Friday, August 30, 2013

Fire dance

A 10-minute drive up the coast from Port Vila (Efate Island, Vanuatu), there is a beach area called Mele. There, right on the beach, is a fun 'happenin' bar/restaurant called, what else, The Beach Bar. On Friday nights, there is a very popular fire dance performance put on by a group of young volunteers. Fortunately, as it was packed, we went early for dinner and show and were not disappointed.

These young performers put on a captivating show that impressed all, in spite of the fact that it wasn't at all a culturally traditional Vanuatuan-type performance.

Impressive sight in the contrast of the black night

Mesmerizing swirls

They will also be offering up a circus evening starting next week. Hmmm...sounds interesting.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Around town

As we wait for engine parts, we have wandered all around town. Tree ferns are an unusual sight here in Port Vila (Vanuatu). Tree tops are chopped off and statues of ancient beings are carved in the porous trunk and displayed in gardens and yards.

Very weird tree structure

There is a very large and well stocked market near the Marina and it seems to run from early in the morning till late in the evening. Apparently the proprietors stay all night, sleeping under the tables on their home-made mats. It is nicknamed Mama's Market, probably because 99% of the workers there are older women. Some of it is totally outside in the open air but most of it is covered overhead with a roof.

Mama's Market

It is full of fresh fruits and vegetables including 2-foot long yams, nice tomatoes, live chicken, nuts threaded onto bamboo shoots, peanuts still attached to their vines, mega flowers that are huge, etc.

Fresh from the vine

Flowers everywhere

In one area at long rows of tables, women, waving off incessant flies, are selling cooked snack meals of fish or chicken and starchy taro or manioc all served on leaves (I think they call it laplap). At lunchtime, you can barely walk down the aisle as patrons choose their meals!

Which one should I try?

When not walking, we have occasionally caught a bus or taxi. The taxis are vans and they are everywhere in great abundance with van after van after van following each other up and down the one main street of town. Just wave one down and you have an instant ride for $1500 Vatu each (about Cdn $1.50).

Locals have a different definition of quality, as shown here:

Once again, we are at a dock at full moon. But this time, we don't have to jump up or down to reach Sea Turtle as at Vuda Point Marina in Fiji. Instead, we walk the plank! All boats at the concrete seawall use a plank to get to and from their boat. This can be daunting at the extreme tides or when the boat is rocking.

While tied up, we are delightfully serenaded by a small local bird, twice the size of a hummingbird, with a wide range of song. Tweets, chirps, whistles, and warbles - daytime, night-time - around he goes...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Tank you very much

After doing some troubleshooting to find out why the motor (Perkins 4.108) had quit on the last passage from Fiji to Vanuatu, Jordan discovered what the problem is. The injector pump's shaft sheared. Evidently it injected water that caused the seizure. Two possible sources: seawater entering the fuel tank vents OR water in the fuel when we filled up when we left Fiji.

We had a very rough passage and rough seas, so it is quite possible that some seawater did come in through the vents that are on the exterior sides of the cabin. We do have shut-off valves for these vents but never thought we needed to close them at sea. But from now on, if we encounter bad conditions at sea again, we will be closing them to make sure.

But the other real possibility was bad fuel (water in the fuel) from our last fill-up in Fiji. Jordan remembers the fuel attendant there said we were the last to get a fill-up before the fuel truck came to supply them, so who knows, maybe we got some stuff from the bottom of the barrel so to speak.

How can a shaft so thick shear?

Jordan has been in contact with several possible suppliers from around the globe and has ordered a rebuilt injector pump and 4 spare injectors. We will get a small credit for our old one when they receive it. (We will be sending it back on the slow boat to save shipping.) This mechanical repair will be an expensive one.

So the question remained, what's the condition of the fuel in the tanks, and for that matter, what is the condition of the tanks? They have never been cleaned out because they never have had inspection/access hatches.

