21 December 2009

Arrival in 'Eua

On Thursday we took the boat from Nuku'alofa on our two-and-a-half-hour trip to 'Eua, separated from Tongatapu by maybe 30 kilometers of open deep water. The boat ride is reputed to be one of the roughest rides in the Kingdom because it crosses three main currents coming off of the Tongan Trench (8000 meters deep 10 kilometers off of the East coast of 'Eua) and up the straight between 'Eua and Tongatapu, not to mention the large surface waves caused by storms in Antarctica coming up the South Pacific. Our boat, the MV Alaimoana, which is roughly 20 meters long and 6 meters wide, was loaded to the brim with a pickup truck with all of our luggage, as well as a number of enormous crates and the luggage of the 60 passengers. We were watching with a little apprehension as they loaded the boat, but it was entirely unfounded. Ever since the MV Princess Ashika sank a few months ago, Tongans have been very sensitive about boat safety on the ferries. And the rough passage turned out to be quite wavy, but nowhere near as bad as we had been told to expect because it was a clear and relatively calm day. It was quite packed on board the boat because of so many people trying to get back to 'Eua after being stranded in Tongatapu. Boat travel was suspended for a few days because of the cyclone warning as Cyclone Mick came down from Fiji. However, despite the crowds and the recently passed tropical storm, it was a fairly pleasant ride with lots of fresh air, very little spray in the passenger cabin, and some beautiful views of the coast of Tongatapu and 'Eua. As we rounded the Northeast point of Tongatapu, we saw the waves crashing into the barrier reef and blowholes spouting, and there was 'Eua out to sea in front of us. It is a much more hilly island than either Tongatapu or the Ha'apai Islands where we did our two months of training, and the land just drops off the north end of the island quite steeply. It is also a much greener island in general, and coming in from the ocean, you can see the tree plantations and rain forest stretch up to the ridge line in the middle of the island before it drops down the cliffs on the other side of the island. As we got closer, we started to see 'Ohonua, the capital of 'Eua, which is built on the side of a hill next to the ocean where the wharf is located.

When we pulled into the harbor, there were already at least 20 pickups and vans waiting for the boat and more arriving every moment. Everyone surged off the boat into the waiting crowd on the wharf and then we just sort of stood there hoping that someone would recognise the four white volunteers looking lost and surrounded by Tongans greeting family arriving from overseas for Christmas. In a short while, we were found by our various local counterparts and then waited as a seemingly endless number of crates were unloaded from the boat before the pickup could drive out. Elena's counterpart, Sione (John, whom we think the world of), loaded us into the school's lory and drove us back to the school, of which we had seen pictures, but they never quite prepare you for the real thing. We drove through the small village of Ta'anga which will be our community for the next two years, and then past the school which we could see through the windbreak of pine trees, and then across a cow pasture and right up in front of our house.
We have arrived at our home for the next two years, and are exceedingly excited to finally be here.


  1. I'm SO excited for you!!!! This all sounds amazing!


  2. Mark and Elena!! I had NO IDEA you guys moved to Tonga!!! thanks for updating your fellow MK--jk. Anyway, I am excited to read about your adventures, the good and the bad. How are you doing emotionally?
    Jenny J

  3. It is 40 km (25 miles) across the strait between Tongatapu and 'Eua, according to locals.

  4. Thanks for that marvelous description--what an adventure! May your discovery of Christmas, 'Eua-style, be a time of great blessing for you both. Merry Christmas!

  5. Merry Christmas and congrats on landing at your new home! I look forward to some pictures. (hint: i find picassa from google to be the easiest way to put them online... also it is possible to import your blog to facebook if you want that wider web out there to see this)


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