Chapter 25: July 8th — August 6th, 2004:
VANUATU, Center of the Pacific Ring of Fire
Thursday, July 8th: Fiji in our “Rear View Mirror” –Day One of Passage to Vanuatu
About 12 hours ago we left Musket Cove Marina on Malololailai Island in Fiji. It was a bittersweet departure. Our boat had been there since October 2003 and we physically had been in the country for 4 of those months… so relatively speaking compared to most of our voyages, we had been there a while. We leave behind some bitter memories of being burglarized multiple times, and disappointing memories of having to be dockside for several months longer than we planned waiting for a replacement part for the boat, disrupting our hopes of visiting many of the 300+ islands of the Fiji group…and scary moments of hitting a coral reef and of being anchored surrounded by reefs with 40 knots of wind on a lee shore. We also had unbelievably hot and humid weather for 2 of our months… the months when we had the most physical outside work to be done to the boat plus another month almost of storms. The sweet moments though were the wonderful Fijian people, who always had a “Bula” (hello) for us, and who quickly learned our names… and the beautiful sunsets, and the white sandy beaches, and the much alive coral reefs with lots of shells and tropical fish.
On our last night in Fiji, I asked Joe what was his favorite moment was or time that we had in Fiji, and he could not off the top of his head think of any. When he finally did, it was of the 3 days we spent in a hotel resort on the beach… ironic that his favorite time was when we were OFF the boat. Which is probably why, if we chose a place we would like to come back to visit of all our travels, Fiji would be at the top of my list — not by sailboat, but by air. The islands are riddled with beautiful resorts … some where they have the entire island with no one else on them, all with beautiful beaches, thatched huts for the guests “hotel” room, tropical cuisine, and first class service. And again, the Fijians are among the friendliest of the islanders that we’ve met on our travels.
So with enough bad luck in the last few months to last us a season of sailing, we are hoping by leaving Fiji behind and heading off to a new island group, that our luck will change. And perhaps we will find out again why we continue to cruise.
After several months’ worth of storms with high winds, today when we departed (and all day) we have had blue cloudless skies and of course, almost no wind (less than 5 knots), so we are motoring with no sail power. Unfortunately, we do have swells though that are on the beam (the most uncomfortable location), which are causing the boat to rock back and forth (i.e. side to side). Hopefully eventually the wind will pick up a bit (I’m careful though of what I ask for: we want the right amount of wind from the right direction!) and we’ll be able to at least increase our speed with sail power and hopefully turn of the engine. Although I am glad for the nice non-stormy weather, we also don’t want to motor for 500 miles across the ocean to our next destination.
Right now it is my first watch in almost 10 months. Joe has gone to sleep so I’m it for now. I almost forgot how to use the radar and had to be reminded what lights to turn on for the boat at sunset. The stars are all out and there are so many of them that the Southern Cross, that is usually so brilliant, is almost hidden in the Milky Way. The moon will not rise for many hours so it is quite a light show with the stars, so life, for the moment, is fine.
Friday, July 09th: Day 2 of Passage to Vanuatu — Still No Wind
It was depressing that at our first 24-hour mark this morning we had only gone 100 miles. That is a really slow day, even for us — averaging only 4 knots/hour. It was strange as at times our boat speed would increase a knot for a bit of time and then it would be like we were going through molasses, even though the wind speed and direction and swells had not changed. Duh… navigation 101 — we never think about there being currents in the wide open ocean, but when we investigated, that’s what was happening, i.e. we were going into a 1 knot current most of yesterday. Since early morning though, our boat speed has increased to over 5 knots, so we are happier. Although we are still motoring and would be a lot happier to have the sails up and this stinky noisy engine turned off. Sometimes it feels like we have a motorboat with 2 sticks in the air.
I always get the blahs the first couple of days of a passage, i.e., not sick or anything, just sort of sleepy, no energy, no appetite, etc. -- and usually a headache when it's rolly -- probably from my brain getting bruised by being rolled around in my skull! Then usually by day 3-4 my energy level is back up. However, hopefully we'll be there by day 4 so in comparison to many of our trips/passages, this is a short one.
We started our malaria prophylaxis before we left Fiji. This is the first island nation we have planned to visit with rampant malaria — where prevention is essential. We will be on the pills for our entire visit there, plus we will need to be on them for another month once we depart. Not a big deal as we got the prescriptions prior to us leaving the States in anticipation of our visit.
Saturday, July 10th: Night 3 of Passage … Now, Too Much Wind
Last night we went through our first series of squalls lasting about 3 hours of off and on high winds but not much rain. And the boat, even though motoring, slowed down even more — to between 2-3 knots all night, so this morning when we did our 2nd 24-hour measurement of distance traveled, again we had only made 100 miles. As above, that is a “slow” day.
Joe, being concerned with all the motoring we have done and how little distance we had traveled said, regardless the sails would go up today and the motor off. Lo and Behold! We put up all 4 sails and turned off the motor and we started going 5-6 knots! For several hours, I remembered why I liked sailing. The sky was clear with a few clouds to break up the intense heat, the breeze was cool, the seas had smoothed down and were behind us so the previous rock n’ rolling turned to a gentle roll, the wind was just heavy enough to fill our sails and give us a smooth ride at a good speed, and best of all silence — the motor was off. Unfortunately that wonderful feeling lasted only for about 2 hours. After that the sky got dark, the wind increased, the seas increased and shifted from behind us to our bow having us pound into them. We had to reef the sails now to slow down, and the ride is very jerky throwing you around the boat regardless of holding on or trying to sit down. My body had just started to feel all right with my blahs going away, but now my organs are having to get used to being tossed a different way and is revolting. I just want this to be over with… but 2 more nights and 1-2 more days left.
