brianna randall rob roberts resort tonga beach vacation hunting goats

The Great Goat Hunt of 2013

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Food and Drink, Outdoor Adventures

brianna randall rob roberts resort tonga beach vacation hunting goatsA few weeks ago, just before dinner with some friends on Fetoko Island, I heard Rob telling hunting stories.  He was re-enacting past elk kills, and explaining how he stalked ungulates through misty Montana mountains each fall.  I suddenly realized it was opening day of hunting season back home.  Rob was probably a bit nostalgic — no deer or elk to shoot in Vava’u.

The next day, we left for a party on Mounu Island in the southern part of the Vava’u group.  “It’s probably the best island in Vava’u,” Ben told us. I think he’s right.  Mounu is owned by the Bowe family, palangis who started the very first whale swim business. In fact, they helped write the rules that allow people to swim with whales here in Tonga, which is one of only three countries where humans can swim beside these magical mega-mammals.  The Bowes leased Mounu and run an exclusive resort on the sandy beaches.  Check out the sperm whale bones that washed up this last month.

brianna randall rob roberts resort tonga beach vacation hunting goatsTheir daughter, Kirsty, had her 40th birthday party on Mounu, and we managed to snag an invite.  Rob and I set up our borrowed tent and yoga-mat-sleeping-pads, and promptly joined in the dancing and water fun.  Little did we know that The Great Goat Hunt of 2013 was in store for Day 2.

Kirsty decided we should divide into teams of four, and head across to Ovalau, the deserted island just across from Mounu.  Ovalau has a lot of goats.  Too many, according to the Tongans, who agreed we should get a couple for dinner.  Rob was psyched.  So was I, actually…sounded like a hilarious adventure, and I always prefer eating local free-range meat.

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Our team: Rob, me, Billy and Leonati.  Billy is the lead ukelele player in our band, Riff Raff, and grew up performing in circuses all over Europe.  Leonati is a native of Vava’u, loves to eat any type of animal, and has worked on Mounu for several years.  We were the dream team.

Once ashore on Ovalau, the teams split up.  The only rules: no guns allowed, and the first team that arrived with a goat wins.  The dream team moved fast through the thick undergrowth, heading toward the eastern shore of the island.  Rob wore perfect hunting attire: tight Speedos with a hole in the butt and a bright white shirt.  Billy came a close second: long jeans, broken shoes with a flapping sole, and a button down shirt.  I had faith.

Here’s how The Great Goat Hunt went down:

1) We heard the goats mewing close by.  The men split up and moved fast (and not noiselessly) through the trees (which is when I lost them and wandered aimlessly for about 10 minutes).

2) Rob, Billy and Leonati came upon two goats.  “Which one should I get?” Rob called to Leonati, the goat hunting veteran.  Leonati pointed at the plumpest one.

3) Rob tackled the goat.  Billy pointed out the swollen teats, which meant she was pregnant.  “Shit.  Wrong choice.”  They let her go.

4) The men began stalking once more, heading toward the cliffs against the sea where they could corner more goats.

5) Rob and Leonati came upon another goat and herded her against the rocks.  They crept toward her slowly, until Leonati could reach out and grab her leg.  Done.

6) Leonati promplty slit her throat.  Rob found a branch and tied its legs around it.

7) I followed the blood trail until I came upon Billy and Rob flapping back through the woods carrying a dead goat.  The dream team reunited for the trek to the beach.

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The whole thing took about 14 minutes.  Our team was the first back, though the other teams arrived quickly.  One other team caught a goat, but brought it back alive and then decided to let it go when we already had one to eat.  No need to be greedy.  We stuffed the dead goat in a giant tupperware box and took the boat back across to Mounu.  On the short ride, we saw a tiger shark swimming that could have eaten about 8 goats in one swallow.  It was BIG.

