Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Goodbye Vanuatu

Our stay in Vanuatu was not as long as we would have liked. We were late in arriving as we spent so long in New Zealand completing necessary boat jobs before sailing to Fiji, where we also did not have long enough to stay to see enough of the many fabulous islands. We would like to return to both these cruising areas sometime in the future.

As we were getting ready to depart Vanuatu, we summed up some interesting aspects of this very unique chain of islands.

For better or worse, the very real history of cannibalism provides a distinction unlike all others, and for us, conjured up images of bone-in-nose savages doing chanting dances around wide-eyed missionaries in the pot of which they were the main ingredient. As accurate as that statement is, the predominant and prevalent cannibalistic activity was perpetrated on their neighbouring villagers. This continued right up into recent history - the last known act of cannibalism here was in 1969.

In spite of this distinction, these unabashed denizens demonstrate the most insouciant and hospitable friendliness that made us feel so welcomed. They are very proud of their culture which has little changed in a contemporaneous world that surrounds them.

We had to admit though that the highlight was presented by nature. In particular, the Mount Yasur volcano on Tanna. Nowhere else will we be able to get so up close and personal to earth's hellish power.

And now, onwards to Indonesia...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Aore Island

We spent our last morning at Luganville (Vanuatu) running around doing the usual chores before leaving. But we still had 1 more stop before leaving the country. We quickly motored over to nearby Aore Island where we grabbed a mooring ball (S15°32.233' E167°10.827').

Moontide Resort

As dusk approached, we hailed a ride ashore by a passing dive boat. At the Moontide Resort, we treated ourselves to a nice last meal with Tim and Lea of SV Gemini Lady from Australia and spent our last Vatu, the currency of Vanuatu, on dinner. But we forgot we still had to pay for the mooring ball! With no Vatu left, we had to put the pittance of a charge on our credit card. We then hitched a ride back to Sea Turtle with Tim and Lea and spent a quiet night with no rocking or rolling on the still waters.

Monday, September 23, 2013

SS President Coolidge

Monday was Jordan's day for scuba diving the wreck of the Coolidge at Luganville (Vanuatu), as he describes below...

Diving the SS President Coolidge is supposed to be 1 of the best, if not the premier, wreck dives in the world. This, for a number of reasons. It is the most accessible dive, it is very intact, and it is in warm clear tropical waters with bounteous fish life. So it was a dive greatly anticipated.

First let me explain that this area of the southwest Pacific was a strategic staging ground for the Allied Forces that were battling the Japanese in the frontiers to the north in the 1940s. Luganville was sequestered as a safe staging port during this period. The Coolidge was a 200-metre luxury liner that was converted to a troop carrier. When, on October 26, 1942 it was entering the channel on the approach to Luganville, it hit 2 mines planted by its own forces that were intended as a barrier against possible Japanese vessels.

The Captain very quickly assessed the damage and determined it was a fatal blow to the ship so he wisely steamed it up onto the shore. It came to rest upright. He immediately ordered all hands off and not to dally retrieving personal effects. He told them they could come back later for their items. They all went over the side and virtually walked across the reef to safety. Of the 5,000 only 2 died. Well, within 90 minutes of running aground, the ship settled at the stern and slipped back and sank to its final resting place.

(For more information on this famous wreck, you can read The Lady & the President: the Life & Loss of the SS President Coolidge by Peter Stone.)

The dive operator picked us up at 08:00. As we loaded up the equipment for the short drive, Judy strolled over to the cafe for a day of internet catch-up.

A 10-km drive deposited us to the beach right in front of the sunken wreck. We suited up and I was paired with the dive master. We waded out about 30 m (100 feet) then began our descent for the benthic exploration. We did hand-over-hand on a taught rope that led the way down.

Descent

Soon the behemoth wreck slowly came into focus and I could plainly see it lying on its side (in 20 to 67 m) in silent repose. We levelled off at the bow in about 20 m of depth and about the same for excellent visibility. I noticed very little coral buildup but there were plenty of tropical fish.

As we swam along, we first came upon a mounted 76 mm (3 inch) gun with its shells close by. We penetrated a hold where we could clearly see a motley cargo scattered and toppled about. Trucks, tanks, and even jeeps with their iconic grills were still noticeable.

