Location: Vava'u, Tonga

After the last two mornings of extra early wake-ups due to our packed schedule of whale tours, dive training, and shore time, we got a blessed “sleep in” day. That means instead of the standard 7 am wakeup, we all got to sleep in until 8 am instead. After several busy days, that little bit of extra rest was welcome and appreciated by all of the crew. It was strange to wake up after the sunrise though, after the last few days of zero dark thirty wake-ups. Everyone rolled out of bed with a little extra pep in their step, especially after they heard the news that we were having cereal for breakfast. I’m not sure how that has become the favorite breakfast onboard, but that is the majority consensus.

After breakfast cleanup, we all got dressed up in our Sunday best (literally) to attend a church service at a beautiful local Catholic church. The student and staff alike come from several different backgrounds, but it was really moving to see everyone come together to respectfully observe the local traditions and customs of attending this Sunday service. We happened to attend on a day when a large group was in attendance in remembrance of their mother who had recently passed away. They were dressed in black and were all wearing the traditional woven wraps around their waists. Many extended family members were visiting from outside Tonga, so there were a lot more people in church than on a normal Sunday. But the crowd was welcome because when the first hymn began, the sound of many voices mixed in beautiful a capella harmonies was like the voices of angels. Tonga is known for its beautiful choirs, and this one did not disappoint. There were no instruments present, no sheet music to be seen, just the memories and voices of men, women, and children lifted together in joy. Though much of the service was not in English, the message of worship and community was understood and felt by all.

After church, we were shuttled to Eneio botanical gardens for a Tongan feast. The owner and proprietor of the land was a man who has lived and worked in Tonga for most of his life, except for his time studying at universities in other parts of the world. His story was inspiring, and his land holds many native plants that he carefully cultivates and protects. The feast was delicious, with treats for everyone. A special treat was whole coconuts cut open to enjoy the refreshing water inside. The food included yam fritters, fish cakes, a suckling pig, papaya chutney, and several coconut themed desserts. The view of a calm, enclosed bay was relaxing and beautiful. As we finished eating, some explored the bay, others played with puppies outside, and some simply enjoyed taking in the view.

When we returned to Argo, it was back to work for a short while as we had seamanship and leadership class before dinner. After a tasty meal prepared by head chef Henry and his team, we all headed to bed after a full and fulfilling day.

Pictured: St. Joseph’s Catholic Church; the crew after the service; Sam and the father; Frank and Coral enjoying fresh coconut water; yummy plate full of feast food; Anastacia, Emily, Raul, Rhea, and Ian walking around the beach after lunch; views of the beach; Garrison, Kari, Henry, and Frank on the beach; puppies at the botanical garden; sprouting coconuts at the garden.