September 10, 2008
We are in Port Vila and have just posted a few videos of the festival in North Ambrym. Just go to our photos
and video page at
and scroll down to the video section. Select the videos from Ambrym. Laura’s favorite is “Men Cooking”.
We will be adding more photos to the blog in a day or two. We will leave Vanuatu for Ouvea in the Loyalty Island (New Caledonia) on Saturday (September 13). More on that later. M.
We anchored in Southwest(Metenovor) Bay, Malekula for almost three days now. We left Malua Bay on Tuesday (September 2) intending to go to Dixon Reefs. The passage was pleasant enough to start but then the seas starting to build and it got wet and wild. We knew that Dixon Reefs would not offer reasonable protection from the large seas so we kept on going to Southwest Bay, where Sabbatical III lies quite comfortably.
We have had a few visits from Solomon and Rita, and their two small children, who come out from the village in their dugout outrigger canoe. We met Solomon when we were here last month when gave him a bag of rice as a gift. This time he came to us and brought us a load of pamplemousse, some papaya, and coconuts. We have provided some new gifts to them as well. We have enjoyed their visits.
We have been plagued with a series of repair issues for the past few days that have taken most of our time to address. The heat exchanger on the generator sprung a leak and sprayed salt water over half the engine room. I was able to fix the leak. However, equipment in the engine room will corrode if exposed to salt water, so I had to clean it all with fresh water and then apply Lanacote anti-corrosion spray to everything.
Even more annoying is the failure of our outboard engine. It sputtered in Espritu Santo and failed entirely when I tried it here. It would start fine but die within a minute or two. I replaced the spark plugs, the fuel filter and the fuel hose but nothing worked. It turns out that the likely culprit is the gasoline that we bought in Musket Bay, Fiji and stored in a large jerry can — it seems to be bad. Since that is the only gasoline that we have left, we are stuck on the boat. I hope that I will be able to get the outboard engine working again once we get to Port Vila.
We have been waiting for a weather system to pass by. It should be gone by tomorrow and we plan to leave for Port Vila (Efate Island) tomorrow (Saturday, September 6) around 3 pm . With the wind and waves on the nose, it may take 18 to 20 hours to make the passage.
On September 13, we will leave Vanautu for Ouvea Island in the Loyalty Islands. The Loyalty Islands are administered by France as part of New Caledonia. Ordinarily, it is very hard to visit the Loyalty Islands on a private boat, especially Ouvea Island. There is no Port of Entry in the Loyaltys and the French are strict about these things. Boats are allowed to stop in Lifou Island for a few days before either sailing to Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia, for check-in, or paying for a Customs oficer and an Immigration officer to fly to Lifou and do the check-in. To get around this, we have joined with a set of boats organized by the Island Cruising Association of New Zealand. They have organized a “rally” to Ouvea. The boats in the rally essentially share the cost of flying officials out to the seldom visited island of Ouvea for a check-in on Sep 16.
More on all of this later. We just wanted to provide a heads up on our plans.
We have been anchored in Peterson Bay on Espiritu Santo Island for for past two days. We have not done much here — some boat projects and a little snorkelling. We are the only boat anchored off of Malono Island, just off Espiritu Santo. There are about a half-dozen other boats in an ‘inside’ anchorage but Sabbatical III draws too much water to enter there. It has been very peaceful here.
Tomorrow morning we begin the difficult task of heading back to Port Vila. Difficult because the route takes us right into the wind and seas most of the way. Consequently, we will have to rely on our diesel engine for much of the passage.
We will leave at 0615 local time. Our route takes us south down the eastern side of Espiritu Santo, past Malo Island, and then into the Bougainville Strait where we should be able to be under sail for a few hours. We hope to arrive at Malua Bay on the western side of Malakula island while there is still some light, if not we will spend the night at sea.
We are off of Espirito Santo Island, just across the channel from Luganville, the second largest city of Vanuatu. I just posted some photos to our Ambrym blog (see below). We will be here for a couple of more days re-provisioning, getting more vatus to spend, and doing some boat maintenance. We had a great sail here from Ambrym two days ago. This is where James Michener was posted in WW II and formed the basis for his book on the South Pacific. There was a huge US base here during the war. The old Quonset huts are still in use. We will write more later.
We have been anchored off Nebul village in the far north of Ambrym Island, Vanuatu, since Monday, August 18. We have been so busy with the ‘Back to my Roots’ festival we have not had the time to update our blog until now. A lot has happened during these past days and there is much to tell. Our experience is much better conveyed by photos and video but we will be unable to post any of these until we return to Port Vila in 10 – 14 days, depending on weather. The people of north Ambrym have been fantastic and the festival was extraordinary. It ended with the most famous dance of Vanuatu, the Rom dance, that is only performed here.
Passage to Ambrym.
We left Awai Island in the Makelynes on Monday (Aug. 18) with the promise of 15 knot winds from the SSE — good enough for the 36 nautical mile trip to north Ambrym. There is a very strong current in the channel that separates the Maskelyne Islands from Malekula. Fortunately it was a fair current that morning and we made over 8.5 knots through the channel. As we headed almost due north and moved away from the islands the current disappeared and so did the wind and we had to motor until we ‘turned the corner’ past the big bulge in Ambrym Island and altered course to the northeast. The very high twin volcanoes that dominate central Ambrym diverted and accelerated the wind up the western coast and allowed us to finish the passage under sail. The Mt. Benbow and Mt. Marum volcanoes are quite active and their ash plain takes up one-third of the island’s area. The anchorage off Nebul village was filling rapidly and there were at least 8 sailboats within view coming up behind us and half a dozen ahead of us. We monitored the marine radio traffic and learned from ‘Rise and Shine’ that anchoring in close to the shore would be a mistake — their anchor rode was entangled in rocks and coral. Unexpectedly, we got a radio call from ‘Vera’ and learned that they were just 6 miles ahead of us, having spent the previous day at the hot springs area of Ambrym Island. When we arrived they directed us to a place just to their port side. Michael had dived on his anchor and the nearby sea bottom and found only black volcanic sand. We are sitting in nearly 75 feet of water. I would not feel comfortable anchoring in anything deeper. We put out every last foot of chain we have (265 feet). You have to put out lots of anchor chain because strong gusts of wind (williwaws) come thundering down the slope of the volcano, straining anchors and making boats swing and dance. Everyone is aware that a few years ago some boats dragged out to sea (but recovered) and that last year one boat wound up on the reef at nearby Olal. The whole village of Olal came out and pulled the boat off the reef.
