Home    Journal    Boat    Crew    Articles    Links    Contact

vanuatu



August 6- 1733 S - 17612 E - Underway to Vanuatu

A tiny gecko has been living in my sewing cupboard since Vuda Point. This morning Dave caught him and evicted our stowaway. We raised anchor and motored to the start line. A parade of 21 boats threaded our way out through the inner and outer reefs of the Mamanuca's today and into the Pacific. Very little wind, beautiful clear day - we are all motor-sailing in one meter seas. A pod of dolphins went boat to boat, cavorting briefly under each bow, the Fijian farewell committee. Soon the islands sank over the horizon. Looks like we will be motoring for the next several days, unless we get lucky with enough breeze to fly the spinnaker.

A gecko has stownaway in my sewing cupboard.

The ICA rally sets off from Fiji.


August 8- 1633 S - 17227 E - Mixed Bag

We were able to sail for a few hours, until the wind went just astern and got light, so we motored again, with sails up to damp the roll. Dave says we have enough fuel this passage to make Vanuatu if needed. Later the seas became confused and sloppy, and winds to 25 knots filled in, giving us a boisterous ride in heavy rain. During the night the winds dropped, and we are again motor-sailing, now under mostly clear skies. One more low is supposed to pass over before we make Vanuatu. Late today the grib looks black with heavy rain, unpleasant, as the boat closed up feels like a sauna here in the tropics.

We are enjoying a chocolate swirl goodbye cake from Toketie, a real treat. I don't think Linda knew I would have my birthday on this passage.

Dave and I are listening to audiobooks, downloaded from our home library to our MP3 player. Great way to help the long hours slide by.


August 9- 1558 S - 17010 E - Marching lows

Dave stood watch through a long night of heavy rains, giving me an extra couple hours sleep. Good news, the deck leaks (2 hatches and a couple chainplates) seem to no longer be leaking. Dave patches these in port, but we don't know until a passage if he fixed them.

Skies are starting to clear a little. Winds 14 knots from astern, port quarter. We continue to motor-sail, as we must be at Oyster Island for the Vanuatu clearance Tuesday noon, including crossing a reef at high tide.

We don't like being driven by a schedule! It is forcing us to motor at 6 knots when we would prefer to sail at 5 knots. But, it will be nice to clear in at Oyster with the rally rather than Luganville.

Tonight, we will use the radar to thread our way through the pass between Maewo and Pentecost, arriving tomorrow afternoon to Santo.


August 10 - Landfall Vanuatu

Baraka zigzagged through several islands to the entrance to Peterson Bay, Santo. Our GPS coordinates and charts are WAY off, 6/10ths of a mile, yow. We used the radar to navigate. Our radar shows the detailed shape of the islands' shores, helping with identification. Several times we dodged nets, very poorly marked. We were lucky to miss them.

Oyster Island had placed red and green poles at the bay entrance. We wandered inside and anchored behind Summer Sky. John (Windflower) dinghied out to meet us and advised we park for a few hours to wait mid-tide and rising before attempting the final short run up to Oyster Island. The obstacle is a shoal patch, 1.5 meters at low water. It is well flagged by red and green sticks. We draw 1.9 meters, and had to wait a few hours. We used the time to dinghy over and go back and forth over the shoal with a portable depth sounder Dave has mounted in the dinghy. As soon as we read enough depth on the rising tide, we went back to Baraka to pull up anchor and motor the final half mile into Oyster Island.

We had a relaxing birthday dinner in the quiet anchorage. It is always wonderful to have the boat lying still after a rowdy ocean passage. Dave delighted me with some very special birthday gifts, a gorgeous black pearl necklace and matching earrings, and a terrific shell book. I can stop making up names for the shells I've been collecting across the Pacific.


August 11 - Vanuatu Clearance

We went ashore today with our paperwork to clear in. The rally organizers arranged to the immigration, customs and quarantine officials to come here to Oyster Island from Luganville. 7000 Vatu later (about $65) we were officially cleared. We still must obtain an internal clearance from Luganville to Port Vila before we leave Santo, and pay port fees when we leave the country. Very painless, as they did not even board the rally boats. Tonight is a welcome buffet put on by the resort.

The resort is beautifully situated and photogenic. We will stay a few days to make some land and snorkeling trips, to see some Santos attractions. John (Windflower) tells us there are unexplored parts of this island that host tribes just now being discovered by companies seeking mineral deposits. He believes cannibalism still exists in some remote pockets here.

Tomorrow we will join others for a car trip to Luganville to find an ATM and explore the city.

Oyster Island entrance carvings.

These basket-ball sized pandanus fruits are the largest we've seen.


August 12 - Luganville

Today we crossed the short channel in the resort skiff to Santo, and rode the minibus into Luganville, the second largest town in Vanuatu. We found an ATM and got local currency. Barbara (Destiny) and I walked the length of the town looking for odds and ends, and photographing signage in Bislama, the pidgeon-English spoken here in Vanuatu. Often the meaning can be discerned if you speak the words phonetically. Then Dave and I were on a hunt for pamplemousse, the south pacific grapefruit we learned to love in French Polynesia. Success! The town market had many tables laden with pamplemousse, 20 vatu each (about 18 cents). They are much larger than grapefruit at home, and more flavorful and sweeter. We decided we could carry nine of them. Then we bought a huge stalk of "finger" bananas, the stubby sweet ones that are a joy to eat, for only 200 vatu. We shared these with other yachties. We found great french baguettes in one of the Chinese stores. The skies opened in a tropical downpour, so we splashed back to meet our minibus for the return trip. Fun day.

