Malo Lelei, Tonga
Greeted by a cyclone and blown away by the sailing, charterers revel amid the islands, reefs, and people they encounter in this South Pacific kingdom.
Next came the native dancers, organized by Kuina Fatai, whose relatives play in the string band that accompanies them. Throughout the evening, the musicians drank kava as they harmonized and strummed away. The school year in Tonga had just begun, and Kuina said the young dancers would use the tips they earned that evening for books and supplies. A former professional dancer himself, Kuina said his troupe is part of a movement that’s trying to preserve traditional ways as youngsters become increasingly exposed to life elsewhere.
The feast itself was, well, a feast. Covering the table were banana leaves; under them lay seafood, chicken, and pork, all cooked that afternoon on hot rocks in a fire pit, or emu. The preparations began when the fire was lit at 11 a.m.; dinner was served as the sun set eight hours later. After, as we all returned to our various boats, the dancers, cooks, and musicians took up where we’d left off. I doubt that any food on that overloaded table was wasted.
Sunday was our last day on Folau. We were off early in search of more reefs but found that most of those along our route were inaccessible in the northeast wind. All morning we’d been visited by orange versions of what we’d call yellow jackets. It was near noon when Peggy, resting her hand on the cabin top, was stung on her ring finger. Within minutes her finger swelled considerably, and she lost feeling in it. It was then that we considered that, especially on the day of rest, medical care in Tonga might be difficult to procure. When Benadryl proved ineffective, the ever-creative acting ship’s surgeon, Dave, used a set of nail clippers and a Leatherman to cut off his wife’s gold wedding ring and another that she wore. The patient and doctor recovered with cold Makas.
With the clock ticking, we sailed north, partly retracing our steps, to explore a recommended snorkeling site off Luamoko island. We cruised by Mariner’s Cave, where a good swimmer can dive down and pop up inside via the underwater entrance. On this afternoon, though, with the strong groundswell still running, it wasn’t to be. Instead, we returned to Kapa island and visited Swallows Cave, where we took shifts motoring inside in the dinghy. At the back of the cave, I swam to the rocks and followed the sloping path deeper into the cave’s interior, where feasts for the tribal kings were once lowered from an opening above.
That evening, we returned again to Port Mourelle, which we had all to ourselves. We toasted the Southern Cross a last time, and I, for one, said, “Malo, Tonga. Thank you for what you’ve shown us.”
Mark Pillsbury is CW’s editor.