Sunday Night, July 11th: Hopefully Last Night of Passage
I cannot write much now as the seas are now approaching 10 ft. with some of them around 12 ft. — and it is hard to type while trying to hold on so I don’t fall out of my seat. The seas are at our beam again, better for sailing than crashing into them, but most uncomfortable inside the boat. For many of you who have been following our journals from the beginning you have heard me try and describe what it is like to sleep while underway in rough seas. First there is the noise. Everything on the boat creeks, so there are strange noises you can’t identify… sometimes Joe and I even think we hear voices (really weird), plus something is always rattling or rolling around in our cupboards and under our feet in the bilges with each roll of the boat. Frequently there is a large wave that instead of rolling us, crashes on us and it sounds as if we have hit a brick wall. We can’t sleep with earplugs as whoever’s sleeping has to be able to hear and quickly react if the person on watch calls and needs help. Then there is the motion and the “challenge” of trying to stay IN bed with the boats constant movement. Some of the rolls take the boat from 0 to 35-40 degrees in the fall-out-of-bed direction so you have no bulkhead (wall) but just open space on the open side of the bed, and you just slide literally out of bed. The movement is usually not just side to side but up and down (hobby horse), so you are doing like 3 dimensional exaggerated figure 8’s in the water…up, down/side to side — “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” (Imagine yourself trying to sleep on a waterbed with a 300 pound person jumping up and down on it–Or imagine the feeling of being in the back car of a roller coaster with no safety bar holding you in as the roller coaster goes quickly up and down and then quick turns throwing you up and down and left and right!) You find yourself in bed with your feet and legs bracing yourself against a wall, which means flexed at all times… not a very relaxing way to try and sleep. I usually try and get my back against a bulkhead and then line my other side with 6 or more pillows… kind of like a sand bag approach, but still occasionally I find myself airborne (and it takes a lot to get this big butt airborne!!)
For those of you who are sailors you may ask why we do not use a lee cloth. (For you non-sailors, a “lee cloth” is a canvas cloth that wraps under your body and then around your sides and up over you attaching at the top to overhead with straps — it’s purpose is to keep you from falling out of bed in a rough sea. It is usually used in a single berth or on a settee (couch). We have not figured out a way to rig one on a queen-sized bed (if anyone has an idea, let us know!!) So we do have one in our living area on a settee. I tried sleeping there once but it feels as if you are wrapped up tight like a papoose (or a burrito!) — very uncomfortable for a person who likes to sleep with arms and legs extended, not to mention hot in the tropics. Plus this is right next to the navigation station and the person who is on watch… so more lights, noises (radar detector, VHF radio, alarms and buzzers, etc), and distractions making it even harder to sleep.
I should also in fairness mention that it us usually me who has the problems sleeping while underway. Joe, on the other hand, just lies down and in moments is sound asleep. When I check on him during watch, he is spread out on the bed swaying from side to side with the rolls and just snoring away! Amazing!!!
Monday Morning Early, July 12th: Volcano in Sight!
A few hours ago (exactly 4 days after our departure from Fiji) we arrived safely in Port Resolution (named after Capt. Cook's boat, The Resolution, when he "discovered" this place... and managed not to be eaten by the natives) on the island of Tanna — one of the southernmost islands of Vanuatu. Overall, it was a good trip in that we made good time (finally after the winds picked up on day 3) and we didn't hit any major storms, however, it was miserably rolly as described above with seas on our beam most of the time. I got as close as I've ever been to being seasick. I just didn't feel good the entire trip and the last 2 days, I kept smelling diesel fumes which was adding to my headaches and bad "feeling"... Joe later discovered one of our jerry jugs with diesel tied on deck, was on its side and leaking fuel... and subsequently fumes into the cabin. Anyway, we're both tired and beat and will sleep most of the rest of the day.
One of the greatest attractions of this Island we have chosen is a visit to the live volcano, where one can ascend into the crater, the closest one can get to an active volcano “safely” anywhere in the world. Even approaching the island from the sea from quite a distance, we could see the black smoke billowing from time to time out of the crater's top. Also all around us in the bay here there are steam vents that are "smoking" on the shoreline. The bay had one boat when we entered and another sailboat pulled in about an hour after we did. One of the local villagers paddled out to greet us in his hand-carved dugout canoe, introduced himself as "Stanley", the village chief’s son, and said he would help us arrange a tour of the volcano. But that is another day.
Joe had to immediately upon arrival fix our bilge pump switch that broke enroute (VERY important!) and has just completed the repair and has laid down for his nap. After 4 days without showering (it was too rough and dangerous -- we would have been thrown around too much-- had we tried in those big waves), we both took a hot shower and put on clean clothes, which felt heavenly. So now I'm about to join Joe for a nap too. It also will feel heavenly to be able to sleep without being in constant motion.
