Friday, May 15, 2009

Voyaging the South Pacific Seas

We never really know what our week will be like here, for example in the middle of this week we had a little oceanic adventure visiting some outer islands! It was our first longer trip on the ocean here, we went with a few Peace Corps staff that were going for a site visit to the outer islands here to see Monica, Eric and Melanie. It turned out to be three staff members, us and Alicia, and four kids/neice of some of the staff including two babies on the boat. The boat was the Catholic church's boat, it was a pretty good size. (yes most churches have their own boats here, the Morman church has the fastest boat). The trip started out fine, then between the Lifuka and Ha'afeva island groups, when there was mostly just open ocean, the waves got huge and we rolled over them in big up and down motions like a teeter-totter. I would've been fine if I hadn't gotten up during the trip so I was sick, and another lady was sick almost the whole time. And to make it worse, after I started feeling sick I couldn't get up or move around and happened to be sitting in the hot sun so I got pretty sunburned as well.

(photos - on the boat ride in to Tungua)

We thought we'd be going to both Tungua and Ha'afeva, but Eric and Melanie were on Monica's island, Tungua, for church drama practice so we were able to visit them all in one stop. The trip from our island to Tungua took four hours, I think I heard it's only about 20 or 30 miles, but the local boats are so slow. The scenery was a lot different around Tungua and Ha'afeva, from shore we could see about 10 other islands, some big, some tiny little clumps of coconut trees. And they were higher up, rockier than our flat little island. It was really pretty with the aqua water and reefs, and little islands dotting the sea. Kao and Tofua volcanoes are a lot closer to this island group, so they looked huge on the horizon compared to how we see them on Lifuka. When we got closer to Tungua you could see how shallow the water all around was, and this island doesn't have a wharf. So the captain called out to one of the small fishing boats close to shore to come pick us up, we all jumped between boats, then pulled up to land. Monica's house was really nice, it was an old army medical station, so it's pretty big and was kept up nice. She doesn't have any running water or electricity. Her house is probably the second closest to the ocean after ours, she has a grass lawn between the house and ocean with a bunch of horses roaming around on it. And there weren't really any roads, it's a tiny island, they just use footpaths between houses and buildings through the grassy fields. It was really nice to see Monica, Eric and Melanie, and was too bad that we had such a long boat ride and could only stay for a couple of hours. We had to leave by 3:00 to get back before it was pitch dark - the boats here don't have lights and nothing is lit up coming through the reefs or into the wharf. So travel really depends on the weather, tide and time of day.

(photos - inside Monica's house, and looking from the beach at Monica's house)

I fell asleep on the way back, woke up an hour into the trip and realized we were moving pretty slow. They said there was something wrong with the engine, so we had to turn back to Ha'afeva. Luckily we were really close to Ha'afeva when this happened, if it had been between island groups we could've ended up drifting! So they pulled the boat in close to the wharf, then we sat there for over an hour and a half bobbing in the waves, waiting for the tide to come in so the water would be deep enough for our boat to pull up to the little wharf. I'm sure it was quite a spectacle seeing three palangis (us and Alicia), and the others getting stranded there. Eric and Melanie's school principle recognized us from a training he'd come to, and brought us all to the catholic house on the island to wait for Eric and Melanie to get back. The younger girl that was one of the staff's neice suggested we do a prayer, and she sang a really pretty song. Then one of the Peace Corps staff did a prayer, and got pretty emotional. It was probably scary for them breaking down at sea with the little kids on board. It's not often, but once in awhile people end up drifting at sea - engine problems or more often they forget to bring enough petrol for the trip. I can't imagine going out to the open sea and not remembering to bring enough gas, but I guess it happens.
(photo - Ha'afeva island, Eric and Melanie's white house on the left)
It turned out good though, we got to see Ha'afeva and Eric and Melanie's house and spend more time with them- us and Alicia spent the night at their house. Their house is really cute, they say it's like a dollhouse and it is, with the pink trim and it's set up really nice. And they have a cute little puppy they named America, almost all of us here have puppies now! We sat and talked, and had pancakes for dinner. The next morning the staff had told us to meet at the wharf at 5:00am. We were pretty doubtful the boat would be fixed and everyone would be ready to leave that early, but we set an alarm and a couple people went and checked a little after 5:00am. And of course, it was pitch dark, the boat was still anchored far out, and no one was there. So they went to check with the staff, and they were all still sleeping! Tongans don't have the same concept of time as we do, they just tell you a time to meet but it probably won't be true, things happen when they happen here and I think it's foreign to them that we always want to know times - when things will begin or end etc. So the staff said they'd check with the boat captain, we heard we wouldn't leave until 8:00 am so went back to sleep. Then one of the kids came to the house at 7:00 am saying we need to leave now. We knew it would probably still be awhile, so went to see Eric and Melanie's school and classroom, and walked around town a little. Their village is set up really nice- everyone has fenced in, well-kept yards and there are two main streets. We got down to the wharf, and the others still weren't there but this time the boat was, we ended up leaving around 8:00. The three hour ride back was incredibly rocky, but this time I didn't get up or move around at all so I was fine.
It was an eventful, but really fun trip to get to see our friends out there and the islands and villages they live in! I was happy to get back to our place here, and to be on land again. Luckily we got back in time so I was able to prepare and teach my community computer class again, this time to two students - the church conference is taking priority over everything else for most people. At this time next week my parents and sister will be here for a week, then we're all off to New Zealand for two weeks!

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