Back home, Rob and I followed Leonati back into the bush, to see how he’d prepare the goat for our dinner.  Turns out it’s easy: use a Tongan blowtorch (flaming palm fronds) to scorch off all the hair, gut it, then put it back on the stick-spit and roast for a couple of hours over a coconut-husk fire.  Voila.

tonga goat hunt flame spit brianna and rob adventureI can’t say that goat was my favorite meat to eat, but I appreciated the adventure.  And The Great Goat Hunt soothed Rob’s hunting jitters out here in the tropics, far from Montana’s roaming elk.


rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beaches

Entering A Waking Dream

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life, Sailing

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesWe have yet another new home.  Her name is Waking Dream, a 42-foot Cooper monohull owned by Ben and Lisa Newton here in Vava’u.  They sailed her from Oakland, California and spent three years cruising before deciding to stay in Tonga.  Now that they live on Fetoko Island and are building Mandala Resort, Waking Dream has been vacant for a while.  And we know what happens to vacant sailboats: they start to crumble under the relentless tropical sun and saltwater.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beaches Rob and I offered to help get her all fixed up in return for a free place to live.  It’s a good deal for everyone.  We get to learn more about maintaining a sailboat and build our own little nest.  Ben and Lisa get a working sailboat.  What are some of the problems with it, you ask?  I’ll just list the top few for now: #1 termites #2 the coral reef living on the bottom #3 disintegrating dodger and algae-covered lines.  It’s nice to have a purpose again.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesIt also feels good to be living on the water again.  And it feels really good to be all by ourselves on a sailboat again.  We haven’t felt like the capitans of our own space for over 8 months now, since we’ve been sharing living quarters on boats and in others’ homes.  It actually felt slightly eerie to make dinner for just the two of us last night.  For three-quarters of a year, we’ve shared meals with at least one other person, and lately it’s been more like 6-10 others.  Neither of us could remember the last night we’d spent with no one else around.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesTransitioning from communal living to independent living is probably more of a change than moving back to the sea from the shore.  We are both quite comfortable cohabiting with others — we enjoy the social dynamics of sharing space, food, ideas, chores, music and ourselves with more than just each other.  Yet we’re both quite comfortable alone, too.  I, in particular, crave my alone time almost as much as I crave social interaction.

rob and bri sailing adventure travel blog tonga vavau beachesWhat a strange and beautiful paradox, this human pull to be so close to others in tandem with the pull to have our own individual corners to retreat into.  A yin and yang of co-dependence and independence, where finding the balance is the magic ingredient to a fulfilling life.  Here aboard Waking Dream, we hope to strike that balance, to build our own little nest where we can retreat, while still keeping close to the flock of new friends who support us.

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Bang Bang (with goats and hot pants)

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This is what we do on the average Tuesday in Tonga.  No, we weren’t on drugs, and no, this was not the result of a dare or a lost bet.  We spent a week on Tapana Island with our new friends, Billy and Magenta, perfecting our band’s repertoire and running around the island in costumes.

It felt a lot like a “Glee” episode — someone would sing a random snippet part way through cooking dinner, and the rest of us would pick up nearby instruments to accompany the remainder of the song. We even wrote a couple of originals that might appear in later videos.

Fun, right?  We think so.

If you like Riff Raff’s first music video, please share it.  Spread the love.  Send the barnyard animals and synchronized swimming scenes into the homes of your friends, so that they, too, can laugh at Rob’s amorous goat-petting and stylish swimming shorts.  Enjoy.

Disclaimer: no sheep were harmed during the making of this film.


brianna and rob on the horizon line travel blog tonga vavau

Let’s talk about the future.

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brianna and rob on the horizon line travel blog tonga vavau

A lot of people have asked us recently about our short- and long-term plans. Where are we going next? What will we be doing in Tonga? What are our goals for the future? (Besides making an album, since we have this awesome album cover photo all ready to go.)

To be honest, we’ve thought a lot less about these answers here in Vava’u than any other time since we left Missoula. Part of the reason we haven’t thought much about plans and goals the last couple of months is because we simply have less time to think. Passages across the Pacific give plenty of time to ponder what the hell you’re doing with your life (maybe too much time?). Partying in Tonga sucks that pondering right back into the sea, sweeping out plans with the tides.