Back at Oyster Island, John, a local craftsman, came by with carvings and baskets. I bought a very traditional carved chief's head figure from him. The resort delivered jerry jugs filled with diesel and Dave topped off our tanks.

We have a new boat problem. The generator, installed new in Mexico early last year, is not starting. Dave is isolating the problem, an electrical component, but the manual he bought for this specific model shows a wiring diagram different from the actual configuration. We are running the main engine to keep the fridge and freezer cold. When the rains let up tomorrow Dave will continue with his diagnosis.

A row of jerry cans await the diesel run.

The resort ferries us across the channel.

Barbara and I take pictures of signs in Bislama.

You can usually figure out the meaning.

No plastic bags - produce comes in woven baskets.

Baraka has pamplemousse and finger bananas!

John the woodcarver made this chief figure.


August 14 - Kastom Village

Fascinating day. We dinghied ashore and loaded into a minivan with 8 others and our guide, Grant, to head inland, first to a copra cooking shed, and then to a kastom village.

Copra is coconut meat, which is dried and exported for its oil. The cooking shed had ovens made of old oil drums welded end-to-end into pipes. These became the ovens, fueled by wood and coconut husks. Upstairs the copra was raked to dry over a floor made from metal grates that had been brought to Vanuatu in WWII as airport runways.

We piled back into the minibus and bumped our way inland to Fanafo, a group of kastom (traditional) villages that figured in the Coconut Rebellion in 1980. Grant's father who has lived on Santo many years is a minor chief of the village we visited. Along the way Grant gave us a lot of background.

We were greeted by Vila, his family, father, and a bunch of photogenic kids. We got to visit their homes and garden, and learn something of their lives. Grant is fluent in Bislama and was our interpreter. Vila has (only) one wife, 10 children, and doesn't know his age, though we later learned his father was just starting to shave in WWII when the skies became "dirty" with planes. Luganville became an huge American naval base.

Vila showed us an important plant that guards each path into the village. If a stranger were to come inside and steal something or do harm, Vila could talk to the plant and the miscreant would suffer punishment.

Later we would see a bulldozer with 2 branches of the plant placed on it. Turns out there is a dispute: land use fees have not been paid to the locals, and the branches are enough to stop construction until the issue is resolved.

The village homes are neatly built of thatch and flattened, woven bamboo. A spirit that flies through the air brings death, so, to keep him out, homes have no windows. Vila is the village medicine man, and pointed out many plants that are curative, including one that can cause a woman to abort. Though he has a single wife, if he had more pigs, he could buy more wives. A woman is worth something less than a pig, and a wife is purchased with one or more pigs, depending on her family's rank. She has no rights, and can only discipline her male children until they reach puberty.

We were charmed by the children. They posed for photos and shared snacks with us, a sweet "white man's" breadfruit and some sort of nut. Vila dug up a kava root for tonight's gathering (men only), then demonstrated his skill with bow and arrow, hitting the 4-inch-wide stalk of a papaya plant 50 feet away. The bow is used to hunt flying foxes (bats) and wild pigs. We were impressed.

We piled back in the minibus for the bumpy ride home, feeling very lucky to have this intimate glimpse into a primitive culture. Grant says 4 years ago these villagers were dressed in leaves. Change is coming fast to these people.

Grant told a story. 30 years ago a village asked his father to give them money to dig a well and cover it. The women had to walk 10 km every day to a river to do laundry and bring water, and the village suffered a lot of water-born illnesses. Grant's father declined to pay, but offered to bring visitors occasionally, and the village could have a box for money contributions. Eventually the well was built, and health improved. But the women now had a lot of spare time, were less fit, and lost the social connections they had established by meeting women from other villages at the river. Morale of the story: any change has unexpected consequences.

The ovens for the copra shed.

Upstairs is the drying room.

Typical santo house.

Santo roads are rough and muddy.

Each home has a vegetable garden.

We reach Vila's village.

Pretty girl in a swing.

The children have a pet bird.

The village is tidy.

The kids are sweet and happy.

Vila is our host. He has 10 children.

The girls pose for pictures.

This little boy is unhappy having a bath.

The girls enjoy posing.

Vila shows us his garden and describes medicinal plants.

A bromeliad in a coconut tree.

Vila digs up a kava root for tonight's nakamal.

Grant, our guide, and Vila spot some boys in a tree.

Girl with umbrella.

A boy cuts fronds into darts and hurls them high.

We follow Vila around the village on jungle paths.

Some of the homes are on short stilts.

Vila's father started shaving in WWII.

4 years ago all the villagers were dressed in leaves.

Now most wear cloth loincloths.

Boy in the swing.

Beautifully made bag is drying on the roof rafters.

This woman weaves a basket to hold roots.

Vila shots a target 50 feet away. Bullseye!

He is tickled by our applause.


August 15 - Blue hole and water music

This morning we joined a convoy of six dinghies to travel to the south end of Peterson Bay and up a river. Object was the "blue hole" at the end. John and Lynn of Windflower organized the trip, and had made a small payment to the people who own the area. Soon we reached the head of the river, and jumped over the side into crystal-clear brilliant blue water. The water is spring-fed through limestone which provides its clarity. Very refreshing.

