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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tsunami NOT a Problem for the Gladneys

Sorry for the mass email, but we have received some troubled inquiries and want to put to rest any concerns for our safety. First of all, Frank, Barbara and Destiny are all A-OK.
Yesterday we arrived in Ouvea, New Caledonia. We have no internet access and therefore do not know who among you heard about the Tsunami that emerged in the South Pacific today. Early this morning we received emergency evacuation orders to get offshore as quickly as possible. An earthquake had occurred in the ocean near Samoa and the resulting Tsunami was headed this way, with an expected landfall in New Caledonia of 9:16 this morning. We immediately made for deep water (4,000 feet) and stood offshore until the officials in Noumea, New Caledonia gave us the all-clear. Other than a little excitement over our morning coffee and a chance to do some deep sea fishing, it was a non-event for us. Sadly, we heard there were lives lost and many unaccounted-for in Samoa.
We hope also that anyone who bore anxiety for us will forgive us for not getting in touch sooner. Also copying our blogs on this message...
Love and best wishes, Frank and Barbara

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Friday, September 25, 2009

September 3 – 10 Making our way down Malekula Island

We arrived at Banam Bay happy to have gotten out of the rough sea state to find another beautiful, crystal clear blue water anchorage.  As with other anchorages here, the locals came out in their outrigger canoes to have a look at us.  Some of them wanted to trade fruits and vegetables and others would just come up really, really close to our boat and just sit and stare at us.  It gets a bit creepy after a while, but this is their world and we are the intruders therein, so it is not for us to get indignant or annoyed.  We did some trading, walked the shores and trekked inland with "Free Spirit", "Baraka" & " Morning Light "(ML).  We generally just killed time waiting for the weather to calm down so that we could continue southward.  Our original plan was to hop over to the island of Epi and to swim with the dugongs, however, we kept hearing other yachts on the VHF reporting that they were getting beat up out there in 30+ kt winds and confused seas.  We sat for three days and then stuck our nose out on the 4th. 


Yep – not nice out there, so instead of a rough 4-5 hour trip to Epi, we make a 2-hour, 12-mile jump down to Port Sandwich, on Malekula.  It wasn't as pretty there but sure was calm inside the anchorage.  What a funny name for an anchorage anyway, especially since it is known for its high concentration of sharks.  This is the former site of a meat packing plant, where the companies would toss meat scraps and entrails into the water.  Smart, since there are several villages about.  I guess they don't do much swimming.  Our cruising guides warned against that and even kayaking.  We did not see any sharks while at anchor there but didn't want to temp fate by jumping in to bait them.  We did venture into shore and walked through several villages and combed the beaches for shells.  I found some of my most unusual shells there. We passed a couple of nights playing "Oh Shit" on Val and Bill's yacht, "Ivory Quays".  And then another night playing Mexican Train on "Baraka".  Isn't this what we come to paradise for anyway?

Finally feeling safe to sail, we at last made for Aiwa Bay in the Maskelyns (islands) at the southernmost end of Malekula.  It was a lovely anchorage.  We ran into Morning Light and several other friends there.  It was kind of a ditto deal – absolutely beautiful.  Lots of outriggers coming by to have a look at us.  A lot.  We walked beaches, picking up what the locals call "sparking" rocks.  One beach was littered with these beautiful quartz treasures.  If you struck them together they created sparks.  The locals probably think it is some kind of magic.  We enjoyed the tranquility and beauty of this anchorage very much and would have spent more time there exploring, except that on the 4th day, 5 other huge boats squeezed in on us making it very uncomfortable.  There had been barely enough room in there for those of us already in the there and we knew that anchor chains were undoubtedly tangled up underneath us all, but with the weather that had been kicking around such that safe anchorages were getting jammed with yachts.  Our goal was to get up very early for the 12-hour sail over to Efate's Havannah Harbour.  We made plans with "Morning Light", "Free Spirit", "Priscilla", "Baraka" and "Ivory Quays" to head out in the wee hours. 