It’s been busy in Vava’u. We’ve been playing a lot of music, and heading up weekly open mic nights at a local bar. We’ve been doing yoga almost every morning. We’ve been helping set up and plan a 4-day regatta and associated festival events so hundreds of people can have fun. We’ve been cooking and eating a lot. We’ve been designing and wearing a variety of interesting costumes. We’ve been sitting around with the tight-knit group of palangis and yachties who live in Vava’u, discussing particle physics, papayas, rainbows, religion, and government theory. We’ve been petting dogs, and avoiding pigs crossing the street.

pub crawl in neiafu tonga regatta vavau party brianna and rob on the horizon line

You see? We barely have time to swim anymore, much less figure out the future.

Rob and I have been living for free here in Tonga in exchange for helping out new friends. We spend a week or two at cooking and fixing things at Mandala Resort on Fetoko Island, and then a week or so in Neiafu watching 3 lovely boys while they’re parents are both working. We plan to keep helping people out, since they keep helping us out in return: so far, we’ve long-term-borrowed 2 mountain bikes, a few spear guns, lots of clothes, a kayak, and a sailboat.

neiafu harbor from mount talau

Our short-term plans are to fix up that sailboat so we can move aboard late November. In December, my sister comes to visit for the whole month! When I’m not hopping around in gleeful excitment about seeing Cassidy in 5 weeks, I’m mapping out the best beaches and snorkeling spots to anchor at while she’s here. Come the new year … well, I expect we’ll be doing more of the same: volunteering to work on interesting projects for friends, sailing around the dozens of islands in Vava’u between summer storms, playing music and eating fruit.

After cyclone season ends in March, we plan to hitch a ride to American Samoa and Samoa, and then on to Fiji for a few months. Rob and I are planning to head back to Montana for a summer visit in July. And that’s about as long-term as we can plan right here and right now. We talk a lot about lofty goals for the future, which include miraculous millions that allow us to jet each year between our home in Missoula and our second home on a tropical island.  Maybe the millions will roll in once we start selling our band’s albums … though I somehow doubt Johnny Cash cover songs will net enough for a second home.

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But it’s all just talk. We’re happy, healthy, and very much in the “now” here in Tonga. Come visit us and you, too, will see how these islands suck plans straight out into the deep Tongan Trench.

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Vava’u islands = Rocky Mountain peaks

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Ocean Tales, Traveling

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One of the reasons we feel comfortable in Tonga is because the topography is so similar to the Rocky Mountain landscape we came from. Did you just do a double-take after reading that sentence? Good, that means you’re paying attention. But the statement is true, geographically speaking: Vava’u is a series of high mountain peaks, bordered by sprawling meadows nestled above deep canyons.

Sure, those meadows and canyons are covered by miles of ocean, instead of Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. Yet the energy feels the same. I can easily picture this landscape as mountains and valleys through all the coral and sand.

boats in neiafu harbor tonga

Where I’m sitting in Vava’u right this moment is only a couple miles away from the second deepest oceanic trench on the planet. The Tongan Trench is 35,702 feet deep and 50 miles wide. That means the island I’m sitting on is taller than Mount Everest, if you were looking up at it from the bottom of the trench.

All of the dozens of islands in Vava’u are mountaintops, and the flat seabed between them are the gently sloped meadows. This is one of the world’s best cruising grounds partly because of the uniformity of the sea floor here. It’s all mellow sandy bottoms between 10 and 30 meters deep — a high mountain plateau, if you will. Compared to the jagged cliffs of the Marquesas, the steep drop-offs in Bora Bora, or the flat volcanic rings of the Tuamotus, these islands feel downright friendly.

MT-rob and josh on flathead lake

We sailed on Flathead Lake in Montana each summer before heading west across the Pacific. Flathead is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western U.S. It’s the remnants of a giant inland glacial lake, and sits below the tall peaks of Glacier National Park. All of the islands in the lake are actually mountains and hills that emerged as the lake receded over the millennia. Tonga looks a lot like sailing on Flathead, if you replace the pines with palms.

Not only is the Tongan Trench one of the steepest features on the globe’s surface, it’s also the fastest-moving plate ever recorded. The convergent plates that formed this deep chasm are moving at 6 to 9 inches per year, which means Tonga is basically undergoing a constant earthquake. Not the rattle-and-roll earthquakes I grew up with in Southern California, but rather a consistent tremor rippling just beneath the surface.