Tonight was pig-on-a-spit night and water music at Oyster Island Resort. The huge pig was falling off the spit and had to be trussed up with barbed wire.

A group of 7 ladies and 4 men from the Banks Group ferried out to Oyster Island to put on a special show. The warriors danced and threatened the guests with spears and fierce yells. Then the ladies, clad in leaves and flowers, lined up off the beach in waist-deep water and played 7 songs, using their hands in 4/4 time, splash, swish, whump, whump, splash, swish, whump, whump, perfectly synchronized. First time we have seen seawater used as an instrument.

We dinghy up a river to a blue hole...

...where we enjoy a refreshing dip.

Vanuatu dugouts are identical to those seen all across the South Pacific.

Dave won't swing the end one out for me.

Yachties gather for happy hour at Oyster Island.

John Frank stops by to sell his wife's hand-woven baskets.

Oyster Island puts on a pig roast for us.

These traditional carvings guard the entrance to Oyster Island.

A group from the Banks Islands puts on a show for us.

The men dance and threaten.

Seven leaf-clad ladies make music in the water.

The water music troup.

Banks warrior.


August 16 - Chart Markup

Ashore at Oyster Island we gathered with a dozen other boats for a "chart markup" to plan our cruise through Vanuatu. Under the guidance of John and Lynn of Windflower, we will "cruise in company" down from Santo to Efate over the next month, with stops on Ambae, Pentecost, Ambrym, Malakula and Epi. We may not travel lockstep with the fleet, but our experience here at Oyster has shown us that we will see and understand more of the ni-Van culture and terrain by having guidance. There is little tourism infrastructure here, and going solo would mean we would sail right on by some wonderful things.

First stop later this week will be Palikula Bay on the SE end of Santo, where we will be able to snorkel and dive some WWII sites, and obtain our internal clearance to travel from Santo to Efate.


August 18 - Palikula

Yesterday we paid our tab at Oyster Island and caught the rising tide out the pass. We beat our way south into Palikula Bay, just 7 land miles from Luganville. This morning we shared a taxi ride to town with Ivory Quays. We visited Immigration to get our visa extensions, then Customs for Internal Clearance to travel from Luganville to Port Vila on Efate. Dave visited a Chinese store that stocked some electrical components, and found the relay he needed. Last week Dave spent a day troubleshooting why our generator wouldn't start, and this relay was the culprit. He was going to jury-rig a switch to bypass it when Russ (Vivacious) said he might have a spare that could work. Voila! The generator runs again. Dave was happy to find the part today to repay Russ.

We had lunch at the Victoria Cafe, got eggs and bread, and visited the women's handicraft market where Dawn bought me a beautifully woven basket from Ambae as a birthday present. In the market, Dave and I went from stall to stall to buy pamplemousse. There are 2 types, ones with red flesh similar to the grapefruit we get at home, and the wonderful yellow flesh ones we enjoyed in French Polynesia. The stall ladies pointed us to the ones we wanted, and we bought all we could carry.

Dave is signed up for 3 scuba dives tomorrow and the next day. When we got home he pulled out all his scuba gear and tested it out over the side. I won't join him - it's been too long for me and I'd need a refresher course. He is going with 3 other yachties in the ICA group.


August 19 - Coolidge and Million Dollar Point

Santo is a scuba diver's mecca with a couple phenomenal WWII sites. Dave decided to scuba dive both the President Coolidge and Million Dollar Point, while I just snorkeled the latter. The Coolidge was a 600-foot-long luxury liner pressed into service as a troop transport. While sailing into Segond Channel, due to a miscommunication, it hit two mines, placed there by American troops. The shore station realized its error, and tried to signal the Coolidge, but it had passed behind an island in the channel and could not see the signals.

The captain ran the huge ship up onto the reef to offload the 5200 troops. Within 2 hours, the ship slipped back off the reef and sank. Only 3 lives were lost. There are amazing pictures of the troops streaming over the sides to safety.

This underwater ship is now one of the largest wrecks in the world available to divers. The dive is absolutely amazing, and avid divers have spent years exploring the ship. Dave's dive included 2 decompression stops, due to the depth of the dive.

Dave's second dive today was at nearby Million Dollar Point, so named because at the war's end the Americans built a ramp and dumped cranes, trucks, jeeps, tanks, hundreds of tons of equipment into the ocean. This equipment was first offered to the occupying French for almost nothing, but thinking they would inherit it for free, they declined the offer. In spite, the American troops built a jetty and drove-pushed all of the equipment off the edge of a reef. The equipment is piled down the face of the reef from 35 to 150 feet deep, making it one of the most intriguing dive sights in the world. The French quickly brought in a huge salvage ship to begin recovering the equipment. Ironically, as it was trying to bring up the first bulldozer, it tipped over and quickly joined the rest of the underwater equipment. Due to the depths and multiple dives, another decompression stop was required. One couple had an underwater camera, so the divers passed the time taking pictures of each other.

At Oyster Island, Grant, a NZ ex-pat, told us the Coolidge and Million Dollar Point were Santo's main assets. Across the Pacific there are piles of rusty metal dotting the landscape, but here on Santo it was neatly piled into the sea, generating decades of tourism.