By the end of the next day there were 25 boats in the anchorage plus some overflow at the nearby Ranon village anchorage. Two fully crewed sailing superyachts also showed up — Silver Tip and Squall. Luc and Jackie from Sloepmouche once again acted as the liasons between the ‘fleet’ and the villages involved in the festival. Every evening they would make annoucements on the marine VHF radio with information on times, places, and events. There is no hotel or airport in north Ambrym, no roads or electricity, and only a single pickup truck, so it is very hard to attend the festival if you do not have a boat. Nonetheless, there were eight tourists who took the cargo steamer from Port Vila and stayed either at the mission house or on the floor of the rural cooperative bank. A four-man French film crew was also in attendance, having received permission to make a movie of the event. The film crew was not friendly and took it as their right to jump in front of us with their camera and sound boom, occasionally blocking the view at key moments. Back to my Roots Festival.
We dinghied to shore at 8:30 am on Wednesday for the first day of the festival. We were greeted by Zebulon Taleha, a barefoot and handsome 20 year old of Rantvetgere village. His job was to guide a group of us to the ritual dancing grounds every day. I am not sure why, but Zebulon took a particular liking to me. He treated me as if I was the ‘chief’ of our small group of yachties. He walked along side of me answering questions and offering explanations. Our group would not come or go until Zebulon asked for my assent. My connection with Zebulon added importantly to our experience as described below.
The ritual grounds are near the Kastom (traditional life) village of Halhal. To get to Halhal we walked thirty minutes along a beautiful coastal path that is intensely lush and green. Just before the northern-most village of Olal, we took a simple foot path into the interior. For another 15 minutes we walked through groves of coconut palms and forest until we reached the ritual grounds. It is a small area of grass with large tamtams –, logs with intricate faces carved on them and then hollowed out for drumming. The tamtams on north Ambrym, as well as wood carving more generally, are considered the finest in Vanuatu. They take hundreds of hours to produce. Traditionally, those making illicit copies of tamtams were executed. The largest tamtam at the ritual ground is 15 to 20 feet tall. There is also carved stone sculpture. In the forest just 50 meters away is a grass hut (nakamal or mens clubhouse) and surrounding area that is reserved for men. Here men dress (or undress) themselves for rituals, drink kava, and store ritual items such as the distinctive club used to kill pigs, a key element in north Ambrym rituals now that ritually killing humans is tabu. Interestingly, the men that were to be ritually killed and eaten were called ‘long pigs,’
Once men reach maturity, they begin the quest to reach higher levels (grades) in society in order to earn respect for themselves and their spirits when they die. To do this they must own many pigs and use pigs as currency to advance in grade. In north Ambrym there are 14 grades although no man currently alive is higher than grade 11. Men must also pay with pigs to acquire a bride. Zebulon is a grade 1 and is unmarried as he has not acquired the pigs necessary to advance in grade much less marry. In order to take part in the ritual events we were to witness, a man must have a sufficiently high grade and/or pay a price in pigs for the honor. It is a great honor to be a costumed dancer in the Rom dance and men must pay their chief in pigs for that honor.
On the way to the ritual grounds we stopped at Zebulon’s house and he gathered up a load of carved bamboo flutes that his father had made. They are beautiful and inexpensive so we bought enough to outfit a small orchestra. About 200 meters from the ritual ground, there were young men in the path collecting the admission fee of 7000 vatu per person for the three days (about $80 per person). As a trade good, we brought along a brand new Camelpak backpack, the kind with a water bladder and drinking tube plus plenty of zippered pouches for storage. We thought this backpack would be perfect for someone trekking up and down the volcano. We asked if we might trade this backpack for admission for the both of us. The young men taking the admission fee could not make this decision themselves, they had to ask the chief. Two minutes later a burly bearded man wearing only a namba (penis wrapper) walked up to me and, in accented English, asked to see the backpack. We bargained for a minute and a deal was struck — the backpack plus 2000 vatu ($21) would get Laura and I in for all three days. One of the young ‘ticket takers’ was delighted. He is the son of the chief and he put on the backpack and wore it for the rest of the day. We saved nearly $140 and made someone very happy.
Speaking of nambas, on the walk to the ritual grounds, Zebulon quietly sang. At one point he sang “Oh when the saints go marching in; Oh when the saints go marching in; I want to be in that namba; When the saints go marching in.” I am not sure whether he knew the word as “number” or “namba”. The latter would seem a more likely phrasing to him.
The seating for us yachties consisted of two bamboo poles set on trees branches. Laura and I brought small cushions. Some yachties had small folding chairs which were much more comfortable. Part of this bamboo seating area was covered by thatch augmented by a plastic sheet. The covering is important since it has rained about 20 times a day since we arrived — and this is the dry season. The tall volcanoes that produce the williwaw gusts also cause it to rain incessantly over north Ambrym. Drying laundry is pretty much impossible. But this weather is good for growing yams and taro in the rich volcanic soil.
The chief who traded the backpack from me was the master of ceremony for this event. His name is Napong Norbert and he is a very charismatic individual. He described and interpreted every dance and ritual act in both pretty good English and very good French. It is likely that he used French for the benefit of the French film crew as there were no other Frenchmen in attendance (but there were three Belgians). During the colonial period, Vanuatu, then known as the New Hebrides, was jointly administered by England and France. There are French speaking (and nominally Catholic) villages next to English speaking (and nominally Presbyterian) villages. Kastom villages tend to be in the interior of islands.