3-inch mounted gun

In the sick bay area, we saw the enduring remains of medicines and equipment. In another area, a cache of guns and ammo. But what were most striking to me were other somber relics of everyday life, lying as they were left as testament to the rapid abandonment.

Is this rifle salvageable?

On the way back, we did a safety stop while the dive master took out a bag of bread that signalled a copious amount of eager fish!

Dinner time

Clown fish in their anemone home

I made a morning and then an afternoon dive that day, but evidently only saw a small fraction of the accessible areas and compartments. The engine room would have been interesting or the porcelain plaque of The Lady. Endless opportunities...maybe another time on our 2nd go around...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Family visit

The weather was terrible at our anchorage of Luganville (Vanuatu). It had rained all night and the strong winds were still blowing, making our anchorage very rolly and unsteady inside Sea Turtle. Jordan wondered if he should cancel the planned visitation of the Paul family who had so graciously helped us in our time of need yesterday as it would be a very wet and wild ride in the dinghy.

After scanning the beach, he noticed an area where the surf was calmer and managed to safely transport the family in 2 trips with no one getting wet. Everyone seemed very excited, and after a tour, they were surprised at how 'homey' a boat could be. They had all noticed boats coming to anchor but had never been inside of one. Mr. Paul said this visit would be something the kids would never forget.

But Mrs. Paul was soon feeling a bit nauseous and Jordan returned the family to the more familiar terra firma. They gave us their phone number and we exchanged emails, with an invitation to visit or stay with them anytime in the future if we ever return to Vanuatu. Maybe 1 day...

(Our heartfelt thanks go out once again to the obliging Paul family!)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Unexpected surprises

We wanted to scout Espiritu Santo Island (Vanuatu), always looking forward to something new and interesting and the unexpected. It's the unexpected surprises that make some of our days the most memorable. So do we catch a rural bus, OR...rent a scooter!?

The small scooter we found had a governor on it so its maximum speed was 50 km/hr - much slower than what we are used to going. Our goal was to travel the 60 km to the end of the paved road at the top of the island at Port Olry and see what we could find along the way.

As we crossed a bridge, we were hailed aside and asked if we wanted to see the Ri Ri Blue Hole. There are 3 Blue Holes on Espiritu Santo. These Blue Holes are crystal clear deep pools, the blue colour of swimming pools and are up freshwater streams fed by springs through the porous volcanic sub-terrain. This particular 1 had been recommended to us.

An unexpected surprise was when the man offered to paddle us up the river in his hand-carved outrigger canoe to the Blue Hole, or we could take our scooter along a dusty road to it. It was a no brainer. We immediately decided to go in his outrigger, and as we had never been in 1 before, this was another first for us!

Shallow Ri Ri River

It was so peaceful being paddled up the blue river lined with lily pads and through the greens of the abundant jungle foliage. We listened to the soft gurgle of the paddle and avian chatter that seeped from the canopy and envisioned being miles and miles from civilization. Me Tarzan, you Jane. The stream they call the Ri Ri River came to an end at the Blue Hole. It was a wide and now more open circular area lined with jungle banks. It was literally the end of the stream. The pool was a deep intense blue.

Our paddler glided us to a set of wooden steps from the water leading up to a platform. A swing rope hung from a high overhanging branch out over the water. Jordan swam out, grabbed the end of the rope, flung it up to me (Jane) on the platform so that he could complete the scene with a Tarzan manoeuver and drop into the deep Blue Hole. What fun!

Tarzan actually does it better

Tarzan Jordan trying out the outrigger

But soon it was time for our return trip back down the Ri Ri River. What a great way to end an unexpected adventure with a hot sunny day and cooling blue water.

Our next stop was Oyster Island where there was a small eco resort. We first parked the scooter and then Jordan hailed the ferry boat by clanging on the loud gong made from an old gas cylinder.

Ferry terminal

The ferry was not what we had been expecting. It was a small, thatched covered, wooden pontoon boat with a bench on each side for passengers.

Ferry approaching with Oyster Island in the background

The friendly operator ferried us across to the Oyster Island Resort and Restaurant. The Island is named for all the oysters in the water and this 'off the beaten path' beautiful resort is fairly upscale. We learned that all of the bungalows were normally all booked in advance.

Now we don't usually include photos of a washroom BUT this 1 was so cute, clean, well decorated, and unexpected that we had to mention it. It was an 'open air experience' both indoor and outdoor with a roof above that opened onto a neat private courtyard. Why not...may as well enjoy your interlude.

