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Paul and Tina In Tonga; 22 Sept 05--11 Oct 05

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Thu, 22 Sep 2005 11:17:28: Hi Everyone!!! Paul is timing me, so I just have a few minutes at the computer to say WE ARE HERE! Flight wasn't bad, weather is great. We are in Nuku'alofa, the capital of Tongatapu, the southernmost large island.

We are staying at Angela's Guesthouse where the Chinese owners speak no English. We all do a lot of pointing and grunting.

We just had this great breakfast with banana oatmeal and banana French toast, but their bananas aren't like ours--they are magically sweet and tropical, and you just KNOW that, hey Toto--we aren't in Kansas any more! The countryside is green with lots of palm trees and there are pumpkin patches, cow pastures, and a big lagoon.
The locals wear western clothes, but you also see the men in sarongs and many people have these straw waistbands that are part of the traditional garb. Our goals today are to change money (that one is easy) and to find an electricity converter since their voltage is 220 and will destroy our 110 rechargeable camera and MP3 batteries. This might be a bit more challenging. Stores are very different and carry strange assortments. You find food stores, but then other places have clothes mixed in with dishes and umbrellas.

The Tongans speak English as a second language, so for the most part, communication isn't a problem. The taxi driver who took us to Angela's--his name is Williams--gave us a lot of helpful information, but it took me awhile to get used to his accent. It was easy to figure out that "ace" means "yes," but sometimes I had to just guess. Churches are everywhere and everyone goes to church on Sunday. Kids go to church schools or government-run schools; both charge fees, but the government schools are cheaper.

Thu, 22 Sep 2005 18:29:06: Score! It turns out that the best coffee in town has two internet connections RIGHT HERE, so I get to play while Paul is drinking coffee!

OK, so here are the adventures of the day--we found our electric currency converter (they call it a transformer), and this, in itself was quite a feat. There are a bazillion little electric stores, which is surprising because "town" isn't that big, but what they sell is really hit and miss. This transformer thing weighs about a ton, but it is worth it because now we know we can take as many pictures as we want plus we have MP3 players all with charged batteries. I never thought I would care about the MP3 player, but it turned out to be a big bonus. In our little B&B, our room is immediately next door to where they are doing construction in their building, so there is regularly buzzing machinery. It was nice to be able to slip those headphones on and at least dull the sound. Then we had no electricity. Not a big deal since it was daytime, but we wanted to test the transformer before we left town (it works!). So then we went out walking, but when we came back, the water was turned off. But no big deal, we just asked and they turned it back on for us. Nothing is bad. Paul and I are just so blissed out about being here, we don't care about the construction or anything.

As I told you last time, we fly out to Vava'u tomorrow morning. Every time we tell people this, their eyes light up and they tell us how much we are going to love it. Paul and I walked to the shore today, and we could see atolls not far away with gorgeous turquoise water, but the shore here is all lava rocks, and the water is ordinary. I think on our last couple nights we might splurge on some pricey beachfront fales jsut a short boat ride from Nuku'alofa.
People are really friendly. I have had a hard time getting the real story on tipping, including all the advance "homework" I did. So after dinner tonight, I pressed the very sweet waitress to help me out. She insisted that a "thank you" with a smile was all that was required, but with a little insistence, she finally told me that the small change, a couple pa'anga (exchange rate is almost two to one, so that's just over one dollar) is a nice thing.

We passed some interesting sights while walking. One was an outdoor concert where women were dancing and one woman was banging empty plastic soda bottles as she danced. It was all I could do to keep from running up to join in the dancing, but it wasn't clear that it was an open party, so I held myself back. And then we walked by this open tent-like thing where people were sitting on the ground. One woman was handing out papers, and I thought maybe it was a prayer meeting or something because religion is really important here, and there are churches everywhere. But then I watched the man at the front turning a metal cylinder, and I realized it was a bingo game, or at least something along those lines.

P.S. A word to the wise: if you are going on vacation and you think to yourself--gee, I am so pale, maybe I will try that spray tan thing--maybe you should do a test one first. I went to my local tanning place the day we left LA, and it seemed like a really good idea. I mean, I am so pale I probably glow in the moonlight. So this process is called "Mystic Tan" and you stand naked in a booth with a hair net and goggles. It sprays you for 14 seconds on the front side (much better if you remember to keep your mouth shut during this process!) and then it gives you 10 seconds to turn around and get in position for the second side and another 14 seconds of spray. You get off and towel down. I probably should have done a better job on that. I have some stripes on my legs, but that isn't the worst of it! The goggles sort of press into your eyes making a little shelf where the spray must concentrate because I now have bags under my eyes that weren't there the day before!!! No pictures without sunglasses! How long do you think it will take to wear off???