All the foreign guests were asked to leave the ritual grounds so that we could be led in by the chief and other high grade men dancing the welcoming dance. Most of these men were between 40 and 80 years old as it takes many years to achieve a high enough grade. (Young men danced in most of the other dances.) The male dancers were followed in my dancing barebreasted women in grass skirts who likely are their wives. Then the foreign guests walked behind until we were in the ritual grounds. There were also many ni-Vanuatu (local Vanuatans) were stood in the background to watch, particularly on day three when the Rom dance was performed. This festival was organized by a number of different villages so there were a number of chiefs present. Chiefs carry carved wooden walking sticks as badges of office.
The dances that were performed during the first two days of the festival did not involve intricate steps. The men typically were in a tight circle with their bare butts facing us, and they stomped to the beat of the tamtams while singing or chanting in their local language. All the men wore a leaf namba that attached their penis to a bark belt. Various kinds of leaf foliage stuck into this belt covered the small of their backs. The dancing was very energetic and the songs and melodies were mesmerizing. I will leave it for the video to describe the action. On both the first and third days of the festival, a pig was ritually killed. On the first day it was a smallish pig that squealed mightily. We did not know what was about to happen but had some inkling that the pig might meet with violence. Chief Napong Norbert spoke in the local language and then took a club to the pig. It was a bit of a shock to us. That pig was served for lunch two days later.
There were food stalls at one end of the ritual grounds. Women sold laplap, bananas, coconuts, boiled eggs, fried dough, bread rolls with meat inside, and nangae, on oval, nut-containing fruit that tastes like an almond. A dozen nangae are sold skewered on a thin bamboo reed, and are quite delicious. Laplap is a pasty mixture of taro root and yam covered in coconut cream and served on a banana leaf. The food was very tasty and inexpensive. I also indulged my recent fondness for kava with help from Zebulon. At the end of the second day we went to the nakamal of one of the chiefs, and he served me and the Veras some potent fresh kava. We also had some kava on the third day in Olal village.
Part of the activities on the second day was a communal lunch. The buff young men of low grade prepared most of the food. It seems that low grade men must prepare their own food and only higher grade men have it prepared by women. The food preparation was in the men’s only area next to the nakamal — a woman could be killed for entering this tabu area. I went there to take photos and some of the women cruisers then gingerly entered as well. One of the chiefs told the women yachties to leave but then the highest chief (by grade), Napong Norbert, over-ruled that chief and said that foreign women could enter. The food preparation was as energy-intensive an activity as the dancing. Wearing only their nambas, the young men scraped coconut meat and squeezed it into coconut cream, and collected firewood and roasted breadfruits. They pounded the cooked breadfuits into paste and laid the paste onto large banana leaves. Hot stones were extracted from the fire and put into open coconuts in order to heat the coconut water which was then worked into the paste. The large sheets of paste where covered with coconut cream and then cut into pieces. The work was so grueling that men would rotate into and out of tasks to give each other a breather. While this was going on, the wives of the high grade men sat some distance away and roasted yams on an open fire. They would reach into the fire to snatch out a yam and proceed to scrape its exterior with the edge of a tin can top. They did this repeatedly, scorching a yam, scraping it, and then repeating the sequence. Laura and I found the food a bit on the starching side and prefered the bread products at the food stalls, but the preparation was really a very interesting sight.
The famous Rom dance was performed on the third and last day (yesterday). The Rom dance is connected to a secret and sacred society of men that remains a mystery to outsiders. I asked Zebulon about it and he provided only ambiguous responses. Fantastic and fearsome masks and full body costumes of banana leaves are one distinguishing features of the Rom dance. These costumes are worn by those being initiated into the secret society and they must make their own masks in secret and according to secret rules. Any outsider who witnesses a mask being made is to be whipped with nettles, or pay a fine (a recent and welcome amendment to the rules). Members of this secret society are keepers of the powerful ‘black magic’, a set of magic skills that can kill men or make the yams grow. Zebulon is hoping to be an initiate of the Rom secret society next year and dance in full costume. We hope to be there. Those who were initiated into the secret society in the past, including all of the chiefs, also danced in the Rom dance but wear only nambas. The Rom dance has a whole different look and feel to it than the dances of the previous days. The men stomped and sang more intensely and seemed in a trance-like frenzy. Sweat poured from bodies. I can only imagine how steamy it must have been for the young men who were completely covered in banana leaf costumes with large, heavy masks on their shoulders and covering their head. Toward the end of the dance, a very large pig was brought out and ritually killed and then left to the side as the rituals continued. The ritual grounds were crowded with ni-Vanuatu who came to see their chiefs and their sons dance. It is said that the yam harvest depends on it. The final dance is a farewell dance that is also a bit of a frenzy. Inside there was a tight circle of singing and dancing men. Outside of that circle women in grass skirts were pulsing slowly to the beat. The foreign guests were invited to join. A gentle rain fell even though it was sunny — and the dancers bodies were glistening. I danced with the men while blindly shooting digital still pictures at very close range while Laura danced with the women and took video.
After the festival was over, there was a banquet in Olal village for the yachties. Some chiefs and those who organized the festival also attended. There was a formidable spread of local foods including the ritually killed pig from the first day of the festival. While waiting for the banquet to begin, Zebulon approached me and said that one of the chiefs wanted to give me his chiefs walking stick. He brought over Chief Massing, who seems to be about 80 years old. We had met Chief Massing, who has some close connection to Zebulon, on the first day of the festival and took a great photo of him. We printed that photo on glossy photographic paper on the boat and gave it to Zebulon to give to the chief on the second day. The chiefs walking stick he gave me had been used by his father, Chief Naroum Naim, and so was quite old. I was quite taken aback by the honor accorded me. Perhaps Chief Massing was grateful for that photo, or perhaps Zebulon persuaded him that I was a chief lacking a walking stick. The people of north Ambrym were uniformly generous and so this act of kindness may not be as unusual as it seems. Zebulon told me afterwards that a man of my age and status must have a chiefs walking stick, and now I do.