Newspaper please!

We had a long relaxing late lunch looking back across the water to Espiritu Santo and the ferry operator traversing passengers. All of a sudden I noticed my helmet was missing! Where was it? Did I leave it back on the scooter? In the 'ferry terminal'? Would it still be there?

We once again boarded the ferry where we discovered that the ferry man had my helmet in safekeeping as I had left it as we disembarked earlier.

Next turnoff we made was to Champagne Beach described by some (don't ask who) as the most beautiful beach in the world. (Did they travel the world to find out, I wonder?) After bumping down a much pitted, dusty dirt road, we finally came to the sign indicating Champagne Beach was just up ahead. But we were unexpectedly stopped by a man who stepped out in front of us and demanded payment. In Vanuatu, land and beaches in most cases are owned by a family or village and they sometimes require payment for use or visit. Such was the case.

First he wanted 1000 Vatu (~$10 Cdn), then after calling out to another man off in the distance he changed it to 2000 Vatu (~$20 Cdn). A mild protest to the effect that we only wanted a quick look rendered no leniency. It was an outrageous price for a quick photo op so we bluntly said no and turned back. (We later learned there is a land dispute over the beach.)

But nearby we noticed a sign for Lonnoc Resort and decided to visit it instead. With the owner's permission - and no charge - we headed to the beautiful, long, fine white sandy beach.

Wow!

An Australian couple staying at the Resort told us that indeed Champagne Beach is spectacular and they sauntered over to it every day along the beach from Lonnoc, but now the tide was too high and it was getting late. Oh well, it's not like we haven't seen some spectacular beaches.

Back to the main road, we next inhaled the heady aroma of cooking copra (coconut). We stopped at the cook shacks - the source of the aroma - and talked to the worker of penury as he stoked the fire with coconut husks.

Jordan at coconut cook shack

Coconuts cooking

Stoking the fire

The smell was tantalizing and we were given a couple of delicious pieces to munch on - just like when we cook it on Sea Turtle!

We next came upon a group of hardy workers - men, women, and children - who were walking back to their homes after working in their gardens or copra fields. Everyone was happy and laughing and pleased to have their photo taken. Ni-Vans are such joyful people.

Take our photo!

Our last stop was at Port Olry at the end of the tar-macadam road (no road circumnavigates or crosses Espiritu Santo Island). The village had an indigent appearance and the few people we saw had a despondent air, unlike the so many we passed previously who would jovially hoot, holler, and wave.

We figured we'd better try to find somewhere to buy petro to ensure we would not run out. Jordan asked a group of men smoking and drinking in front of a house and they declared, Right here! One went inside, filled a 1-litre jug, and then filled the scooter. Problem solved!

Off we went to make a quick return to Luganville. We were still about 45 km away and the sun had set when all of a sudden the scooter unexpectedly quit. Lights still worked but it would not start. From Luganville to Port Olry, we had passed very few places to obtain help so had no choice but to start walking down the road towards a group of houses set off the road a ways. Thankfully it was a light-weight scooter.

We soon hailed down a passing pickup truck. The Paul family agreed that we and the scooter would fit in the back of the truck and they would transport us back to Luganville as they made a few stops along the way. We sat in the back, breeze in our hair, watching to catch fleeting glimpses of the fire flies. We quickly reached our destination with Mr. Paul's fast and efficient driving.

While the men were unloading the scooter at the rental place, I talked with Mrs. Paul and their children. Their daughter Lynn expressed a real interest in our boat and we happily agreed to have the family over for a visit the next day. They finished by giving us a ride back to the beach where our dinghy was waiting.

Well, it certainly had been a day of unexpected surprises.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Espiritu Santo

After a hair-raising departure from Malakula and an overnight passage, we arrived at Luganville on another Vanuatuan island, Espiritu Santo (S15°31.366' E167°09.956') at 09:00 on September 20th. Only 4 other boats were present. This was a very rock 'n rolly anchorage and we had to at times keep 'one hand for the boat and one hand for yourself' - a sailors' motto normally referring to sailing rough seas.

Our dinghy landing was at a beach shore of a resort, and with their permission to leave it there, we caught a cab to town. This was our first cab ride in Espiritu Santo and the driver unfairly charged us more than the norm. But he was the only 1 that tried that during our time spent here.