Fri, 23 Sep 2005 07:50:26: If you hear that I (Paul) have been med-evaced, it is not because I have been injured swimming with the whales (which we hope to do on our sail boat trip), but because they saw me dahven (spelling?) and thought I was having an epileptic fit. Happy New Year!
Well, swimming with the whales is one of the most miraculous things you can do in Tonga, and we hope to do so in the coming days, but I hit my own zenith (thus far) last night. Paul and I were walking around and we saw a particularly pretty church steeple in the distance and walked through quiet streets so we could see it up close. As we got close, I saw a pig running around and and wanted to see if I could pet it. Of course, the pig had other ideas and took off, but suddenly two adorable little girls came up, about ages 8 and 11, and they wanted their picture taken. And we took pictures, and as we talked, more girls came up (they have eight girls in the family!), and we took more pictures, and more girls kept materializing and some cousins, and soon we had a gathering of kids ranging in age from about 3 to 16.


Everyone wanted to see what was going on, and they all wanted to talk to us and have their pictures taken. But it was the first girl who approached us that really made the connection. Her name is Tele (pronounced Teh-lay), and she is 11. She was still wearing her school uniform, and you could tell that she just wanted to reach out, and in fact, she did it literally. She put her hand on my arm and asked my name, but when I told her, she continued to hold onto my arm. Afterwards I could barely walk as we continued down the road; it was just such a magical moment. It's the people that you meet that always make a trip so special, but Tele really stands out!

Sat, 24 Sep 2005 10:11:28: Okay, for all who want to know the perfect insect (mosquito) repellent, Tina has found it, and will offer it to anyone who goes to the tropics. It is me (Paul). I have about 10 bites (welts) and Tina has none. We are going to start squeezing sweat out of me and bottle it. Inert ingredient--deet; active ingredient 100% Paul sweat. You can almost see the mosquitos look back and forth between me and Tina and then say--"this is a no brainer"--and then dive bomb me. I will patent my sweat as soon as we get home!!
Well, we are still on California time, so about 6 p.m. we are too tired to go out, we ate dinner ages ago, and are close to comatose. It's probably a good thing because that first night, there was such a cacophany of dog barks and rooster crows all night that we wouldn't have otherwise been able to sleep. Now we are in Vava'u and the dogs don't bark all night, and the roosters are comparatively calm. Our room is just up the hillside, however, from Tonga Bob's Cantina where the music plays late into the night. Fortunately the band is so bad that all the songs sound the same, and the music just becomes sorta white noise that blends in with the sound of the rain. It's been raining a lot since we got here, but that's actually a nice thing because it is really refreshing.

Again in Vava'u we see the incongruous blend of western and Tongan, so you might see young men in white button down shirts and ties, but with the sarong-like skirt that they wear. Most of the schoolboys wear them too, though some wear shorts. All the school girls wear uniform jumpers. For the first day we are primarily in the tourist section, which means about a half mile stretch of road with a couple hostels, hotels, stores, internet bars, etc.

Tomorrow we set sail for five days (you won't be hearing from me then) and will visit small islands and beautiful deserted white sand beaches with crystal blue waters. Hopefully we will have a chance to swim with whales.

Hot water showers have been available both places we have stayed, and that has been a welcome treat. I was told not to expect hot water anywhere, so I relished my warm shower before we left Tongatapu, but was delighted to find we have it here in Vava'u as well. The day is calling us, so we are off for the day's adventures.

Sat, 24 Sep 2005 13:21:25 : Since our clocks are still off, we had lunch at the Dancing Rooster about 11:00 today. The Swiss chef made great fish curry, and we were the only people there. We sat under a thatched roof overlooking a beautiful harbor with a greengreen island a short distance across the bay. It was breezy and tropical and worlds away from gas prices, the war in Iraq, and it was so quiet that Paul and I found ourselves speaking in reverent whispers--you know--like you do in the library. We just didn't want to break the silence.

The girl who served our lunch was totally confused when we asked to take the rest of the meal back to our hotel. Guess it isn't done here, but we have a fridge, and food tomorrow will be scarce. Blue laws here are so strict that all you can do on Sunday is hang out with friends and go to church. No water sports, no stores open, no restaurants open. Our first Sunday here (that's tomorrow for us as we are 20 hours ahead) we are skirting the issue a bit by boarding the Atmosphere and taking off for five days of sailing to little island atolls, some inhabited, some not. We will also be seeing whales as they are here in abundance, and at some point, we will be able to slip into the water and swim with them. Everyone who has done it says it is phenomenal. The pictures look unreal as you see these tiny humans alongside these giant humpback whales.

I know I have sent a barrage of mail, especially to those you you whose addresses I just got today, but I will be silent for a few days now as we won't be near an internet b ar again until we get back on Thursday. Love to all!

Sat, 1 Oct 2005 12:55:07 After I last wrote, Paul and I boarded the Atmosphere for five days of sailing.