We left Metenovor (Southwest) Bay, Malekula this morning are now anchored off of Awai Island in the Maskelyne Islands, a group of small islands that lie just off of the southeast corner of Malekula. The passage here is mostly southeast into the prevailing tradewinds so today was a good time to go since there was little wind to contend with. We motored the whole way, about 34 nautical miles. Lot’s of other boats that were in Metenovor Bay for the festival also left this morning and 9 of them are anchored here with us. The plan is to stay in the Maskelyne Islands until Monday when the wind is supposed to build and then sail northeast to Nebul village on the island of Ambrym for another festival.
On Wednesday, August 13 we were at Labo village for an all day festival of Kastom dancing by Small Nambas, arts and crafts, and lunch, all put on by Labo village. The event they put on was nice but more appropriate for a visiting cruise ship than for yachties. It was a bit too scheduled. While strolling on the beach at Labo we ran into our kava-growing friend Justin from Wintua village. He was brewing fresh kava in a knoll nearby, mostly for the dancers and locals. He invited us to join in, and we did.
On Thursday, we went to Benahur village at the far tip of Metenovor Bay. We were invited to tour the village and, for a small fee, snorkel the wonderful reef that stretched out from Ten Stick Rock just across from the village. This was much more informal and low key. They put out some local foods for lunch and village people came by and chatted with the yachties who dropped by. It was a rainy day, so not that many people came off of their boats. After lunch and a tour, Laura, Britta, and I snorkeled the reef. The water was very clear and the reef was exceptionally beautiful, one of the nicest we have seen. There were lots of very big fish swimming around, which is always fun to see. A woman from the village told us how Ten Stick Rock got it’s name. In 1942, the village chief granted the US Navy the right to use the rock (actually a small island) for target practice in return for ten sticks of tobacco (10 cigarettes).
Yesterday, Laura and I snorkeled off the reef of Labo village, which was very disappointing. Our Labo village hosts had told us that their reef was a “marine reserve” with giant clams. But most of the coral was dead, there were only a few clams and these were not very giant at all, and these had been transplanted from a thriving reef in an attempt to attract tourists. We then crossed the bay to return to the wonderful reef of Ten Stick Island.
We have had an interesting 24 hours. To our great pleasure, “Vera” sailed into Metenovor (Southwest) Bay, Malekula yesterday afternoon and dropped anchor right alongside of Sabbatical III. They have changed their plan to depart for the Torres Strait and will now attend the festival here in Malekula and then continue with us to the Black Magic Festival in Ambrym Island. They shared in all of our adventures of the past day.
Yesterday evening “Vera” and “Sabbatical III” dinghied to Wintua village and met Justin the kava grower on the beach as arranged. He took us to meet Chief Wilson to whom we paid our respects with some small gifts. Then he took us to the nakamal for kava. He explained why kava from southwest Malekula is considered among the best in the world. His kava is exported to New Caledonia and Fiji as well as all the islands of Vanuatu. However, the kava shipped outside the village is dried first which, according to Justin, appreciably reduces it’s quality. The kava we were to enjoy was just cut fresh and prepared in the traditional manner. The bark is carefully cut away from the kava roots which are then washed and chopped by hand and then washed again. The chopped roots are then kneaded with water by hand until a soft mush. This kava mush is then pressed through a cloth baby diaper to get the kava we drink. This process produces a potent drink that he refers to as “morning fresh” since there is no morning hangover. Much of the other kava sold in Vanuatu and elsewhere he referred to as “two day kava” because it leaves an unpleasant hangover on the second day.
We put his kava to the test. None of us are experienced kava drinkers (Michael and Britta had never tried it before) but we all found it to be a most pleasant experience. It is hard to describe since it is really nothing like alcohol or anything else we know of firsthand. It’s effect might be understood by Michael’s comments before and after. As we entered the nakamal, Michael said “I really do not want to he here..let’s not stay long.” After drinking kava Michael said “This is really a nice place. Let’s stay here longer.” Kava puts you in a nice place. Our hosts were careful that we not consume to much and that we safely found ourselves back to our dinghies.
This morning we went to Tisri lagoon for the grand opening of the “Southwest Malekula Yacht Club”. The yacht club is a grass hut meant to attract yachties like us to an area that does not get tourists due to its inaccessibility. There are no cars or roads, no electricity, and no ferry or regular air service to this part of Vanuatu. The “yacht club” is a joint endeavour of the community and Luc and Jackie of the Belgian vessel “Sloupmouche”. “Sloupmouche” has been in Vanuatu for two years and runs the cruisers net on the VHF radio in Port Vila. There was live music, flowers for our hair, fresh coconuts, speeches by local dignitaries, and a ribbon cutting ceremony. A total of 33 boats were at anchor (up from two when we arrived last Friday). The cruisers brought gifts for the community and the community served lunch and danced. Sabbatical III and Vera had to leave before the lunch and dancing in order to get to Lawa village, about 4 miles north, for the burial ceremony of the father of Chief Albin Reuben. We had been specially invited by the Chief to photograph the event.
When we arrived at the beach at Lawa, we were met by John who told us that the ceremony had begun some hours before. He directed us to follow him to the place. Fortunately, as directed by the Chief on Sunday, we brought hiking boots as we were led at a fat pace deep into the tropical forest on a muddy trail, ascending steep hillsides covered with tropical hardwoods. We met people coming from the interior highlands carrying parts of pigs and loads of taro root. Each person greeted us and extended their hand to us to shake. Finally we reached a clearing demarcated by stone pillars. Laura almost fainted from heat exhaustion. We had missed the ceremony. Chief Reuben apologized profusely and explained what had happened. His father, who was born in 1915, was the most important link between the coastal dwelling Small Nambas of Lawa and the other villages on the coast of Malekula and the Manbush people in the rugged interior. There are fewer than 1000 Manbush people left. The Manbush people have no contact with the outside world, including the Small Nambas on the coast. They have never seen the sea. They have never intermarried with Polynesians and other potential partners of lighter skin, and thus are smaller and darker than the coastal peoples and have mistakenly been described as pygmies. Chief Albin Reuben’s father protected them and was their contact with the outside. They came out of the forest to this clearing high in the hills to honor a Small Namba man that they had known and respected for decades. Unfortunately, the Manbush people are not attentive to issues of time, and they showed up three hours early and left just before we arrived. While they were there they danced and performed rituals to honor the dead father of the current chief. It is almost impossible for outsider to ever see the Manbush people and we are sorely disappointed that we missed doing so. Chief Albin Reuben said that such a meeting of Small Namba people and Manbush people may not happen again for years.
