In Tonga, we’re the very first country to welcome the New Year. The International Dateline curves around Tonga to include it in the first time zone, along with Fiji, New Zealand and some others. But Tonga is the closest to the dateline, so we're the first to celebrate, and the first to see the first sunrise of 2009. Possibly the very first people to see the sunrise of 2009, because Ha'apai is the farthest islands to the east and there aren't many people here who would get up to see the sunrise.
For New Years we went with a group to the island just south of us, Uoleva. It was us, Alicia, Sarah, Grant, and his brother that just got to Tonga visiting from the US. Uoleva’s close enough that you can walk between our island and it at low tide. So we looked it up online and at low tide, around 2:30 on New Year’s Eve we made the trek across on the reef, it’s about half an hour walk with rushing water and rip tides. It’s supposed to only be about waist deep, but at this time of the year they get higher tides called King Tides, so even at low-tide it’s a little higher than normal. There was a section that was about up to my chest, and I lost my grip on the reef and started to get pushed out just a little. Brett and Alicia got to me quick and we all made it across the reef and sections of water between sand bars. It was really pretty!
After the crossing between islands, we had about a 45 minute walk along a very pretty, natural sandy beach to where we camped at Diana’s place, a rustic little guest house area that also allows people to camp along the beach. It was really cheap, and gave us access to a gorgeous sandy swimming beach, a kersone lantern and chairs/table and campsite.
We swam after the long, hot walk, and had coconut rum. And by coconut rum I mean REAL coconut. We gathered a bunch of green coconuts and sliced the tops with a bush knife. Then to the natural coconut water/milk we added a little rum and drank right out of the coconuts. It’s a really heavy drink to hold onto, and next time we’ll bring straws. We were also swimming with them and trying to figure out an invention like a blown-up donut to get them to float next to us.
It was a great New Years hanging out with our Ha’apai group, talking around our kersone lantern with lots of stars above us and darkness. Around midnight there was lightning on the horizon, and we saw a couple fireworks displays far away on the horizon on different islands, which looked really cool seeing bursts of color in the otherwise blackness. Then we sat for awhile with the Tongan owner of the guesthouse resort on the beach, he had a bonfire going. He told us some Tongan legends (with Grant translating). One that I liked the best was about a devil shark who got a devil blowfish stuck inside him and was dying. He asked for help from a man from Mu’unga’ane island, and in return agreed that no sharks would ever attack people from that island. So to this day people from that island aren’t scared of sharks, they think they’re exempt from being attacked. People are very religious here, but also still superstitious.
On New Year's day we got up around 5:15 am to see the sunrise on the other side of the island at 6:20 am. We were quite possibly the very first people to see the new year 2009!! It was really pretty, worth getting up that early. Later in the day we swam more and hung out, then went on a bush walk with the Tongan guesthouse owner to see some ancient site where nobles used to play games catching and releasing pigeons from these big mounds.
We walked back to the crossing at low tide in the later afternoon, and this crossing was definately memorable. The first three people across the deeper area missed the shallow crossing by a few feet, and it was a lot deeper. They had to start swimming, and one of them got swept far out past the breakers by the rip tide and current. One tried to get to her but couldn't and got stuck herself, and another swam to the person stuck out farther at sea. The three of us left on the sandbar were getting worried about them all, and luckily two tongans were coming through the crossing on horses, so they helped us! They got the closer person back in, and the other two were too far out, struggling for awhile. Finally they also got back in and we were all safe! And our neighbor was going to pick us up, but we lost his number so had to start walking back to town down the bush road. But since we didn't call our neighbor and it was getting later he drove out looking for us so we got a ride back, it was really nice of him, I'm glad we have such nice neighbors that are looking out for us!
Also, the day we left we had another surprise - a new litter of puppies!!! So now there are a total of 12 puppies just outside our back door. They kept getting stuck under our foundation in the sand so we packed sand and rocks in so we don't have to keep rescuing them from under our house.
Below is a link to a satellite photo from google maps, our house is the one in the center, next to the four smaller houses with red roofs, ours has a silver roof, running parallel to the ocean, closest to the ocean. At the bottom of the image, the whiteness sticking out in the water is the main wharf.
New photos on the link to the left of new years!