 

So, at 4:00 AM, we raised the hook, nearly kissing a large French motor yacht that was hovering very near to where our anchor lay, and picked our way out of there.  The winds and seas had clamed considerably and we spend a lovely morning sailing down to Efate.  Havannah Harbour was loaded with lovely clear, calm anchorages.  We chose to stay just one overnight and then head into Pt. Vila for two major reasons.  The most critical was that our batteries were going.  We were needing to turn on the generator every three hours or so, getting up in the middle of the night several times to charge them.  At first we had thought that it was just the intense heat of the day causing the fridge and freezer to work overtime, but then it seemed that just turning on the coffee pot or microwave anymore is causing the breakers to trip.  We knew that we had to get to a professional soon before our systems began to go caput!  These batteries are the top of the line (maintenance free AGM's), yet have given us only 2 ½ years of life.  We were real worried about the fact that they would not hold a charge and knew that we would not make it beyond Vanuatu if we didn't get something done real soon.  The other major reason was that Barbara (me) was craving civilization – laundry facilities, internet and shopping.  I was going mad.  

Thursday, September 17, 2009

August 30 - Sept 3 - Moving onward to the islands of Land Diving, Rom Dancing, active Volcanoes.

We departed Maewo for Loltong Bay on the island of Pentecost.  The big draw to Pentecost is the Land Diving. We have read about and heard about this "do not miss" ritual but were too late in the season to get to see it. It is on the list of things to do if we return next year.  Reader's Digest version: It is like bungee jumping but these crazy men and boys do it with vines tied to their ankles (which are not elastic), jumping from a tree on land – no water to brake the impact if they hit.  They wear only "small red nambas", which I'll describe later. There is a superstitious reason for the diving – it is done to appease the spirit of Tamalie (the first land diver who died during his jump), to ensure a successful harvest and to fertilize the soil for the yam crops.  The idea is to dive, arching their backs as they fall and to touch the ground lightly either with the hair of their head or with their chest.  Some don't quite judge the angle and depth of the dive right and suffer broken bones and banged heads in the process. 
So we missed Land Diving but we did see turtles!  Loltong Bay was lovely, the water clear, and inhabited by friendly sea turtles.  We snorkeled spent one night and then moved on to Ambrym. 
Ambrym is known for two major draws – Volcanoes and Rom Dancing.  We arrived in North Ambrym at Ranon Bay mid-day on September 1.  This black sand bay is large and provides waterfront to a couple of villages.  Just as we were setting the snubber on the anchor chain, an outrigger canoe approached carrying two young men.  One was Jeffrey, who was as slick as any salesman we've ever met.  He quickly introduced himself, thrusting large laminated brochures up at us illustrating all of the services he would arrange for us, giving us loads of options to divest us of our cash.  It was a little too much.  We told him we would like to arrange a few activities but needed to consult with our friends on other yachts first.  He made sure that we knew to contact only him and no one else who may approach us offering their services.  Marking his territory.  OK, no problem.  We kicked back the first afternoon, watching the colorful display as locals hand washed their laundry and then laid it all out on the black beach to dry.  Then as evening darkened into night we could see the red glow of the volcano on top. It radiated into the sky casting reds and oranges into the clouds.
On Wednesday, we went to shore to the Visitor's Bureau.  Hmmm, ok "hut".  We arranged for a group of yachties to go to the village of Fanla for a Rom Dancing Experience on Thursday.  We talked about hiking up to the volcano but were told that this activity is closed; it is Tabu after September 1, because if anyone sets foot on the soil going up the volcano it is not good for the yam crops – a Kastom belief.  Another missed opportunity that will wait another year.  No problem – we would not miss the dancing.
At 8:00 AM Thursday we gathered on shore for the trek to Fanla, which is a guided 45-minute hike straight up the mountain where the inhabitants still live as their ancestors have for hundreds and hundreds of years. They are not Christian and hold firmly to their Kastom (Pagan) beliefs.  Ni Vanuatu women are not permitted to participate in this & several other rituals.  In fact we felt like we had stepped into the land of OZ, or had fallen down the rabbit hole as the day wore on.  While huffing and grunting up the mountain, we noticed loads of villagers walking down with armloads of fruits and vegetables, and carrying goods on a pole over their shoulders, dressed in festive garb.  Our guide informed us that they were going into Ranon for a circumcision ceremony.  This marks the initiation of boys age 10-12 into adulthood and is a very public and highly celebrated event.  Happily we missed that.
After our hike we were each offered a drinking coconut for refreshment and asked to sit and rest in an adjacent village while our guides sought permission for us to approach to watch the "performance".  Our package included the dance, sand drawing, magic show and flute playing.  We certainly hoped we would be granted permission, since we had already paid our VT 4200 ($43.00) per person.  Eventually we were told that we could move along to the village's staging area, but if we wanted to see the magic we would need to pay more.  Uh huh.  We didn't bite.  So, no magic for us today.   But after all we had primarily come to see the very unusual and sacred Rom Dance.
We had been instructed that the area where the dancers perform is Tabu (sacred) and so are the performers.  We were not to approach the area until the official welcome had been issued, and then we would be ushered to a seating area near the periphery. Never were we to approach a dancer or to touch one.  For photographs, after the performance, we were permitted to step a little closer but not within 3 meters of any of the men.  I won't go into the details of the idiosyncrasies of the Rom Dance and the history – it can be "googled". We were not disappointed. In fact we were mesmerized, enthralled.  The dancers themselves were eerie and ominous to watch.  There were two distinct sets – one group, the dancers, wore the highly decorative Masks that were large, colorful and very tall (must have weighed a ton!), and covered their bodies in corn husks such that they resembled a dancing, bobbing hay stack, carrying a very long spear with a top that resembled a tiki torch, but that had a handled in it.  When they slammed the spear on the ground it made rattling sounds. These men surrounded the musicians who wore nothing but "small nambas".  This is more bizarre than the dancing hooded cornstalks, because in sharp contrast they wore nothing but a band around their waist, which supported their penis sheath.  Yes, balls exposed, penis wrapped in a leaf, sticking straight out, supported by the waistband.  Frank took photos, which we will get uploaded sometime this century.  I think most of us sat looking hypnotized as these men – two were Chiefs the others ancestors thereof, chanted, made music and danced hauntingly for some 30 minutes.  Following their performance, one of the primary chiefs played music for us on his beautifully hand carved bamboo flute and then the other chief performed sand drawing.  Our guides explained to us that everything these people do is significant in some way to the spirit world, and is a form of communication.  They further explained some of the Black Magic beliefs and why they ate each other.  Some villages told us that they ate man just because that is what they did.  Others said that it was the result of punishment for crimes, or for trespassing (like us white people being here), and then some still believe that you eat part of the person to hold them in perpetuity after their death.  Whatever the reason, we are glad it is no longer practiced.  After the performances we were offered opportunities to purchase, carvings and flutes.  We bought two flutes. 
We didn't sign up for any more activities because most of them we had already done on other islands.  So on Thursday morning we set off for Malekula Island.  The wind was gusting to the mid 30's and the seas tossed us like toys so we made the quickest and most direct landfall at Banam Bay, only 3-4 hours instead of 5-6 to our originally planned stop in Aiwa.