Nonetheless, Chief Albin Reuben instructed the drummers to return to their places and play while he and his nephew performed the funereal dance of the Small Nambas just for us. I filmed it with our Flip video camera.
We have spent three days in Metenovor (Southwest) Bay. Two days ago we went to Wintua village which lies just across from Sabbatical III. It had rained heavily in the previous 24 hours so the paths were quite muddy. We were told that Wintua received more rain than villages just one mile away, and that is why it’s gardens are so productive. We met Justin who cultivates a kava garden and also runs the farmers cooperative. Villagers cultivate kava and copra for export to Port Vila. Their kava is highly regarded in Vanuatu and has a ready market in other islands. After a tour of the village, Justin picked some pamplemousse (pomelo) for us from his uncle’s tree. We gave him a new t-shirt. He expects us to return this evening at 5 pm for a visit to the nakamal, the place where men drink kava. Women are ordinarily forbidden from the nakamal but an exception will be made for Laura as she is not bound by all the local customs.
There is one particularly nice house in Wintua. We asked about it and were told it belonged to an Australian woman named Beverly and her husband from the village. The Australian woman had come to Wintua years before as a missionary along with Australian husband. After some time she divorced her Australian husband and married a local man. Unfortunately, he died some months ago and his widow was back in Australia visiting her grown children from her first marriage.
Yesterday, we went to Lembinwen village about one mile south of us. As claimed, it is a drier place that Wintua. A New Zealander controls a very large area of land around the village that he uses to graze cattle amid the coconut trees of a copra plantation. This enterprise gives employment to many villagers and is likely the cause of the prosperous character of the village. Most homes are of cinder block construction with metal roofs, and all houses are on large cement foundations. There were solar panels on many roofs and we could hear recorded music playing from inside (it was Sunday). Villagers are also fishermen, with at least half a dozen small skiffs powered by outboard engines plus one small tuna boat that said “Gift of the European Union” on it’s bow. Everyone in Lembinwen village is a Christian– either Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, or Christian Life Church.
Lembinwen village sits astride the entrance to Tisri Lagoon. The lagoon is quite large covering a few square miles. It has mangroves on much of it’s shoreline but the water is quite clear, not brackish, and full of fish. Laura and I took a dinghy tour through parts of the lagoon that gave us an idea of the size of the cattle/copra operation controlled by the New Zealander.
This morning a powered skiff came up to Sabbatical III with two men. One of them said he is Chief Alben Reuben of Lawa village. His father had died and there is to be a funeral ceremony for him tomorrow. He asked if we would be willing to photograph the events. We agreed. We found Lawa village on our charts. It is about 3 miles north and it should be a safe place to anchor with the predicted light winds from the east. To our surprise, we found Chief Albin Reuben mentioned in our guide book. His village is the gateway to the densely forested interior of Malekula where there are villages that live as they have for one thousand years. He is the contact person for expeditions into the interior as well as cultural sites along the coast where Lawa is located. We are quite excited about this opportunity. We will leave a cd-rom with the digital photographs with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre in Port Vila.
So we have an exciting couple of days ahead — a visit to a nakamal for kava, official photographers for the funeral of a chiefs father, followed by the Kastom dancing of the festival that brought us to Metenovor Bay in th first place.
We arrived in Metenovor (Southwest) Bay, Malekula yesterday morning after a very good passage from Port Vila. We have not left the boat yet but will later this morning. It is a very pretty bay with clear water. Laura is anxious to go for a swim but some of the bays of Malekula suffer from a “shark problem” and we want to confirm that this is not one of them.
We left Port Vila about 11am ago for the one hour trip to the anchorage off of Mele Island about 5 miles away. We will be here for only a few hours. At 5 pm we will depart for Southwest Bay, Malekula. The trip is about 100 miles. That is too far to do during daylight hours and still arrive with good light. We expect the passage to take about 15 hours although we cannot judge the wind yet since we are still in the wind shadow of Efate Island. We needed to leave the mooring field of Port Vila by noon in order to avoid low tide. There is a narrow and shallow pass to navigate to leave, thus the need to stop at Mele Island.
It has been raining off and on for the past 4 days. We carry our rain jackets wherever we go, and we have had a lot of places to go. We had to re-provision the boat which was a time consuming task that required stops in a variety of stores and markets. We also added 150 liters of diesel to our tank by schlepping jerry cans in our dinghy. We also had some nice meals out ranging from a cheap meal at the vegetable market sitting at a common table with all the other customers to two nice meals at French restaurants.
There is a three day festival in southwest Malekula that starts on the 12th. There will be Kustom dancing and other events. The two major groups on Malekula are the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas. The names originate from the size of the penis sheath (namba) that men wear. Apparently, the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas have not gotten along over the years, although there is no warfare between them these days. The size of your namba still matters alot in Malekula.
The Big Nambas wind purple pandamus fibers around their penises and secure the fiber to a belt made of bark. The testicles are exposed. They kept a stone fireplace where outsiders who they disliked (Small Nambas) were ritually cooked and eaten. If a Big Namba woman pleased her husband, he would permit her to have her two front teeth knocked out by hammering them with a rock. Small Nambas wear only one leaf on their penises, which they tuck into their bark belt. Testicles are also exposed.