It was phenomenal. There are tiny little atolls that pop up out of the sea, and the water changes colors according to the depth and the sun. It can range from emerald green to light blue, to more turquoise blue, to this deep water intense sapphire/cobalt blue. And the islands are green and covered with dense brush and topped with palm trees, and the palm trees are really helpful because they tell you the wind conditions out at sea when you are in a sheltered cove.

We were supposed to be aboard the Melinda and sailing with Christy from northern California, but at the last minute things were switched and they sent us on Atmosphere with skipper Ongo and cook/second mate Anofo.

What a lucky switch for us! They know the islands intimately and tell great stories about local lore, past sailing adventures and more. We set sail on September 24th, and Anofo is due to deliver her baby on October 5th! I was getting ready to deliver at sea! She was unbelievable, though--calm and good-natured and totally at ease, sometimes steering the boat with her toe! She moved around the boat with grace and ease, bent and rose easily. I've never seen a pregnant woman so relaxed. Two days later we heard on the radio that the engine in the Melinda had blown up, and they were stranded!!!!

Weather has been consistently cloudy with occasional patchy sun, and sometimes light rain, but that all worked out perfectly because the air is warm and the water (with my wetsuit--yes, I'm a wuss) was perfect. We often snorkeled right after breakfast, then hoisted the sails, took off for new spots, but the sailing itself was the best part.

Except for the snorkeling. Except for the swimming with whales. YES! We did it!

It is amazing. The mother whale and her calf were contentedly in one spot, not swimming off, so when Ongo instructed us NOW, we slid into the water and there they were! I mean THERE THEY WERE! The baby whale swims closer to you than the mother, but she is right there too, and she is huge. The baby swims all around and then swims right between the mother's --what do you call whale arms??? The sight, though, was as tender as any mother and child vision you can imagine with the baby whale nested underneath the mom's protective cover.

Sat, 1 Oct 2005 13:24:17 No, sailing was the best part. I just can't decide! Snorkeling was great, not just for its own sake, but because of my personal achievement here. Not all of you may know, but I never knew how to swim before this!!!! I practiced in the pool at Paul's parents' house in the weeks before we left, but it's way easier here with the flotation benefit of my wetsuit and the salty sea water. So for the first time in my life, I am snorkeling without my life vest, and truly I am FROLICKING in the water. I am just jumping off the back of the boat. I am fearless, I am invincible, I can snorkel and swim with whales!

On the last day of our unbelievable trip with Ongo and Anofo, we sailed with perfect wind, and I sat at the tippy-tippiest point on the bow getting all the spray and feeling every gust of wind with the angle of the boat. At first, when the boat would lean farfar into the wind, it sorta scared me as the ocean level rose toward me and I could reach out and touch it. Within a very short time, I was leaning into it to get as close as I could; only feeling frustration that I couldn't get closer!!!!

Ongo and Anofo pulled into a deserted harbor that last day, and we were taken ashore in the dinghy and met by Tulia, whose English was very limited. English may be the second language here, but it's about the same as Spanish in Los Angeles, and lots of people really speak just a few words. We then went to Lucky's beach resort which boasts two little beachfront accommodations in an area of little houses, tiny church schools, lots of trees, and some cleared-to-be-cultivated fields, which the farmer told me was for watermelons, and lots of kids, dogs, pigs (they still wouldn't let me catch them).

At night it rained and stormed (is there a hurricane out there?!?!), but the next day the sky cleared and we looked out our window toward the little atoll across the channel. We were told that we could walk to that little island (Mala) at low tide, and Tulia told us that was 11:00 in the morning, so we set forth at about 10:30, but quickly realized the story was a bit of an exaggeration, so I donned my wetsuit, and off we went to Mala! They had these huge (ugly!) starfish that look like old ripped tire rubber all scattered across the sand, but great coral and fish.

I won't bore you with descriptions, because I know that if you didn't see them, it isn't so much fun to hear about them. Well--indulge me for a moment--colors like you've never seen and wild patterns that should be copied for ties or bathing suits. While sailing, we saved all organic garbage to feed to the fish, and they eat EVERYTHING, so it was a morning delight to give them the scraps and watch them converge! Paul and I bought some snacks, initially intended for us, but they were tasteless and stale, so I am saving them for the next opportunity to feed to the fish.

There's tons more news, and you KNOW I could go on forever, but we are expecting the boat from Mounu Island to take us off to the next adventure!!!! Lots of love, Tina P.S. Yes, Jon, we are in Tonga!

Sat, 1 Oct 2005 14:51:24 Well, we are supposed to be on a boat headed for the next paradise, and we even have sunshine today, so it could be even better snorkeling, but we are on Tonga time. That means it will happen when it happens. Fortunately, we are "stuck" at a most comfortable internet cafe with outdoor patio and playmates for Paul, good snacks and great coffee. Tonga has good coffee, but on the sailboat and also at Lucky's, they just make instant, so this coffee is a treat.