So while waiting for parts, Jordan thought it not only prudent but imperative that the tanks get checked out. He had to cut 11.5 cm round holes in the tops and fabricate cover plates. Then all the fuel had to be pumped out, about 360 L, jerry jug by jerry jug, then carried to the drums on shore. The bottoms of the tanks indeed had 30 years of nasty sludge and crud build-up - to the extent that it was surprising that the fuel outlet ever let fuel through!

Drums for diesel transfer

It was a horrid painstaking procedure of reaching down with scrapers and rags, rinsing and sucking up the gunk repeatedly until acceptably clean. Then all the fuel had to be pumped, jerry jug by jerry jug, back into the happy tanks although he didn't even hear a Tanks. It was a Tankless job. Does he want to do that again soon? NO TANKS! Yes, he was wearing a tank top.

Now we wait for our package to arrive...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mi toktok Bislama

In Vanuatu, most people speak to us in either English or Pidgin. Vanuatu has 105 local languages, as well as English, French, and Bislama. Bislama is a form of Pidgin language which enables people from different areas of the country with different dialects to converse with each other. On the surface, it seems to be a fairly simple language that even Jordan and I can understand, well, at least when reading some signs.

Do you know what the following signs are saying?

Staff room

Sign held up at the Microfinance Tradefair

Sign in a tourist area

To ask What's your name? in Pidgin, you would say Wanem nem blong yu? The response My name is Judy would be Nem blong mi Judy (i.e. The name that belongs to me is Judy). And of course, don't forget Mi wantem bia (I want beer).

It's nice to be able to converse in foreign countries!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Double celebration

It's always fun to celebrate a special day such as a birthday, anniversary, etc. And even more fun when you can celebrate the same special day twice, only a day later!

As we are on the opposite side of the International Date Line here in Vanuatu, we are one day ahead of our families back in Canada. On our anniversary date, we had a nice evening out, and then again, on the next day which was our anniversary date back home!

Does that mean double presents too?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

State of coconuts

Coconuts grow in Vanuatu and Jordan and I have been eating them for years on our travels. The juice is delicious as well as healthy and was even used during the war as an intravenous when normal medical stocks ran out.

We have not only drunk the juice but we have of course snacked on the white "meat" raw and also fried, as discovered in Tonga. We have also shredded the white with a potato peeler and fried it with salt, which then tastes similar to bacon, as unbelievable as that sounds.

But we have discovered something new about coconuts. From a coconut that has started to sprout with new leaves starting to grow skyward, you break it open and you will find that the juice has turned to a solid, the consistency of which is totally different - not a hard solid but not mushy either. But in a kind of desiccated state.

Long sprout and desiccated flesh of coconut

The mound of flesh broke apart easily and we crumbled it into a bowl to be used for breakfast. Jordan added corn flakes, water, a wee bit of brown sugar, and coconut cream to his; and I added just crackers, water, and coconut cream to mine. As weird as that sounds, it was very delicious and we will be doing it again soon!

To purchase a sprouting coconut in this area of the country, simply ask for nafara.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Going in circles

Vanuatu is a nation of 83 islands and only gained independence in 1980. We wanted to drive around the island of Efate and so did Rod and Elizabeth on SV Proximity so we all rented a car and headed out for the day. Efate is not very big and could be circled in about 3 hours, with no stops - no roads go to the interior mountainous terrain.

Our first stop was when we spotted a sign claiming The Blue Lagoon. Sounded like an intriguing place. The Lagoon was very blue and very pretty, and Jordan snapped this lady perched on an overhanging branch taking photos.

Photo of a photo

Jeff (SV Proximity crew), Jordan, and I walked away from the Blue Lagoon in search of the ocean that we could hear crashing somewhere. We muddled through the rainforest branches and sharp lava ground and finally found the breaking waves. Mission accomplished! Upon return to the Blue Lagoon, we shared an enjoyable picnic lunch with baguettes, cheese, wine...

Pass the wine

We were trying to find a beach where we could take a dip and stopped at this picturesque one but the surf was too strong. We were also hoping to swim with the large friendly Dugongs, a close cousin to the Manatees, but were informed that they had all left the area in search for their favourite food, seagrass.

