A month in Vanuatu

Ambience in Anatom

Bay and reef

Bay and reef

We don’t think we have ever had a passage so full of contrasts as the one to Vanuatu – see the daily blogs preceding this one.  It was a relief to drop anchor in the calm waters at Anelghowhat Bay, with its outer reef that affords protection in all but NW and SE winds. Once tidied up above and below decks, thus putting Pipistrelle back to ‘at anchor’ mode, we couldn’t resist the lure of a relaxing swim before lunch followed by a well-earned siesta to sleep off the effects of night watches.  Kathryn and Anthony came over for tea and chocolate cake baked by Bob.  Talk was naturally about the passage as well as local festivities to which we were invited the following evening.  The invitation came via Keith in his dug-out canoe.

Next day the German yacht ‘Lop To’ arrived.  We met them first in Tonga (the Ha’apai Group) last year and they know many other German friends of ours.  Kerstin and Helmut were also sailing to Vanuatu at the same time, so we had an SSB net with both Cobalt and Lop To on the passage north.  To greet us also was an Austrian boat called Taurus, friends of Lop To, who we didn’t know.  We and the other boats in the anchorage went to the local festival, a friendly affair put on by Keith’s family with dancing, tasty food and kava drinking!  Kava is made from a root with mild narcotic properties and tastes, well, like dishwater leaving the back of your mouth and tongue rather numb.  One taste was enough! There we met other yotties including French, English and American – all very sociable.  There were three Wauquiez in the anchorage at the time – the other two being of an earlier vintage than Pipistrelle, one about 30 years old and the other an even older ketch with a French family on board.

Children in traditional 'clothing'

Children in traditional ‘clothing’

Sampling the brew

Sampling the brew

This local evening heralded a social whirl – Cobalt for drinks, Lop To for pizza, a BBQ for 8 people on Pipistrelle and a birthday brunch on the beach at Mystery Island, just opposite the anchorage.  We had walked around it the previous afternoon.

‘Alumni’ then arrived who we had first met in the Marquesas and had seen at various intervals since.  The last time we spoke was on the VHF when they were heading into Savu Savu in Fiji and we were going the other way last year.  To our surprise and theirs we met again at this anchorage.  We also went snorkelling a couple of times and diving once, though the visibility and sealife were rather disappointing.  It is good to be back in the tropics with warm waters and pleasant temperatures.

Giant clam (captured on new underwater camera!)

Giant clam (captured on new underwater camera!)

Pipistrelle stood up to the rigours of another passage exceptionally well.  A few niggling problems remain, but then without them it would not be cruising as we know it!

Anatom was an easy place to check in to, and we were lucky that a cruise ship was due to arrive 3 days after our arrival, which meant that an immigration officer from Port Vila was on hand and completed those formalities.

Just another sunset!

Just another sunset!

Tempestuous Tanna

Tanna was the second island we visited and we arrived after a fast day’s sail in good conditions, with Cobalt and Lop To making up the fleet.  We also caught a 4.5 kg mahi mahi, which was quickly filleted and frozen, to provide a number of good meals later.

We anchored at Port Resolution on the east side of Tanna, but protected from the SE’ly trade winds.  This was yet another harbour visited by Captain Cook, who made it his base for many months on his second expedition.

Going to the village the following day provided us with the opportunity of giving one of the villagers the head of the mahi mahi we had caught.  This part of the fish anatomy is a delicacy and in return for our gift we were given succulent tropical fruit, plus a guided tour of the well kept village.

Girl at the well

Girl at the well

Toddler with knife!!

Beware – toddler with knife!!

another child with lollipop and pet parakeet

another child with lollipop and pet parakeet

Typical village dwelling

Typical village dwelling

The highlight of our visit and the main purpose for stopping off there was to see the volcano on Mount Yasur.  It took 1 ½ hours to get to the crater in the late afternoon along a mud road by open 4 WD truck equipped with wooden benches and grab bars of a sort for the passengers in the back, of which there were 8 adults and 5 children.  Mentioning no names, two ‘senior’ ladies were invited to sit in the cab with the driver – luxury by comparison, even when perched on the metal seat frame, the upholstery having worn through.  A front seat view of the rough terrain was slightly unnerving; a rough rock strewn dirt road with gullies either side, and steep ascents and descents.  But he drove slowly and safely – even on the return journey in the dark.  Mount Yasur is a controlled National Park and after parking on the upper slopes, it was then a climb on foot up to the rim of the volcano.

Loos at the top!

Loos at the top!

