Monday, September 24, 2012

Pirates and Transvestites

Now that headline should increase our readership!! Regatta Vava'u has begun, and we've decided to participate in the crazy activities and fun.

So let's start with the opening "registration festival." This is a big event for the town as well as the yachties. 2012 is the fourth annual event so it is growing each year with more activities. The registration included a crafts show by local craftspeople selling their incredible woven baskets, mats, fans etc. There was beautiful wood carvings as well as bone (mostly cow bone) carving of intricate traditional Tongan symbols. Food booths representing most of the area restaurants as well as local organizations provided a good variety of treats like breakfast tacos, fish soups, chicken and rice, kabobs, chips (that would be french fries) and gravy and spicy beef curry plus cakes of all sorts. We sampled a tasty sausage roll and the beef curry – yummy. A local youth band performed throughout the morning and they were quite good with a very unusual medley of tunes. Plus, some of the children sang (karaoke style – with recorded music) – but were quite good. There were lots of speeches from important people – all attired in very traditional outfits.

Then there was the slu'a'alo races. This was a first time canoe style race – but not in the traditional 16 to 30 man boats – but in funky row boats with three rowers. There was a men's race and a women's race. Most of the competitors were local villagers from Vava'u and then there was the "pa'alangi" team. Pa'alangi is the term used to refer to foreigners – that would be us. It was Barbara, Ann and Vanessa representing the palangi/yachting community. There were four boats in the women's race – including Barbara's, a team of Vava'u teenagers, a team of strong Tongan women, and a team of Fakaleiti. What is that you wonder? Well, "Fakaleiti" means "in the manner of a lady." They are part of Tongan culture and are men who have either made the lifestyle choice to dress and act like a woman, or are boys who have been raised as a "daughter" to help their mothers. Well three leitis competed representing Tonga Bobs, the local bar/club where they regularly perform. The goal of the pa'alangi team was to at least beat the leitis.

The race started and the Barbara/Ann/Vanessa boat was off to a decent start – a bit of pushing and shoving off from the young girl's boat – but the "yachties" maintained a second place position. The course was out into the bay, around one sailboat then around the lovely traditional, wooden double hulled Voyaging Ship and then back to the marine basin. As the basin neared, the "yachties" boat gained on the young girls – but it was too little, too late. They had to settle for a second place finish across the line. But the winner was actually determined by "applause and cheers from the crowd." The prize was $100 local Tongan dollars. The event MC however, announced that the Pa'alangis would donate their prize back to the community to help buy a traditional slu'a'alo race boat. He had hoped that would increase the applause – but the lovely young ladies of Tonga won the prize. It was fun to compete.

That afternoon, we went to the local rugby league's championship match. It was a little walk to find the rugby pitch – but we did and boy was the place packed. There were no bleachers or stands, so everyone just sat on the hillsides, in or on top of cars parked around the field, or on the sidelines,. It was mostly local folks and the game was between the two top placing teams, one of whom was the local team. They were favored to win. Not knowing much about rugby, we had a local guy help explain the game, rules and scoring to us. It is similar to football with goal posts and a football shaped ball– but there the similarities end. These guys are in shorts and short sleeved shirts, no pads or helmets and attack and tackle each other with a vengeance. The ball stays in play a long time without stoppage. A fast paced game and as much fun to watch the crowd as the teams on the field. The local team lost 19-16.

Then, it was back to the boat to get ready for the "Fancy Dress Pub Crawl." In the southern hemisphere (as well as in many British commonwealth countries), :"fancy dress" is NOT black tie and evening gowns. "Fancy Dress" IS a costume party. It started at a restaurant just a short walk away from the dock where we leave our dinghy. Of course we are dressed quite silly – so we entertain the locals as we saunter past. The pub crawl has a roaming DJ on the back of a truck so when it is time to move from one establishment to the next – the DJ truck (complete with disco and laser lights) starts to move and the crowd dances their way down the street behind the vehicle to the next bar. Each bar has special pub crawl drinks and deals. The crowd is filled with pirates (lots of pirates),lots of men in women's clothing. Many brightly covered wigs or terrible masks and the various sailors outfits, mismattched clothes, fairies, and odd assortment of ghouls, gladiators and gizmo clad partiers. The fourth stop was a poolside bar – and yes – people started to jump in the pool – though often with assistance!

We met many boaters that night – though without their costumes we may never recognize them again. It was a fun evening – the start of what seems to be a fun "Regatta Vava'u.

The next morning (Sunday) there was an informational breakfast about cruising in New Zealand. Lots of questions about services, customs, immigration etc. got answered. The afternoon event was a dinghy raft-up potluck snack event. The dinghies all met at the end of the harbour and rafted up and shared snacks and stories. There were only about a dozen dinghies – but it was a fun drift.

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