We visit Million Dollar Point...

...where at the end of WWII...

...American troups built a ramp...

...and drove tons of equipment into the sea.

Dave joins a dive group...

...to appreciate the scope of the gear dumped here.


August 22 - Passage to Ambae

The past two evenings Alan and Kristin of Charisma told of their Vanuatu adventures. They hiked to a volcano, met a lot of villagers and were invited to church and a wedding. The locals gave them fruits and vegetables, and one freshly-killed fruit bat, a delicacy. Charisma took the fruit bat to the next village and asked for help preparing it. Alan said it did not taste like chicken, and once was enough. Other villagers gave Kristin eggs. When she cracked them open, partially-formed chicks were inside. Hope I don't run out of eggs.

We pulled the hook up at Palikula, and set off at first light for Ambae. Leaving the "civilisation" of Santo, we are headed to more remote and primitive places. We won't see a vehicle or store for the next few weeks, until we reach Port Vila on Efate. Crossing, we had 4 1/2 hours of 25-knot beam winds and rowdy wind waves for a fast sail.

Now we are anchored in pretty Lolowai Bay on the NE corner of Ambae. To come in we had to wait for a rising tide and follow a course of 212 degrees true aimed at a couple range marks, to cross a shallow reef shelf. I stood on the bow and watched gnarly coral heads passing just under the keel. Yikes. No problems, we made it across the reef to this sheltered anchorage. 15 16.88 S, 167 58.88 E if you'd like to see the coral shelf on Google Earth.


August 23 - Lolowai

This morning a boy in a dugout outrigger came by to sell pamplemousse and coconuts. I was more interested in the finely woven basket that held the fruit. He said his auntie made it, and agreed to sell it to me. Ambae is noted for its fine basketwork and this is a good example.

We rowed ashore and joined a gaggle of other yachties to explore, climbing a ridge for great views of the anchorage and other islands. We hiked several hours, getting a good workout. Our pretty anchorage here is the bowl of a defunct volcano. Next stop is Avansari on Maewo, but we are in no hurry and may linger here one more day.


August 25 - Asanvari, Maewo

Lolowai annchorage.

The Tina steams across the reef, loaded with people and goods.

Hiking, we meet this friendly lady and her children.

Outrigger canoes deliver fruit.

I am interested in his fruit basket.

Pulled anchor early this morning to catch high water to cross the coral shelf, and motor-sailed across the channel to Maewo, where we worked our way south to Asanvari Bay. Here, John and Lynn know Chief Nelson well, and have arranged dancing and a feast for us.

Asanvari is another pretty anchorage, situated just off a cascading waterfall where I hope to do laundry. Anchoring was challenging. The boats waltz in circles in the eddying winds, and the bottom is rocks and coral. Our anchor chain growls a complaint.

Dave went ashore with John to check out the generator and fix a problem with Chief Nelson's outboard. Tomorrow each yacht is to be assigned a host family who will give us an insight into how the locals live.


August 27- Asanvari Feast

Yesterday we were assigned our adoptive host family. Mark and Anise have 4 sons and 2 daughters. Anise is Chief Nelson's daughter. In the welcoming ceremony, the family presented us with beautiful handmade baskets, leis, bananas and kumara. The welcome ceremony included a half-dozen boys preparing kava, which is nothing like the tame Fiji or Tongan kava. Roots are ground by hand into a mash by the boys working the roots around a stalk of ribbed coral. (Thank goodness the boys no longer chew it into the pulp). Once into a fine mash, water is added, and handfuls squeezed through the weave from a coconut palm. Finally, the nectar is filtered through fresh coconut weave, and poured into coconut shell cups. The yachties, used to kava from tamer lands, quickly got smashed. I asked for a "low tide" - half shell - but still had numb lips. Vanuatu kava has a punch!

A couple of our host family's kids speak English, including a boy who paddled out to Baraka this morning and reminded me that I (Jan) was his brother. We welcomed him aboard and showed him our home.

Later this morning Dave and I rowed to the waterfall to do laundry, quick work with plenty of water and a nice torrent to help with the rinse cycle. Mid-afternoon, we went ashore for kastom dancing, 5 boys and men (including our brother), chanting and leaping to a rhythmic beat. They were dressed in woven loin clothes with leafy branches sticking up from behind, and streaked with ashes. Nixon prepared a pig cooked lovo style in the ground, accompanied with rice, taro and stewed papaya, very good. Afterward a string band (box harp, drum, ukelele and guitars) struck up a bunch of Vanuatu songs, and the we danced the night away with the energetic and adorable kids.

Earlier I rowed to Baraka to pick up my wallet to pay for our feast. As I pulled away from the beach a bunch of young boys jumped into the dinghy to accompany me. Each day we are here, we are getting to know the villagers and interact more with them, a genuine treat. I visited the Nakamal. Normally reserved for men, here there is a back entrance for women. There are many tabus around women. I asked Chief Nelson whether we foreigners offend by our not understanding their customs, but he told me if we violate the tabus it is his fault, as he has not told us what we need to know.

John convenes a meeting to discuss today's agenda.

The welcome ceremony includes kava making.

Each yacht is assigned to an Asanvari host family.

Several of us receive Mother Hubbard dresses.

