of the Vava’u islands of Tonga.

Tonga wifi access is slow, so most posts will be set up to post when we’re in Tonga’s more populated areas.  Once we get to New Zealand in November, we expect much better wifi and will catch up on some recent cruising experiences and, eventually, some short video clips.

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.