The Trench gives Vava’u a sense of height and breadth often lost on tiny tropical islands in the middle of the world’s largest ocean. Though the slopes are gentle, you can sense the buzz of movement, shifting ground, and the power of the Earth beneath the sea. Bottom line? It feels good here, geographically, energetically, and aesthetically.

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Magical Mandala on Fetoko Island

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Fetoko Island is not on any maps. You can’t find it on navigation charts, and many people here in Tonga would scratch their heads if you ask for directions. Maybe this is part of the reason that Fetoko is such a magical place.

Fetoko Island is 2.4 acres, and has a permanent population of 5: Ben and Lisa, along with their two dogs, Higgs and Boson, and their cat Penzini. The seasonal population can climb as high as 20 from July through October, when they host a constant stream of visitors and friends. And their legendary beach dance parties bring hundreds of locals to Fetoko.

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First, a bit about Ben and Lisa, since they are the core of Fetoko and the main ingredients for making it magical. This couple set sail from the Bay Area in California in 2001 on Waking Dream, their 42-foot Cooper. Three years later, they arrived in Tonga … and never left. Ben and Lisa lived on Waking Dream for 5 years here in Vava’u before moving to Fetoko Island. They started Regatta Vava’u to bring more yachties to Tonga, built and ran what is now the most popular waterfront restaurant, opened up a cart safari business, and also started up a powered kayak tour business. Ben built dozens of cyclone-safe yacht moorings in the harbors, along with several docks, roads, and trails in Vava’u.

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Then they were given an island. Pretty cool, huh? That’s what happens if you share a lot of yourself with the community around you. Of course, it’s technically owned by the royal family, like all land in Tonga — Ben and Lisa have a 99-year lease from the government to live on Fetoko. This year, they finished building their one-of-a-kind restaurant, as well as the first part of their eco-resort. Mandala Resort is a place to come chill. To listen to the wind in the trees. To watch the sunset from the strip of beach. To have dance parties til dawn. To eat good food and listen to good stories. It’s got this energy to it, this hum of giving and learning and loving. It draws awesome people who want to give and learn and love.brianna rob travel tonga private island beach resort mandala travel

Rob and I have settled into our “glamping” lifestyle on Fetoko seamlessly: our giant tent and queen-sized inflatable mattress are bigger than the interior of most of the sailboats we’ve lived aboard. The dogs feel like our own. Rob and Ben bustle around fixing things, and making plans to build the next set of fales — the unique accommodations that Mandala Resort rents to tourists. (Check out this tree house.) Lisa and I hang out in the open-air kitchen making papaya cake and curries for ourselves and any guests. We take the boat into town a few times a week to get produce, say hi the locals in Neiafu, and get a new perspective.

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Once the tourism and yachting season dies down next month, Rob and I will help them fix up Waking Dream. We plan to move aboard for a few months, to have a floating base as we help out Ben and Lisa, as well as the other locals who have become our friends these past 2 months. But no matter where we roam here in Vava’u during the upcoming summer, we know that we will always return to Fetoko, the place — and people — that feel like home.

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Charmed, I’m Sure

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We’ve now lived in the Kingdom of Tonga for one full month.  It’s awesome here, and I say that after exploring only 3 of the 170 islands.  We plan on staying in Vava’u through at least January to see a few more, and to soak up the sights and sounds of this special spot.

That means we’ll soon be waving goodbye to most of our sailing friends.  Most yachties head south to New Zealand and Australia by November, steering clear of the hurricanes that spin through the tropical latitudes during the southern hemisphere’s summer season.  Since we don’t have to worry about a storing a sailboat out of cyclone-prone areas, Rob and I plan to stay put as the air and water heat up.  Plus, Rob rigged up this awesome trash bag sail on our friends’ double kayak, so we have some sweet wheels now.