Monday, September 14, 2009

August 10-30, 2009 part 4 Asanvari Bay, Island of Maewo, Vanuatu – Getting Adopted!

On Monday we journeyed a few hours across to Asanvari Bay at the southern end of the island of Maewo. This is a beautiful bay with very nice villages and a wonderful waterfall. The ICA has invested heavily in Asanvari, assisting Chief Nelson's efforts to improve and advance his village. It is home to the Asanvari Yacht Club, which is basically an open-air, multi use community center type building. It can be a restaurant. It is quickly converted to a home theater where chairs are set up in rows in front of the village's DVD player with tabletop screen, or into an entertainment venue for Kastom Dancing and general celebrations. There is no bar and in fact, no drinks soft, hard or otherwise are provided, other than Kava, which is normally only served in the Nakamal, however, twice an exception was made for the ICA rally group and was served in the Yacht Club. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On arrival, John (our leader) informed us that on Wednesday, the village would host a formal welcome to us all and during this event a local family would adopt each yacht family. Frank and I had heard of this practice but had no idea what to expect. I personally had some anxiety about it because friends of ours, on another boat and at a different island, had been invited to dine with the locals in their home and were served some very unappetizing dishes. One of those dishes was flying fox Рa local large fruit bat! It was cooked whole. They said it stunk to high heaven and just did not taste very good at all. I will try a lot of things, but I just do not want to eat a bat. We were both hoping that being adopted by a local family would not necessitate our dining on flying fox. After getting anchored, I tidied up the boat while Frank went to shore to get the lay of the land. He returned to tell me that we had a dinner reservation at the yacht club for 6 PM. We were to bring a flashlight and our own beverages. We arrived to find that we had the place to ourselves. The meal du jour was chicken curry and saut̩ed vegetables, and it was delicious! Frank introduced me to Nixon, explaining that he is the son of Chief Nelson, and is the chef and manager of the yacht club. While children played about quietly, watching us eat Nixon sat and talked to us. He is an engaging 26-year old who seems mature and wise beyond his years. These young people grow up quickly here and take on quite a lot of responsibility at a very early age, so age 26 here is a much older "26" than back home. As we visited with him we learned much about his family and the village itself. Right now the entire village is in mourning for Nixon's 32-year old brother who died not 3 weeks ago, leaving a young wife and three children under the age of 5. I asked Nixon if his brother had been ill. He very simply replied that he had not been ill but had in fact fallen victim to Black Magic. Apparently this is huge in Vanuatu. These beliefs are very strong here. Nixon told us that all 3 of his brothers have died from Black Magic. He is frightened and wants to leave; yet his father, Chief Nelson needs him here. The standard period of mourning is 100 days yet here we were descending on these dear people like locusts just days after the Chief has lost his third son! You could see the sadness in his eyes, although he certainly stepped up to make us feel welcome and comfortable. Frank and I thanked Nixon for a delicious meal and promised to hold him and his family in our prayers.

