September 10, 2002
I threw a pareu over my swim suit and we dinghied into the shore. We hitched the dinghy to a post in the sand. Children were frolicking on the white, sun-lit beach. We stepped into the pan of water on the wooden plank steps and then walked barefoot up the three flights of stairs to the restaurant. A tall stately mermaid carved out of wood greeted us at the top. The room was large and open, with a 180º view of the beach and the sea. The tall round coconut-thatched roof was supported by one huge log in the center, with live trees protruding through parts of the roof at the perimeter. The dining area was whimsical, with large chairs made of crooked tree limbs--painted white or bright green--surrounding round, varnished tables topped with shells and flowers. A large lacquered bar framed the far side of the room so that one could observe the chef's cooking area. Pots and pans and dishes stood on high shelves made in the same crooked-limb style. The room was empty and still.
"Friedel!" Gunter shouted as we walked around. We hoped that this would be a day he would be willing to cook. A rather heavy-set man with an uncontrolled beard and mustache wearing a dirty T-shirt and shorts sauntered in. Gunter greeted him in German and explained that he was born in Munchen. Although I did not understand everything they said, I could observe Friedel's demeanor changing for the better. Then Gunter introduced me as his American wife and the conversation switched to English.
"My radio doesn't work so well," he said. "I was trying to tell you not to pick up that mooring. It is for fishing boats only. It's held only by a chain. I do not think it will support your catamaran."
I envisioned a chain just lying there on the bottom of the sea and our Cat dragging it and the mooring ball across the bay, ending on the reefs.
"Is the anchoring good here?" I asked.
"Very good holding in sand. That's what all the yachts do."
"OK. We will change it then. Do you think we are safe overnight?"
"Very safe. Six boats were in here a few weeks ago."
"So we can have dinner here, then dinghy back to our boat with no problem?"
"No problem at all. It only gets a little choppy at high tide."
We made arrangements for dinner about 6:00 PM. I discussed the menu with Friedel, and settled on grilled snapper with salad and an apple cake for Gunter's birthday. I selected an Australian Riesling from the empty bottles displayed on the bar.
Then we hightailed it for Pacific Bliss and undertook anchoring maneuvers, which we did twice before we were satisfied, making certain that we had sufficient swinging room in the event the wind direction should change. Gunter snorkeled out in his birthday suit to check the anchor. It was buried in sand. Now, we could have lunch and a siesta!
Later in the afternoon, we dinghied to the beach at low tide and walked across the reef connecting the Blue Lagoon's island of Foe'ata with the neighboring Foelifuka. We talked with two Tongan women collecting rock oysters, pounding them free with mallets and putting them into woven banana-leaf baskets. A third woman showed us a handful of live shellfish she had taken so far. As we walked the reef, I saw five blue starfish hugging the rocks. We had seen some like these earlier, snorkeling in Anchorage #7.
As the tide turned, we headed back to Pacific Bliss. We sat there in the late afternoon sun watching the sea come back to cover the reefs again. "This is a day of bliss," Gunter repeated. Just then a turtle lazily swam past, as if to confirm his statement.
At our table in the restaurant, we sat with Friedel for awhile, sipping cold Rieslings out of antique crystal goblets. An old wooden hutch sat behind my chair, filled with books in German and English. I couldn't resist taking down a hardcover, "Queen Salote of Tonga."
"Do you know about her?" asked Friedel.
"All I know is that she made the Tongan royalty famous on the day she rode in a torrential downpour to Queen Elizabeth's London coronation. She refused to let them raise the top of her carriage out of respect for the Queen," I answered.
"Yes. The Tongans may criticize the King, but they never had anything but good to say about Queen Salote. You may read the book. Just make sure to return it."
I promised I would get his book back to him and Gunter promised to bring some German books from our ship's library, which he did the following day.
We went on to discuss Tongan politics, German politics, and how the 9-11 terrorist attack and later, the hurricane, had adversely affected Tongan tourism.
We asked Friedel about his background and how he happened to end up here with Ma'ata, his charming Tongan wife, and four children. "I got tired of Germany," he said.
"So did I," answered Gunter.
Friedel had gone to chef school in Germany, then worked for two famous Munich restaurants, Schwarzwaelder and Humpelmaier, before coming to Tonga. He was en route to Hong Kong when he ran into an old chef school friend from New Zealand who said that Tonga Resort in Tongatapu Island needed a chef. After a few years working for others, he started the Blue Lagoon from scratch three years ago, leasing the island for 50 years. He has steadily built up this remarkable--rather funky--but special, resort. "And I do what I want here," he said. "If I don't feel like cooking some days, I don't." We had heard about that.
