Tongablog

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Archive for March, 2009

Hello from South Island!

We flew into Christchurch and had a great visit with our friend Justin! He’s a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Tonga, who has resettled in NZ. Christchurch had great food, great beers, and lots of shopping. It is a beautiful city, with a huge amount of green space, large side walks, intricate architecture, etc. We loved it!! Then we rented a car and headed off to Lake Tekapo. We spent the day hiking Mt. Johns Summit, gazing at the surreal, turqoise blue lake below us and the massive snow capped mountains surrounding us. We are staying in a little cabin by the lake, and it is truly heavenly!! Tomorrow we will head to Mt. Cook. We’ll write some longer blog posts and upload photos when we get a chance! We are just really thankful to have the opportunity to visit this corner of the globe.

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If you are coming to New Zealand, declare your tent

Well our flight was delayed until the afternoon of the 21st, which was fine because we got a good night’s sleep and got a ride with Peace Corps to the airport.

Air New Zealand is awesome.  They have these killer little personal entertainment devices in the back of each seat and you can watch TV, Movies, and listen to Music!  In fact it is so distracting/entertaining that when they hand out the declaration for landing in New Zealand it will make you totally look past “tent” in the declaration statements.

I mean you look at it and see “Tent”, it’s between  “microbial contaigens” and “bizzare chinese delicacy”.  At any rate there was a lovely German fellow, I say this scarcastically, who took the tent off to a room and then told us to wait by a door so they could sift through the possible destructive things I had brought with the tent (introduced species are awful I know.. just look at Australia).  He later walked out and said ominiously, “This does not look good for you, it looks like you will be facing a $200 fine.”  Later a woman emerged with a dustpan full of leaves, dirt, bugs, etc (the last I had this tent unpacked it hung on a line drying, in Vava’u at James and Steves houses).  So I was a bit skeptical, but we accepted irresponsiblity and stupidity and she let us go after a thorough talking to.  Honestly, the one thing that I think got us out of the fine and losing our tent was that Peace Corps was on our occupation on the declaration statement.  She mentioned it multiple times.

Karen got a cold right before we left and then I got it Saturday, and we have been sick all weekend.  So we haven’t gotten much acomplished here in Auckland.  But we’ve had some delicious miso soup and sushi and saw a couple of movies.  Of course, the hot showers are fantastic!  We fly to Christchurch tonight.

Check back later for more….

Earthquake….big one.

Well, Karen and I woke up to a really large earthquake this morning lasting from 35-45 seconds. From the feel of past earthquakes, I would have guessed that it was in the mid 6. magnitude by the time it got to us.  My dad called and said that CNN was reporting it as a 7.9 magnitude, and looking at my little tremor skimmer widget that grabs USGS data from the web, it says 7.9 as well!  I am anxious to see what the guys here at geology are reporting, and mapping the location.  It makes you wonder if it was associated with the Hunga Volcano, I mean it makes sense, but Tonga is on a convergent plate boundary in the ring of fire so….

I’ll have updates as soon as I can talk with the Geology folks

Here is the msnbc.com article: here

Update:  Here is the USGS information from their website: here

They are saying it was “210 km (130 miles) SSE of NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga” and about 10km deep which is rather shallow.  Friday, March 20, 2009 at 06:17:37 AM at epicenter

Hunga Island Volcano, new beachfront property!

So I guess you could say that just about anyone on the north side of Tongatapu who has been paying attention has noticed a huge plume of steam rising out of the ocean just to north east of A’tata.  It’s pretty darn amazing and us in Nuku’alofa are about 65-70km away so imagine what it looks like  up close.  Well today I got to find out.  I had just been visited by my friend Joe and not 10 minutes after he left several of the Geology folks came in and said “get your things together, we are going to Hunga on a Navy ship”.  I jumped at the chance, but I said I needed to run home and get all my cameras and GPS, and other things I’ll need.  So before I knew it I was traveling on one of the ships that we had been “encouraged” to jump off of during our water safety day during Peace Corps training.  The trip takes about 4 hours each way and we spent about an hour on site and around the two islands of Hunga, Hunga H’apai and Hunga Tonga.  Hunga Tonga is the one that is under current volcanic accretion, and it’s really amazing how volcanically active the island is.  There are several places that are steaming on the island and most of the tall trees have died due to what I can only guess is heat.