The main street of Luganville stretches a long ways, just back of the shoreline. Once again we were exposed to a very large outdoor produce market full of bright colours, homegrown goods, and happy locals selling their wares. We're always surprised at how large the fruits and vegetables grow on these tropical islands compared to back home in Canada. We forgot to bring our own bag to carry all our large purchases, but the lady insisted we take 1 of her own homemade palm baskets that are in great abundance throughout the market...

Back to Sea Turtle with basket of produce

Most people we found to be attired in a bit more contemporary clothing and we only noticed a few women attired in the Mother Hubbard dresses, especially in the market. Resources of Espiritu Santo are copra, cattle farming, fishing, coffee, cocoa, and vanilla. Tourism is a growing market.

Eye-catching flowers

Jordan booked with a dive company to explore on Monday the sunken SS President Coolidge.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Doggone dugongs

Weighing anchor from Epi at 10:00, we had a pleasant sail towards Malakula Island (Vanuatu) arriving 6 hours later (S16°28.107' E167°48.736') through a coral pass and reefs.

The lagoon inside the pass is home to several dugongs, a close relative of manatees. But dugongs are found only in marine environments and not rivers or estuaries as manatees can be, making dugongs the only plant eating mammal to be found only at sea. A large shy aquatic mammal, up to 3.6 metres (12 feet long), their diet consists of only sea grass and rhizomes. They dig up the sea bed with their flattened muzzles, and with only small peg-like teeth, chew their food.

They are known to travel alone and also in groups of several hundred. We spotted a couple of these mellow creatures outside the reef coming up for a gulp of air.

Once anchored in the lagoon, we launched the dinghy and donned swim stuff and quietly rowed towards where we saw them surfacing. We didn't use the outboard to avoid spooking them. Once we got close, we slipped into the water to try to get close. However the water was turbid so we were never able to see them below. We kept sighting along the surface, but each time we saw them surface it was always too far away to get near enough quick enough before they had moved on again.

Disappointed, we returned to Sea Turtle with just enough time to depart and get through the pass before evening dusk, making for our next destination. Anchor up, we started to motor out when we heard a sickening thump thump and Sea Turtle came to a full and secure halt on the rough shallows! With me at the helm, I had taken my eyes off the depth meter for a second and we were suddenly stuck on coral.

This was the worst possible grounding. It was soon to get dark but more distressful was it was high tide and a full moon (highest tide time) meaning that if we couldn't get off immediately, we would be stuck there for a  month or so until the next extreme high tide again, a full lunar cycle away.

Jordan quickly put on a mask and dove to analyze the bottom. Next he quickly lowered the dinghy and motor back into the water and attached a rope from the dinghy to Sea Turtle's bow sprit. I turned the wheel to hard port with Sea Turtle at full power while Jordan powered with all the might of the dinghy's 9.5 HP motor to try to twist her and pull her off towards deeper water. Slowly her bow swung, and a moment later, she slid forward towards safety.

Just about then, and to heighten the pandemonium, while Jordan looked back he momentarily let his steering wander. That produced a leverage of the motor against the pull of the rope and the dinghy tipped on its side throwing Jordan in the water. The motor, at full throttle now and turned sideways, tried to flip the dinghy again and again while Jordan held fast to the side. He was afraid of getting his feet in the prop as each time the dinghy tipped, the motor would lose its bite and come back down for another grip.

Jordan had the presence of mind to reach up at one point and grab the kill cord at the same time shouting at me to pull back on Sea Turtle's power as I was now coming up on him and the rope in the water. Whewww!!!! His quick thinking and maneuvering was successful!!!

As things slowed down in a safe middle channel, we got our breaths, raised the dinghy once more again to Sea Turtle's deck, then quickly made our way through the formidable pass.

All this to swim with dugongs, which we never accomplished...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Lamen and coconut crab

The rain came down in droves last night but with the sun shining in the morning, Jordan and I decided to cross from Epi Island to Lamen Island (Vanuatu) in the dinghy. We passed a few families in their outrigger canoes going in the opposite direction - from Lamen to Epi - to attend to their gardens.

As we approached the beach of Lamen, we were greeted by many high-spirited, exuberant children, all curious of our presence. One young girl agreed to take us to the Chief and the pack followed as they either asked us questions or answered ours. The beach was laden with beautiful Cowrie shells of the brightest colours we have seen yet - green ones, blue ones, purple ones, and even a few pinks. Of course we collected once again!

