Sunday mornings weather forecast on the Net had us downloading a GRIB and reconsidering our plan to depart for Vanuatu the following morning. Westerlies, northerlies and yet more westerlies for the next few days as Tonga and Fiji find themselves stuck between a series of troughs with wet thundery weather passing above and below our latitude, reversing the trade wind’s usual flow as they move slowly eastward. It’s tough but if we have to be stuck somewhere we are glad it’s here in The Vava’u islands.
Not particularly upset about the delayed departure we joined Margarita’s crew for a wander to the village of Pangai. It was a delightful 30 or 40 minute walk on a surfaced road up and over the low hills with fields and hedges. We could almost be in the English countryside except that amongst the trees are mangos, bananas, coconuts and papayas and the hedges are full of mimosa and hibiscus. There were cows and a tethered horse grazing and as we neared the village, pigs and piglets wandering the street. The rubbish “bins” are raised up on shoulder high platforms to deter the pigs from spreading the contents; we saw one large female clear a three foot high piece of corrugated iron fencing! From the churches the sound of unaccompanied singing was so lovely we paused to listen awhile, the Tongan vowel sounds soaring and glorious. There are three churches in the tiny village, two had services in progress, the Catholic mass presumably had been much earlier in the day.
Having turned left at the only junction we passed the school and the village shop which apparently has bread when it is open. However nothing happens on Sunday’s in Tonga by royal decree; there are no shops, no flights, no ferries even the bakeries and restaurants are closed. Everywhere is delightfully quiet and peaceful, we only saw one car on the road during our entire walk. The locals were mostly dressed in their Sunday best, the ladies with intricately woven straw belts reminiscent of grass skirts tied over their dresses and bearing umbrellas to keep the sun off.
A grandmother was walking four youngsters home, one was carrying a small baby so we stopped to chat. Apparently she has two new grandchildren at home too as both her daughters gave birth in June; Nok promised to return with some of the clothes Brian has out grown. Looking at the homes we passed we realised the scruffy lean to most had across from the main house is the kitchen. The houses are all single story with louvred windows either side of the front door and roofs of corrugated iron. Most front doors are high off the ground with no steps, presumably another pig deterrent.
Each Tongan family has a plot of land for the home and another to grow vegetables, land granted to the families by the King so some plots had two or three houses clustered on them. Tongans mainly live off the land and from the sea, a few are employed by the government as teachers, police etc. Although modern culture with telephones, cars etc requires money rather than trading. Here in Vava’u there is plenty of fish and vegetables with pigs for feast days, all you need is a roof over your head and clothing, the climate is warm and sunny with sufficient rain to provide water. We often see a small group of local men early in the morning bringing in nets left out over night, they catch sufficient to feed their families. The shops in Neiafu are mostly run by Chinese and other businesses by expats from New Zealand, the USA and Britain. There is a market in Neiafu selling plenty of locally grown vegetables and you can buy fish at certain times of the day down at the commercial wharf.