By the time we began our second glass of wine, we had switched to cruiser talk. "I can't believe how cheap some of them are," he said. "We had twelve boats in the lagoon for ten days once, and all they bought were two orange juices. Two! But those who only stop on the island to throw their trash on the shore are the worst."
I felt ashamed, for that kind of behavior reflects on all of us. Gunter talked about the Seven Seas Association we belong to with their motto: Leave only a Clean Wake.
But Friedel wasn't mollified. "And some of them come on to the island and just start fanning out, looking at the fales. They even entered one fale where a couple-my guests-were right in their bed!
"I do. One responded, "The beaches belong to everybody."
"How about a sign marked PRIVATE?"
"No, I couldn't do that," said Friedel. That would remind me too much about Germany, where everything is VERBOTEN." We had come full circle.
"Well, I need to leave you now and cook for you." The sun had set and he lit the candles. And cook he did.
The starter was cream of mushroom soup like none we had ever experienced. "This is great!" said Gunter. "I have not tasted such good food since French Polynesia." He dove into the pasta that accompanied the main course, trying to restrain himself. It was prepared with lightly seasoned tomato sauce with parmesan.
"Perhaps not during our entire Voyage Two," I said. The red snapper was moist and delicate. The papaya salad with lettuce and vegetables were topped with yet another different and delicate sauce.
"I'm in heaven here. I love birthdays," said Gunter.
"I hate to say anything, but isn't the water lapping at our dinghy too much?" I answered, turning toward the window. Gunter out of his seat to look.
"It's not even hooked to the post any longer. How could that happen? It seems to be just pushed along the shore."
"Could it be getting water in over the transom?" I asked.
"I'll go down and check. You stay here and finish your meal. I'm done."
He ran down the three flights of stairs and out along the beach. Luckily, he had worn shorts, anticipating the landing, but he was past knee deep in the water. Soon he motioned for me to join him. Ma'ata and I rushed out. Gunter was bailing furiously. Ma'ata grabbed another container, and began to bail as well. Then the three of us heaved the dinghy back higher on to the beach.
"I thought we had pulled it well up, and secured it as well," said Gunter.
"It happens sometimes at a high tide with a new moon," said Ma'ata easily.
We asked Friedel about the tides and found out that at this time of the month they can change by as much as two meters. Gunter sat back in his chair.
"Looks like we can never relax, even on my birthday," he sighed, resignedly.
Shortly after that the lights went out. "Well, I imagine they know how to deal with that," said Gunter. "They have a big generator. In fact, they have their own watermaker. Makes 5000 liters a day."
"Reminds me of Foxy's in the Caribbean. Remember how the lights always went out there as they tried to fix dinner?"
"Right. They didn't skip a beat. Just took it as a matter of course. Well, they have their own problems here. Running a resort on an island in Tonga can't be easy. Even if it is Paradise."
Soon the electricity was on again, and Gunter's apple cake arrived, with one large white candle in the center. He blew out the candle and we got back into the birthday spirit. Only one other family, staying at the resort, was in the restaurant.
"I will never forget this birthday setting," said Gunter, smiling again, and then shaking his head.
Boarding the dinghy at high tide was a trip. By then, the confused waves had run over the reefs from three directions, racing toward the sandy beach. We could see the night light of Pacific Bliss frantically bobbing like a frenzied beacon. We pulled the dinghy into the water, and I hiked my pareu around my waist. "The Queen enters first. I'll hold it," Gunter said. But there was no way to keep dry, with waves slapping at my behind. Soaked to the waist, I made it in. Then it was Gunter's turn. He was over the top, but NO, he fell back in. Then with one huge push, he pulled himself over the side again, now totally drenched. The next hurdle was the outboard motor. Would it start? It appeared that we had been lucky enough to bail out the dinghy before the motor got soaked. This would be the proof. Hrmmm! She purred. We were safe.
We stripped before we entered the salon, piled our salt-water-drenched clothes into the galley sink, and sat down naked looking at each other. Then we burst out laughing.
"I'll never forget this birthday," Gunter repeated for the 'nth time.
"You mean it was all worth it?" I asked.
"Worth it? Yes! It seems that you and I always have to fight for the best things in life. Would I chance this anchorage at night again? No! It is clearly a day anchorage."