Paul and I have just started to get our land legs back. It's so funny--when you get on the sailboat, there is no transition time--you are instantly stable, but when you get back to land--wow--you feel wobbly for days! Adn the storms over the last two nights with the constant lapping of the waves just increased the sense of still rocking. Hey!!! We're getting on the boat (famous last words!)...

Tue, 4 Oct 2005 12:45:37 Hi Everyone!!!! For the last three days we have been at Mounu Island. It was kind of a last minute decision because this is the high-end stuff--I mean, we were living the life of the rich and not-so-famous. This is an island that is only 6 acres and only has four fales. It's really hard to write to you right now because Paul just found out that he can immediately download his photos and he is sitting next to me exclaiming--OH WOW, OH WOW, YOU GOTTA SEE THIS, OH WOW. And I can't get him to stop!!! I will try to send some if we can get all the techie stuff worked out before we get whisked away to the next spot.

You look out the windows, which are these wooden shutter things that you prop open with sticks, and you look out on the most amazing ocean with color striations that never cease to thrill.

The wind blows right off the ocean, and you hear the waves all night. We went swimming right outside our doorstep the first afternoon, and we went boating/whale watching the next day. We were on a motor boat, which I thought I wouldn't like, especially after that glorious sailboat, but it was really fun to go zipping around through the many little islands. Then we came up to the whales. There are laws about how many permitted in the water with the whales, plus there are rules of etiquette, and there was another boat already there, so we waited our turn, but wow was it worth it. When we went swimming with the whales the first time, it was unbelievable, but this time was even more so. First of all, the weather was sunny, so the water was even clearer, but more important--the whales were just hanging out with baby swimming all around and mom just calmly--well--hanging out. Wait until you see our photos. Some of the above-water pics are ust as amazing because you can see both how close and how tiny the snorkelers appear with the nearby whales.

But I don't want to focus on whales alone, because there are so many other delights to enchant a traveler, and everywhere you look is more eye candy! The second day on our island we took kayaks and rowed out to the nearest island (almost 1/2 mile away we guess).

When we pulled our kayaks up on the beach, we startled the only inhabitant--a land crab that scuttled sideways up the sandy beach to the hidden saftey of trees. These islands are like nothing I have ever seen. Some are just rocky eruptions coming out of the water with no sand, but with trees clinging to the sides, then palm trees more toward the center. Some have sandy stretches--and this island to which we rowed had all of these great features. I went swimming for a bit, then we got back in the kayaks and rowed home. We got disoriented and couldn't tell which island was home! It's so wild the way these islands just jump out of the ocean, and they all look alike from a distance! We might be sending photos.....

Tue, 4 Oct 2005 13:08:37 We were here the other day, and the power went down, so I am sort of superstitious now and want to send mail in pieces. So this morning we came back to ground zero (this is Lisa's internet cafe) and we have just a bit of time before we head for the airport to fly to Ha'apai. This is a much less visited island. We haven't really been meeting the locals to the degree that I had initially intended, but that amazing water keeps calling, and that keeps us in range of the tourism business. Strangely there aren't many Tongans running accommodations and other tourist necessities. And although Tonga only sees 30,000 visitors annually, it is a really small place, and you even run into the same tourists in different places.

So remember that I mentioned those panadus--those straw things that they wear around their waists. Some of the older women don't just have small straw decorative belt-like things, but they have entire tatami mats that run from waist to ground wrapped around themselves and tied with a cord around the waist PLUS clothing underneath that you can see peeking out at ankle level. Clearly a slim profile and keeping cool in humid weather are not the priorities!

Speaking of the humidity--this is so strange--you can launder your clothes or get them laundered--but you can't get them dried!!! The one thing I really want is to get the dampness out of our stuff, and that just isn't possible--even at the upscale Mounu Island Resort. Everywhere we go, I have wet swim stuff and laundry strewn all over the place, but it's never really dry. Then we stuff it all in the suitcases and head off to the next adventure--no big deal!

Tue, 4 Oct 2005 13:43:52 Well, the pix just aren't happening. We'll have to send them from home. Paul is sitting on the patio overlooking the Port of Refuge. I hear him telling people how he felt the first time we moored the sailboat. He turned to Ongo, and he said, "Can I jump in? Can I jump in? Can I? Can I?" He was just like a little kid jumping up and down with excitement. Normally he swims laps in a pool, so you can just imagine his elation at looking at a gorgeous turquoise cove all his to swim in with no laps, no designated lanes.