Thursday, July 14th: Exploring the Area and Culture of the New Island
What a wonderful 2 days we’ve had! Joe said he thought we’ve had more fun here in 2 days than we had in our entire last 2 months in Fiji.
Various villagers have paddled out to greet us in their very primitive hand carved outrigger canoes… some individually, some whole families, one guy with a cowboy hat, sunglasses (must have been gifts from a yachties!) and his dog sitting in the back. Despite all the cruisers that use this bay and visit here, they still seem to be curious about us. One of the young men brought over to us a huge (3-4 lb) spiny lobster and asked if we would like to buy it from him for $5.00… we gladly took it off of his hands and it will become tonight’s dinner (if I can find a pot large enough to cook it in!)
After a great night’s sleep getting a bit caught up from the passage, the day after we arrived (Tuesday), we got the dinghy in the water and headed to shore to look at the village these curious people come from. We ran into Stanley (our first greeter), the Chief’s son, on the path to the village and he took us to meet his father to get his “blessing” and permission to be a guest of his bay and village. We were really taken aback at how poor these people are — even by island standards. We did not see any cinderblock or wooden structures — only woven palm-leafed one-roomed huts. However almost all of the huts had gardens around them with beautiful plants and well tended to flowers. The grass was all mowed (no lawn mowers — so all cut by hand) and everything was neat. There were a few chickens and pigs running loose, and even a goat or two. The village just 4 months ago was flattened by a huge cyclone — but everything must have been rebuilt. There were a couple of “funny” sights though. A year ago, a 50+ ft. sailboat went aground on a reef right off the shore here and the boat was destroyed. The village people saved the occupants, and the sailboat owner “donated” the boat and all of its contents to the village. So when walking around the village, there were all sorts of boat parts in use. We saw a hatch being used as a window for one hut. Outside Stanley’s hut, he proudly showed off a washing machine and a trash compactor he had gotten from the wreck. Note though there is NO electricity in the village — so he just keeps these “treasures” outside his hut as a sort of status symbol. We saw a sail and an anchor chain and other various remnants of the boat scattered around in our tour of the village.
The village has also built a “yacht” club, which is actually the nicest structure of the village. It overlooks the bay and has several tables, chairs and flags of different countries and other burgees donated by yachties on the ceiling. Unfortunately the refrigerator (gas run) and freezer that once held the cold beer and drinks, is now defunct, and so is the Yacht Club. For a while it was a way the villagers could make money for their village. Visiting yachts for only a few months of the year are about the only “outsiders” that this village gets to their village.
But poor is relative. The people all appeared happy. They have a roof over their heads and they grow or raise all the food they need. The children have a school (only up until 6th grade) to go to, and the village raises enough money through the yachties to pay for a teacher for the school. Almost any income that comes into the village belongs to the “community.” So all is shared equally — very communal like. One thing that is conspicuously missing is a church. (Every village we’ve visited on every island so far in the South Pacific, no matter how small has had some sort of church as the center of their lives.) This village, as many on the island of Tanna, is part of the Jon Frum Religion (or cult) and they do not believe in a house of worship. Stanley, in his tour for us, gladly explained about his/their beliefs.
The religion is called a “Cult” in our tour books and is sort of a hybrid between Christianity and their ancient ancestral legacies and customs. “Jon” came as a “vision” (to some people drinking kava) and told them there would be no more epidemics and they would have an abundance of wealth if they would get rid of the Europeans. Shortly after the Americans showed up for WWII with a large base in Vanuatu, and many people from Tanna went to work for them. They saw African Americans (which look almost like the Melanesian people of Vanuatu) with huge quantities of machinery, equipment, refrigerators, radios, cigarettes and other objects that these poor people associated with wealth. The Tannese felt that these “rich” African Americans were Tannese in disguise and then decided that Jon must be from (Frum) America. Today, they wait for him to return from America back to Tanna. The villages that practice this “religion” such as the one here in Port Resolution, have red crosses erected (like those they saw on the Ambulances during WWII which meant then to the observing Tannese “free medical care.”) Although this movement has been vigorously opposed to the missionaries and even the government, they have been unsuccessful in eradicating it. The village people also believe in the magic powers of their chief to keep away storms, (although he wasn’t successful earlier this year), and bad karma and to provide them with good crops.
The villagers were all very friendly towards us, but more in a shy reserved way. It was interesting to note that most of their names were more British influenced than “local” names or even French. We met (besides Stanley), his father, Chief “Ronnie”, Charles, Nelson, Johnson, and various others.
Stanley walked us by a clearing and told us it was where the men drink their kava each night. He said first the men talk about community affairs or business and then they drink their kava. No women are allowed to participate or even be in sight of these almost “sacred” grounds. (If you remember I talked some about kava as part of Tongan culture, and it being very important in Fijian culture. Kava is a root from a pepper tree, that in Tonga and Fiji is ground into a fine powder and then put in a cheesecloth and sloshed in water to make a gray, dirty dishwater liquid, that is then drunk. The effects are a numbing of the lips, and for those who drink a lot of it, a sort of numbing of the mind into a mellow state. However, unlike alcohol, the missionaries have never been able to convince the natives to give up their kava, so it is very central to their culture and tradition… as being a part of a daily routine.) Kava in Vanuatu, unlike the previous countries who have become more women liberalized, is ONLY consumed by the men. It is also consumed differently. Instead of grinding it into a powder, they chew on the root and then spit out the saliva into a bowl, then add water and filter the liquid (I guess to get out the “globs” of saliva). Eventually it is then drunk. (Yuck!!) Vanuatu kava is supposedly the strongest in the world.
