Small world

Small world story in Vanuatu:
We are back in Port Vila – the biggest city in Vanuatu. We went to shore today carrying one of my woven baskets from the island of Pentecost. Pentecost is the island where we spent quite a bit of time during this trip – it is only about 150 miles north of Port Vila, but is about 10,000 miles away in terms of lifestyle. When we were at Loltong Village in Pentecost we were invited to a local wedding and ended up having a wonderful experience watching both the Christian style wedding in the church and then the traditional wedding celebration complete with a dozen pigs and local woven marriage blankets (but no pigs in a blanket) exchanged as gifts between the families. This was the wedding that we had noted the bridegroom seemed completely zonked by kava both on his wedding night and the following couple of days.

Anyways, as I was carrying my little Pentecost made pandamus shopping basket into town today we made a shortcut through a small restaurant. A young man who works at the restaurant greeted us and said he recognized the basket as being the kind they traditionally make at his village. When I told him I got it in Pentecost he said that is where he is from and that his sister had recently been married up there. He told us his sister’s name and would you believe it but hers was the wedding that we had attended!. He said he never met the bridegroom as he had been living in Port Vila for years. We had taken photos at the wedding and given them to the bride and groom for presents so tomorrow we will print out some more and give them to our new friend… What a fun coincidence …

Fruit stories:
Now that we are back in Port Vila we actually have to buy fruit. I was thinking today about how important the acquisition of fruit has been on our journey. It is most often our primary conduit to friendships with the local people – much more so than in any other place we have visited. Some examples:

Lamen Bay, Epi Island: We meet Winnie – an older widowed woman who after a few minutes of conversation with her on the beach invited us over to her house. We sit on her tiny veranda and and she presents us with a large pamplemousse with apologies that she has nothing else to give us. We bring her magazines and books, reading glasses, and warm socks (which she asked for).

Loltong Village, Pentecost: A charming old guy named Patrick who lives right near the beach asks us if we have any extra engine oil that he can use for his small generator which has not been working for some time due to lack of oil as well as fuel. We bring him the requested oil. Next time we see him he brings us a basket of passion fruit and a bunch of bananas.

Wandering around Loltong we make a little detour through a path that leads to a beach. Woman name Eliza comes out to ask if we need anything. We explain that we are just looking around. She leads us back to her house and gives us bananas. We continue to receive fruits from her throughout the trip. We meet Eliza’s husband, another Patrick, who offers to walk with us (Fran and John were with us then) up to the top of the steep mountain road that leads out of their village. We are exhausted, but exhiliarated by the views. The walk is a piece of cake for him. At the top is his amazing garden where he and Eliza cut fresh green coconuts for us to drink.

Gilbert, from Labultamata village to the north of Loltong, gives us a tour of his garden and describes his innovative plans for improving the village’s horticulture and as we proceed he continuously cuts samples for us to bring back to the boat- island cabbage, sugar cane, papaya, pamplemousse.

Evie and Dickie, a young couple with 3 kids offer to get us fruits and vegies from their garden. We exchange these for children’s clothing, books and chocolate.

We accumulate so many pamplemousse that we start marking them with magic marker to remember which village and which person we got them from. The pamplemousse last for weeks so they are the perfect boat fruit.

Lolowai, Ambae Island.
Celia, the young woman who runs Celia’s restaurant (the only one in the small village) offers us ginger, bananas, papayas, coconut and local vegies (shu-shu). Rachel, another woman who runs a small shop there insists on giving us fresh peppers, local apples, tomatoes – just because she seems to like us. She also insists on giving us one of her handpainted paraos (a cotton wrap you can wear when it is too hot for other clothes). We have to insist on buying something from her shop or she will just give it all away.

Narovorovo, Maewo Island
We befriend Kelley, a young hip man who shows us around the village. Stopping to meet one of his many uncles on the way – an older guy with grey matted hair,a beard and few teeth. The uncle immediately calls to one of his children and within minutes presents us with a pamplemousse. Next time we see him he does the same thing. We return with fish hooks and lolly-pops.

Port Olry, Espritu Santo Island
Village market – this time we have to buy our fruits, but once again it becomes an event. We ask if there are bananas and an older woman runs off to gather some from her own trees. Young coconuts are cut open as drinks and we sit and visit with the ladies running the little fruit cooperative. We take pictures and promise to mail them back to the village when we get home.

Hog Harbour, Espritu Santo Island : We walk to the local cooperative – run by friendly women who have apparently made many improvements to the store since taking it over from the men. The little village is filled with pamplemousse trees all dripping with large ripe fruits, but there are none for sale in the store. When we ask where we can buy some, she points out the window to a group of young people sitting across the square. She tells us to go across the street and tell her son Billy that his mama wants him to climb a tree and pick us some fruit. We go and her cute, shy son scrambles up a tree, walks across the roof of the house, over to another tree and proceeds to pick and toss fruit to us until we tell him to please stop as we have more than we can carry.