Everywhere we go, even in this area where tourists are common, the little kids wave and say hello. Today we walked around a a bit before settling in at the internet cafe, and these two little kids in their parents' car stuck their heads out the window and waved and yelled HELLO at us. Then they said BYE and they yelled THANK YOU, which I think was the extent of their English vocabulary. I tried to ask their names, but they were very young and got shy and quiet when I got close to the car. When I walked away, though, they yelled out THANK YOU again and kept saying it as long as I kept waving. I am really looking forward to more opportunities to meet the kids. The ones near Lucky's were just the same. They stood on their front porches and waved or came running up to us to chat. Although English is taught in school, it isn't so easy to communicate. Fortunately Paul knows how to communicate with kids in any language or no language; he does silly hand tricks and can always make kids laugh.

We'll be in Ha'apai probably for the remainder of our time here, so I may not have another chance to write. Not sure what the facilities are. Love to all and a good new year to those observing, Tina

Tue, 4 Oct 2005 13:45:38 We are headed now to the Sandy Beach Resort on Ha'apai, and it is run by a Swedish couple. The man's name is Juergen, and their e-mail address is sandybch@kalianet.to

Tue, 4 Oct 2005 19:26:26 Did I tell you that I was having fun before? Well, swimming with the whales was way cool, but those of you who know me well know that I really go for the people connections, and I have found my nirvana here on Ha'apai. Let me first tell you that I am sitting at this ancient computer, and the mouse only goes up and down, not sideways, and then e-mail shoots out while I am still typing PLUS I don't have my glasses and can't see a thing, so you' understand--anything can happen here.

We arrived at the Sandy Beach Resort yesterday, and I won't spend a lot of time talking creature comforts, but let me say it is a pleasure to have DRY towels that don't smell moldy. The place is run by Jurgen and his son Boris. Sadly, Jurgen's wife died last year, but these guys are really nice and it's great to stay with them. At dinner our first night we met the other visitors--a couple from New Zealand, a couple from Argentina, a honeymooning couple from Canada and others. Our table definitely had the fun conversations going--from all the standard intros to Bush-bashing and more.

This morning after breakfast we took some great bikes--a standard beach cruiser for me and an ancient Dutch bike that Jurgen drove to and from work for many years for Paul (Jurgen and Boris are tall; Boris has a good 3-4 inches on Paul) and we toodled down the main road. Little tiny houses with kids all running out to say hi and the pigs and dogs running around freely. If I had to pick an animal to be in a future life, I would be a pig in Tonga. They are well-fed and run totally free. Strangely we have eaten a lot of fish, some chicken, some beef, but no pork while here, yet that is what I see most. In Tongatapu--I think I told you this--they served curried dog at a Chinese-run restaurant. Needless to say, we didn't try it; Paul doesn't like curry all that much....

OK, to get back to the present.. and this is hard because I keep remembering old stuff I didn't tell you. IN fact, I lie awake at night and think to myself--darn!!! why didn't I write THAT story. Anyway, so we rode the bikes down the road and passed these huge spider webs with giant spiders and fields of banana plants and church schools and houses. Intermittently we could see the beautiful shore line. WE have had consistently sunny days since the days of the gale force winds back at Lucky's. As I said, the kids come running out, ubt sometimes not just the little kids. We were joyously greeted by laughing and delightful teenage girls who wanted their pictut\re taken. I of course jumped into the photo and they grabbed and hugged so we were all together in the photo and then we collapsed into fits of giggles. The great joy of digital is that we can instantly show them what it looks like.

So we took a few photos and a movie, and then they asked us to come into their home. By the way, they spoke almost no English. We went into their home, and woemn were sitting on the floor weaving mats. Doors are open and dogs ran about, and it seemed as though the pigs would be welcome too if they chose. They thought we could instantly download the photos and mini-movie onto their video machine. They had a TV, which was there only to play videos and got no reception. We tried to demonstrate the lack of our ability to download it, but then Paul made a mini movie of everyone saying her name, and then I went around the room showing it to the women on the floor. We had so much fun, and I left again feeling that over-the-moon kind of joy that makes me go weak in the knees.

We then continued biking and met with all the kids getting out of school. They converged on us and we took photos, and they almost knocked us down in their eagerness to see and be a part of it all. There were about 30 kids. And the adults too are so nice and wave from their porches and say hi. When they are able to speak some English they ask how the day is going and wish us a good visit.

After about 4 miles, I figured I better turn back or risk a really sore butt, so we turned around. At one of the schools, the teachers were milling after the kids had gone, and I asked what level they taught (primary), whether they taught English (they do), and whether I might be allowed to assist with the teaching. The response was an enthusiastic WHEN? And I said tomorrow, and they said English was taught at 9 in the morning, and I said, "I'll be here at 9!" Paul was afraid I would be too blissed out to bike the rest of the way home. Being a tourist i Vava'u and sailing and swimming with whales was fabulous, but this is the BEST!