No other boats are accompanying us for this passage. The Vera’s are in Epi Island and we might not see them again. They are leaving Vanuatu for the Torres Strait (north of Australia) in a weeks time. We expect to find quite a few other boats coming to this festival since it has been talked about alot.
We have been in Port Vila, the capitol city of Vanuatu for the past 10 days. It has been a good chance to catch up on all the internet work we had to do (mostly getting the blog to work again!), upload photos and videos, eat in restaurants and sit and drink cafe latte in nice little coffee shops, get some boat work done, and hear what other cruisers are up to. This is quite a nice city – very clean and modern. All the moorings in the harbor are taken – so many sailboats here. There must be 50 boats or so – way more than we have seen since leaving New Zealand. It is just a very comfortable stopping off point. Two things are incredibly cheap here for some reason – beef and cell phones! The beef in Vanuatu is delicious and very inexpensive and so we have been eating steak a lot. Cell phones are also very cheap here – they almost give them away – so everyone seems to have one. There is a big vegetable and fruit market open every day except Sunday and it is really fun to go there – tons of incredibly inexpensive greens (lettuce, bok choy, green beans), fresh peanuts, bananas, tomatoes, grapefruit and tons of tubers and sweet potatoes. We were excited to find fresh wild raspberries in the market today – first time we have seen berries anywhere on our trip. The grocery stores are well stocked and convenient. There are a lot of Chinese run stores here that are filled with movies and music. We were surprised to find (of all things)- five seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm and bought it for a song. Really seems like a funny place to find Larry David.
All is well onboard Sabbatical III….
We have been in Port Vila for the past three days. There are a number of boats that we know here, including those that got stuck in New Zealand until early July by the horrendous weather of all of June,and only recently arrived direct from New Zealand.
Before our passage to Port Vila, we had one day in Dillon Bay on Erromanggo Island. Two locals in a skiff (Wilson and George) invited us to view the children’s day celebration on the island that was being hosted by Upongkor village just up the Williams river. They offered to take us to the village and we accepted since it seemed tricky to navigate the river mouth without local knowledge. Before heading off, we bought two large freshly caught lobsters from them. Having no good place to keep live lobsters on the boat, George just cut off their tails for us to freeze.
We leisurely walked around the village waiting for the 2pm start of the celebration, and spent time talking to villagers and schoolchildren. The wait was for children from the village on the other side of the island who had not yet arrived. To get to Upongkor they had to hike for a full day, with an overnight spent in the mountains. As we toured around, Wilson pointed out the rock on the Williams river on which the outline of it’s namesake, the missionary Reverend Williams, had been etched in stone before he was cooked and eaten.
At 2 pm, the children and chaperons of the other village processed over the river and onto the public square, led my the Opongkor children singing songs of welcome. In the square, there were welcoming speeches by local dignitaries (in Bislama) as well as a long fiery sermon by the local minister.
Like children everywhere, the speeches made the children fidget and inattentive. There were more songs and the day ended with Kustom dances by the men (with bow and arrows and other weapons), and then the women in grass skirts. I took lots of video and photos and promised to send a DVD to the village as soon as we got to Port Vila.
When it was time to return to Sabbatical III, George and the skiff were nowhere to be found, so Wilson took us in a tiny outrigger canoe. Wilson plus two big white persons is a bit of an overload for the outrigger. Laura put the camera bag on the bottom of the canoe in front of her. Sea water entered the canoe as Wilson paddled us back to the boat, and our Canon mini-DVD digital movie camera was ruined. We are very disappointed as we had hoped to film dances and other rituals we will encounter as we make our way north through Vanuatu, and because we cannot send a DVD of the children’s day celebration to Opongkor village as promised. We have a little low resolution Flip video camera that we bought just before we left Rhode Island, so we still have some video capabilitiy.
We were up at 3 am that night to begin our passage to Port Vila. After getting past the considerable wind shadow of Erromanggo, it was a fast if somewhat rolly downwind sail with poled out genoa plus mizzen. The town of Port Vila looks fine but a little shabby. There is one nice supermarket (Bon Marche II) about a 15 minute walk from the dinghy dock. There is fruit and vegetable market in town that is open 24 hours a day, except weekends. In the market, there are a few dozen vendors selling manioc, taro, and sweet potatoes, plus coconuts, bananas, pamplemousse, and some prepared foods.
We have not solved the internet problem yet. There is no wireless in the harbor, and connect time is quite expensive if paid by the hour. We may buy a weekly pass from a place near the Bon Marche II but they are closed over the weekend. We tried to buy a SIM for our cell phone from the central office of Digicell, but there is not a SIM or cell phone to be had in the country. They are just all out. We will remain at least through the celebration of Vanuatu’s National Day on July 30.
Click on the image above to play video of Mount Yasur eruption.
July 22, 2008
It is morning in Dillon’s Bay on the island of Erromanggo, Vanuatu. We arrived yesterday afternoon after an 8 hour (55 mile) sail in near perfect conditions. As we left Port Resolution and headed north, we could see Mt. Yasur puffing black clouds into a clear blue sky.
Two days ago, we made a trip to the cone of Mt. Yasur to have a look inside. We were accompanied in the pickup truck by Michael and Britta of Vera, plus “the Italians” (two interesting couples on two boats), and three Aussies from two boats. One of the Aussies left earlier to walk up the volcano. Everything in Vanuatu is owned by one “family” or another. A family owns the volcano and charges 2000 vatu to ascend to the top ($1 = 88 vatu).
This is not an experience that would ever be permitted in a Western country. You hike up the cone and look down into a boiling cauldron of lava. There are no railings or viewing platforms of any kind. The only safety instruction is “do not turn your back on the volcano.” This instruction has nothing to do with offending the spirits. The volcano has a mini-eruption every few minutes in which it throws out flaming balls of lava (“lava bombs”). It is said that 99.99 percent of these fall back within the cone (500-750 meters in diameter). You have to be prepared to dodge the 0.01 percent that do not. As you walk up the cone you can see the congealed remains of lava bombs littering the slopes. In principle, it should be much easier to dodge a flaming lava bomb than it is to catch a pop fly to center field in the Minneapolis Metrodome, for example. It just that the ill consequences of misplacing these fly balls are so much more severe. Fortunately, our abilities to track flying objects was not sorely tested on this evening.