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Leaving for Port Vila

We have been in Oyster Island, off the east coast of Espiritu Santo, for about one week. Tomorrow (August 26) morning at about 6 am local time we will leave here for Port Vila. The 170 nautical mile passage should take us roughly 25 – 28 hours in the forecast conditions that call for 11 – 12 knots of wind from the east and moderate seas. The moon will be nearly full and the skies clear. Can’t pass up a weather window like this if you are looking to head south.


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Oyster Bay

Fran and John left on Friday the 13th and we stayed in Port Olry for another 3 days. Their pickup truck to the airport showed up at the beach just as scheduled, and they climbed into the rusty and decrepit back seat with their luggage strapped onto the truck bed. Lots of hugs and kisses goodbye and we were back to just the two of us again.

That same day the wind died down to nothing and it was hot! Not a breath of wind on the boat and the only respite was to get in the water. Luckily the water there was beautiful and the snorkeling was terrific. Saw a spotted ray, a couple of turtles, an eel and the normal kaleidescope of colorful coral and pretty reef fish.

On Monday morning we went into town to give the French secondary school the remaining pile of French text books we had on board. The place was deserted, but the office was wide open, with the keys in the door, so we just deposited them on the counter with a note. We sure hope they get used.

Tuesday morning we decided to start moving south and had a nice short sail (about 8 nm) to Hog Island. This unappealing sounding town is well known for its famous “Champagne Beach” – a sparkling white sand beach that is a “must do” for the occasional cruise ship as well as for sailors like us. We had never stopped there before, hearing that the anchorage was rolly, but after 5 days of no wind and much reduced seas, we thought it might be a good time to try it out. So glad we did as it was a very lovely spot. The beach itself was dazzlingly white and pretty, but quite small. The beauty of it was the incredible aquamarine water in front of it and the terrific coral reefs scattered along just a bit offshore. The water was really about the nicest we have seen on this trip. We had planned to stay only one night, but ended up staying there 3 nights, enjoying the fantastic swimming and snorkeling and the coolness of the breeze that started blowing again. Only on day 3 did we end up getting company, in fact, it was a whole flotilla of boats. Nearly a dozen of them suddenly showed up having sailed up from Oyster Bay with the Island Crusing Association rally (out of New Zealand).

Yesterday (Friday) we sailed a bit further south – this time to Oyster Island, a very protected anchorage which is extremely popular with sailors. It is famous for its Blue Holes – which we are going to visit this afternoon. There are about 15 other boats here – most of them also from the Island Cruising Association rally. We have limited internet access too so we are finally going to have a chance to catch up a bit on news and e-mail.

Love L

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Travels with Fran and John

August 12, 2010

I need to get the blog up-to-date on events since I last wrote. On August 7, my sister Fran, my brother-in-law John, Laura and I sailed to Loltong, Pentecost Island from Asanvari, Maewo Island. The channel between the islands typically has big seas and enhanced wind, but this time it was almost gentle. We had good wind on the beam almost the whole way and it was an excellent sail. We went to shore late in the afternoon in order to visit Patrick (actor/politician Patrick, rather than older bearded Patrick) and arrange some kind of trek up to the high plateau. Last time Laura and I were in Loltong, Patrick told us that the high plateau and the east coast of Pentecost were among the most beautiful places in Vanuatu. One needs to charter one of the two four-wheel drive pickup trucks in order to get to the east coast, and Patrick offered to talk to the trucks’ operator. The truck trip turned out to be too expensive and required that two of us sit in the bed of the truck. So we passed.

The next morning (August 8), accompanied by Patrick and his wife Liza, we walked up to the top of the plateau. It is a hot, sweaty trek up a steep path but the views were spectacular. Once at the top, Patrick and Liza took us through a jungle path to their family “garden” — the place where they grow their food. In the garden is a simple hut, a cistern for collecting rain water, and some chickens. Scattered around the extensive property are plantings of taro, yam, chilli, kava, coconut, and manioc. We shared the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we brought from the boat with Patrick and Liza, and they provided us with coconuts to drink and eat. After lunch we toured their gardens and then visited the agricultural extension station further north along the plateau.

Added on August 15:

The walk back down to Loltong was almost as difficult as the walk up. After parting with Patrick and Liza, we went directly back to the boat to cool off with a swim, and then drank voluminous quantities of water to rehydrate. The next morning, Laura and I left Fran and John on the boat and went back to Patrick’s house with some gifts. Walking through Loltong we ran into Darrel, the bridegrooom at the wedding we had attended three weeks earlier. At the wedding and for two days afterward, Darrel seemed unfocused and disinterested — kava-ed out. But on this day, he was a whole different person. He greeted us very warmly, thanked us for the wedding photos we took, and was alert, focused and congenial. Perhaps his bride has gotten him to spend less time at the nakamal (kava bar).

Later that day (August 9), we left to sail back to Asanvari. We did not go back to Asanvari to visit, we went back because it was the only place nearby that I felt could be safely left in the dark. I did not want to try to navigate through the narrow gap in the reef at Loltong in the 4 am darkness, but Asanvari is wide open to the sea. The 4 am departure was required by a change in destinations. Instead of sailing to Oyster Island as planned, we decided to go to Port Olry, further north on Espritu Santo Island. We learned that the Island Cruising Association (of New Zealand) rally was coming to Oyster Island from Fiji with 25 or so boats just when we planned to go there. That is way too much commotion for us, so we deviated to Port Olry. The extra distance required the earlier start.