What island is that? Where are my charts?

Our final stop was at the Top Rock Site where an informative guide told us all about the area flora and fauna, including large resident coconut crabs. He showed us a wooden pig killing club and we were told that these same clubs were also used for killing humans when cannibalism was still practiced. The last recorded cannibal killing was actually as recent as 1969. But now, no worries, your only chance of being baked is by the tropical sun!

Stay away from me with that!

As we circled Efate Island, we drove past many, many villages where residents lived in thatched huts, grow their food in gardens, and raise pigs if lucky enough to afford them.

We encountered very little traffic and only had 2 or 3 vehicles pass us the entire day. It seemed so weird to be driving on the right-hand side of the road (as we do back in Canada) after driving so long on the opposite side in New Zealand. Our rented vehicle even had a large imprint on the windshield reminding you to stay on the right side of the road as there are so many Aussies and Kiwis that holiday here and they are used to driving on the left-hand side of the road.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pull, paddle and prance

Micro financing has been successful in Third World countries to help subsistent people start mini-businesses. In Port Vila (Vanuatu), a Microfinance Tradefair ran for 3 days from August 15th through August 17th. On the waterfront, many tents were set up with basic business folks displaying and selling their services and wares with bands playing throughout each of the 3 days.

There were a lot of fun things going on...

Children showed their muscles in fun competitive Tug-of-Wars with lots of encouragement and cheering from the crowd.

Pull harder!

On the water, there were outrigger races and lots of other boats around watching. During the race, one outrigger with his partner tipped over to their dismay and the laughs of the spectators!

Paddle faster!

We almost made it...

There was a competition between the ladies of their fancy Mother Hubbard dresses. These 4 strut their stuff (lady in orange was the lucky winner).

But the biggest event seemed to be the daily traditional dance competitions. Most of the costumes were quite impressive and children were also dancing. Near the end, spectators would join in and merrily dance with the competitors. Great fun was had by all.




Friday, August 16, 2013

Mother Hubbard

'Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard...' remember that Nursery Rhyme? Everywhere you look in Port Vila (Efate Island, Vanuatu), you see women dressed just as Old Mother Hubbard may have. Introduced by 19th century missionaries, they are actually called Mother Hubbard dresses and provide local women with a sense of identity.

8 women all in Mother Hubbard dresses in 1 small area

Their expressive dresses in colourful patterns usually have puffy sleeves, side flaps, and are decorated with lace and/or ribbons. I found a shop downtown that was filled with ladies who sewed and sold their creations. Aisle after aisle of sewers and displayed wares...

Which one do you want?

Women also sewed and displayed pretty blouses and attractive men's shirts, sarongs (wraparound skirts/cover-ups), and even Mother Hubbard dresses in children's sizes.

A competition of fancier examples was included at the 3-day Tradefair that we attended. First prize went to a lady in a bright orange dress with surprisingly no pattern but still with lots of ribbons and lace.

I feel so pretty!

Would I wear one of these dresses? No, but on the other hand, everywhere you look in many countries all you see are people in plain old blue jeans. Maybe there's something to be said for colourful Mother Hubbard dresses...

Monday, August 12, 2013

VANUATU passage

Time to leave Fiji. But first we had to backtrack from Vuda Point Marina to the town of Lautoka (S17°36.108' E177°26.456') on Sea Turtle for the officials to check us out for departure on August 5th.

One last trip to the market for fresh produce and to find something to blow our last Fijian money on, then to Customs. Just as we finished up, friends on SV Water Musick [sic] arrived to also check out. We weighed anchor at 16:50 for an expected 4-day passage to the islands of Vanuatu. Little did we know.

Dinghy dock by Customs

We had to make it through a narrow pass between reefs but the late start put us there well after dark. Navula Passage, which was well marked with lit channel markers, waypoints on our digital charts, and ranging lights to keep us on center made for a safe but tense exit. We were out to the wide open Pacific Ocean once again with a good breeze on a comfortable point of sail.

