Sailing the South Pacific

I get it! If I didn't "get" it before, I now completely "get" why sailing enthusiasts from all over the world come to the Vava'u Islands here in the Kingdom of Tonga. I spent my Saturday sailing abroad a huge catamaran and got a chance to see more of the magnificent beauty of these islands. I don't even know the appropriate adjectives to describe everything we saw. If you can imagine what a perfect South Pacific island might look like on a perfect day, then you will begin to understand.
We sailed about 25 miles away from the main city of Neiafu and anchored near a small resort called "The Blue Lagoon". This island gets its electricity from four windmills we could see in the distance. There is a beautiful reef just off shore with steep underwater cliffs of coral and many species of multicolored fish. The snorkeling was a lot of fun and I couldn't help but notice the constant temperature changes in the water. One minute you are in very warm South Pacific Water and the next you feel a river of much cooler rushing by you. The coral here is largely untouched and unbroken making for some magnificent formations.

We spent a good part of the day anchored off shore. Finally the boat captain told us it was time to leave so we all climbed back on board and started sailing again.

Our next stop, a place called Mariner's Cave. Mariner's Cave has been at the top of the list of things I have wanted to do since arriving in Tonga more than five months ago. I had previously visited Swallows Cave during our Peace Corps training and was really excited that I was now getting to go to the most famous of caves in the Vava'u area.

The only way to get into Mariners Cave is to swim down and enter an underwater passage, swimming hard before coming up inside the cave. As excited as I was about getting there I started to get a little intimidated as I swam up to the point where you have to dive down. Once you commit, there is really no going back and obviously you can't come up for air until you actually get in the cave since you are swimming through a submerged passageway. The first time I started to dive down, I started swimming just as a wave started pushing me back. I didn't want to swim against the current and quickly aborted before starting the dive down. You only dive down about 6 or 8 feet to swim through the tunnel but since I wanted all the advantages I could get, I waited and started timing the waves so that I could get a little extra push to get through the passageway. The second time I went for it. As you swim into the cave, it's pretty dark and you can't really tell when it is time to come up. I slowly started swimming up, not wanting to bang my head on the ceiling of the passageway. Once I came up, I realized I had swum a lot further into the cave than I needed. But there really is no way to tell. Better to be safe than sorry.

Inside the cave was amazing. The most unexpected thing was the change in pressure. As the waves would come in, my ears would pop from the pressure changes and the cave would fill with mist. I swam over to a ledge and just sat there for a few minutes taking it all in. I was very glad I came in and I would certainly recommend it. I was wearing a mask, but no flippers.

Getting out was a lot easier. You can see the bright blue water illuminated by the sun as you swim out and it's easy to tell where to surface. I don't have an underwater camera so I don't have any photos to share from inside the cave and from the outside you can't even tell the cave is there.

Saturday's sailing trip and the swim into Mariners Cave are certainly highlights of my Peace Corps experience so far. My weekend in 'Eua would be another. I think one of the great things about Peace Corps is not just the work we do or the people we get to meet, but the chance to explore a new place in a foreign land. I think it is pretty unlikely I would have ever visited Tonga if I had not volunteered for Peace Corps service.

***Other News***

I've wrapped up my first week at the Vava'u Branch of the Tonga Development Bank. It was a really great week and it is amazing to me how many people I've met and what I've been able to do in such a short time. My biggest project this week was programming a cash register for a local bar. Since I've never done this before, I spent a good deal of time reading the manual and then asking the owner about her business. I learned a lot about retail from that. Next week, I'll be going back and teaching the staff how to use it. I've tried to keep the feature set to a minimum and turned off a lot of features that I don't think they will need. This includes things like passwords, age verification and even receipt printing. It is now set up to do inventory management and of course record sales. Hopefully it will be an improvement over the paper system they are currently using.

Next week, I'll be conducting my first staff training for the bank's employees. The topic is Understanding Cash Flow Reports. I spent part of the week putting together the PowerPoint presentation which I'll be using.  I can't claim full credit for all the content. Some of it came from a presentation I found sitting on the hard drive of a computer at the main bank office in Nuku'alofa. It was probably put together by a previous volunteer.

I mentioned in my last post that I have an amazing view from my office at the bank. Without question it's the best view I've ever had in any office in my life. Here's a photo that gives you the view from my desk.

My stuff arrived on the boat on Wednesday and I saw the boat pulling in from my office and knew it was time to head to the wharf to pick it up. Everything made it in good shape except for a jar of mustard.

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