Upon greeting the Chief, we were given permission to stroll through the village and a Ni-Van (person born and raised in Vanuatu) pointed out a few places such as the school and community hall. He showed us stacked rock formations as a leftover custom that were the equivalent to a land title identifier or Deed for a particular villager and it was considered forbidden to sit or them. He assured us that now it is okay though. We saw several more as we walked throughout the village.

Land Title Deed of property

The huts were all very close together along the hard-packed dirt roads and throughout the village we could understand why these villagers needed to have their gardens (banana trees, yams, taro, manioc, etc.) across on Epi. We have never seen so many people in such close quarters in a village.

Close but happy

We met the school teacher who said the kids would really appreciate coloured pencils so we gave him several plus a few other items we thought the school might enjoy. The teacher was also pleased with colourful sticky stars to attach to a job well done. Unfortunately, 1 item we did not have was a soccer/rugby ball that a few kids had meekly asked us about.

As we returned to our dinghy, a few young boys were just returning from a fishing excursion in an outrigger canoe. It seemed like they had a good time but were disappointed at no big catch of the day. Islanders have such different priorities compared to other children in more well-do-do places.

Young meal providers

With a gaggle of kids yelling and waving goodbye as they splashed into the ocean, we departed for our return to nearby Epi.

Back on Epi Island, we had our first taste of coconut crab at a feast put on by the Lamen Yacht Club (this term here is used loosely as a simple seaside building to serve the visiting yachties). This was a huge crab with quite a nasty disposition that matched his looks. Its big pincer claws were very sharp and dangerous looking. The taste was different. Jordan described it as more earthy than typical crab. We were expecting the taste of having a hint of coconut but apparently they are scavengers and they eat what they can find in their environment, no doubt influencing the taste of certain ones.

Our last day at Epi had Jordan making a mark of 'bin there' by hanging our flag in the Yacht Club. We noted a sign stating that you can join the Yacht Club for 500 Vatu (~$5 Cdn) - can't beat that!

We were here

(The next morning saw the gathering of many of the villagers to the beach to get rides across to the little island community on Lamen to attend the funeral of an old villager...)

Unhappy day


Monday, September 16, 2013

Yellow flower

An early morning snorkel in the warm waters of Lamen Bay of Epi Island (Vanuatu) yielded a vivid site for our eyes of coloured coral and cute clown fish, among many others.

As we had managed to round up a group of 10 for a feast at Atis Jack's, we all congregated at the beach where Atis met us at 17:00. With Jack in bare feet, everyone followed him through the rough ground of the lush green rainforest of trees and vines up to the top of the steep hill where he has lived with his family for the past several years. (Many natives we have met throughout our travels prefer to be barefooted and as a result their feet are very tough and hardened.)

He walked us past a couple of his grazing cows to the magnificent viewpoint where we could all see our boats anchored down below.

View of the bay

Next we were presented with a beautiful surprise. Atis and Helen's daughter had strung together a yellow lei for all 10 of us and she hung them around each of our necks. I later asked Helen what was the name of the beautiful yellow flowers and she replied Yellow flower. She then started to giggle admitting that she had no idea what the name of the flower was, it was just Yellow flower. Simple enough, that works for us!

Our first lei

With benches and tree stumps in a circle for seating, we had been admiring the laid out feast on a simple wooden table covered with large banana leaves for an elegant and natural tablecloth. It tasted as delicious as it looked.

Bountiful buffet

Atis showed us how he makes fire by the old method of rubbing wood on wood and how he splits open coconuts. Afterwards, we imbibed the tasty, nutritious coconut water.

He also relayed several folklore stories, 1 of how Kava had been discovered by woman...

A woman sent to the bush by her angry man saw a rat chewing on a pepper root, then relaxing in a very contented mood. Upon awakening, the rat would chew some more on a root, with the same result. When the rat fell asleep, the woman decided to try the root and decided this would also make her grumpy man happy. Upon taking some home, her man quickly decided the root would be for men only!

Today, very few women partake of the Kava root in Vanuatu and on some islands, women are not allowed - not even tourist women.