We were surprised at how windy it was because we had been expecting to motor into a predicted windless high. But we had a great first 4 days with a good wind from behind pushing us along nicely - and Jordan had a line out and landed a 15-kg beautiful yellow-fin tuna.

Fish for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners!

Then, 25 nautical miles (5 hours) from our intended landfall (Island of Aneityum), it was like King Neptune put his hand up and said, "No you don't." What did we do to annoy him?

There was a huge squall line across our path with lightning and gale force winds now on our nose, tough to sail into. We slogged with winds and high seas making virtually no "make-good" headway. Then all of a sudden, while directly under a towering cumulus cloud, we had torrential rains and no wind! The seas flattened out under this so we started the motor to make some valuable distance but the motor slowed and stopped. Did we pick up a line in the prop? Would Jordan have to dive to cut and untangle it and fight off sharks in the sea?

We decided to heave-to and rest until it stopped pouring rain. After we drifted a bit, we got out our GoPro (small underwater camera) and attached it to a pole and sent it down to investigate the prop entanglement. Surprise, surprise - the prop was clear of everything. So we tried the motor again and it came to life. Strange! But relieved.

The gale winds returned on our nose, so we decided to skip this southernmost island (Aneityum) and head north to the next island (Tanna) where we knew some friends were but again found it near impossible to make any westing. We found another small island so we ducked behind it to go out on deck and secure and tidy up loose ropes, etc. When we resumed, the wind abated enough so we decided to motor-sail to make some better headway, but after only an hour, our motor suddenly stopped. King Neptune must have really been annoyed!

Okay, change course again. Under the circumstances then, it was an obvious wise move to head north further to Efate Island to the main town in Vanuatu with a better point of sail and where we could sort out the motor problem. 120 nautical miles with a good wind on the beam - but a little over half way, the winds almost completely died, so we ghosted along trying to use puffs of breeze.

The last 50 miles, which under normal conditions would take Sea Turtle about 10 hours, was a 24-hour endurance of patience. But we finally got to Port Vila, after a 7-day passage that should have only taken us 4 to 4.5 days.

We dropped sails at daybreak just at the mouth of the entry to the inner harbour and Jordan towed us in with our launched dinghy at 07:00 where we set anchor (S17°44.264' E168°18.626'). Amazing how easily such a small dinghy can handle a much larger sailboat. Maybe we don't need our motor fixed!

Come along, Sea Turtle

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Sugar cane

Sugar cane is Fiji's main export today when back in the mid-1800s, Fiji chose sugar cane over cotton to be its main industry. It's the harvest season for the cane and Jordan and I have seen lots of it, not only in the fields but at various stages of harvesting.

Jordan in front of sugar cane field

We have walked past the cane loaded onto carts stationed on narrow train tracks. These tracks are much narrower than regular train tracks.

Jordan with worker who was chopping off loose ends

These narrow train tracks take the loaded carts all the way to Lautoka where it is unloaded and processed at the huge sugar mill.

Small train pulling many loaded carts of sugar cane

Not all of the carts make it all the way to Lautoka though. We have seen a few fully loaded carts tipped over on the tracks! We have also noticed several carts tossed aside in the ditch when deemed no longer usable. And everywhere you look, dropped sugar cane from loaded trucks, etc. always seems to be along the roadsides.

After sugar cane is cut from the fields, the stripped leaves and stubble are burned, sending black ash into the air and a haze over the Island from smoke (which unexpectedly makes for great sunsets). When we took a taxi to the airport a few weeks ago, the driver stopped so Jordan could take a photo of the burning fields.

Man in field attending to the fire

We wanted to take a tour of the large sugar mill in Lautoka but when we arrived, we were told that the mill was shut down for tours. We learned that a workman had just died in a tragic accident at the mill and it was closed to the public until further notice.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Road trip to Suva

On Wednesday July 31st, we rented a car with Helena and Kari of SV Merilelu as we all had to visit the Indonesian consulate (in Suva Fiji) to complete our paperwork for our Visas for their country. It is required before we enter Indonesia which we expect to do in September. Suva is on the opposite side of the island, about a pleasant 3-hour coastal drive....if you don't make any unnecessary stops.

