A Day in Asanvari, or How to Recharge Your Cell Phone in Vanuatu

We are quite a bit behind in our blog. Maybe tomorrow we will catch up. Maybe not. But lets talk about today.

This morning at 7:20 we heard the quite voice of Christopher Columbus outside our boat in Asanvari Bay, Maewo Island. Mr. Columbus rowed over in his dugout canoe to sell us two loaves of bread he had just baked. After breakfast, we took the dinghy to Asanvari village to do a gift exchange with the chief’s family. We brought over bags of flour, sugar, and cocoa, as well as children books and some clothing. In return, Laura got to pick out three woven bags and the promise of fruit later in the day.

We walked around Asanvari for a while and then hung out with Chief Nelson and Russell, an Australian who runs Australian Medical Missions. Russell has recruited Australian doctors, nurses, and dentists to come out in shifts to provide medical services to underserved communities in Vanuatu. The doctors actually stay in the village, he uses his boat Chimere to transport them from one coastal village to the next, and after their two week stay has concluded, take them to grass airfields to meet planes for so that they can return and the next bunch of doctors and boxes of medical supplies can be picked up. We first met Chimere in Pentecost Island. At the time we thought it odd to see so many people on one sailboat, some of them in button down shirts, not looking anything like sailors. Russell ferries them and their supplies to the beach in his dinghy immediately after dropping anchor, and in 30 minutes the whole team is working in the church as people stand in line to be treated. Diagnosis are made, ailments are treated, eyeglasses are provided, and teeth are pulled. The next morning they are off to the next place. Russell, with no medical training, teaches villagers how to make bricks from mud. He also fixed the Chief’s boat.

After lunch on the Sabbatical III, Christopher Columbus, who had been in Asanvari to attend an event at his son’s school, came back to the boat. He had heard that we needed to recharge the pre-paid minutes on our Vanuatan cell phone. If we would take him to his home across the bay, he could sell us scratch cards with minutes. So he tied his little dugout to the back of Sabbatical III and we hopped into our dinghy and took off for the one mile crossing to the far end of the bay. We landed on a black sand beach overlooked by steep cliffs covered in thick greenery. He led us through a path into the forest. Mature kava plantings were scattered about. We came into a clearing and where his very substantial family compound is located. He took out a key and opened a large closet that he calls his “shop” and dug out five cards with pre-paid minutes. We also bought a dozen fresh eggs– hard to find outside of Port Vila. He is not numerate, so I had to tell him how much it all costs. We then returned through the forest to the beach, and took the dinghy back to the boat. We have never had such an adventure recharging a cell phone before.

In the afternoon, we snorkeled on the west side of the peninsula that forms the southern part of Asanvari Bay. There is a fissure in the volcanic rock that opens into a beautiful cave/canyon. You can only enter near high tide, and the opening is quite narrow. In the afternoon sunlight, the canyon sparkled with coral and fish and the aquamarine color of the water. It was such a magnificent place, we repeated our swim in and out of the canyon about six times. We then took our dinghy to the base of the waterfall at the east end of the bay, and jumped into the cool, fresh water flowing from the base of the waterfall. No need to rinse our wetsuits or shower on the boat with a waterfall nearby.

For dinner, we had traditional laplap with the Chief’s family. There was a choice of taro root or yam laplap. The root is pounded into a paste, rolled flat, cooked in the ground in banana leaves, and topped with coconut cream A bit starchy for our taste but the company and view was delightful.


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