Unlike Tonga and Fiji, Soccer replaces Rugby in being the primary sport here. In our walk in the village, we saw little boys having the time of their life, kicking (and volleying) a round rock around with BARE feet (ouch!!) on a field. The village is too poor to afford a soccer ball, so the children play with what ever they can find.
I always include a little history and background of the countries that we visit, for those of you who are interested (for those of you not–then just skip this part in italics!)
Prior to its independence in 1980, Vanuatu was known as New Hebrides and was jointly ruled by both the French and the British (since 1906). It’s hard to believe that 2 countries that have never much in history liked each other could agree to run a country. But I guess they disliked the Germans (who were making South Pacific expansion moves and threatened to grab some of the land) even more than each other.
The Spanish explorers in the 1600’s were the first Europeans to lay claim to some of the islands; then in the mid 1700’s came the French explorers (Bougainville), followed by the British Captain Cook (he’s been everywhere we’ve been!), and ol’ William Bligh shortly after the famous mutiny on HMS Bounty (in Tonga). Then came more traders (especially sandalwood) and “blackbirding” (which was also a cruel dent in Fiji’s history) where ships came and “stole” the local people to use as indentured workers on plantations in other islands.
The first missionaries didn’t arrive until 1839… however they were quickly “eaten” (cannibalism was big here like I previously wrote about in Fiji). When more and more missionaries were devoured, the Presbyterians decided they would send in their Polynesian converts from other islands to be missionaries. They couldn’t speak the local language, and culturally “different” though and were no more successful. Those that weren’t dead from malaria, also were eaten. With the missionaries, the trading (and blackbirding) vessels came diseases of which the islanders had no resistance. The population of Vanuatu prior to the 1800’s was estimated to be about 1 million. By 1935, the population was down to only 41,000, with several of the islands losing 95% of their population.
Eventually the Christian missionaries made some progress and by 1900 most of the islanders were “converted” (Presbyterian and Anglican being the majority)–cannibalism came to an end, and the “savages” were clothed. However many of the villages today still hold onto (as above) their ancestral beliefs mingled with their Christian.
With the Japanese lightning-fast advance through the Pacific reaching the neighbors to New Hebrides, the Solomon Islands, invasion to New Hebrides (Vanuatu) was thought to be next. So in 1942, the US fleet arrived, constructing bases and roads on several of the islands. Over a half a million allied soldiers eventually were on these islands. With the defeat of the Japanese, the Americans withdrew from here as quickly as they arrived abandoning a huge quantity of equipment.
Politically, with the independence from the French and British, came a new name, Vanuatu, and a new parliamentary system of government with a prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party in parliament. There is also a Council of Chiefs who advises on matters relating to the life in the villages (where most of the people live) and keeping stronghold on the customs of the islands.
Geographically, Vanuatu is about 500 miles west of Fiji and 1500 miles NNE of Sydney (17-18 degrees South of the equator). The country consists of 83 islands stretching over about 800 miles. Lying squarely on top of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Vanuatu has more active volcanoes than any other South Pacific country (7 on land and 2 under the sea).
Economically, Vanuatu’s fertile volcanic soil is it’s greatest asset, earning around 85% of the country’s export income with copra (dried coconut) and beef the major export earners. (However, it needs to import 4 times more than it is able to export, so it is still a very poor country.) Next to agriculture, tourism is its next greatest income source, with most of the tourists coming from Australia.
The population (see above for how low it got) is now back up to around 200,000, 80% of who live in rural villages (like the one I described above)… and over 50% of the population under the age of 15! It is expected to double again within the next 8 years. As described above, the people are mostly Melanesian, like those in Fiji, and look much more like our African- American population in skin color, hair, facial features than like the Polynesians that we saw in the islands of our voyages last year.
Education-wise, only 90% of the children get any more than primary (1st 6 years) of education as they either do not have schools in the villages past that or cannot afford the associated fees with “higher” education.
Now back to our explorations here on Tanna and our observations from our first few days here:
First on the agenda is we needed to get “legal”. Although we got the chiefs “blessing” to visit his village, we still needed to be cleared officially into the country with Immigration, Customs, Quarantine, etc. That involved a trip to the “capitol” city of Tanna, Lenakel, which although only about 10 miles away, is a 2-3 hour trip each way! Stanley, the chief’s son, arranged transportation for us, a 4 wheel-drive open truck with benches in the back of it for “passengers.” We soon found out why the trip was to be so long and why the truck was 4-wheel drive. We buddied up with another boat that had just arrived (Tom and Takla from Holland) and the 4 of us took off on our trip to Lenakel on the western side of Tanna. There were NO paved roads on the entire island (even in the “big city” of Lenakel) and we had to go over mountains, around volcanoes, and even over riverbeds to get there. Another added feature of our truck was every time the driver stopped the truck, it had to be push started to get it going (Joe and all the men got that job --); Eventually the driver just learned to stop the truck on a hill so we could roll down to start!