Tuesday was a lazy day for us – book reading and just taking it easy watching as more ICA yachts arrived in the bay. Wednesday we all prepared to meet our families. Frank and I knew that we should prepare some kind of gift for them but not knowing who would adopt us and how many would be in our family I just took a tote bag with a couple dozen lollipops, a t-shirt and a cap. We were directed into the yacht club and asked to sit in chairs that had been arranged around the perimeter along the walls. Chief Nelson greeted us and invited John to join him as they performed a ritual of assigning John an honorary leadership role. Nelson and his wife had adopted John and Lyn a few years ago; hence they will always be with the same family. Following the formal welcome, Chief Nelson began the adoption process. It went like this: yacht name was called, summoning that family to the center of the room. The adopting family from the village would approach the yachties and introduce themselves, shaking hands, hugging and whatnot then would present gifts to their yachtie family. When Chief Nelson called out "Destiny", Frank and I approached to find that his own son, Nixon with his wife Vivian and two little girls, had adopted us! They showered us with fresh fruits and vegetables, placed leis around our necks, gave us hand-woven bags (beautiful basket weave totes), and then leaned over placing a Mother Hubbard dress over my head. As I was being dressed I noted a nod of approval from Chief Nelson. His son and daughter-in-law had made him very proud. I found later that receiving the dress is a very big deal. These folks wear mostly second-hand clothes; many are threadbare and have permanent stains and holes in them. That dress is special. She gave me the nicest and newest garment she owned, which had been made for her and sent to her by her mother from the island of Pentecost. I told her I will cherish that gift more than any other I've received. Actually she set the bar real high on that one. Afterward, the other ladies of the village were scrambling to give dresses to their adopted "daughters". We caused quite the little frenzy. (I made sure to wear my dress several times in the village during group events.) After all of the yachts had been adopted, a group of young men were brought in to prepare the kava. They used hand made tools to grind the roots. They ground and squeezed and worked like mad to prepare the kava just right. The head of each family brought his adopted family over to have a formal "high" or "low" tide drink from the coconut shell. We knew that Vanuatu kava is strong. Had read about it and had heard stories about it. Fiji and Tongan kava cannot even hold a close second to this stuff. We laughed as large men, big guys who can drink most people under the table were "woozing" about. I won't name names, but at the end of the evening those who had consumed more than two bowls had a very, very difficult time walking back to their dinghies. The locals enjoyed the show.

I am happy to report that we did not eat any flying foxes. We didn't even go to Nixon and Vivian's home but we did invite them and their two beautiful little daughters, Tesha and Leticia, over to Destiny. I had baked cupcakes and prepared huge goody bags for the family, filled with clothing, food, coloring books, hard candy, perfume, nail polish and a couple DVD's. Over the course of the next few days they lavished loads of goodies upon us: drinking coconuts, eating coconuts, an entire stalk of lady finger bananas (the really small sweet ones), paw paw, kumara, water cress. It was great fun exchanging and sharing with them.