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We’re looking forward to experiencing the storm season, when the trade winds die, the tourists head home, and the locals flock to beaches for summer feasts.  Here are just a handful of the reasons Tonga has charmed us into staying on her pretty shores:

  1. The kids all say “bye bye” instead of hello as you pass by.
  2. Baby pigs squeal and scatter as you walk or drive down the main street.
  3. Tongan feasts are weekly events, and include a LOT of meat, which is cooked in an umu with stones heated in a coconut-shell fire.  Lamb and chicken are favorites, but puppy is not unheard of.
  4. Everyone sings aloud – and in harmony – to any song nearby, whether it’s rap, pop or church music.
  5.  The cops drive people home from the bars when they close.
  6. Boundaries are fuzzy and the culture is communal, so people “borrow” what they need.  Rob likes to “Tongan borrow” fruit, for instance.
  7. Tonga is the only kingdom in the Pacific, and the only country that never gave up autonomous rule.
  8. Only 40 of Tonga’s 170 islands are inhabited.
  9. Both men and women wear skirts with woven grass mats called ta’ovalas tied around the top of the skirt.
  10. The Kingdom has dozens of chiefs and nobles, along with the royal family.  Commoners must speak a different language to nobles, and yet another separate language to address the royal family.tonga girls in grass skirts rob and brianna sail travel blog story ocean beach
rob in front of tongan church in neiafu rob and bri sail travel pacific polynesia adventure

Another Sabbath in Tonga

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rob in front of tongan church in neiafu rob and bri sail travel pacific polynesia adventure

Behind our house chimes four-part harmony, 200 voices singing strong. Just one block away, another choir belts out a resonating song that rides through the steamy tropical air. Bells are tolling, and drums are beating. It’s 7:00 AM. Even though Rob and I don’t attend church, it sometimes feels like we do, simply through osmosis.

It’s Sunday in Neiafu, a day full of singing at church … and not much else. Tonga is an incredibly religious place, full of a variety of Christian derivates. You know how Seattle has a Starbucks on every corner? Well, Neiafu has more churches than Seattle has coffee shops. Luckily, the music that the Tongans belt out beats any elevator muzak you hear in coffee shops.

The sacred Sunday has been a theme throughout the Pacific islands we’ve visited. Towns are deserted, and visitors have to fend for themselves. Another unifying theme is the music — the Polynesians seem to have a harmonizing gene that skips most white folks. It’s impressive. Here in Tonga, they go to church twice on Sundays, and once almost every other day of the week. We don’t need an alarm clock here, since the church bells toll at 6am to wake up the congregation, 6:30am to make sure they’re getting dressed, and at 7am to signal the start of the service. Then they start beating drums. Loudly. We believe it’s to announce the entrance of the pastor/minister/reverend, but can’t say for sure (seeing as how we haven’t officially attended service yet).

Sundays are pretty slow around here. It’s against the law to go swimming, taboo to show your shoulders, and frowned upon if you do anything besides go to church and eat with your family. All shops and stores are closed and the main street looks like a ghost town. The Tongan constitution actually states that “The Sabbath Day shall be kept holy in Tonga and no person shall practice his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking on the Sabbath Day.” Bakeries are granted a special exception and open at 4:00 PM, since bread is obviously a gift from God.

The Kingdom of Tonga, along with Fiji and Samoa, were settled around 3,500 years ago by brave seafarers from western lands. These islands served as the gateway for settlement of the rest of the Pacific islands — they are the heart of Polynesian culture. Then came the Europeans in the mid-1600s, who spread Christianity like a blanket over Tongan culture and customs (and over the bare breasts and shoulders of the people, too). The constitution quoted above was written in 1875, almost 100 years after the first missionaries arrived in Tongatapu. And the missionaries just kept on comin’ — Christianity spread rapidly in the Kingdom, integrating into almost every aspect of Tongan life.

We’ll get to a church one of these Sundays, as it seems imperative to understanding and appreciating the culture we’ve chosen to live in for the next few months. Meanwhile, we’ll enjoy the church bells from the comfort of our bed, and observe the Sabbath in our own style as we wander the empty streets of Vava’u.