After an evening of great views, food, and tales, Atis walked us all down the hill and back to the beach where we dinghied back to our boats, still wearing our beautiful yellow flowers!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Epi Island

As we slipped away from Port Vila (Vanuatu), it was a great overnight sail with a good easterly trade wind breeze putting us in to Lamen Bay at 07:15, ahead of our ETA. It was easy to find anchorage (S16°35.742' E168°09.815') even though we had to compete with the many sea turtles and 6 other cruising boats.

Surprisingly, Lamen Bay lies on the northwest end of Epi Island (not on the small Lamen Island watching 1.5 nautical miles offshore). The Island and reefs calm any ocean swells and the Bay is on the lea of the big island providing a relaxing and safe harbour.

Sea Turtle anchored between Epi and Lamen Islands

Epi's wide beach was unique in its varied colour. It started on the south as almost black sand and at the other end had phased into a light golden colour. Through the tropical trees, we could see a smattering of buildings and a windsock stating the location of the airport grass strip where the occasional drone of a small plane splits the paradisiacal peace.

As we walked the beach, the gentle slap of the lazy waves prefaced the village life. The beach yielded to our now obsessive compulsive shelling which has become as subconscious as our gait. We were greeted by the occasional convivial denizen with their usual questions like Where are you from? or Do you like Vanuatu? and were always pleased with our truthful affirmative answer to the latter.

Our return was along the road just behind the beach and along the various homes, the school, and other motley array of buildings. The palette of progress showed older traditional humble thatched huts giving way to newer concrete block buildings with pleasant colours.

Splitting bamboo for a traditional dwelling

Just before leaving, we met Atis Jack, a Ni-Van (a born and raised local). He was full of recondite lore. He told us that at 1 time there was no village here on Epi Island but the village was on the little island of Lamen out front. When their population grew, so did the number of pigs and consequently the ever diminishing good gardening on the little island was further deteriorated by the routing pigs. So they started gardening in the vitiated soils on the main island, making the 2-way passage almost daily in dugout outrigger canoes.

Over the years, some relocated to the main island, however there is still a sizable population on little Lamen. In many ways though, nothing has changed here. The outriggers still make their morning journey, and as the afternoon easterly breeze builds, with canoes laden with rich produce, they raise a rudimentary sail of palms to supplement their propulsion home.

Palm leaved, wind powered outrigger

Atis said that he and his family could provide an entertaining evening with a custom dinner, demonstrations of their cultural ways, and folklore tales of his people. It would cost 1000 Vatu (~$10 Cdn) each and would require a minimum of 10. So we agreed to round up 10 cruisers for the following night...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sea Turtle fixes

On Friday the 13th, we had been in Port Vila (Vanuatu) over a month now so our solicitude for leaving was great. We were mostly ready to make tracks to new sites and discoveries. Sailors often say, partly joking, partly not wanting to tempt superstition, Can't leave on a Friday (much less Friday the 13th!) Our real excuse was the newly installed injector pump rendered the motor rough running, puffing smoke, and low on RPM and power.

For the installation, Jordan was concerned about timing the injector pump properly, and even though he spent a few hours on internet forums on the subject, he realized it would take some trial and error. So he now figured that the problem lay in bad injection timing and thus an adjustment would solve it. Now this was easier said than done.

The motor is very accessible, but the side-mounted pump hides behind cooling pipes, oil pressure lines, and is obstructed by the exhaust manifold. The engine coolant would have to be removed again, pipes disconnected, and hard to reach bolts backed before a MINOR rotation adjustment could be made. Then to test it, everything had to be reconnected, coolant replaced, and the motor started.

The first adjustment Jordan tried was in the direction he thought was correct. However this proved to worsen the situation. At this point he started to doubt this was the problem and fretted that it might be something else undeterminable by him. But again, he laboriously went through the exercise again, rotating the adjustment in the opposite direction.

Preparing himself for disappointment punctuated by frustration, Jordan turned the starter. All misgivings immediately evaporated as we heard the perfectly smooth purr of the Perkins motor. Power and RPM had returned to normal!

Friday afternoon we speeded over to Customs in the dinghy to get our required Cruising Permit for the duration of our time in Vanuatu cruising other islands.

We were kept busy Saturday morning with last minute 'to-dos' and a startling sight when provisioning at the market. We had seen fruit bats flying in the wild but never for sale as food - 2 for 1000 Vatu (~$10 Cdn). They are declared to be very delicious by Ni-Vans (persons born in Vanuatu) but definitely not something we would ever try!