And yes, Marci, the thing you saw on TV about civil unrest in the South Seas was about Tonga. The king is very old, but the crown prince isn't really very popular. It's kind of like the English monarchy--a lot of people want to see Charles step aside in favor of his son, but here the people don't like thee prince because he is not involved in the government and he isn't married and doesn't have children as a monarch should. He is already 57, so if he cared about his people, he would have done the right thing and married, maybe a Samoan princess (but not a commoner). On the other hand, the princess is married with many children and she is very involved in affairs of state, makes herself very visible, plus Tonga has a history of a queen running the government very well, so a lot of people want the crown prince to abdicate in her favor.

I left Paul at the only cafe in town with a couple who sailded her from Vancouver. We have made a plan to party with themon their boat in a few days, and we can just tell by their stories and attitude that they have a great sense of humor (in other words, they laugh at Paul's jokes). I probably will only have one more opportunity to make it back to the internet cafe while here, but you know that Paul and I are having the time of our lives! Today he got to do his triathlon sports--runing, biking, seimming--all in one day, and he is a happy camper. WE love you all!!!!!

Thu, 6 Oct 2005 20:23:35 OK, so Paul and I bicycled back to the school the next morning. I had been so jazzed at the plan that I had been awake since 3:30 in the morning. When we arrived, we were met by the principal Mealane and she was so great--she literally took me by the hand to welcome me and then guide me to the class where I would be participating. This was Class 6, the highest level. She guided me to So-wa-nee (obviously the phonetic spelling), the teacher of the class. I was expecting him to sort of suggest some guidelines, but he didn't. He just escorted me to the front of the class and walked away! The kids were mine, all mine, and they were wonderful.

We introduced ourselves and they told me their ages which ranged from 10-12. Then I recruited Paul's help, showed them right and left, asked them to stand up and get in a circle. When it was clear what I wanted, they raced into position, girls on one side of the room and boys on the other. And then I taught them the hokey pokey!!!! This was so much fun, and we wiggled and twirled and giggled, but it was also orderly, and the kids were great.

I had brought a bag filled with ordinary household items, and I had the kids come up one at a time, close their eyes, reach in and then try to identify an object. Part of me was eyeing the teacher expecting him at any moment to say OK, on to the next thing, that's enough English class, but he never did! Then I had the kids come up and write words on the blackboard, and I gave each a new pencil. I was surprised at the cooperative spirit and lack of embarrassment when the kids misspelled a word; it was easy to help those who needed it without fear that they would be laughed at.

Then I think the most fun was when they asked for a story. It's amazing how braindead/empty-headed you can be when you are on the spot, so Cinderella was the first (and only) story that popped into my head. I told the whole story leaving out only the wicked stepsisters. Then at the end, we did Q & A, and I was amazed at how much they heard and understood. I think their speaking skills are limited, but their ability to write/understand is much greater. They heard all the tiny details (many of which I improvised) such as making the prince 20 years old. The fairy used a stick to make magic and turned dogs into horses and watermelon into a cart. I wanted to be sure to use concepts they knew. When I had exhausted that story, I was really floundering. I mean--I had prepared a repertoire to cover about 20 minutes, but I ended up teaching almost an hour and a half! So I asked the kids what story they liked. One kid said Snow White (or at least that is what I heard), so I said OK. But do you know the story? You know--you think you do, but when you try to tell it--wow. There were big holes in my version, and in the end, the Wicked Queen went to jail.

Since then Paul and I have come to town; town has one cafe, a couple shops, the single internet place with 2 computers (but at least today I got the one with the mouse that moves in all directions AND I brought my glasses!). There is also a place called the Tongan Visitors Bureau. We have already been here for days, but we decided today to check it out. If you don't have a specific question, the lovely lady at the desk doesn't have any suggestions, but there is a rack of promotional travel flyers which looked promising. I picked up the one called "Tongan Dancing" and Paul got one about Tongan handicrafts. We questioned the nice lady, and she told us that these things are pretty much not available here in Ha'apai and we would have to go back to Nuku'alofa (the city in the southern island group where we first landed) to see the dancing or to buy handicrafts. So they have this great visitors' office with info about the other islands, but not about the place where we are!!!

We have trekked through quiet side roads, bicycled, and this morning, we got up early to go snorkeling. The coral is very near the surface, sometimes even within touching distance, so you have to float quietly for the fish to come out, but they do, and it is glorious.

Other hotel guests are really fun at this place, and last night we shared a table with a newly-married couple (they have been together 9 years) from Canada, recently relocated to NY.

We talked about all sorts of things, including Bush and the war in Iraq. Paul, the well-informed moderate, though strongly against the war feels that we can't pull out now. Tina, the I-don't-care-about-the-consequences anti-war earthmother type wants to cut our losses and scram. Eric, the Canadian guy, said that my position is pretty much the Canadian sense of it all--against it from the beginning, wrong then, wrong now, get out.

