Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vava'u Land Adventures

After a good night's sleep, I was ready to hop on one of the complimentary bikes from my hotel and just explore the island. I was actually expecting a lot more beaches to be honest. Turns out, the Vava'u group is primarily coral, and the islands are kind of raised from the surface of the water, then just drop off abruptly at the ocean. and then the water plummets quickly to depths of a couple hundred feet. Another thing that makes this such a popular destination for sailors is the fact that even with water over a hundred feet deep, you can still sometimes see the bottom of the ocean. It's that clear. Don't quote me, but I'm pretty sure I read that there are spots here that you can see the bottom when the water is 120 feet deep. Part of me thinks I also saw something that said 180 feet, but I don't want to oversell it...

True to form, I quickly found my way to the highest point on the island to see what I was working with here. After some uphill biking on a bike made for flat land, and a lot of very uneven stairs, I arrived at this lookout to be greeted with a few of southern Vava'u. At least I think it's South...

You can seen how there is a lot of curling around of the islands and the water. This makes for ideal living conditions for whales. These warm, deep, protected waters are home sweet home to several whale species, particularly the humpback whale.

King of the Mountain.  but don't tell the actual King. I don't want to cause any trouble.

the trail at the top of the mountain went winding through the woods, so I thought I would follow it for a while. I stuck with it all the way through this steep crevice, only to find that there was nothing on the bottom end, and it didn't look promising as far as views or excitement, so I scrambled back up (not as easy as it looks in the picture) and headed back down the path.

The mountain is called Mt. Talau, and there is a legend written on this sign that explains the shape of the mountain (it has a flat top). Apparently some mischievous Samoan spirits could see everything in all of the South Pacific except for what was behind this mountain since it was too tall. so they came over at night, sliced off the top of it, and started to carry it away. they can only operate at night, so they were trying to hurry, but as morning approached, the locals caught on to their plan, and started crowing like roosters to trick them into stopping and leaving the mountain alone. That didn't work, so the locals called upon some clever spirit, and she instructed all the Tongans to basically 'moon' the rival spirits, and all the moonlight shining off their behinds was soooooo bright, that the spirits thought the sun was rising, so they dropped the top of the mountain as they were carrying it away, and that then became another of the smaller islands in the bay there.  Sounds reasonable.

Back on my trusty bike after that inspiring folk tale, I just started riding down any road I could find. There aren't really that many.

Every once in a while, I was treated to one of these glimpses of the ocean, but like I said, very few places you can actually get down to the water easily.

Lots of palm/coconut trees. Coconut is a major crop here.

It's kind of fun to just see fields of palm trees.

This was the fixed-gear beach cruiser bike I was pedaling around on all day. Doesn't really handle well on hills, but we made it through.

This is the market building. I spent a lot of time here just chatting with the locals. They are lovely people, and are happy to just visit and share their culture. There was very little pushing to buy things. They are really polite and friendly.
I spent probably and hour talking to one lady in there. She was awesome. She drew me a diagram of the most common traditional Tongan patterns and what they stand for. Then we discussed the Royal Family in depth. It's quite fascinating.  I mentioned before that they speak Tongan and English. Well.... They also learn a special dialect of Tongan that is to be used only to speak to the Royal Family!  And another to speak to their chiefs!  So they essentially learn 4 languages. I asked if anyone thought it was a little much to learn an entire language just in case you ever had an encounter with the King, and they felt like it was totally reasonable. They said people often get nervous and use regular Tongan, and it's not a big deal. But they try to use the special dialect out of respect, but if they say something wrong or in regular Tongan (or English) the royal family is ok with it. They are reportedly quite kind.  
This same market lady also helped me hatch a plan to meet the King. I asked what my chances were of getting to meet the King when I got back to the main island, and she said "just call the palace and request an audience. If he's available, he'll meet with you."  I was then instructed to ask anyone who worked at my hotel when I got to the main island if I could borrow their traditional woven waist wrap as a special touch (they would undoubtedly let me borrow it) and wear it when I met the King. He'd like that.  So it seemed very doable. If He was unavailable for some reason, Plan B was to ask where he was going to church on Sunday (and the Palace would just tell me), and just go to that church and 'be in his way' when he was leaving, and just start talking to him!!!
I asked what I should say, and she told me to just say i am a visitor and I think he has a very beautiful country and have wanted to visit for a long time. and then just make small talk. Seemed pretty easy!
So after our very long chat, and a lot of exchange on our lives and our countries, I did buy a few trinkets from her, and she gave me necklace 'for my sister'. Isn't that sweet?  That's Tongan hospitality for ya!
More market time.

Funny building behind the market.

Neiafu Coast.

Neiafu Town.

Let's go take a closer look at that church, shall we?

I love tropical island churches. They have so much character!

This one has so much character that it has chickens running around on its porch:

And pigs in its parking lot!

Check out this wooden statue! Pretty cool! 

Ok. Now this is another thing I asked my market friend about: 
A Sovereign Residence??? As in Royal Palace?  Yep!  Only less palatial and more normal nice house. Apparently my market lady lives right across the street from this place, so she played with the Princess sometimes when they were kids because when the Royal family was visiting Vava'u, they would stay in this house, and they would come get local kids to play with her so she would have someone to play with. So the security isn't too extreme. They just go down the street and ask if people's kids can come play. I doubt anyone refuses. And also, that gate is just open, so they aren't too worried about securing the perimeter.

My friend kept mentioning the princess, so I think maybe this is primarily the princess's place. The picture above is 'Gate One'. Apparently there are two gates. Here's the second one: 
I was told that one gate is for Royalty, and the other gate is for non-Royalty. Since that other gate was just open most of the time, I assume Gate One is the non-Royalty entrance.

I walked/rode by this place every time I went back and forth from my hotel to town, so I had a lot of time to stare through the fence to try to discover as much exciting information as possible. Here's what I know to be true: The Princess clearly loves a good Fiesta.  
In this stealth photo, you can see a Sombrero sitting on top of what looks like a party fridge.

Everything else is a mystery.

I swung back through town for another break. Riding around for hours on a bike can be exhausting. I just sat outside the grocery store on a bench with a bunch of local people and enjoyed some kind of grape soda I have never heard of before, and just watched all the pieced-together cars, men in traditional long skirts and waist wraps, and big island Mamas pass by. 

I thought I'd wrap up my day lying on the only beach I had seen, which happened to be really close to my hotel, so I headed back that direction, only to find the tide had come in enough, and was still rising that I wouldn't actually have a dry spot to sit in for long, so I just waded around and talked to some local people who were doing some 'fishing'. I only say 'fishing' because I don't know what else to call it when you pick up slimy worm-looking things out of the ocean, or dig up other gross-looking things out of the sand for supper. don't get me wrong: I would have eaten them if they had invited me. But they didn't, which was also very fine with me.  The guy in this picture tried to explain a lot of things to me about local village politics and foraging in these waters, and such, I didn't actually follow a lot of it. I did learn that a lot of the land is owned by the Royal Family or a Chief, and if you want to build a house, you petition your chief, and they will more than likely give you a slice of land to put a house on. I don't know if/how money is involved in that process.
My hotel is that building in the front/left. It is actually on a different island than the main town, but they are connected by the road you can kind of make out between the two people in the front of this picture. There was water directly on both sides of that road (I am standing on that road in the picture below)

They did have some small skinny starfish and some cool shells in the water. 

So after that, it was time for another trip back to town for some supper, then off to bed to rest up for my big day of snorkeling I had planned for the next day!

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