The week was filled with activities. Chief Nelson and Nixon arranged for the locals to perform a Kastom dance show for us one night. Another night we enjoyed a feast of local pig and side dishes from their gardens, followed by a live performance of their String Band. Nixon arranged (and led us on) some beautiful hikes for us and told us stories of the history of this village and the tribes who have existed for hundreds of years here. We were told of the little people, the Lysepseps, who lived in the Banyan trees, and about the cannibal tribes who would murder the children of the rival chiefs and serve their body parts in laplap (a favorite gelatinous snack made from local roots), during feasts with the other villages. We hiked the waterfall. I did my laundry in the waterfall. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Asanvari. The day before our departure I made a picture CD for Nixon of all the photos we had taken of the hikes, the ceremonies, the families and the yachties, which I knew they would pop into the DVD player for everyone to watch over and over. It was a sad and teary farewell for us. We got Nixon and Vivian's address and promise to write to them as we travel onward.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

August 10 - 30, 2009, Part 3 Palekula Bay, Santo and Lolowai, Ambae - Vanuatu

Palekula Bay is a beautiful anchorage in a very large but shallow bay. The mouth of the bay was home to Club Nautique, which had been a decent yacht club until a recent cyclone or some such storm completely wiped it out. Now all that remains is a barren slab where locals gather in the evenings to drink kava or to congregate for a day of net fishing. There is a lot of evidence of small fire pits around the perimeter. The bay is closer to Luganville and to several favorite tourist sites and dives. The most popular and famous dive is to the USS President Coolidge, a 200-meter long former luxury liner that was converted to a troopship. In October 1942, carrying 5000 men she sank in the Segund Channel just outside of Luganville, after hitting two "friendly" (American) mines. The boat slid into deeper water as it sank, sitting on its side in 30 m to 67 m of depth and apparently remains reasonably intact. The other big attraction is called Million Dollar Point, where at the end of WWII, the US Military literally dumped thousands of tons of equipment (bulldozers, jeeps, cranes, forklifts, trucks and munitions) after a dispute with the French. The story we were told was that the Americans could not (would not?) bear the expense of transporting them back to the US when pulling out of here, so they made an offer to sell the goods to the French for pennies on the dollar. The arrogant French replied, "Why should we pay for these things when we can just take them after you leave?" Hence the US Military responded by dumping it all into the waters and along the beach and then blowing up access to the place, leaving millions of dollars of debris littering the area. Would our military do this on their own soil and get away with it? It makes a great dive/snorkel attraction for visitors. We had missed the big group dive, which occurred the day we were at Champagne Beach, but planned to go the following day. Unfortunately those who had done either or both dives the day before reported that visibility was so poor subsequent dives had been cancelled. Alas, we missed the diving but saved several hundred dollars. Maybe next time, if we return to Vanuatu.

We only stayed two days in the anchorage, and one of them was spent going back into town, via a cab that had been arranged to take groups of us to Customs and Immigration so that we could apply for our 30-day Visa extension, and to take care of whatever business we might need to, since this would be our last stop in civilization until we get to Port Vila in about 6 weeks. Our "cab" turned out to be a mini super cab pickup truck. Four of us crammed into the cab while Frank and Jock (from "Just in Time") rode in the bed of the truck. Poor guys! Thank goodness this was only a 20- minute/7 mile ride into town. In the Customs office we met another American cruising couple, Laura and Mark aboard "Sabbatical III", a 54 ft. Amel. He is a professor at Brown Univ., and sails 8 months of the year, then goes back to work for the remaining 4. Nice deal. Lovely people whom we ended up spending a bit of time with over the next couple of weeks.

Friday, Frank played golf with John from "Windflower". Somehow I ended up on the boat all day, so I just read a book. I should have planned that better so that I could have access to the dinghy or to hitch a ride with someone else to go snorkel or just for a walk on shore. It was much too far to swim.