The guys running the place are German--father and son--sadly mom died last year. Both are great but the son Boris (he's even taller than Paul!) is really fun, already understands that Paul loves to joke and tease, and doesn't lose a beat in responding. This morning we handed over a sack of clothes for laundry. Paul asked when it would be done (I wasn't there) and it was kind of one of those Tongan time things--it'll be done when it's done. But I went back to Boris, and I said, "But you don't understand! The laundry I gave you is just about all the clothes we have except what we are wearing!" And he looked down at me, and he said, "Well that was pretty stupid, wasn't it?" That won me!!! I already liked him, but I am now Boris's biggest fan. A moment later he kindly offered to lend me some of his mom's clothes if I really needed something.

For so long I had been so smug about Paul always being the one to get bitten by mosquitoes, but I am getting a few bites now too, and I got a patchy funky sunburn on my legs where the suntan lotion obviously washed off the day that we kayaked. As a result, I really must look like a crazy palangi (that's us white guys) because I am wearing below-the-knee shorts with tall white socks with black sandals--really stylin', huh? None of this matters. The sky is blue, the water is gorgeous, we can see the volcano on the horizon from our fale, and everything is a delight. This morning Paul was sitting on our front veranda with his mp3 player while I was inside doing, well whatever it is I am always doing, you know, like moving items from one side of the room to another or showering, or something. Anyway, Paul says, "That was a weird bark I just heard." And I said THAT WAS ME. I was just standing next to the bed when all of a sudden I heard this big THWAP outta nowhere, so yes, I yelped! A gecko must have fallen off the ceiling or something because there he was on the bed, just a little guy. I put my hand out and he crawled up my arm, then panicked and jumped off, again making a thwap noise, this time not so loud since he landed on the floor poor little thing, but he went scurrying away before I could show him to Paul.

Paul and I aim for two activites a day, but we are already over the minimum quota today. After snorkeling, we went back to the school to take more photos (got all the classes), which we have promised to send.

We went bicycling, which I love. You smell the plumeria (among other things), wave at people, say hi. We came into town, and we still hope to kayak before dinner.

Yesterday was actually the first time I touched the water at our place though we had already been here a couple days. It was after our walk, and I was hot, so I decided it would be a good time to test the water. Paul sat onshore. He never minds the heat. So I stepped into the water, and I eased in sloooowwwly. It was great because it was one of the few times that I got to get in at my pace with no one waiting for me. Unbeknownst to me, Paul and other residents were having a good ole time watching me and laughing at my antics--in two inches, back one inch. I think they were taking bets about whether I would get wet. Clearly I wasn't going snorkeling--still had a bow in my hair, but what was I going to do? Ultimately I sat in the shallow part, then eased into complete wetness.

What was really neat was that when the waves retreated, they pulled the tiny shells and pieces of coral, and it made this little tinkling sound almost like wind chimes. I really was lost in my own world and had no idea that I had a full audience.

As you might have guessed, Paul is now long gone. He went to purchase beer, not for us, but for a Canadian couple we met (did I tell you about them?) who will dock at our place tomorrow for a little party. Oh--here's something possibly important to some of you--specifically Dad (and Kathleen) and Al--we are living dangerously in terms of time. Apparently Tonga is pretty famous for changing flight times (you've already heard about this), but also for canceling them altogether. Now our flight home is Tuesday night (Monday night for you there in LA), but our flight to Nuku'alofa, which is where the international airport is, is also scheduled for Tuesday. We are really living on the edge. We don't want to spend time in Nuku'alofa and go there the day ahead (assuming there even is a Monday flight, which there might not be, and you KNOW there is no flight on Sunday!), so if we don't make the local flight on Tuesday, we can't catch the night flight home!!!! So far, EVERYTHING we have done has been just PERFECT, from getting bumped from the original sailboat (whose engine then blew up in the days that we would have been on her!) and arranging local flights, etc. It has all worked out, so no reason to think Tuesday will be otherwise. Gee, another week here....hmmmm...

Tue, 11 Oct 2005 18:28:13 Tongans don't have the same sense of personal space that I am used to--well--at least not among the women, and I dealt most with women. I got up early on Saturday morning and went with Jurgen to the weekly market. I was half-hoping for trinkets, souvenirs and stuff, but I should have known better. It was a small market that just goes from 6-8 a.m. selling fruit, veggies, some wrinkly clothes, and these god-awful fake flowers that adorn the graves, but nothing more. Though small, it was crowded, and I quickly bumped into a woman, turned immediately, as is our custom, to acknowledge/apologize, and it was clear that she was not even aware of it. Then I started paying attention, and it was clear to me that there is no "invasion" as the women jostle each other.

Later that morning Jurgen took us, along with the German mom, dad, and 15-year old daughter on a kayak trip to the nearest island, which is uninhabited.