"Holy hors d'oeuvres Batman"...

At 15:00 on September 14th, we slipped the lines from the too familiar mooring ball and headed out for an overnight sail to the northern end of Epi Island, about 80 nautical miles to the north from Port Vila in Efate.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Guess what!

Upon our return to Port Vila on Efate Island from Tanna Island (Vanuatu), Jordan received an email with an unusual subject line simply declaring Guess what we did, accompanied by a picture. Well, the delightful photo left no doubt...


Yes, Jordan's handsome son Aaron and his beautiful fiancée Deanna had eloped to the romantic beaches of Kauai Hawaii where Aaron played the song I'm Yours by Jason Mraz on his ukulele to his lovely new bride on September 4th. They then spent a fun and busy honeymoon in Hawaii. Check out their video link:

https://www.youtube wedding video

As Aaron welcomed me into the family, Jordan and I both whole-heartedly welcome the newest member, Dee!

Friday, September 06, 2013

Natural wonder

Our flight from Tanna to Efate (Vanuatu) was not until late afternoon so we decided to see what they claim is the world's largest Banyan tree located in Leitouapam Village. From the town of Lenakel, it was a 4 km ride up a very rough road but not as rough as the cross-island road that we had been on! And much shorter of course.

Unloaded, we hiked down into the valley with our guide Samuel where he filled us in with some info about the tree. Banyan trees are considered spiritual to the villagers and also very useful. Lumber from the trees is commonly used to build homes and the ceremonial drinking of Kava is always beneath a Banyan tree.

There are male and female trees but we couldn't figure out how they know which is which. How old is this giant? It is said to have been large even before Captain Cook came here in 1774.

Banyan trees are full of aerial roots that start as new vine roots which are constantly being sent down to the ground from the large branches. Once the new vines take root, they grow to be another lesser trunk and so the tree stretches outward. If you cut off an aerial root, it re-grows several more to replace the one you cut off. This behemoth looks like a forest in and all by itself.

Only a fraction of ONE giant Banyan

Because of all the aerial roots, it's an easy tree to climb as displayed by our guide through the forest of this tree.

A bold Banyan climber

After exploring all around this huge tree, we returned to Lenakel where we had snacks on the beach. The beach is a popular place and we noticed all the activity happening around us.

As the sun was shining, the locals were out doing laundry. What! In salt water? No, there was a freshwater spring feeding shallow pools by the shore where the ladies were scrubbing away as the small children played nearby in the water. The colourful clean items were all laid out on the sand to dry in the sun.

Seaside laundry

Farther down the beach, children were cavorting in the ocean as the waves pulled them out to sea and then threw them back to the sandy shore amidst their raucous laughter. Many were stretched out and lounging on the sand too.

In another area, villagers were working with pandanus reeds that they had collected. They had them laid out on rocks to dry in the hot sun and will be made into skirts for future celebrations.

Drying pandanus reeds

Not far from the beach was the town's market. As usual, it was full of people selling and buying anything from large, luscious looking produce to dark smelly tobacco. Wares were spread out on tables and on the ground, inside and outside, wherever you looked.

Bundles of large taro

Peanuts, anyone?

We were now ready for a cup of the Island's delicious coffee. Locals had said we could get some at the Tanna Coffee Factory which was within walking distance of town. It was a very hot, lengthy walk and we finally arrived at the closed Factory where a passerby told us to just wait a bit. But no one came around so we trekked back to the main road to catch a bus to the airport, thirsty and disappointed. Jordan had been hoping to also purchase a bag of the well-known Tanna coffee but it wasn't that kind of a facility.

As we walked along the road, we once again ran into the youngsters that we had seen yesterday on the beach pounding nuts. Notice the large knife that they always seem to walk around with for their chores.

3 sisters going gardening

It was a short flight back to Port Vila on Efate Island. We finally arrived back on board our beloved Sea Turtle with precious memories of one-of-a-kind adventures. The stories we can now tell!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

More sights of Tanna

Today, Joseph drove us back on the rough road across Tanna Island to the town of Lenakel (Vanuatu). This time we rode in the rear of the pickup to better take in the views. We bypassed the backside of the volcano, Mount Yasur, seeing where decades of ash fallout formed a dark gloomy plain. Even as we rode, the ever active Yasur dusted us with the gritty stuff, invading our eyes, hair, and clothes.