Clouds of smoke

Clouds of smoke

Enormous clouds of black smoke billowed forth following rumblings, belches, crashes and explosions.  Never could the bowels of the earth have been so near!  As the light failed we could plainly see a continuously glowing molten fissure, but the two separate lava bowls were hidden from view under the side of the crater.  But on a regular basis there would be more rumblings and crashes followed by explosions, and then red hot magma was flung hundreds of feet into the air, to land around the sides of the crater.  We have a lot of this on video, and when there was one particularly large blast, the camera was almost knocked out of Bob’s hands….!  It is an amazing sight, and once it was completely dark, the eruptions became even more dramatic.

Fireworks ...

Fireworks …

... and more ...

… and more …

...encore!

…encore!

Port Resolution anchorage on calm day!

Port Resolution anchorage on calm day!

The following afternoon the already strong wind was forecast to head round to the NE, the exposed sector of Resolution Bay, so having been rolling around all morning (as well as half the previous night) after a VHF conference with Lop To and Cobalt, we prepared Pipistrelle, hoisted the main and put in two reefs at anchor, and then set off into big seas for an overnight sail up the east coast of Tanna, then the west and more protected coast of Erromango and on to Port Vila, Efate, where we arrived at lunchtime the next day, tired after a boisterous sail.  Unsurprisingly all yachts left Tanna the same afternoon.

On passage to Efate (photo courtesy Kerstin)

On passage to Efate (photo courtesy Kerstin)

 

Port Vila

This is the capital of Vanuatu with broken footpaths and generally run down impression.  Its natural harbour is totally protected from all but northerly winds.  However, the waters are deep, and so moorings have been laid by a local company, Yachting World.  It is also on the cruise ship itinerary, with a different ship arriving every 2-3 days, bringing much needed cash to the local economy.

There are three good supermarkets in town (Leader Price and Au Bon Marche) so we were able to restock with sufficient provisions to last us through until October we hope!  The busy outdoor fruit and vegetable market should carry the label ‘Open All Hours’ for the women arrive to sell their wares every Monday and live amongst the market stalls, sleeping on pandanus mats until Saturday when they return to their villages for a day of rest on Sunday.

Market vendors

Market vendors

We were also able to buy duty free French wine, at very reasonable prices, and for the first time had Customs on board to seal the lockers it has been stored in, where it must remain until we clear out of Vanuatu.  Regrettably time did not allow us to go diving, or visit other parts of the island, so after a few days we were on our way north to Port Havannah, another huge natural harbour that became a naval base used by the Americans in the last world war.

Apart from a small resort, and several villages surrounding the harbour, it is in its natural state, and we shared a small bay in the north with Cobalt and Lop To.  Regrettably this was a parting of the ways, as Kathryn and Anthony on Cobalt, whose company we have enjoyed and appreciated, are spending 3 months in Vanuatu, so have no need to go at our pace.  We had a final evening together, and they were on deck to wave goodbye at 0700 the next morning, a moving moment!

Epi

This next island is another day sail, and our reason for stopping there was to try to view the dugong, an endangered species of sea cow, which is to be found in Lamen Bay, at the far north of the island.  We shortened our passage stopping off at another anchorage that Helmut and Kirsten knew of, where we met really friendly villagers.  Interestingly our pilot book stated that there was no village!

Lamen Bay is protected to the west to a certain extent by Lamen island, and so is a good anchorage.  As we approached we recognised the distinctive look of an Oyster, and it turned out to be none other than David Caukill and his crew on Serendipity, who we last met up with in Opua in April.

Dugongs feed off sea grass, like turtles, and are very difficult to spot.  Kirsten first spotted one as we were having lunch, which was abandoned as we took to the dinghy to try to find it.  Being sensible it had disappeared, and it was another 1 ½ hours before Elaine spotted one swimming towards us on the surface.  By the time we had slipped over the side and finned towards it, it had also disappeared, so regrettably no photographs!  On returning to Pipistrelle we did find a pair of green turtles feeding around our anchor chain, one of which surfaced for air close to where we were watching it.  Closer to shore along the reef we also spotted a ringed sea snake.  They are not aggressive but can be venomous, belonging to the same family of land cobras!

Green turtle

Green turtle

Sea snake

Ringed Sea Snake

Pentecost

This was our next destination, as it is the only island in Melanesia where the ritual of land diving takes place, and then only in May and June, generally at weekends.  We made a diversion stopping off at the Maskelyne Islands en route, where we witnessed poverty the like of which we have not seen since the Venezeulen islands in the Caribbean.  We managed to find some gifts, but this does little to help people who have nothing apart from canoes, fishing nets and lines, and no doubt grow fruit and vegetables on their island.  Malaria is part and parcel of their fight for survival.

