I wanted to name this post “Not Naked in Tonga,” since the traffic on my Dancing Naked post proved that anything with “naked” in the title garners exponentially more attention. I refrained (barely). Instead, I chose the educational route. “Palangi” is the Tongan word for pale-skinned foreigners like Rob and me. But just so you know: “not naked” is an understatement in the very religious country of Tonga, where I had to scrounge up clothes that fully cover my knees and shoulders.
Ten days ago, we arrived in the city of Neiafu on the island of Vava’u in the Kingdom of Tonga. Yes, we live in a kingdom now. (In fact, we almost rented the Tongan Princesses’ country home for a week, but decided it was too far from the community center.) After two months as crew aboard Compass Rose(y), we waved a final farewell as she sailed west to Fiji. Rob and I are officially land lubbers again, at least for now.
Over the past six months, we sailed 6,000 miles on six different boats. We visited 16 spectacular islands in seven different countries. During our journey across one-quarter of the planet, we crossed 6 timezones, including the International Dateline (yes, we’re officially back to the future!). In short, we have a lot to process. It’s time to take a little break on land to let our beach-soaked brains catch up to our wave-weary bodies here in tomorrow-land.
I gotta admit: I don’t miss crewing on sailboats. It’s pretty awesome to have our very own space and our very own autonomy. We don’t have to ask permission to go ashore, or step up on the couch to let the other person pass by. We can wander the roads for hours, and take our time talking to locals or buying bread or finding a coffee shop. That doesn’t mean we’re done sailing forever, by any means. This is just a little vacation.
Our immersion into the Neiafu community is exactly what we need after constant movement. We want to stay put, ask questions, go slow, learn Tongan, get to know the people and the place. While cruising has plenty of perks, we haven’t been able to immerse ourselves in one place long enough to truly feel like we know it well. This is mostly due to the fact that we chose not to buy our own boat, which meant we had to stick to a faster-than-we-prefer travel schedule.
For instance: my friend, Kipper, asked recently if I could write more about the economy, history, or cultural traditions of the places we’ve visited. I’d love to! But that requires spending more than an hour or two on shore to talk to the people that live in these countries, and staying more than a few days at each island. That’s why we decided to become palangis — to immerse ourselves in the Kingdom of Tonga.
Only 5,000 people live on Vava’u, and it feels like we’ve already met half of them. Check out what the results of our immersion this past ten days:
1) We rented a small house for a week behind the biggest church in town, where we adopted a local dog and named him Nels.
2) Rob launched weekly open mic nights at a bar downtown, where we performed stunning covers of Johnny Cash and the Lumineers.
3) I started teaching yoga three mornings per week at a waterfront cafe.
4) We set up a “job” at a local organic farm, where we will work a few hours per day in exchange for room and board.
5) We got invited to an awesome dance party on the beach. There were costumes (need I say more?).
6) We started volunteering at the Vava’u Environmental Protection Association, and are helping to organize the nonprofit’s fundraiser this weekend.
7) We got a library card.
8) We joined a biweekly Tongan jazzercise class.
9) We don’t look twice when pigs cross the road.
10) We can say basic Tongan phrases like:
> Malo e leilei. Fefehake? Hello, how are you?
> Ko hai ho hingoa? What’s your name?
> Oku ou saia tau’olunga. I like dancing.
Tonga feels a lot like home. We like it here, and are happy to be palangis in this little paradise.