Upon arrival, it’s amazing how huge the plume of mostly steam and some ash and smoke was and then to see that the magma was exploding out of this newly created part of the island, probably roughly a 1/4 the size of the rest of the island.  The geologists Kelepi, and Apai seemed to think that the earthquake last Friday was the indication/start of the eruption.  It that time the island has accreted an extra 1 km into the ocean and roughly a .5 km wide.  It was amazing to see the steam rising up and then suddenly the black magma would explode from the white steam.  It seemed to linger just a moment and then the heavy material started falling and the steam stayed, turning the entire mass all white again.  The cloud seemed to create its own weather with a small amount of rain falling downwind, and I even saw a few water spouts form.  There was a large amount of pumice on the water between the two islands and it looked like at one point you might even be able walk across.  In the evening as we were returning you could see the cloud creating its own lightning.

We leave for New Zealand tomorrow, so look for updates of south island goodness coming soon!

check out the pics!

What happened today….Oh yeah I met the King of Tonga!

So yesterday at work I came back from lunch and my coworkers said that the Peace Corps office had called and said that I was invited to attend an official event with the King. This event just so happened to be where the new U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, and the region, presents his credentials to King Tupou V. Apparently he had tried to do so back in November, but there was a misunderstanding and he wasn’t able to. I guess they got all the particulars straight and he came back today for the official event.

I’m not entirely sure how I was picked from the list of people in Peace Corps, but I was, along with 6 others (unfortunately Karen was not because they wanted volunteers who work with the Tongan government). So we went to the old British Consulate, which is the King’s official meeting place these days. I thought for sure that there were going to be a whole bunch of people there, but there was not; maybe only 10 -12. We waited outside for awhile after first getting there and then went in and waited a bit. Suddenly the King and the Ambassador walked out together.  Jeffery Cornish, our Country Director, was encouraged to bring us over to meet the both of them. We were told that we should speak only in English to the King because there is a special language that has to be spoken to the King and if you don’t do it correctly then you look like an idiot. This is fine because the King was educated in England and speaks amazing English with a cool British accent. I also noticed that he spoke very fast Tongan as well. So at any rate we had our “It’s a pleasure to meet your Majesty” ready, but for some reason the planning Blake, a fellow PCV, and I had done to prepare for this one sentence didn’t come out quite right. I’m not sure exactly what I did say, but I think it was a combination of these words. At any rate I remember being disappointed with whatever it was I did say. So we all stood around and the King and Ambassador exchanged pleasantries with us and the waiters brought us wine and waters. I noticed the King really enjoyed talking about history and made every opportunity to do so. I got a chance to ask the Ambassador about the increase in funding for Peace Corps not being in the new budget, but Americorps being mentioned with numerous increases in funding. He said that it was a campaign promise that President Obama was going to have to follow through with and he was sure that it was going to happen somehow. In a later conversation Director Cornish assured us that it was probably going to be in a separate Bill not included in the next fiscal budget.

So we all sat down and chatted a bit. I got to snap a few pictures and several PCV’s got to have private conversations with the King. We were told that lunch was served and the King directed us to the serving room where males and females were to go arm in arm. So I paired with with Bethany (Pepe) and the one thing the King had to say to me was, “If you would like to smoke you are welcome to at any point.” Maybe he was talk to everyone, but for some reason I felt like he was talking to Pepe and I. He told us that he had “given it up”, but that he knew that people needed to smoke occasionally. So we had an amazing meal with roasted lobster (which I had 2), steaks (also 2servings), chicken, salad and eventually this amazing dessert that was some kind of chocolate creme with kiwi.

So at the end we took several pictures, said some thanks, and then the dignitaries suddenly were seen in their cars driving away. It was probably one of the most memorable experiences of being here for me. An interesting event with kick ass food, and overall a strange experience.