On Saturday morning we left for Lolowai Bay on the island of Ambae, which was a great 6-hour sail. We had anticipated 8 hours, but caught great winds across the beam, averaging 27 knots, gusting to about 35, giving us an average boat speed of 7-8 knots with reefs in both sails. The going got a bit rough, seas a bit high and it was exhilarating! Lolowai reminded us very much of the Marquesas. We anchored in a deep, dark bay surrounded by mountainous terrain. The beaches were black, as is quite common in these volcanic islands. There wasn't much to the village, in fact it appeared fairly deserted with only a few homes, although it is said to be the principal center for the Anglican Diocese of Melanesia, and houses the hospital, bank and post office for this entire area. The villagers were very simple people and quite curious about the yachts. They hooped and hollered to us from shore. Next morning the local ladies set up a fruit and vegetable mini market for us on shore. We purchased some cooking bananas, kumara (sweet potatoes), pawpaw (papaya), and pampelmousse stowed our goods into the dinghy and then set off for a long group hike, which everyone enjoyed immensely. We climbed up to the caldera of the no longer active volcano. The hike turned out to be an all day adventure sometimes through rugged wilderness, often on steep rocky trails and roads, hardly seeing another soul. Every now and then we would spy what appeared to be an abandoned garden and perhaps an abandoned home, although we were told they probably were inhabited but that this is just the way these people live. The islands here are so lush with vegetation that it is nearly grown over itself. Michele and Paul's two young children, Merric and Seanna were in heaven on those trails. I kept thinking of my own grandson who is about their age, and how much fun he would have out here picking up sticks and rocks, climbing the huge Banyan trees, picking bananas and fruit, seeing lizards, frogs, baby pigs and chickens scattering along. It wouldn't be a bad place to get stranded now that they no longer eat people. After the hike we walked up to the hospital. Oh my god! It is not a place you would want to go if you are infirm! Remembering episodes of the TV show "ER", when Carter went to the clinic in Africa, I thought this place didn't even measure up to that. The patients even have to bring their own drinking water, drinking cups, and food. Their medications are apparently outdated and the place, just like some of the villages and homes we passed, looks like the remains of either a bombing or a cyclone. Very sad. Not sanitary. We guessed that the only people who go there are the Christians who do not believe in Black Magic and are so very ill they look to this as the last resort. It probably is their last.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

August 10-30, 2009; Vanuatu part 2

After our village visit, we were all in an interesting state of mind; mostly of gratitude that we were born into the cultures that were our own and not of a third world, superstitious heritage. For some odd reason, Vanuatu has made quite an impact on me, which I find difficult to articulate. We spent a week at Oyster Island, during which time it rained nearly every day. I finally took some laundry in to be washed on one of the sunny days. The resort has a washing machine and will wash our laundry for V$1,000/load (approx USD$10), but returns them to us to hang dry on the boat. Although the exchange rate for us is quite good, the fees for service at Oyster Island were pricey. Each activity, including the trip to town and to the village cost us the equivalent of around USD$50.00 per trip. Groceries were inexpensive but not abundant and not what we would consider usual goods. White potatoes are not found. Kumara (sweet potatoes) are abundant. Pawpaw (papaya) and bananas are also found in large quantities. I have learned to cook with green bananas and green pawpaw, making some excellent vegetable curry dishes. Pamplemousse is back! We haven't really had those since the Marquesas. We don't find lettuce, tomatoes and the like, but are told that if we do we may not want to eat them because of the contaminated water in which they are grown. Oddly, however, eating cucumbers, kumara and radishes seems to be OK. The cucumbers are gargantuan, as are the white radishes! We have made a steady diet from bananas, pawpaw and coconuts. There are the eating and the drinking variety of coconuts, as well as the many varieties of eating (raw) and cooking bananas. Lord, I could go on and on about that!

The resort provided varied forms of entertainment for us, which were local performing arts. One was a performance done solely in the water, where the women made rhythmic musical sounds with their hands slapping and splashing the water. It was actually quite incredible. Also during this event, some of the men did a type of Kastom dance, which is derivative of cannibal tribe rituals (we think). The spears and clubs used are much more primitive than those in Fiji. The men wear very strange costumes, including a tree branch sticking up through the crack of their rear end. That can't be very comfortable - especially while dancing and stomping around. It is all very strange to us. We find it gets stranger as we travel these islands.

We had a final chart marking meeting one day, and at the end a local fellow from the island of Santo brought out some carvings and woven baskets for sale. I bought a large "tote" for V$1,200. We passed on the carvings. I'd seen many in the market and didn't get quite develop an appreciation for them. I'm not sure what they are, but they look like some kind of mutated alien bug. They are probably a type of tiki god, but have the face of a praying mantis. I will take a picture of one and when we do get internet will try to post it along with the hundreds of other pictures we have yet to post.

On Monday, the 17th, the rally group moved south to get closer to Luganville. We decided to cruise up to Champagne Beach toward the north end of Santo in Hog Bay. This area is noted for being the most photographed beach in all of Vanuatu, and is a regular stop for cruise ships. We sure are glad we made the detour. It is lovely. When we arrived, only two other yachts were in the anchorage: "Lady Kay" (English) and "Crystal Harmony" (Kiwi). It was a quiet, sheltered anchorage that boasted clear aqua blue water and sugar white sand beaches. There were turtles swimming about and it was as tranquil as you can find. Champagne beach was just around a small point (which Frank calls a "stick-out") that separated it from the rest of Hog Bay where we anchored. In front of us was a small beach hostel much like a backpacker's resort. We spent our first evening just relaxing and taking in the peace and quiet.

