Thursday, October 12, 2017


[Kyle]As we were leaving the Ha'apai for Tongatapu, we got tired, so we pulled into an anchorage at the far end of the island of Uoleva just a few miles away.

Enjoying Uoleva above and below the water line
That last picture is a Zebra Shark (It's the juveniles that have the stripes)

The anchorage is very large with big coral reefs at each end of a very long stretch of sand. There were six other boats anchored near an eco-resort on the beach. We elected to go for a spot far from land at a notch in the coral more convenient for snorkeling.

We were in the water as soon as we were able. There was a whole lot of coral, but none of it seemed as interesting as we had hoped. Most of the structures were dead and covered with silt, although the fish populations seemed healthy.

The next morning during our morning coffee and briefing, we had a little back and forth over our plans for our day.

My plan was to take the dinghy to the beach. I wasn't even keen on that idea because a beach landing would be necessary. I prefer rowing when landing on beaches because I don't like to risk damaging the prop on our motor in shallows and surf. The distance to the beach was such that it seemed to be best thought of in fractions of a mile rather than smaller units like feet or meters. This put it outside of the imaginary radius where my desire to keep things simple and get a little exercise in the bargain by rowing resides and into that nether region where I concede to the hassle of digging out the motor and installing it in the interest of expediency.

As I was going back and forth over what was the best thing to do about the dinghy, Maryanne came up with her plan to swim to the beach, walk to the other end and then do some extensive snorkeling on the other reef at that end. She's nuts. I think she was trying to get an early start so she could sneak in a swim to our next anchorage to check it out for hazards. I had my doubts that she would want to swim several miles and also walk several miles on soft sand to boot, but she seemed to think there would be nothing to it. I agreed, knowing she would throw in the towel at some point.

We swam to the beach. It was a long way. It started okay, but then we entered a long middle section where the beach looked really far, but the boat also looked really far, too. Giving up would mean a long swim back for nothing, or we could swim just a little bit further than that and we'd be at the beach. It did look like a nice beach. At length, we finally got to where the beach was close and inviting and it also offered the chance to sit in the shade of a tree and rest. Then the choice was obvious.

We staggered onto the beach, removed our fins and started mooshing through the sand toward the far end. The beach really was beautiful. We were tired, but we kept wanting to see that bit that was just a little further ahead. When we got there, we kept on to the next one and the next one until we had made it all of the way to the other end in the same manner. Inconceivable.

We were both tired by then, but we had lugged our snorkel stuff the whole length of the island, so we picked out a promising looking spot for a token swim just so we hadn't wasted the effort. The coral on this end was much healthier and formed into more impressive structures. We kept finding some cool thing appearing in the distance and swimming over to look at it. When we had finally had our fill, we found that we had saved ourselves half of the walk back.

The remaining walk wasn't enough of an interlude for us to be feeling like getting back in the water yet for the swim home. Luckily, Sea Change, the eco-resort previously mentioned, had a bar and it was open. We each had a drink and passed the time chatting to a few of the other boaters, including a group we had last seen in Suwarrow. When it came time for us to leave and pay, the woman behind the bar asked if I could see Kao. Kao is a distant cone-shaped volcano that can be seen on clear days. It is Tonga's highest point. Maryanne didn't quite get what was happening and said she couldn't see much without her glasses on. I jumped in and said I could see it, it's right there.

“Where?”, the bartender asked.

“There. It's right there.”, I said. “Well, you can't actually see it from the bar here, but it's behind that tree there. I saw it earlier”

This was kind of a lie. We saw it the day before when we were sailing. The visibility was too poor to have been able to see it just then, but I was pretty sure I was pointing in the correct direction.

Why the hubbub? Because the drink I ordered was called a Kao Calypso and on the menu board it said it was four Pa'anga cheaper if you could see Kao. The bartender looked uneasily at her boss, the woman standing behind her. She gave us all a look that said, “C'mon, the real price is the cheap one. He said he saw it.” She didn't point to her eye and wink, but I knew what she was doing. The bartender still looked unsure and Maryanne hadn't caught up because she couldn't read the menu and there was no time to fill her in, but the manager rang us up with a smile and wished us a good trip home.

Begonia was a little speck on the horizon when we reached the spot on the beach where we had landed before. Rather than just go, we decided to walk on the one bit of beach we hadn't seen, just so we could get the full set. We left from the point on that end, which offered the advantage of being a little bit further upstream so our swim home would be more across than into the current.

Or so that was the plan. All of the good reef was into the current, so we swam like hell to get there and then enjoyed a gradually easier trip as we progressed. Our big find along the way was a Leopard Shark, which for some reason is really called a Zebra Shark. The thing has spots like a leopard. Why would you call it a Zebra?

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