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Speaking the Native Tongue: Tongan and Malagasy

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We’ve been in Tonga now for about two weeks, in the northernmost island group called Vava’u. I think we might stay a while, make a few friends, learn about the culture and generally just try to sink in a bit. Its something we have not had the chance to do so far on this trip, because we’ve moved fairly quickly. I’ll admit that I haven’t had much motivation to learn any new languages so far, for many reasons (laziness being one). But also, many of the native languages — like in French Polynesia — are in the process of being lost, or in some cases, marginally resurrected like in the Marquesas. French is taught in schools and widely spoken, even among locals. It was a great opportunity for me to work on the French that I learned in college and reinforced in Madagascar, where French is the second language.

Another language I learned in Madagascar is Malagasy, the native tongue. While French is spoken throughout most of the country, Malagasy is the day to day language and essential to learn if you want to work or travel in anywhere but the biggest cities. For me, learning Malagasy was the key into a secret culture, a whole new world of customs, activities and, frankly, a completely different way of looking at the world. Sure, French is a different language, but it has similar grammar patterns to English and sounds somewhat familiar to any speaker of a Romane language (Spanish, French, etc). But knowing Malagasy was like having a stamp of authenticity. A few well spoken words were all I needed to make a smile, get an invitation into someone’s home or, on certain days, entry into some ritual, rite or ceremony that was surely going to blow my mind.

Speaking Malagasy is quite different. For example: subjects come at the end of the sentence, and the passive voice is very common in expressions. The pronunciation is altogether different (my Malagasy friends would hold their noses and talk to imitate English speakers), and direct translations from English can be extremely difficult. I had to turn my mind upside down and inside out to really understand and to speak it like a native, but eventually I began to speak without thinking first. I even began to dream in Malagasy and on rare occasions, I still do.

So what’s this have to do with Tonga? One of the things I do in almost any country I visit is try to learn some basic phrases: hi, how are you, etc. If I have time and want to go deeper, I’ll then move on to some of the most commonly used verbs (have, want, etc) and then the numbers. Tongans speak English, but only to foreigners. As I listened toTongan on the street during our first few days, it sounded familiar to me and, walking around town, I felt instantly more at home then I have since leaving Missoula. The Tongan language has lots of vowels, and they often use what is called a glottal stop, kind of a staccato type effect. Think of a weak stutter or a mild cough between words. I felt like I had heard this language before.

But it was the numbers that really got me. And here’s why: below I have listed the Tongan numbers on the left and the Malagasy numbers on the right (as I know them from the region I lived).

1. taha    iray
2. oa        roa
3. tolu      telo
4. fa         efa
5. nima   dimy
6. ono      eni
7. fitu        fito
8. valu      valo
9. hiva      sivy
10. tongofulu     folo

At first I was shocked. On paper, they look very similar. In pronunciation, they sound remarkably alike. The numbers for 7 and 8 sound identical (pronounced fee-too and vahl-oo). As I learned more, the similarities continued. The word for year is ta’u in Tongan and tao in Malagasy, and so on. I’ll admit that the two languages have less in common than not, but I’m still intrigued by the fact that they are even close. I had known that Malagasy was more like Indonesian than many of the languages in eastern Africa, which are geographically closer. Its one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to get to Indonesia on this trip. But upon further research (with some shoddy internet connections here in Nei’afu), I did a little research Tongan and Malagasy are actually part of the same language family, called the Malayo-Polynesian family, which extends from western Polynesia on through the Indian Ocean (mostly centered around the equator). Malagasy is considered to be the westernmost extent of this group and takes its base from dialects in the southeast corner of Borneo.

The people I lived with in Madagascar along the southwest coast were the Vezo: the sailors, the seafaring people who apparently travelled from Indonesia through the Indian Ocean, by the Middle East, along the coast of Africa and eventually over to Madagascar. Along the way, they picked up a little Arabic, a little Swahili, a little Bantu, and later on, a little French and English. The ancestors of the Tongans must have travelled in the opposite direction, and now here I am — another oceangoing nomad, looking for that promised land and grabbing a few kernels of language on the way.

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brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

Just Call Us Palangis

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brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

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.

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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.

brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

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.

brianna randall rob roberts sail travel pacific adventure voyage

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