The trade winds were blowing strongly so it was a reefed main and staysail for the passage north to Ambryn, where there are two active volcanoes, and then changeable winds before arriving off the airport at Pentecost.  After a rolly night we ashore early, and after waiting for others to arrive on flights from Port Vila, we made our way to the tower that had been erected on a hillside in a clearing in the jungle, together with the crews of Serendipity and Lop To.

Many parts of Vanuatu believe in witchcraft, and magical ceremonies.  Land diving is associated with this, and men make spectacular leaps of courage from towers built up to 35 metres high, as a gift to the gods, to ensure a bountiful yam harvest.  The whole village turns out to witness the event, the men wearing nothing more than a small red dyed namba, women wearing nothing but a white grass skirt made from wild hibiscus. Between 10 and 20 males per village will dive, the earliest they can take part is at the age of 8 after they have been circumcised.  The villagers dance and sing until the diver claps his hands, crosses his arms, and tells the crowd his most intimate thoughts, before diving to the ground.  The vines tied around his ankles abruptly stop him, so only his hair will touch the soil, to fertilise the yam crop.  The crowd roars its appreciation, dancing, stomping and whistling in tribute.

A few photos ….

The tower

The tower

Binding the ankles

Binding the ankles

Praying ...

Praying …

Going ...

Going …

...going ...

…going …

... in flight ...

… in flight …

Landed safely in mud

Landed safely in mud

Still too young to dive!
Still too young to dive!
Group encouragement

Group encouragement

Leading the chant!

Leading the chant!

It was an extraordinary display, worth seeing and experiencing at Lonorore.  Due to the poor exposed anchorage, we set sail at lunchtime, and made for Loltong, a beautiful sheltered anchorage some 20 nm to the north, protected by two reefs with leading marks to guide us in.  Once the rain had stopped the next day we went ashore and were led through the village, a visit to Chief Richard de rigueur, and watched the women at work in a communal cooking house, preparing crushed bananas in vine leaves, before cooking them on a fire kept hot by charcoal and stones.

The village was clean and tidy, some of the houses beautifully made of natural materials, and the children happy and a joy to watch.  Loltong was certainly a place that we would have loved to have stayed longer, but our visas were running out, and an overnight passage to Oyster Island on Espiritu Santo was called for.

Grating bananas

Grating bananas

Espiritu Santo

Oyster Island is a resort owned by Colin, a New Zealander who also owns the Omata Estate vineyard in Russell, Bay of Islands.  The anchorage off Oyster Island is protected by reefs, and is calm, and the resort cruiser friendly.  We visited Luganville, the main town on the island by taxi to check out with Customs, Immigration and pay our Vanuatu port dues.  Luganville is a shabby town with one street, and a few run down buildings.  Not the sort of place to spend much time.  We managed to accomplish most of what we had set out to do, and filled jerry cans with diesel to transport back to Pipistrelle in the back of the ‘taxi’ – an open pick up truck with bench seating at the back.  Alas our accomplishments did not include updating the blog, even using the wifi in a little Japanese restaurant.  The food was excellent; the internet connection sloooow.  One of our biggest disappointments in Vanuatu is that Digicel, a telecoms company, provide a less than satisfactory but expensive data network, which in the main is either non existent, or so slow as to be virtually useless.  Zero points!!

Santo, as the island is known, became the biggest US military base in the Pacific Ocean during the last three years of World War II, with about half a million personnel stationed there.  The author James Michener was among them.  He wrote ‘Tales of the South Pacific’ and it is said this and the island were the inspiration for the musical South Pacific.    After the war, the Americans offered their surplus equipment to the government that unfortunately procrastinated for so long that it was all dumped in the sea just off Luganville!

A little history

James Cook called the islands The New Hebrides, the name changing to Vanuatu with independence in 1980.   Its chequered history is interesting.  With German interests in the Pacific increasing at the beginning of the 20th century, the French and English formed a rare condominium government in 1906, complete with duplication of authorities and languages!   Confusion reigned and to some it was known as ‘pandemonium’.  Since 1980, though business is conducted in French and English,  Bislama is the official language.  Indeed we understand the Bible has been translated from English into Bislama – it took 13 years to complete!

Yellow bin is for rubbish!

Yellow bin for rubbish!

And finally …..

He Tarzan!

Me Jane!

She Jane!

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