We felt the downwind grit

Jordan standing in front of hills of eroded volcano fallout

As we continued our drive, Joseph who knew just about everyone on the island and is related to a great many, was flagged down and stopped by a local villager. He had 2 pigs both bound at the ankles and squealing in protest as they were hauled up in the back with us. We both felt bad as we saw some blood on 1 of the pigs and when we inquired, were told that the poor porker had been chased by dogs and broke its leg. His owner needed to take it to town to see the vet.

As we bumped merrily along we noticed, not soon enough, the swine's contingent contribution to the truck bed was a mix of pee and blood!! Yuck! It got on our backpack and some of our clothes. Once in town, we were lucky enough to find a place to wash and rinse out the few soiled items.

We went back to the cute Silae Restaurant, the 1 owned by Mary where we had lunch when we first arrived on Tanna Island a couple of days ago. We were disappointed that she wasn't there but a few minutes later, she showed up as her staff had quickly gone to her home and said her friends were there to see her. How sweet!

Mary stayed and visited with us as we ate and told us about a German boat with a family of 5 that a couple of years ago had crashed on the rocks just a few meters away. They had anchored in a bad spot for the predicted westerly and then in the night dragged anchor, heaving them on the rocks where the boat was destroyed with a large hole on starboard side. They survived and the next day the village hauled what was left of the boat up on dry land so at least they could camp in it. The village all helped them out until they gained passage back to Germany, defeated. Upon taking a close look at the boat, Jordan said the fibreglass was very thin.

Mary looking at lost dreams of island visitors

We next booked a small inexpensive cabin on the waterfront. We luxuriated in fact that this one even had its own toilet, sink, and shower - but a very cold shower!

As the day wound down, we walked the palm lined beach to the sound of crashing surf passing the ever present dugout outriggers and collected pockets of shells. This shelling is becoming therapeutically addictive!

We came across 3 youngsters pounding something on a large flat rock and they told us they were breaking open yummy nuts from the tree. They had a large knife as earlier they had been working in the family garden quite a distance away. As the setting sun signaled a day's end, we suggested they leave for home as it would be getting dark soon. They were unconcerned and we gathered they surely knew their way around pretty good. It's quite common to see kids out n' about on their own.

After a cold supper, lights were out at 21:00. Power is very expensive on the islands so is not used unnecessarily.

Sights of Tanna

Yesterday before going to see the awesome Mount Yasur Volcano of Tanna (Vanuatu), we walked the short distance from our cabin to the tidy neighbouring Kastom village. It took little imagination for us to conger a fantasy that we were time travellers, cast back in time to an undiscovered people.

The genial folks here live in the old traditional way, without electricity or piped water (they have a central well and pump) and their huts are woven bamboo walls, raised a foot or 2 off the ground and of course all have the thatched roofs. We felt a rare peacefulness in this scene as the subtle sounds of the distant surf lulled us into tranquility.

Peaceful village

The gracious villagers told us we were free to look around and even take pictures if we like. These youngsters at the busy 'town centre' were sucking the tasty juice from bright red flowers and offered us a sample too...

Yummy for my tummy

It was not unusual to see naked toddlers being carried by their slightly older siblings or just running around carefree. In a central clearing, the women and girls were weaving palm fronds for the thatched roofs amidst the prosaic cluck of hens and the smolder from their outdoor cookery.

A timeless scene

Off to the side, close to the large Banyon tree, were the vestigial remnants of yesterday's oven where they made their laplap. It's an in-ground oven where the food is wrapped and cooked by hot rocks all smothered with big leaves and sand.

One of the huts served as a meager store. We peered inside the dimly lit store and were surprised at how little it contained but remembered that they were want for little.

A meager merchant

Later that day we visited a different Kastom village a few miles away where we met Chief Jack. The village was immaculately landscaped with walkways lined with vegetation. A tall tree fern stood near the entrance. The top of tree ferns are always larger than the base as they are turned upside down and replanted before carving.

Jordan with decorative fern tree

The Chief and a few villagers performed a ceremonial dance for us where the men wore not much more than penis sheaths made of bark and the women donned grass skirts of dried pandanus reeds...


Taking a rest between celebratory dancing...


Adorable young learner...