The ride though was spectacular, through lush jungles and the hugest banyan trees I have ever seen , ferns, orchids, as well as palm trees and both black sand and white sand. We had scenic views from the top of mountains, looking down over the ocean, and the volcano we would later explore. We stopped at fruit stands along the way and loaded up the truck with beautiful garden crops, and Stanley and the driver purchased things for their village, plus of course some kava. (The money the village makes by “chauffeuring” around yachties goes to help buy things they can’t grow.) Once we got to Lenakel, the huts from the villages we had driven through were replaced with somewhat more modern structures, some with some cinderblock and plywood, but still primitive. Some of the roofs had corrugated metal, but the roofs were not connected to the structure below, so there were rocks on the roof to hold them down. The main “shopping center” of town had a tiny bank combined with a post office (one room), where we needed to exchange our Fijian and American money into Vatu (the local currency). Also in this shopping center was a video/DVD rental (yes this town did have electricity, something most villages did not have), and a small market that sold everything from tires, to dresses, to toiletries, rice and some condiments, all in size of a small 7-11 store. After we exchanged money, got our passports stamped and finished our administrative country clearing in, we stopped at a beachfront “restaurant” for lunch which consisted of a shack and picnic table. We got a choice of beef or fish, which came with rice, vegetables, salad, and fruit punch for less than $2.00. I watched below where we were sitting, women washing clothes on the beach… in salt water and then laying the clothes out to dry on the sand. It made my whole body itch just watching them.
All of the villagers and the people we met in Lenakel spoke English, but some spoke predominately French (with a little English). When they go to school, they are allowed to pick which (English or French) they prefer to learn… besides their native tongue PLUS the national language of Vanuatu called Bislamic…, which by us is called Pigeon. (For those of you who have been to Hawaii, you are familiar with Pigeon being a broken English, but here it is a combination of broken English AND French — so it is really hard to understand.) I was told on the island of Tanna there are 32 different languages (not dialects… but actual languages), so Bislamic is the “common” tongue for communication between the villages, except when “tourists” or foreigners are around and then they speak either English or French. (Over all of the Vanuatu islands, there are a total of 105 indigenous languages–making them have the world’s highest density of different languages per capita!)
An example of Bislamic/Pigeon: In town I saw a sign advertising a lottery. (They’re in every country!) Anyway some of the top prizes for the winning lottery tickets were listed (in Bislamic): “Bigfala mattress” (interpreted: Big Fellow Mattress, which I was told meant a “double” mattress for husband and wife); “Nani” (a female goat); “Fawl” (live chicken), etc. Not prizes I wanted to invest in!
Also unlike Tonga and Fiji, where the businessmen wear long (mid-calf) black or dark brown “skirts” and sandal-like heavy shoes with a shirt and tie, the men here are in pants or shorts and Nikes or tennis shoes. The women however here dress mostly in skirts (down to their ankles) and some sort of t-shirt… usually that does not come close color-wise or pattern-wise to their skirt. Some of them wear what is called by foreigners, a “missionary” dress (or “Mother Hubbard” dress), which covers the women from neck to toes, usually also out of bright colored fabrics, similar to a Hawaiian muumuu and occasionally decorated some lace or colored ribbons. Never have I seen even a young girl in pants or shorts, and swimming in the ocean or in the rivers is done fully clothed.
Culturally, Vanuatu, and particularly this island is very much a man’s country, where the women are considered a part of the man’s wealth. Women are responsible for chores considered less prestigious, such as cooking and caring for gardens and pigs. Girls are often deprived of educational opportunities, by their parents, which consider them primarily child-bearers for the clan of their future husband. Although in the past couples were matched up by their parents, the one modern institution that has invaded most of the village customs is now the men are able to choose their own wives. Stanley, our guide, told us he was not married yet, (although he has a girlfriend,) because he has not saved enough for a dowry yet. He said he waited too long and all the “cheap” girls (meaning dowries) were already taken and for the girl he has chosen, he has to pay 8,000 Vatu (about $75.00 US). In other villages instead of money, the payment is in pigs.