The next morning, we waved goodbye "Lady Kay" as they departed and then took the short dinghy ride over to Champagne beach. It was August 18th; our 8th Wedding Anniversary, and were tickled to be spending it in paradise. As we landed on the beach we noticed the sand was so fine it felt like soft powder on our feet. We marveled that this incredible spot has been unmarred by some high-end hotel/resort chain. In fact most of Vanuatu remains relatively untouched by the outside world and its commercial disturbances. After our morning adventure to the famed beach we lunched at the "resort" and then hiked up to the road, a bit inland, for a walk. A young man approached us asking for rope, clothing, etc. I asked him if he had anything to trade for any of these items. He said he would bring us bananas, later in the day. I felt strange about his request and don't quite know why, but we soon found that in Vanuatu a lot of the locals make a habit of asking for handouts and offer little in return. We continued on our way but then it didn't take long for us to feel we had just stepped out of time and reality once we left the beach area. We passed dirty homesteads with trash thrown all about, cows and pigs tied up anywhere and everywhere. Mangy dogs and puppies roamed about. The homes were thatched and near shambles. There were many areas of smoldering fires, near piles of dirty dishes and pans with chickens and roosters jumping in and around it all. We ventured into one village where I swear they were not done "eating man", as the locals spied us warily following our every move. I felt utterly creeped out. Frank went to talk to some of them, asking directions but their response seemed evasive and made me feel very discomforted. They whispered a lot and looked at us as though we were not welcome there. I hardly find it possible that they have not seen white people around here yet perhaps we were an anomaly to them. I just wanted to run back to the boat. When we returned to Destiny I felt a strong need to take a bath. After a short rest, however, we joined Crystal Harmony for sundown and were just enjoying a lovely sunset and placing our order for fresh lobsters from a local fisherman when we noticed a young man in a crude outrigger canoe approaching Destiny. It was the banana guy. Frank jumped into the dinghy to go meet him. He returned a while later telling us that he had just traded some caps and t-shirts for several dozen green bananas. So the young man had come through after all. We enjoyed our visit with our friends and went back to dunk the bananas in the water. (This is a must with all local fruits and vegetables to get the critters off). When I picked them up, however, I noted that they smelled more like a cow pasture and not at all like bananas. They looked pretty ratty too but we thought a good dunking might take care of it. By the way - these bananas hung on the back of our boat for a week, went from green to black and were still hard as a rock. They went overboard shortly afterward.

On Wednesday morning, Tony from Crystal Harmony stopped by with our lobsters. They were V$500 each ($5.00!). What a deal. Soon afterward we weighed anchor, heading south to Palekula Bay in order to join back up with the rally boats. We had a wonderful sail most of the way down arriving early in the afternoon and just in time for another rain squall. We sure had hit it lucky in Hog Bay with two blue-sky days, and now it was time for a little rain and rest, which is my excuse to sit around and read a good book.

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Friday, September 4, 2009

August 10 - 30, 2009 Vanuatu - land of naked children, active volcanoes, waterfalls, mosquitoes, black magic and Bislama! Part 1 of the experience

It has been nearly 20 days since my last posting, and may actually be even longer depending on whether or not this transmission gets through the airwaves. Our first landfall at Oyster Island Resort was like a refreshment after a workout - not a full meal but just enough of a snack to nourish our need for creature comforts.

The word "resort" should not be taken in the sense that Americans refer to a resort. It was more like a quaint get-away for those seeking solitude and tranquility, owned by a partnership of Kiwis, and operated by Grant, Colin and Sunshine. (two Kiwis and an American). It consists of several adorable and comfy bungalows at waterside, and a restaurant/bar/lounge area, nestled in a lovely, calm bay giving shelter to a resident dugong, which we understand is similar to a manatee. The restaurant prepared excellent food and the resort management did their utmost to welcome us and to keep us entertained. They provided laundry services, ground transport around the island of Espiritu Santo, limited internet access and a staging area for our meetings, craft markets and local entertainment. We spent a very busy week there.