As we approached Asanvari, a pod of 20 to 30 dolphins came to greet us. They zig-zagged across the bow of the boat, and leaped into the air. Sabbatical III turned a couple of big circles in the water to keep the action going.

At 4 am on August 10, we left Asanvari for Port Olry. It was a great passage for the first 8 hours, made better by the mahi-mahi that I landed early in the morning. The seas became confused and ugly around noon and stayed that way until we came into Port Olry about 3 pm.

The morning of August 11 was spent recovering from earlier mishaps. The evening before I dropped our boat brush mounted on an aluminum pole overboard into 30 feet of water while scubbing fish blood off of the transom. The next morning, my wet suit was blown off the back of the boat and floated out before sinking in 40 feet of water. I was able to free dive for the brush and pole but 30 feet is the absolute limit of by free diving ability, and that effort hurt my ears. We retrieved the wet suit by dragging a grapnel dinghy anchor until it snagged it. All of this took most of the morning. It was not much of a hardship in the aquamarine water under a sunny sky. In the afternoon we went into the village to arrange a truck to take Fran and John to the airport in Luganville two days later.

On August 12 we returned to Port Olry to drop off some of Fran and John’s luggage with our contact in the village and to have lunch at the only restaurant in town. We were late for lunch and the cook had gone home for siesta, but John, the restaurant owner, prepared an island lunch for the four of us on his own. It was our only meal out for the whole time Fran and John were with us.

On Friday morning, August 13, we took Fran and John to Port Olry in the dinghy. As the truck waited, we said our goodbyes. We had such a great time with them, filled with a succession of adventures.


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Fran and John come to visit Sabbatical III

August 6, 2010

My sister Fran and her husband John joined the boat at Lolowai two days ago. We waited at the simple airport at Longana for their 20 seat Dehavilland Twin Otter prop plane from Luganville. The plane taxied to a stop but kept one engine running. Two Vanuatan’s hopped out, but after a few minutes Fran and John had not appeared. I asked someone who was joining the flight (it proceeds on to a number of islands) to go in the cabin and ask for Fran and John. That got results — they jumped out. The captain never turned off the seat belt sign, never announced where they had landed, and did not stop one of the props, so they did not think that they should get off or that this was their destination. If they had gone on to another island, we might never have caught up with them.

We went to the airport from Lolowai in the fanciest pickup truck on Ambae Island. It was driven by Jim, our new friend and a volunteer from New Zealand who, along with his wife Linda, are helping develop tourism in Penama Province. We also became friends with the other white folk on the island — Ed and Beth, a husband/wife team of Peace Corps volunteers, and Billy, another Peace Corps volunteer who works up-island. The people of Lolowai were so very friendly to us. On our first day (before Fran and John arrived), we looked into a little shop run my Rachel. A bond quickly developed that was certainly aided by Laura’s almost fluent French. Rachel gave us gifts, then we gave her gifts, and then more of the same until we said heartfelt goodbyes. On that first day we also went to Celia’s little restaurant next to the John Still store. We immediately hit it off with Celia and had an exchange of gifts. We had Celia, her son Steven, and her little daughter, over to the boat for lemonade and cookies. Celia is such a charming, earnest, and affectionate person. Her restaurant has only one dish on the menu, so there is no menu and no need to order. Just sit down and you get served with rice with susu (a vegetable), beans, and a little bit of minced beef on top.

Her brother John runs the John Still store next door. Outside the entrance are barrels of gasoline, diesel, and kerosine. There is a fence to keep out the pigs. Inside the small dark establishment there is an amazing array of stuff — including bread and sweet rolls, rice, flour, vegetable oil, plastic buckets, cigarettes, Coke, lanterns, rope, and much more. People are constantly coming and going. Lolowai is the provincial capitol (actually Saratamata next door), and has civil servants, a police post, a hospital (with no doctor), and at least a couple dozen motorized vehicles (but no electricity). One has to look before crossing the unpaved road. There is an establishment that calls itself an “internet cafe” but there is no internet (there was some internet for a while more than a year ago) and they do not serve food.

We left Lolowai at high tide yesterday (Thursday, August 5) and went to Asanvari, Maewo Island, one of our favorite places. We came with 10 kilos of flour as a gift for Vivienne, the wife of Nickson, the son of Chief Nelson. Today we walked around the local villages and then snorkeled into the rock fissure nearby (described in an earlier blog). It is one of the most beautiful snorkeling locations we have experienced, and we are glad that Fran and John were able to experience it as well. We then proceeded to the waterfall where we bathed in the cool, fresh water in the pool at the base of the falls. Just before sunset, we returned to Asanvari village to have kava in the nakamal with Chief Nelson and his son Nickson. All four of us drank kava. Chief Nelson and Nickson related to us the creation myth of kava, so now we understand why kava is a “she.” Nickson is a very congenial guy

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