Dawn models her Mother Hubbard.

Colorful dresses, gifts from our host families.

Kava making is hard work.

Binihi in dance costume with brother Dave.

The village Nakamal is the kava bar...

...and men's club.

Village home.

Our host family visits Baraka.

We are welcomed to Chief Richard's village...

...where we are given a demonstration...

...on how to make laplap from taro root...

...which we get to eat.

Tiny baby in a Mother Hubbard.

Asanvari anchorage.

Dave helps Chief Nelson fix his outboard.

Asanvari waterfall aka laundromat.


August 29- Loltong, Pentecost

Yesterday Nixon prepared a special lunch for a dozen yachties - fresh water prawns, sauteed green papaya, and rice. Rice is a luxury here. Many families can't afford it.

We met Charity, the schoolteacher, who told me that it costs 1000 vatu per term for each child to attend, a small fortune, though only $10 US. Next year the government will begin funding primary school (grades 1-6) so more can attend. There is no secondary school here. I gave Charity a small donation toward buying windows for a new classroom building under construction, and dropped off some school supplies we had brought to share.

Nixon's brother, age 32, died 2 weeks ago, of black magic. His grave is mounded with cloths and artificial flowers.

In the afternoon Nixon took us to Chief Richard's village on the north side, where a special presentation had been prepared. Chief Richard met us in traditional woven loin cloth, and in a formal ceremony, allowed us to enter his village. Along the way, Nixon told us traditional stories. A chief had many pigs (very rich) and 10 wives, but no children. The wives compared notes and finally realized that the chief was not sleeping with any of them, so they watched carefully as he stepped into his dugout, and discovered he was a she.

Two special "peace stones" are near the village Nakamal. If a man is threatened, he can run to the stones and lie on them, and no one may kill him.

In Richard's village, small shelters had been prepared and decorated with tropical flowers and leaves. Each hut housed a woman in traditional woven dress who demonstrated a step in the preparation of laplap. First, the taro root was peeled, then grated on the rough stem of a special plant. The doughy result was folded into banana leaves, then baked in the ground in a stone oven. In the last hut, women removed the cooked laplap, and spread it with coconut milk. We were led to a seating area and presented with a piece of the laplap and a green drinking coconut. The charge for this was 500 vatu - less than $5 a person. We were impressed that the local people came up with this program, and the work that went into it.

The annual visit by the yachties is one of the few opportunities for the villagers to raise money. Their life is simple subsistence. Food is plentiful. But cash is needed, for schooling, for petrol for the village outboard, and to buy clothing. The Island Cruising Association has adopted Asanvari, and brings parts for the waterfall-driven generator, medical supplies, and other needed equipment, and probably most important, brings the yachties who appreciate the village's services and are happy to spend money and donate supplies.

The past few nights a young man is a dugout has visited the yachts at anchor, and pilfered a couple pairs of shoes left in dinghies. Chief Nelson and Nixon quickly figured out who the culprit is and will deal with him. The shoes will be returned. We are curious what the punishment will be, and hope it is not too harsh. Nelson is very concerned about continuing good relations with the yachties.

We said our goodbyes and thanks to our host family, to Nelson and Nixon, and thanked them for their generous hospitality. We are grateful for the chance to see into their village life, and to interact more than we have anywhere else in our travels. The children have been especially delightful.

Despite the dozens of small children everywhere, we have not seen a single pregnant woman. Here, women are sequestered during pregnancy. There are many tabus, some bizarre to our western minds. Certainly the role of women is sharply limited, with few rights and many restrictions.

Time to wander on, to see more of Vanuatu. We are headed south, to Loltong on Pentecost, the island famous for inspiring bungee jumping. In April each year, to celebrate the yam harvest, young men tie vines to their ankles and leap from high ricketty towers. The vine lengths are chosen to allow the men's heads scrape the slope below. We won't see this, as it's not the right season.

We move on to Loltong, on Pentecost.

Where the kids carry the dinghy up the beach.

And ham it up for the camera.


August 30 - moonbow and the condominium

Last night a squally drizzle woke us. Dave scambled to close our hatches, then called me topsides to witness a "moonbow", only one we have ever seen. It was a complete ghostly arch, both ends visible within the bay, created by the moonlight passing though rain. It had no colors. Cool!

Today we rowed ashore where we were met by several dozen small kids. They hauled our dinghy up the beach, then posed for pictures. They found their images hilarious on our digital camera display. In the village we met Chief Richard who requested a small donation. The bay and anchorage belong to the village, and this seems reasonable. His wife offered to sell us grapefruit, and fetched a boy to climb the tall tree to bring some down.

Loltong is really 2 villages, an Anglican church, English school one, and a Catholic church, French school one. This reflects the weird dual-colonial management of Vanuatu by the French and English until independence in 1980. The Catholic church was demolished in an earthquake in 2002. Vanuatu sits on the Pacific Rim of Fire.

Several men approached us to offer services, as guides, or providing bread, fruit. They are aware that Asanvari on neighboring Maewo is getting a lot of benefit from visiting yachties and are anxious to tap us. Tourism is all but non-existant here. These islands are too remote, and there are no stores, restaurants, places to stay. Amazingly, Digicell has built cell towers on most of Vanuatu's occupied islands, and promises digital services in a few years. Though most people lack electricity and running water, some do have cell phones. Digicell sells a small solar panel to recharge the battery. Today most villages speak a language that is unique, with no resemblance to that spoken in other villages on the same island. Villages are quite isolated. The terrain is so rugged, and there are very few tracks that might be called roads. The phone/data service will change Vanuatu, and possibly mean the end of hundreds of languages. It would be interesting to return in 10 years.