He knows a great deal about Tongan culture now, as well as its history, and he told us fascinating stories. We pulled ashore and walked up to the pigeon tower, which was erected hundreds of years ago to shoot pigeons. The island was also used as a place for negotiations. Because it was uninhabited, no one had the advantage there, so it was ideal for that. He also told us that wars were fought with clubs. Outsiders thought this was very primitive, but Jurgen explained that it was not that they didn't have projectile weapons like bows and arrows, used for hunting birds, or spears, which were used for boar hunting, but there had to be a face-to-face combat for a man to maintain his honor/dignity/manhood in overcoming his enemy. And they didn't kill each other. The goal was to stun your enemy, bind him, drag him home and make him your slave. But you never treated him too badly because tomorrow the tides could turn and YOU would be his slave instead! Then this young local chieftain came with guns, and he overpowered the opposition, totally wiped them out, but the irony is that he didn't win. When his subjects realized that he had won dishonorably, they ran to the other side and swore loyalty to the enemy instead!

Kayaking was great, and after the history lesson, all but Jurgen stayed to enjoy the beautiful beach and warm clear water. At one point, I became fixated on a group of land crabs cavorting in an orgy of exertion and energy that was incomprehensible to me, but fascinating nonetheless. They each sported a unique shell, they gathered in a circle, they wiggled, waddled away (they are neither fast nor graceful), came back--made no sense to me, but for a city kid, this is cool stuff.

Jurgen also told me a lot of interesting stories on the way to/from the market. He told me personal stories about his life (born in Germany in 1939, lived in the country during the war, married young, marital problems early on, recent death of his wife), but he also told me a lot of interesting things about Tongan life. It is a matriarchal society, the lineage follows the mother's side, and women are often the first to speak in matters of importance. The church is very strong, but surprisingly, the Catholic church is one of the more--shall we say--liberal-minded churches. They don't preach fire and brimstone, and they have a social conscience, are involved in important issues like clean drinking water and a genuine concern for the poor.

We went to services on Sunday. Tongans are famous for their amazing church singing, and we were not disappointed. The service was in Tongan, but the priest gave a short explanation in English "for our guests" about midway through. It was a pretty nice message. The service was based on a piece in the bible about a feast, and he said that it was like receiving an invitation from the king to attend a banquet, and religion was like that too, but should not be relied on only in the bad times. Paul's interpretation made it even more palatable for this skeptic--kind of a remember-to-be-grateful-for-the-good-stuff approach.

Paul and I had met a Canadian couple who had sailed from Vancouver, and we made arrangements to have dinner with them. They were really fun. Since they have no refrigeration on their boat, cold beer is a luxury. We had a fridge in the room, stocked it with beer, ordered pizza, and had ourselves a party. Then we went in their dinghy out to their boat which was moored in front of Sandy Beach. We hooked up Paul's MP3 player to their system and had the Doors ringing out into the night. Don apparently was a big Doors fan and had stories of riding in a convertible yelling out with friends, while motioning accordingly--"LET'S SWIM TO THE MOOO-OON!" All of us had tried the local kava and were game to try again, but none of us knew EXACTLY how it was done, but we pooled our collective knowledge, and wound up with a really good kava drink! You have to strain it through a thin towel or something--but what do you do on a boat? Kim found an old sock of Don's, and it didn't look tootoo ratty, and YEAH, that would be great! So she brewed us some kava, and we sang with the Doors and everyone had a great time. Then in pitch blackness, Don motored us back to shore in his dinghy using a tiny GPS and by going very slowly across the reef, which is very close to the surface and could have snagged the motor of his dinghy. He said he learned this from a young kid who said that if you are drunk and not sure where you are going---do it slowly!

So speaking of the coral near the surface--the snorkeling at Sandy Beach is great. The coral is so close to the surface that you can reach out and touch it! The fish dart in and out, the coral looks like a bizarre lunar landscape, and the color combinations are other-worldly as well.

I know I spent a lot of time in the last e-mail talking about teaching the class. Sorry if it was like ENOUGHALREADYTINA, but I was so excited about it. And what made it really fun is that it gave me local fame in Faleola village. Paul and I would be bicycling down the road, and I'd her kids yell, "Hi Tina!" Everywhere I went, the class 6 kids all knew me, and it was heartwarming to be greeted like that! On Tuesday morning (which was Monday here because they are 20 hours ahead), Paul and I went back to the school to bid farewell to the kids and sweet Meleane the principal. Again she hugged me and told me how great it was to have me come to the school. And I think I was the one who was so lucky to have that opportunity! We went for a last snorkel, then packed up all our gear (the wetsuits already stink and will have to be seriously washed), bid Boris good-bye (yes, he had a few parting insults to cheer me!), then off we went to the airport with Jurgen for a few last stories about Tonga. The memories of this great trip will stay with us forever. And for you--no more lengthy letters! But we will send pix. Love, Tina