“I Don’t Know Where I’m a Gonna Go When the Volcano Blows” (line from Jimmy Buffet Song called Volcano)
After departing Lenakel, we took our trip in reverse and headed back to Port Resolution with a planned stop at the volcano. At the base of the volcano, there were people collecting money — a government “entrance” fee. (The government got smart that this was a great potential income!). However once you leave those money collectors, there were no other people, no buildings, no signs. Meaning you could get as close as you wanted to the volcano with no one to stop you. Our 4-wheel drive truck was able to get us quite high (within a half a mile of the rim) and then we had to hike the rest of the way. From there we got out and walked (very steep for my fat body and Joe's bad knee... but we made it with several huff and puffing stops along the way). Stanley showed us the “safe” places we could be and hinted we should not get too much closer as a Japanese tourist this past year was sucked into the volcano and never found (sounds like a urban legend to me-- But anyway we heeded his advice!) He then left us there (there was a group of 8 of us yachties that went) and said he'd pick us up an hour after sunset. So we had almost 3 hours to sit and watch the show. This experience was truly the highlight of our trip so far this year, and will probably go in the memory bank as one of the top ones of our entire voyage. [I, once or twice in my pre-teen years, went to the Volcano National Park on the big island of Hawaii many times with my parents when I was spending my summers in Hawaii. I remember we even stayed in some cabins right in the volcano park for a few days and I had a blast "collecting" lava rocks. (My wonderful Mom even held onto my “collection” for 20+ years for me, when finally you got my permission to throw them away!) So my memories of being there are kinda foggy, but this volcano is quite different. ] It has never (in recorded time) had a lava flow (obviously at some time it did as that's how all these islands were formed umpteen million years ago)... but instead what you see is billowing black smoke -- which we could see from miles away as we approached the island from out to sea. It also puts on a show of shooting hot molten lava rocks, some the size of Volkswagens, up to 1 ½ miles up in the air. Imagine the sound that would make and then double what you imagine! For the last 2-3 weeks, volcano specialists from the South Pacific have been here watching, studying, and measuring the outflow as this is the most active it has been in a long time, approaching the highest degree of danger. On some of the explosions (which were happening 2-5 times a minute), we could feel the earth rumble under our feet, accompanied by a huge boom, and then many smaller booms. From a distance (even in the anchorage our boat is at which is about 5 miles away), we can hear an occasional low boom/rumble, like what you hear in a distant thunderstorm. Anyway, with the explosion and the rocks shooting up in the air, you convince yourself that one slight change in the wind direction and the rocks will fall down on your head and you'll disintegrate! It was spectacular during the day, and at sunset all the smoke and steam lit up brilliant shades of pink and orange... but then at night it was unbelievable... better than any fireworks show watching thousands and thousands of flaming red lava rocks shooting up in the air with tremendous sound affects. I shot over 50 digital pictures and have a few to show on this website. Anyway it was a wonderful experience.
Saturday, July 17th — Still at Port Resolution
It has been nice here but we’ve now been here 6 days now and it’s getting crowded here in the bay. As mentioned above, when we arrived we were only the 2nd boat in the anchorage. Now there are 16 boats here.
Today we spent the entire day cleaning the boat from top to bottom, then this afternoon, the wind has shifted and our entire boat is covered with volcanic ash!!! Everything is black and we are tracking the black soot now from outside on the decks and on our bodies all over the inside of the boat. It is a real mess! Joe is praying for rain, but I’ve warned him to be careful what he asks for.
The weather has been wonderful, a bit sunny in the daytime — but delightfully cool in the evenings. We have even turned off the fans on the boat and at night we pull up a down comforter over us to sleep. One night at sunset, while sitting out in our cockpit, I told Joe to look up at the huge birds flying overhead. (We seldom see any sea birds in the South Pacific — an occasional seagull type bird, or long legged ibis-type --but rare, and NO pelicans, so seeing something like this was a “wow!”) Anyway with closer look (and all of a sudden there were 50 or more of them flying overhead), we realized we were looking at bats. I then remembered reading that fruit bats were a delicacy found in a lot of Vanuatu restaurants. Watching these bats became our cocktail hour cockpit ritual for our stay here. Speaking of evenings, it is strange after dark looking over at the village with 300 people living there and not see one light on the island, and it gets dark at about 5-5:30PM. It is hard to imagine living a life without electricity.
We intend to leave tomorrow (as long as the weather holds) for another island north of us. We plan to make it just an overnight stop over, but if it is nice, we will stay an extra day. Then we are off to the main island (with actual businesses, hotels, restaurants, and the countries capitol) of Efate and Port Vila.
We’ve enjoyed our stay here — mostly relaxing, with no major boat projects (other than cleaning up volcano poop). That is great for a change. We still have some bad memories jogged by our past robberies in Fiji. Not a week goes by without us discovering new things missing. We go to do something or grab something we haven’t needed to use yet this season and then realize that “something” is among the missing. Our inventory list for the insurance company keeps growing.
Sunday/Monday: July 18-19 Dillon Bay, ErroMango
We had a 10 hour trip to make the almost 50 mile trip to Dillon Bay and mostly motor sailed the entire way. For a change it was not too rough as the seas were behind us. We arrived in just in time for a beautiful sunset, and right at that time an outrigger canoe with 2 villagers came by to greet us. It turned out that one of them in the canoe was the village “doctor” (actually had some “nursing” training) of the village and he invited us by to see his “clinic” the next day.
The next morning (today — Monday) we awoke to overcast nasty looking skies… and made the decision that we needed to get out of here as this “bay” is actually just a dent in the coastline with no real protection from weather. There is a front coming and although we thought it was a day or two away, it looks like it is getting here early.
So we decided to take a quick “exploration” of the village ashore before heading out of here to Port Vila (about 100 miles away). We had heard that the village “missionary” was an American and that his son was also visiting. When we came to shore, we had to steer our dinghy up a river trying to find a bank we could safely land on. From the shore, a dozen or more children followed us and were there to greet us as we climbed up the bank through tree stumps and black volcanic mud. We were escorted to find our “doctor” friend from the day before, who then gave us a tour of his clinic. Finding out I was a nurse, he had me examine a patient he had in one of his 2 hospital beds to get my 2nd opinion. The Americans (missionary, his military son, who had brought several marine/army friends with him for a working “visit”) were in the process of attempting to make electricity for the medical clinic. The chief and the entire men population of the village had all turned out to “help”.