Our first order of business after clearing Customs was to get to an ATM machine and visit the hardware and grocery/supply store. Luganville was less than 10 miles from Oyster Island, yet it was a 45-minute drive by motor vehicle because the roads are little more than deeply rutted dirt pathways just wide enough for a vehicle to traverse. Frank and I, along with Dave (from Baraka) had the unfortunate fate of sitting in the rear seat of the dilapidated15-passenger van. We doubt that the tires held much air and knew beyond a doubt that the suspension was already shot as we slammed, jolted and hurtled up and down bobbing painfully along. By the time we arrived at Luganville we barely managed to unfold our wobbly legs and stand on terra firma without crying out in pain. Our lower backs had taken such a jarring that we swore our spines had compressed at least ½ an inch. Unfortunately, the ride back was even worse, as we got manipulated into the back yet again, and this time were even more cramped as people shoved their packages in and around us all. Did I mention that it was stifling hot in the rear of the van? It took two days of Ibuprofen to relieve our aches and pains from that ride.

Anyway, while in town we noticed that Vanuatu, although only a few hundred miles from Fiji is far less commercialized and developed in spite of a major occupation of Americans, French, English and Japanese during the World Wars. In fact, many Western and Eastern cultures had tried to introduce commerce and industry over the years, however, it seems that Vanuatu is not interested in these kinds of advancement. They have managed to maintain a culture that remains very close to the missionary times when Christians brought civility and modesty to the cannibalistic indigenous people. Villages are still full of people living 100 years in the past, without electricity, running water or even toilets. This we had read about and would soon experience personally. Luganville is the main town on the island of Santo, and resembles Tonga in that the cultures seem to be in a battle between the old and the new. Ni-Vanuatu women still wear the Mother Hubbard dresses, which were introduced perhaps a couple hundred years ago by missionaries in an effort to cover up the near naked women. Men in the towns wear standard garb, but in some villages wear next to nothing. They are trapped in a time warp, yet many of them carry a cell phone on a halyard around their necks. They walk either barefoot or in Crocs. The shops are mostly owned by Chinese (as in Tonga) and are dusty and dirty (as in Tonga), although there are one or two nice and tidy businesses that appear to be owned by French. Local fruit and vegetable markets seem to be reserved for and limited to Vanuatuans. There seemed to be several empty and rotting buildings among the thriving ones and perhaps a hotel or two that may have been in business although it was hard to tell by the looks of them. It is a bizarre clash of styles and culture that sent our senses into a frenzy of adjustment.

Back at Oyster Island we took our laptops to shore trying to get some banking and other personal business done but got frustrated and gave up. If there were more than two computers online at a time it just overloaded the system and shut us all down. The resort probably never intended to get bombarded by a crowd of internet-starved cruisers. The access they had was intended for their own business purposes, and because they offered the Wifi to us at no charge we did not complain but tried to minimize our use of it. That night, ICA had arranged for a welcome feast at the restaurant. It was wonderful, with lots of varieties of both Vanuatuan food and Oyster Island's specialties. Some of the fish that cruisers had caught during the competition was prepared. Awards were given for the fishing tournament and for those who had made their first open ocean crossing. Paul and Michele aboard "Free Spirit" won a night in the resort for having caught the largest number of fish - 16 - and for the largest fish - a Sword Fish. Wow - they blew us all away.

The next day we were granted permission to visit an indigenous village, which is NOT a tourist venue. Rather is a working village that had adopted Grant's father as Honorary Chief. He has been working with them to teach them gardening and farming techniques. Because it had been raining for the last 24 hours, we got out of the van (this time Frank and I grabbed the second row of seating!), and negotiated our way through a series of mud puddles onto the path leading into the village's first structure, which was the home of the resident chief, medicine man (witch doctor). He wore nothing more than a string around his waist into which was tucked a long flap in the front and a long flap over the middle of his backside. He is an amazing man who spoke to Grant in Bislama. Although there are over 108 different local languages in Vanuatu, Bislama, a form of Pidgin, is the universal language of the people. For instance, "Where do you live?" would be "Yu blong wea?" And "Thank you very much" is "Tank yu tumas". "I'm sorry": "Mi sori tumas". It's fun! But they talk so fast we can't keep up. So, we got a personal tour of this village where the children are called pikininies, and wear no clothing. They are nearly completely self-sustaining. Everything that they eat they grow. Even their medicines come from their own plants. We were shown plants used for curses and for spells. This village and the people, who are seemingly untouched by modern advancements, fascinated us. They are not Christian - they are Kastom, and very superstitious, and up until not long ago were cannibals. Vanuatu has an extremely violent past. Even into the 1970's they were eating man. By the way - women were not eaten - just males.

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