August 31 - Ranon, Ambrym

From Loltong, we sailed south along Pentecost to Ambrym, an atmospheric island with a active volcanoes. Steam vents burp sulfurous gases, and a dark roiling cloud spews downwind of the main crater. We anchored at Ranon, on the north side, to escape most of the downwind ash. We are hoping for no rain the next few days, as the air will turn to acid.

Ambrym is Vanuatu's black magic island. There are many dark spirits here who must be placated by the local people's special Rom dancing. We will join a half dozen boats tomorrow for a hike to a kastom village to see the dancing and other traditions.

Here at Ranon anchorage the water is inky black, over a black sand base. No swimming here, too many sharks.

Ranon, Ambyrm.

Boy carrying yams to the village.


September 1 - The Rom Dance

Dave and Frank tried to arrange a hike to the caldera, but the volcano is now closed for 4 months, during the important yam harvest. Instead, we joined six other boats to arrange a guided hike to Fanla, a kastom village, to see Rom dancing. We were led up a jungle trail to the high village, and given fresh drinking coconuts while we rested. Then we were led to a special clearing where a dozen men and boys, clad mainly in small nambas (penis wrappers), performed a welcome dance and gave us permission to enter the clearing. The Rom dancers joined them. The Rom dancers wear fantastic masks, and are dressed like large haystacks. The dance is specifically done to mark the circumcision ceremony when boys become men. The men chanted and pounded the earth with their feet. It is powerful and dignified dancing.

The clearing was surrounded with totem-like carvings. We were not allowed to approach the Rom dancers, or the chief's hut, as these are sacred. Our guidebook says the chiefs here live alone, to avoid being poisoned. Black magic is still practiced, and illness or death are proof you have made an enemy.

On the trail we met many locals climbing down for a ceremony today in Ranon, for a boy's circumcision, or to bring laundry down to be washed, then spread on the black sand beach to dry.

We hike to Fanla village, where we are given drinking cocnuts.

This chief totem guards Fanla village.

The village men, dressed in small nambas, dance a welcome.

Then the Rom dancers join them.

The Rom dancers have spectacular and valuable masks...

...with dried banana fronds, and ankle seed rattles.

Several chiefs pound out music on slit drums.

Many totems circle the clearing.

Pig mama and piglets in front of the chief's house.

The anchorage at Ranon, Ambrym.


September 3 - Lazy Day at Malakula

We sailed west from Ambrym to Malakula ("bad bottom"? named by Cook), anchoring in Banam Bay with some of the other ICA yachts. We'll park here a few days to sit out some stronger than normal SE trade winds.

We have been visited by dugout canoes, offering food. One local man offered to bring lobsters, but after working the reef last night had no luck - too full a moon. Dang, we love lobster. Another visitor paddled over with pawpaw (papaya) and coconuts, and fresh lemons. He wanted to trade for them, initially asking for men's shorts, then for a torch. We had bought cheap headlamps in Mexico, and gave him one of those, and an extra set of batteries, and we both parted happy with our end of the deal.

Today I baked a key lime pie, a pizza and baguettes. We are starting to crave fresh vegetables. Fruits are plentiful, and we can get a little bok choi sort of cabbage, spring onions, but little else.

Some of the rest of the ICA fleet went on to Port Sandwich, also on Malekula. There is a abattoir (butcher) in that bay, and the bay teems with sharks, man-eaters.


September 4 - The Alvei and Chief Saital

Accompanied by Destiny, Free Spirit, and Ivory Quays, we went ashore to explore. We met at the "yacht club", a small shelter built to welcome yachts, then walked to a tidy village, meeting lots of local people. We are getting used to people melting out of the bush with machetes. Every male over the age of 3 seems to be holding one. Michele arranged to have eggs delivered, and we asked about cabbage and cucumbers. They agreed to deliver them to the dinghy landing at 5 pm.

Back aboard, Geoff and Sally of Grace came by to visit. They are from Seattle, though we are just now getting to know them. At 5 pm we went ashore. 4 eggs had arrived, but no other vegetables. Two young men hopped into Free Spirit's dinghy and we followed, motoring across the bay to another village. There we were greeted by a Chief Saital, who told us he was 88 years old. He is a character, very enjoyable to meet. Some ladies brought vegetables from the garden, green papaya, long beans, a zuchinni-type squash, some cucumbers and a couple lemons. Val bought a few things, and I traded some packaged cookies for the rest. They were ecstatic to get the cookies, and I was just as happy with the fresh veg.