The volcano is the main tourist attraction on Tanna. There are a number of very simple resorts near the base of the volcano that shuttle their guests up to Yasur for the view. There were about 40 people,including some children, at the volcanic cone the evening that we were there. The volcano put on a spectacular show for us. I juggled three cameras and have some great photos and video. Each eruption is preceded by a roar and then the fireworks begin. As night fell, the sight of bright red plumes of lava being thrown high into the sky was a “National Geographic” moment.
I tried my hand at fishing during the sail to Erromanggo. It was too rough on the trip from Fiji to even consider fishing. I hooked a very large fish just off the north cape of Tanna. Unfortunately, we had not prepared my “fighting belt.” In fact we did hot even know where it was since we had not used it since Tonga last year. As Laura rummaged around below, I tried to reel the fish in with the rod still in the rod holder. I had to tighten the line brake quite a lot to keep the line from unspooling, and grabbing the rod without the fighting belt seemed unwise. Even then, I got the fish almost to the boat before he broke the line (70 pound test) and headed off. Ninety minutes later I got a bite on my handline. The handline uses 200 pound test and the only equipment required to haul in a fish with it is a pair of gloves. I landed the heaviest fish in my short history of fishing. It was a 20 pound tuna that was more than one foot around.
As the sun set in beautiful Dillon Bay, we enjoyed very fresh sushi and sashimi and two bottles of cold white wine with the Veras. Britta is expert at preparing sushi and sashimi and brought over pickled ginger, wasabi,and sushi rice. We had the tuna and soy sauce (but, alas, no chopsticks). After dinner we listened to songs from Mercedes Sosa, our favorite singer this sailing season, and watched a million stars, including the Southern Cross, shine in a crystal clear night. As Michael and Britta dinghied back to Vera at the end of the evening, their dinghy left a brilliant trail of photoluminescence in its wake.
There is a strong low pressure system headed our way. The plan is to leave Erromanggo at about 3:30 am (local time) tonight (actually tomorrow morning) and head for Port Vila on Efate Island. We should arrive there before sunset tomorrow. Port Vila offers protection from all directions of wind and wave. It is the capitol of Vanuatu and has real supermarkets (French), internet access, fuel, and restaurants. We hope to upload photos and video to our web site from there and also fix our blog.
Satellite photo showing Mt. Yasur cone (red icon) and Port Resolution anchorage (yellow icon)
We have been in Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu for only 48 hours and have had more adventures than in the prior month. We arrived here after a rollicking sail from Fiji and a rather scary entrance through a narrow pass into this bay. The pass was scary not just because of the big seas breaking on rocks and reefs but also because it is so badly charted that it looked like we had to sail onto a high hill (according to the chart) to get into the bay. A 50 foot Beneteau sloop was famously lost on the reef here 4 years ago, so we were a bit anxious. Someone said that the chart is based on that prepared by Captain James Cook when he was the first European to visit Tanna in 1774. There is a famous painting of Captain Cook coming ashore in this bay to meet the locals. The bay is named after his vessel, HMS Resolution. When HMS Resolution left here, she went southeast and discovered New Zealand.
Captain Cook stopped here because he saw a great glow in the sky and wanted to investigate. The glow was the Yasur volcano that towers over this bay, and the volcano is still erupting. More on that later. Some decades later Cook was followed by missionaries. The locals preferred to cook and eat the first few sets of missionaries. Cannibalism in Vanuatu ended finally in 1969. The island population is split among three main groups, Christians, Kastom (customary ways except cannibalism), and John Frum (a cargo cult).
Port Resolution is a fairly small bay with a black sand bottom. On the shore just 50 meters behind Sabbatical III, steam and hot water comes boiling out of the rocks. You can swim close by and a have a very warm soak but the flow of hot water is variable and it can get too hot. Another volcanic vent just above the shore regularly puffs out steam. When Captain Cook anchored here in 1774, the bay was significantly deeper. The volcano caused the shallowing mostly through uplift (primarily in1928), not volcanic deposition.
Early yesterday, our first morning here, we picked up the Vera’s in our dinghy and motored our way to shore. We had to pick our way through rocks and reefs to find a beach on which we could land. A steep path took us up to the “Port Resolution Yacht Club.”
It is not a yacht club in the usual sense. It is a pavilion with two walls and a roof that was set up by the village of Port Resoluton to help the visiting yachties interact with the traditional culture of Tanna. We found Wery, who is the person designated to talk to yachties, to arrange transport across the island to Lenakel, where one could check in. Wery said that he would have a pickup truck available to take us the next day (today). He said that there was a wedding celebration in the village and we were welcome to walk around and watch. Before heading off for the village 500 meters away, we told Wery we would like to have lunch in one of the small very informal island restaurants. You need to give them at least a half a day’s notice (presumably to find some food to serve you).
The wedding celebration had started the day before but yesterday was supposed to be the big day. In the morning there was a formal ceremony in which the couple was presented with gifts, lots of pots,pails, and washbasins. At noon, we were then led through a narrow path across the peninsula to a small hut on stilts overlooking the crashing ocean surf. Some young girls from the village scooted by us in the path carrying pots and trays with food, which it turns out was our lunch. They set out a buffet lunch of rice, taro root, manioc, sweet potato, some other tubers, island cabbage, bread, “shoo-shoo” (a green vegetable), bananas, and chicken curry. It was a huge amount of food for the four of us,and we loved it. We sat on a low bench in the hut and ate our fill.
