We are now in Tonga, after a 38 hour, 200 mile crossing to Niautoputapu, an island in the northern-most group of Tongan islands. This is a small place - the village by the wharf having 300 souls, and a pleasant change from busy Atuona. It is Saturday and the officials who are to check us in have not yet arrived. When we arrived at 8:30 am, we were told we would see them in an hour or two and later that they would appear at noon or 1 o'clock. The last news, imparted by a passing fisherman, is that they may come this evening. If not, we will depart the rough concrete pier and anchor amongst the three yachts already in the harbour.
Our last few days in Samoa were divided between a three day car trip to Savaii - the largest of Samoa's islands - and preparing the boat for our next passage. We hired a car with our friends on 'Flow' - Camilla and Johanne while the Norwegian family on 'Hero' rented a second car. We just made the ferry - an hour's hectic drive from the marina in Apia, but 'Hero' was not so lucky and had to wait 4 hours for the next one. We assured them that we would meet for supper at our fales (the sleeping platforms we had reserved for that night).
The ferry was an ancient vessel, with an alarming amount of rust and a steel ramp patched so many times that it resembled a crazy quilt. We later learned that boats that have earned their retirement in New Zealand are sent out to Samoa to begin a second life.
We spent two days driving around Savaii passing through dozens of Samoan villages, many with traditional thatched fales and some with modern bungalows, probably built by Samoans who had lived in New Zealand. A fale is a simple open platform, often oval in shape, and sometimes with thatched shutters to enclose the sides. Each village had larger communal fales as well as up to four churches of different denominations. We took to counting churches and had a pool on the total number we would see on our circuit. We counted 136 churches, but I am sure that many more lie off the main route and on cross roads. The effort and cost of building and maintaining so many structures - some the size of cathedrals - attests to the religious zeal of the Samoans. Many villages also sported a Western Union branch. We later learned that tens of thousands of Samoans live and work in New Zealand - sending home money via Western Union.
Another indication of the importance of religion in Samoa is the nightly prayer curfew. We were surprised to see men wearing formal lava lavas ranged alongside the main road for several miles. We stopped to ask one of these why this was and he explained that they were enforcing the prayer curfew - when villagers must remain in their village and pray for a period of approximately 30 minutes. This seems to happen around dusk.
On the first day we visited a coastal lava field replete with blow holes. The ocean swell surges into these holes in the lava and in one case produces a violent jet of water that reaches about 50 meters. After paying our 5 tale (about $2) each at an entrance fale we drove down a dirt road to a parking spot where we were approached by a Samoan with a basket of coconuts. We declined his offer to watch him throw the nuts into the blow hole (10 tales), but enjoyed watching from a distance as other tourists did this. When he timed his toss right, the nuts were ejected from the hole as if fired from a cannon.
At our beach fales that night we did indeed meet up with our friends from 'Hero' who had only just made it onto the 2pm ferry. The carnivores among us shared a traditional Samoan meal of taro, raw fish in lime and coconut milk, and fried fish, all washed down with delicious 'Valaima' Samoan beer. We slept well that night on our thatched wooden platforms with the surf playing in the background. This was my first night off Ladybug since November 2011!
The next day we snorkeled over a forest of stag horn corals, drifting parallel to the beach on a strong ebbing tide. We then packed the cars and continued our circuit of Savaii. Our main destination was a hike to the crater of an extinct volcano. The drive to this hike made good use of our high clearance vehicle. We reached a fale high on the mountainside and after paying the 'crater man' his 20 tale fee (each - ouch!) we hiked for a couple of hours up a well maintained grassy road/trail. The crater was a bit of a let-down as it is more of a valley - filled with trees and plants. The walk, however, was absolutely lovely in the late golden sunlight, despite a couple of brief downpours.
That night we stayed at another beach fale 'resort', this one larger and less personal than the first. On the final day we drove to the ferry, which was delayed due to engine troubles. We picnic'd on the shore near the ferry terminal, staving off the repeated attentions of two little boys intent on selling us several cans of orange pop. When the ferry eventually arrived, it proved to be a much larger, but almost as rusty as our first ferry, smelling of stale sick. There had been a large swell running through the strait between the islands and many of the passengers looked unwell. We made it home with no further problems, however, adding another 50+ churches to our count between the terminal and marina.
It was great fun to share this adventure with our friends on Flow and Hero! Pictures to follow.