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.