We returned to the village and found that the dancing had begun. It started off slowly but the tempo was building as the afternoon progressed. We took photos and videos and chatted with Wery’s sister Esther. The dancers were of all ages but danced separately by sex. Most wore t-shirts with colorful grass skirts. The bride had feathers in her hair and white powder on her face. The wedding party sat under a canopy of palm fronds, and sometimes the dancers danced in a circle around the canopy. They also did a line dance that looked like the hora. By late afternoon we were feeling a bit sunstroked and dehydrated, and returned to our boats. We were told that the dancing would intensify and go on through the night. We thought of returning in the evening but could not see how we could navigate the dinghy to the beach in the dark.
This morning we were us at 5 am in order to take the truck to Lenakel. The truck was an open pickup with no shade and hard benches 9 inches wide along the bed.
Forewarned of this, we brought sun shirts and cushions. We also brought jackets and warm tops since we would have to climb over Mt. Yasur to get to the west coast of the island where Lenakel is located. Lenakel is the capitol city of the southernmost province of Vanuatu, encompassing a number of islands in addition to Tanna. It has a customs office and an immigration office, as well as a market and some small stores, in a city of nearly 1000 people. Joining Vera and us were David and Mary, two retired doctors from Victoria, Canada. Victoria has a special relationship with Tanna. In particular, it supports the small hospital in Lenakel. David and Mary had boxes of medicines with them to deliver to the hospital that they brought from New Zealand in their sailboat.
Stanley, the young son of the village chief of Port Resolution, came along to guide us. Stanley had been partying most of the night at the wedding and had drank 7 bowls of potent kava (kava in Tanna is said to be the most potent in the world), plus a bottle of vodka. He claimed that it was the vodka that did him in. He had returned to his home at 3:30am and his wife would not let him in his house. He slept on the ground for a couple of hours before meeting us at the pickup truck. He was very hungover. Fortunately, Stanley did not drive the truck. He did pass out at lunch and slept on the beach at Lenakel in the afternoon. When we returned to Port Resolution early this evening, his wife met the truck and angrily balled him out (in Bislama, the pidgin English national language). She was angry at his vodka binge the night before (not his kava drinking, since that is customary), and for forgetting to buy the things she asked him to get in Lenakel.
It was quite an amazing and scenic trip across the island. The road is just a track through the forest. You have to keep your head down to avoid getting whacked by a tree branch. The pickup truck bounces vigorously as it jumps over rocks and ruts. We climb up the forested slope of Mt. Yasur and had wonderful views in all directions. Suddenly, vegetation disappears and we drive in a moonscape of rocks, gullies, and crevaces. Finally, we cross below the volcanic cone, driving in ash, curving around large dunes of grey volcanic ash. Puffs of smoke and ash rise from the volcano’s cone. Two hours after we depart Port Resolution, we descend into Lenakel. Immigration and Customs are both extraordinarily efficient and friendly — quite unlike Fiji. There are simple forms and warm greetings. Receipts are provided without having to request them. Our doctor friends are dropped off at the hospital with their cartons of medicines, and the Sabbatical’s and Vera’s check out the market and find lunch. It was not a market day (those are on Friday and Monday), so there was not much for sale but we did get some avocadoes, pineapple, peanuts, lemons, and ginger. Bananas are not for sale since they are everywhere and in every yard, so who would ever buy them, except the odd yachty?
Stanley came along with us to a small restaurant where the menu consisted of rice and beef or rice and fish, but they were out of fish. That made choosing so easy. Stanley was still feeling his hangover but did rouse himself when the food arrived. After lunch, we had 3 hours to kill until the pickup returned. There is not much to do in Lenakel and there was literally almost nothing on the shelves of the few small stores. We could not even find bottled drinks for sale. We hung out on the beach under a banyan tree and watched women strip bark off of branchs to make “grass” skirts. The trip back was somehow even bumpier than the trip out, but in the late afternoon light the scenery was even more spectacular. As we stopped beneath the volcanic cone, it gave a loud burp and puffed out a nice cloud.
When we returned to the boat, we were dehydrated, dead tired, and covered in volcanic ash. After a shower and quick dinner, I wrote the above and we headed off to bed. Stanley had invited us to a circumcision ceremony at the village at Black Sands, for the next day, but we could not see ourselves making the 7 am start. Now it is the next day (Thursday July 17), and we just returned from the circumcision ceremony. We went late but it did not matter, we were there for the best parts. It was quite extraordinary. The recently circumcised boys had painted faces, flower leis,colorful feathers in their hair, and other special attire, as did their families. There was joyful dancing, piles of taro and manioc, laplap, and the killing of pigs (the latter is what we missed by coming late). We gave a pair of new flip-flops as a gift, and received a large taro stalk. Six of the seven boats at anchor were present, and we were all treated as welcome guests. I took lots of photos and video. People do not mind having the photos taken if you first ask permission, and they love it when you show them the digital photo. The children scream with laughter.
So it has been a very eventful two (now three) days. We have not had the opportunity to take down our spinnaker pole until just now, and boats chores have gone undone. But what can you do you do when the neighbors invite you to a wedding and a circumcision?
S 19 degrees 31.6 minutes
E 169 degrees 29.7 minutes
Hooray. We just arrived in Port Resolution on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu.Our passage from Fiji took exactly 2 days and 8 hours. We had expected that it would take 3 days and 3 nights. It was a record breaking sail for us in terms of speed – we had two days where we made 200 miles each day. This was the first time we have ever made 200 miles in a day. This speed got us into Vanuatu well before sunset and saved us that 3rd night at sea. Conditions were far windier than we had expected – with winds of 30-40 knots pretty much the whole way – and large seas – up to 6 meters at times. It was not a comfortable passage – but at least I can say that it was not our worst either. We left Fiji with Vera and were within 7 miles of her the entire 465 nm passage.
We had mistakenly written in our last blog that we were sailing east-southeast, but just to clear the record we were sailing west-southwest. Just wanted to keep you all on your toes.
We are really tired. There is a huge volcano here and it looks gorgeous from here. Time for sleep!