Heading back to the dinghies we met Seamus, an American needing a ride back to his ship. Earlier we'd seen the ship arrive, a 3-masted square-rigger that we'd last seen in Fiji. Seamus agreed to have us aboard for a tour. The steel boat was built originally as a steam-driven Baltic trader in the 20s, then outfitted as a square-rigger in the 50s. Today the Alvei plys between Nelson, NZ and Vanuatu, as the delivery vehicle for MARC, Medical Assistance to Remote Communities. They build and service clinics, bringing doctors and midwives and dentists, all volunteers. This trip they are carrying building materials and water tanks for several villages. They pick areas that are otherwise inaccessible, and make sure that what they start is maintained. Very impressive. For crew they attract people willing to pay $200 a week to learn how to sail on a square-rigger. The ship has no refrigeration, limited fresh water, and the WC is a salt water bucket on deck. It takes 6 people an hour to raise the anchor. Funding is by private donations. Seamus told us they often use yachts like us to deliver materials and staff to remote places. If we were hanging out in Vanuatu, we'd love to participate. We were impressed. They have a website, www.alvei.com.


September 5 - Port Sandwich

From Banam Bay we poked our noses out into 25 knots. We were trying to make the Maskeleynes, on the SE corner of Malakula. After bashing to weather a couple hours we opted to duck into sheltered Port Sandwich, and try again tomorrow. Dave and I consoled ourselves with a nice beach walk, collecting some great shells. There is a chance Australia will confiscate them all, along with baskets and wood carvings. We'll have to wait and see.

No swimming here - the bay is supposedly home to man-eating sharks.


September 7 - Mascaleynes

We are tucked into tiny Awei Bay in the Mascaleynes after a rowdy trip down from Port Sandwich. Fortunately it was a short hop, but to windward. When we reached the SE corner of Malakula, the seas, in a rip tide, were a churning washing machine! We cut into the passage, against a 4-knot current against opposing wind, quite a sleigh ride. Now we are tucked in to a quiet anchorage at Awai. Dave wants rain to rinse the crust of salt off the stainless.

Morning Light, Free Spirit and Destiny are here in the anchorage. Several locals visited us in their dugout canoes, curious and asking questions. Fun to meet them. One family, man and 3 small kids, asked us for a plastic bottle to carry water from a stream. We found one he could use, and also gave them a little rice, tea, powdered milk and fish hooks. Wouldn't be surprised if he's back tomorrow with some fruit. No one seems to have their hand out. Yesterday, hiking to Lamap, we were given 6 grapefruit. The man indicated it was a gift.

Several dugouts have gone past today loaded with fronds - building materials for a new home. There's no Home Depot out here.


September 8 - Awai Homestead

This morning Solfren brought us bananas in his dugout, asking for 200 vatu for a healthy hand. Later we rowed ashore with Free Spirit to find the cross-island trail to his family homestead, strolling through a mangove swamp and along the beach to the far side of the island. Solfren showed us how he is building a new house, out of bamboo, branches and fronds. It is quite beautiful, the walls a woven pattern of split bamboo, the roof (waterproof), a thatch of pandanus leaves bent over bamboo sticks and stitched in place with small strips of bamboo. There are a few nails holding the stick frame together, but it is otherwise completely built of local materials. It has a single window, facing the windward beach. Each structure was tidily landscaped with stone rockeries and flowering plants, very attractive. Solfren said malaria is a problem, and the family sleeps under treated mosquito netting. Midweek, his 4 children are away at boarding school.

Aboard we have seen no flies or mosquitoes here, though the Mascaleynes are known as a malaria area. Our anchorage is lovely - shared with 5 other American boats. We may hang here a few more days waiting for a favorable weather window to shoot south (windward) to Efate.


September 10 - Going Native

The boats in the bay are running out of staples, fuel, and food. I traded Barbara, sugar for flour, and we sent a couple steaks over to Free Spirit who have fish but have not seen meat for awhile. Free Spirit let Sofrens know they were interested in getting a pig. Sofrens came last night to make arrangements, bringing a long stick of land crabs to tide them over. This morning Paul ran Sofrens to Malakula to pick up the small pig, already slaughtered. Sofrens wife will cook it lomo-style (earth oven) today. Cost was 2000 vatu for the pig, plus a gift for Sofrens' wife. Pigs are not normal food for the locals. They are so valuable, they are normally reserved for ceremonies, circumcisions, grade-taking (the path to chiefdom) and weddings.

We are waiting one more day, for the winds to shift to a better angle, before hopping down to Efate.


September 12 - Night passage to Port Vila

Easy night passage from Malakula, though we are not in the cadence of a passage and got little rest. But just a single night, no sweat. Dave studied the gribs for several days, and we waited until the winds clocked around to a nice beam reach. Fast trip, and we made it around infamous Devil's Point with no problem.

Civilization! We walked around Port Vila savoring the amenities. Wifi internet! A mooring ball! Laundry and stores! Hamburger lunch in a bar/restaurant! Pretty exciting after the past month in remote places. We had fun catching up with the many boats congregating here. Tonight Dave and I celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary with a fresh salad from the market, baguette and brie.


September 17 - The Big City

Port Vila has been fun. After 2 nights on a mooring buoy, we moved the boat to the quay, med-mooring bow in. We have a plank passerelle, which goes up and down about 4 feet with the tides, making it exciting to get on and off the boat. The wonderful market is only a couple blocks away, as is a good grocery. We had a few hours of angst when I lost our passports (this included the police report) but we found them again, whew! The nearest American embassy is in Suva, Fiji, and we would have had to fly there to get them reissued.