This was the island where the first missionaries of Vanuatu attempted to convert the “natives,” and as mentioned above, were quickly eaten! Captain cook also landed here, and was invited to shore, but suspected foul play, so he avoided becoming a meal. It was also the main island where the sandalwood trade took place. (Sandalwood was a coveted item by the Chinese, I guess for their incense, so the traders would come here to get the trees and then take them to China.) Anyway, there were so many traders that also were killed and eaten, that eventually (they must have REALLY wanted this wood!) they made the natives swim out to their trading ships carrying the huge sandalwood logs… so their ships wouldn’t be confiscated and they would survive being dinner for the natives!
The American missionary said this island is one of the most successfully converted to Christianity (and some 7th Day Adventist) now of the whole island group, as it was one of the islands that lost 95% of their population (due to disease, cyclones, etc.) They felt it was their punishment for eating the missionaries, so now they were very religious trying to make up for the deeds of their ancestors.
Wednesday, July 21st: Port Vila, Efate, Capitol of Vanuatu
Our hundred-mile trip (from Erromango to Efate) here to Port Vila was uneventful until the early morning of our arrival. The storm we were trying to avoid was quickly coming upon us and even though we were within ½ mile of the island harbor entrance, we could not see land except on radar. There was a fine mist and fog on the water level that eventually made it so we could barely see a few feet off our bow. We radioed ahead to our Dutch friends (the ones we met in Port Resolution who went to the Volcano with us), whom we knew had arrived a couple of days ahead to find out if our electronic charts were to be trusted. (Many of our charts once we have arrived and have anchored in a port show us 1 mile inland on land… so they are not always very accurate!) He said they were, so with the radar and our electronic charts and, of course, going really slow, we threaded our way into the harbor/port. Occasionally the fog and mist would lift for a few minutes and we could see a bit, but then it would drop again. The mist eventually changed into rain and we were soaked (not being able to leave our observation “posts” to go below to get rain gear!) So Joe got his wish come true, for rain!
Once in the main harbor, we radioed ahead to the marina and they sent out a “speedie” to come find us and guide us in. We were lucky that they had a space available on the seawall for us to tie up to and we gladly took it — meaning that we would have electricity to plug into and water to use.
Port Vila (with 35,000 of the nation’s 200,000 in population) is the commercial, administrative, and tourist heart of Vanuatu. It is quite a change from the 10th- world (way beyond “3rd World!”) villages that we left in Tanna and Erromango and by island standards is quite modern, second only to Papeete (in Tahiti) of the destinations we have visited .The town curves around the bay in which there are probably now about 40 yachts anchored and moored out. The French influence means that we are back in the land of good food, great baguettes (and croissants — especially our favorite chocolate filled croissants!!!). The French also ruled out the British way on the driving, so finally we are back in a country that drives their cars on the right (literally and figuratively) side of the road. Mi Gitana is “parked” right in the middle of town and we have great café’s and modern supermarkets all within walking distance plus one great watering hole open-air restaurant just a few yards away. That was our first stop-- where we devoured a nice juicy “cheeseburger in paradise”–the best we remember having in the South Pacific. Of course, there’s always a trade-off, as the prices here are also almost Papeete-like, i.e., quite a bit more expensive than the food and drinks we were getting in Fiji.
We did go for a walk "exploring" in the rain the first day we were here, but since the rain hasn’t stopped since then, mostly I've been in the boat (working again on editing my book some more-- first time in about a month). Joe has been out to the Internet cafe (real close --just off the back of the boat) a couple of times retrieving messages sent to our AOL and doing banking stuff. We will get more adventurous with the exploring and eating out once the rain lets up some. There is a Meridian resort with a casino near by and another high-end resort just across the bay from us (free ferry service) that also looks promising.
So all is not bad. We are safe, tucked in, no rolling, and plugged into electricity again (so no noisy generator for 4-5 hours a day, as we would have if we were at anchor instead of at the seawall). Well worth the extra money for us. So although it is not as "adventurous" as the remote villages, we will enjoy the civilization here for a while.
Wednesday, July 28th Sunshine at last
After 5 continual days of rain, the sun finally came out a few days ago, so that is wonderful. We've really been living a “dull” (by standards of having something to write about) existence — mostly just eating out a lot (even found a great authentic American restaurant with burgers, Tex-Mex, shakes, pizzas, that actually tastes like "home."), playing cards a lot, and visiting a bit with a few other cruisers. So anyway, a nice break from our usual exhausting work routine. We go to bed early and sleep late! So life right now (at least until we take off again) is pretty stress free.
We have adds up on several cruising bulletin boards around town looking for a crew person for the rest of our upcoming journeys this season (since Julie our British crew person jumped ship the day before we left Fiji), but so far, have not found anyone. A young man came by last night wanting the job, but he could not speak anything but French, and we other than "bon jour" speak no French. Plus he had no experience, so teaching him what to do and not being able to clearly communicate, Joe felt would not work out. But we have another week or so here, so maybe we'll get someone else. We don't have far to go in our next "leg" -- only about 3 days from here to New Caledonia. But after that we have an 8-9 day trip to Australia, so it would be nice especially for some help on that trip.
