Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Vava'u, Tonga

Today we did a Holland America excursion, probably our most disappointing one so far. It wasn't off to a good start. We made it ashore on a tender and to the bus early, just to sit and wait in a bus without air conditioning. Luckily it wasn't very hot yet, but it had started to warm up already and was a bit uncomfortable. Finally they had us move to another bus because the first bus wasn't running. Luckily the second bus was newer and had air conditioning. We had to discover that on our own though, as no one mentioned it until finally one of the other passengers on the bus pointed out that there was cool air coming out of vents above the seats. Our tour guide barely spoke English and just read a few notes about the three stops we'd have and how long we'd be at each stop.

Our first stop was a vanilla plantation where we were told how vanilla beans are produced on the island. It's a very manual labor intensive process! First a fig tree is grown to serve as a structure for the vanilla bean vines to grow on and also provide nutrients for the vanilla bean vine. Vanilla beans are actually a type of orchid. The flowers then have to be manually fertilized by a worker using a toothpick within the first few hours of it blooming. So every day someone has to go through and mark those plants which have blooms. Workers then come through and fertilize the plants. In the wild, there is only a 1% chance of a blossom fertilizing itself without human intervention. It was an interesting and informative tour.

Once we were done here we once again ended up sitting in the bus for another 30 minutes, this time waiting for a fourth tour bus to arrive. There were a total of four tour buses, each with around 30 people or so. Initially they had wanted to wait for all of the buses to arrive before starting the presentation, though that would have been a nightmare. It was pretty crowded when they did our presentation even though it was only one or two buses.

After all four tour buses had arrived and everyone had seen the presentation on how vanilla beans are raised, we all headed to a Tongan Kava ceremony. This was preceded by a demonstration of how they cook food in the ground, and followed by a group of dancers. The dancers were much younger and obviously less experienced than the previous two similar dances we'd seen in Samoa and Fiji. The dance was then followed by a craft demonstration.

Our third and final stop was at a "resort." It was a pretty small resort though, especially after four buses showed up. Although billed as a possible snorkeling stop we only saw one person snorkeling. The water looked pretty cloudy that day and the reefs pretty sparse. The stop was only for an hour and so after buying a beer and getting our "assorted fruit plate," one small piece each of pineapple, coconut, and mango, there wasn't a lot of time to snorkel and dry off before the buses would leave. The people on our bus returned to the bus early and the bus driver then went to find the tour guide who was the only person not yet on the bus.

The tour guide had spoken very little, just reading a short blurb about each stop as we arrived, but not even saying what time we should return to the bus. She spent all of the time on the bus texting on her phone and didn't say anything else about what we were passing or where we'd be going. All in all it was a waste of time and Elizabeth said she'd probably have preferred just staying on the ship.

That evening some people dressed up for Halloween. The best costumes were some of those done by the crew.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Vava'u, Tonga photo album.

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