But of course we did. We noticed a very bright and ornate temple so we stopped to take a closer gander. As Helena and I both had skirts that were considered too short, we were required to cover them with wraps before entering. We also had to don long sleeves. Men too had to be covered with long pants and sleeves. Very conservative folks.

Adroitly ornate

Prayer sessions were scheduled throughout the day and one was in session while we were there. With women and girls seated on the floor on the left and men and boys on the right, there was a lot of chanting and offerings. Everything was quite strict with no photos allowed inside the temple.

Our next stop about halfway to Suva was at a tourist shop whose sign proclaimed Browse in Peace. It had exquisite carvings, jewellery, etc. and we stayed for coffee and muffins before continuing onward.

Once in the large city of Suva, we quickly found the consulate and presented our paperwork to the friendly, smiling staff. She helped with any information that we were not sure on how to answer and quickly sent us on our way until the next morning when our Visas would be completed and ready for pickup.

We booked 2 bures (cottages) at the eco-friendly Raintree Lodge, a short drive from busy downtown Suva. Perched on the edge of a small lake and located in a lush rainforest with over 100 different plants and trees, it was a pleasant change from noisy city life. The site was formerly used as a rock quarry for 20 years when suddenly it was filled to a depth of 30 m (110 feet) when fresh water springs were encountered. Still today, 2 trucks and a bulldozer lay on the lake bed.

Jordan overlooking the lake from our cottage balcony

The restaurant also overlooked the brown coloured lake water. If you felt lucky, you could fish for your own food that the restaurant would cook for you. We threw a bit of bread in the water and watched as small fish and large eels snapped for it.

The rainforest was busy with a multiplicity of tropical tweeting birds could be heard in the fresh early morning air. We strolled over to the resort's swimming pool next to the picturesque lily pond.

Water lily and lily pads

We picked up our processed Visas from the Indonesian consulate and then went our separate ways (Helena and Kari wanted to get back to Vuda Point Marina right away but Jordan and I wanted to drive the rest of the way around the island of Viti Levu as we were already about halfway around.)

We also wanted to track down a converter/transformer so that we could plug Sea Turtle into 240-volt shore power whenever we are at dock side. Our boat is wired primarily for 12V but we have basic supplemental 110V circuitry. As well, we have 110V tools and appliances. We are now, and will be for quite some time to come, in countries with 240 volts.

We don't often need to plug in to maintain our house batteries as we usually have either enough wind for our wind generator and typically have plenty of sun for our solar panels. However, with boat jobs using power tools and the power hungry computers, we can quickly run down the batteries if not careful. We were able to locate what we needed but it was back at Nadi, on the other side of the island, close to our boat.

We started our trip around the other half of the island but were disappointed to learn that we shouldn't take the mountainous route as we had planned. Apparently it was a very poor gravel road and would take a very long time to commute. We then took the coastal route for an hour and were once again redirected to better roads. We went inland a bit and found the roads to be satisfactory, taking us first through some lovely tropical hill country with tidy but humble little villages where the extremely friendly locals sold their roadside produce.

Surprisingly, we arrived back at Vuda Point Marina on Thursday at the same time as Helena and Kari who had taken the bus! Upon our arrival, we discovered that a large area of several miles was without city water, including Vuda Point, and would be without for possibly several days. This meant no toilets, laundry, or showers except onboard boats. Lucky for us! Businesses, as well as individuals, were hauling in and carrying jugs of water for use.

Early Friday morning, Jordan and I drove to Nadi where we picked up the converter. When we returned, still no water...maybe we should have stayed in Suva! It wasn't until early Sunday when Jordan went to check that the water was restored. So knowing there would be some smelly sailors making an overdue pilgrimage to the washers and dryers and showers, I quickly gathered up laundry and beat the rush. Water is precious on boats, but you take it for granted when on land until it is not available.