Yesterday our big project (actually turned out to be really easy) was to secure our long-term visa for Australia. Couldn't believe how easy it was... we just dropped off the application, some bank statements (to show our financial solvency), passports, (and of course $$$) at the Australian consulate here, and they told us to come back in 3 days to pick it up. So that is out of the way, and assuming it is granted, we will have a 1-year visa with multiple long stay entries (so we can fly out and back in again.)
Our plan while we were here on this island was to cruise to several of the anchorages around this island of Efate versus continuing north up the chain of islands. However we found out that they are filming the next Survivor television show here (just around the corner from us… so not at all isolated!!!) and they have that entire part of the island (where the good anchorages are located) as off limits. So we’ve just decided to stay put here and enjoy being here for another week before hitting the high seas.
Saturday, July 30th-- Not So Gala Event
Yesterday was the 24th year of independence -- changing the name from New Hebrides to Vanuatu -- We had read about great 3-4 day celebrations in Port Vila for the Independence day holiday, and is actually one of the reason we timed our visit here now. However yesterday (the big day), was a bust for finding any activities. It was a holiday in that school was out and non-tourist businesses were closed, but no park celebrations, dancing, parades, fireworks, etc. Nada, nothing! We were told that each village around the islands has their own celebration and sometimes feasts, etc. but as for the city of Port Villa, there were just more than the usual number of people walking around on the main street -- but that was all. Very disappointing. Oh well. Not as bad as last year, waiting in Papeete for an entire month for the famous Bastille day celebrations, only to find out several days before that they had been "delayed/canceled" until a month later, awaiting the arrival of French President Chirac. So anyway, there is nothing really keeping us here... except the hopes of diving -- as we are not doing much except enjoying the restaurants, and the ambiance of the town and the friendly people. But it is nice not having any real schedule, or too long of a "to do" list for a change.
We took an around the island tour (all day) on Thursday. We woke up to a beautiful sunny day (the last of it for a while again, I'm afraid), but by the time we went to join the tour, at 8AM, the sun was replaced by black skies. It drizzled off and on for most of the day. It was a sort of ho-hum tour, and our arses were sore by the end of the day as the roads were almost non-existent, once we left the city limits of Port Vila... and became coral pothole ridden "roads"... The roads were originally built by the US during WWII (As mentioned above, this became a huge base of operations after the Solomon islands were invaded by the Japanese)... and no improvements have been made since. We saw a leftover tiny tiny tank (didn't know they made them so small) that was left by US in a swamp, and an old runway along the way. Funny thing, I guess the villages saved all the coke-a-cola bottles left by the soldiers during the war, and somehow found that now there are bottle collectors. So along the side of the road in several places there were stands set up with "WWII souvenirs" signs... and what they were selling was coke bottles for about $15 a piece! One fun part of our tour was we got in a kayak and were paddled up the river about 1 mile to a village. There they put on a show when we arrived with the villagers in native costumes and "attacking" us like the cannibals did ... but then welcoming us to their villages with dancing, an offering of food, coconut juice (in the shell), and kava, that we took a dose of and immediately had numb tongues. Kind of touristy, but fun and interesting.
We passed through a lot of villages on our round-island trip, and although they for the most part (I’m sure due to the proximity to and city effects of Port Vila) they were a bit more modern than the ones we observed in Tanna, they were still quite “poor” and “traditional” with little modern conveniences. A few had solar panels (so limited electricity), but that was about it. The village closest to the town of Port Vila is one of the largest, having over 8,000 inhabitants — so “city-sized.” We saw lots of cattle farms around — as one of Vanuatu’s exports is its beef, mostly sent to Japan. There were also lots of coconut groves, many with coconut trees too high for the people to be able to climb them to get the coconuts. In parts of the island the vegetation was really thick with vines (we were told “morning glory”) — so thick that they covered the coconut and papaya trees, etc. The vines were brought to the island in WWII by the Americans and planted to grow fast to camouflage their tanks, planes and other equipment. Unfortunately when the Americans left, the vines stayed and have now overtaken much of the island.
Our island trip was supposed to include several snorkeling stops, but no one was anxious to get in the cold (not so tropical here) water in the drizzling rain.
Thursday, August 5th: Getting Ready to Move On
We had hoped to do some diving while here in Vanuatu as there are supposedly some great reefs as well as wreck dives. Unfortunately we have had rain all but 4 days of our 2-½ week stay. And although many would go out diving on a rainy day, it is not our choice of rainy day pleasures. The sun did finally come out yesterday, however we, at that time did not have enough time to sign up for that day’s dive trips. So we made the most of it and took a bus ride about 30 minutes out of town to a beach that had a ferry to an island called Hideaway Island. There they have a small resort and a marine sanctuary. We took along our snorkeling equipment and had one of our best snorkels this year — tons of fish and so friendly (as they are used to being hand fed by the glass bottom boat companies) that they came right up to us. It was a wonderful little excursion, and one that we’d repeat if we were going to be here longer.
However, we are reaching the end of our stay here in Vanuatu. It has been a mostly relaxing stop with some great moments. But it’s time to head out for another country and more “adventures.” We plan (of course weather dependent) on leaving for New Caledonia (300 miles south of here) on Saturday.
So I’ll sign off for now and continue this at our next destination.