We have applied for Australian visas, and today made the rounds of the hardware and marine stores looking for some needed odds and ends. To get around Vila we hop a "bus" - really a minivan - for 150 vatu and it takes us anywhere we want to go. There are no routes, each bus just goes wherever the passengers want, a delightful random element. To reward ourselves to visited the National Museum, a great display of masks, carvings, and history, and watched a video of the Pentecost Land Diving, how they build the platform tower, select the vines, and leap. Amazing.

Tomorrow we are getting a round Efate tour in a minivan with a bunch of other yachties. On Saturday Dave and I will fly to Tanna to see an active volcano up close and personal.

Luxury! We are tied up to the quay.

Anna gives Dave a haircut.


September 20 - KABOOM! Yasur Volcano

Dave and I signed up for an overnight tour to Tanna, to see the active volcano. We flew down in a small prop plane, just one hour, and were met by Jungle Oasis for the hour and a half ride to their bungalows at the base of Yasur. On the way the truck stopped for gas, groceries, beer, and to give rides to dozens of walkers. Our drivers were very interested in some kava root at a small roadside market, until they realized we weren't buying it for them.

At Jungle Oasis we checked into our small fale built of mats and fronds, very rustic. After a fried egg lunch we were escorted to a kastom village where a dozen men and boys, dressed in large nambas (penis wrappers) performed traditional dances. Their entrance to the dance clearing was through a tunnel in a large banyan tree, very impressive. After the dance we enjoyed talking with several men, about how they are maintaining their kastom traditions.

At 4pm we started the hike to Yasur. It took a bit over an hour, up a winding dirt road to the crater rim. There we were treated to a blast explosion about every 5 minutes, which hurled ribbons of lava and molten rock high in the air. The red rocks then flowed in noisy rivers back down into the cauldron. Yasur has 3 cauldrons, only one of which is active right now. We stayed through sunset, talking photos and movie shots of the spectacle. Absolutely stunning. The percussive blast of each explosion was indescribable. Dave asked our guide if he could go closer, down on a ledge, but the guide said no. Later we saw molten lava flung on that ledge. Up on the rim, we could see down into the cauldrons. The winds were from the right direction, so we could stay and watch until after sunset.

With flashlights, we made our way down to meet a truck for the ride back to Jungle Oasis. All night in bed we could hear Yasur's booms. Very cool. Every so often rats rustled in our thatch roof. Not the most restful night, but all part of the Vanuatu experience.

Today we made our way back to Vila. This week we will get ready for the hop to New Caledonia.

We fly from Efate to Tanna.

On the way to Jungle Oasis we stop at a roadside market under a banyan.

Tanna's big nambas give us a kastom dance.

Traditions are being passed on.

The blast zone around Yasur looks like a moonscape.

On the rim, we are treated to explosions every 5 minutes.


September 22 - Passage Prep

Once again we are in the throes of passage preparation. Although our New Caledonia port of entry is only 200 miles away, about 40 hours sailing, we are going through all the clearing out steps here in Vanuatu, including the usual round of Port Fees, Customs, Immigration, an advance health statement for New Cal (due to swine flu concerns), currency exchange, duty-free fuel, and topping off propane, outboard gas, water, scuba tanks, and provisions. New Caledonia is rumored to be very expensive, so we will load up here with fresh produce and stores.

John of Island Cruising Association has arranged for a fleet of 30 yachts to clear in at Ouvea in the Loyalties. We will pay a share to fly the officials in. This is a big advantage for the cruising yachts, not to have to sail all the way to Noumea for entry into New Caledonia.

Our normally empty calendar is full this week, with clearance and social activities!


September 23 - Home Remedy

We met an American on a yacht who lost his wife last month here in Vanuatu. She had researched a medication called MMS on the internet and decided she would take it as a malaria preventative. Malaria is prevalent on Malakula. Within a few hours she was in respiratory distress, and 12 hours later was dead. Her husband was stunned by her loss, and how quickly it happened.

This tragedy is a stark reminder of the risks we take self-medicating. There are few doctors out here, and all of us treat ourselves for ailments, sometimes borrowing prescription meds from other boats, or giving them to sick local people, or experimenting with folk remedies.

Meanwhile we continue with passage preparation. Port fees are paid, Australian visas ready for pickup, fuel, propane, outboard gas, water and scuba tanks topped off. Yesterday Dawn and I visited Au Bon Marche to stock up on perishable foods. Saturday morning we will visit the open market for fresh produce. We are about 3 weeks away from the next real grocery store, in Noumea, New Caledonia.


September 26 - Goodbye Vanuatu

Dave and I took our boat bags to the market this morning and loaded up on pamplemousse, papaya, mandarins, limes, tomatoes, cukes, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, and a stalk of yummy green finger bananas. Lynn on Windflower told us last year a cabbage in the Loyaties cost over $40 NZ. Yikes. We won't clear customs until Noumea, in several weeks, so we stocked up.

Yesterday we cleared out of Vanuatu, so all the paperwork is done. We are stowing the boat for passage today, topsides and belowdecks. This should be an easy 200 miles, about 40 hours, to Ouvea. Altogether 30 boats are in the rally.

Vanuatu has been terrific, very primitive and very interesting. We are very glad we got to see so many islands, and get glimpses into ni-Van culture through the kindness and generosity of its gentle people. Wish we could come back, but the tradewinds continue to shove us westward.

For earlier journal entries of Fiji,  click here.

Copyright 2009. All Rights Reserved.