kif, Anna, Poppy and Theo
25 June 2013 | Port Vila
13th June.. I think!
The true sign of being a cruising yachtie.. I really don't know quite what the date is!
Kif, Anna, Poppy and Theo have been on board with us now for almost a week, and unsurprisingly there have not been many quiet moments to write this! It is absolutely lovely having them, and Anna Rose is impressing us yet again as a perfect family boat. Large, safe cockpit, plenty of space down below and a galley and fridge big enough to accommodate the different needs of an age range from 6 1/2 months 61 years!
We left Port Vila a few days ago and had a rather rough sail around the coast of Efate (the main island) to Port Havana.. Which isn't a port at all, just a rather lovely sheltered anchorage with beautiful sandy beaches, the clearest of clear water, beautiful coral, fantastic vibrant blue starfish, and orange, blue and stripy little fish..perfect for Poppy's initiation to snorkelling .. Which she took to like a duck to water (very impressive).
Spent a delightful couple of nights there.. The sun shone and we swam, walked, paddleboarded and even unexpectedly found a small waterside hotel/bar to have lunch in. We braved a big fish..which we were assured was Poulet (confusingly this is a type of fish), which apparently is safe
Just as we were settling for our first night something large and fishy hit the boat... Not sure what it was.. Sharks are another thing we are getting confused messages about.. From 'there are loads and you shouldn't ever swim where you can't see local people swimming' (we have yet to see a local person swimming) to don't worry about it, they are only a danger by the black (volcanic) beaches, and only dangerous at night (not sure I find either of those bits of information either convincing or reassuring!). Anyway, we were not sure what hit the boat but there was a lot of fishy sort of swishing around, and when talked to some local people on the beach the next morning they suggested it might have been a Dugong.. These apparently are harmless, elusive, and loveable creatures, who like to roll over and have their tummies tickled. Poppy knows more about them than I do, and is very excited by the thought that there was one in the water by the boat. And I must say I also prefer that thought to the Shark alternative!
The other thing that happened at Port Havana was a small earthquake. We were awoken at about 5.00am by a really strange juddering sensation.. We leapt out of bed and were all up on deck in a flash (in various states of undress) thinking our anchor had dragged and we had hit the shore, but much to our relief it was merely(!) an earth tremor. Mother Nature up to her tricks again!
We are all being very British about it (even tho more than 1/2 of us are Australian), but we seem to have lost our sunshine and it is extremely humid and really very much more rainy than any of us were expecting. It's not a great combination.... we are all boiled, especially at night, as we can't keep the hatches open cos of the rain. It's particularly hard for the little ones, who are being brilliant and amazingly adaptable, but it really is difficult to keep cool.
After Port Havana we sailed about 30 miles across to small island called Emie.. There was a lovely strong breeze and it took us no time at all, but there was a nasty swell which made us all feel a bit queasy so we were glad to arrive, and grateful to find a calm anchorage sheltered by a reef. It was nearly dark and we were all feeling pretty exhausted, so we played games with Poppy and cooked supper and were all ready for bed by about 8.00!
Went exploring next morning and were warmly welcomed when we landed on the beach by some women and their children and who took us into the village, and to Harry the chief, who was equally welcoming and proudly showed us round. People live very simply in huts made of wood, palm leaves, and sometimes corrugated iron, They have thatched roofs, with big overhangs to keep off the worst of the rain, and mud floors. Certainly no mod cons, and it really must be quite tough.. especially when it is wet for days on end, or if anyone is unwell. They sleep on mats made out of palm leaves, and cook on an open fire in what they describe as an island kitchen.. which is a small building separate from the family living and sleeping quarters. There is no electricity, and seem to be no 'services' of any kind, but it is all beautifully kept. Paths are swept, plants are cultivated and quite a lot of the buildings and facilities seem to be communal.. We were shown a meeting place, a Nakermal (where traditionally the men drink Kava), a communal cooking and eating area, a beautifully constructed cyclone shelter, and a couple of 'bungalows' which had been constructed for the old people, who had their own little eating area and were cooked for by woman of the village. There is an abundance of fruit and veg, lots of chickens, a few goats and the odd cow. We took a selection small gifts .. Crayons for the children, a few T-shirts and a couple of pairs of reading glasses. We haven't really got a feel yet for what is most appropriate or useful, but they seemed appreciative and offered us fruit and veg in return. It was altogether a lovely experience, full of warmth, laughter and mutual interest.
Emie is half way between Efate and Epi, and with a good wind and a lovely gentle following sea we got to Epi in no time at all, and easily found our way into another reef sheltered anchorage and another delightful village welcome. The men and women seem to live quite separate lives, the men of working age often going to Port Vila for work and only returning to the village once in a while. 'We are a village of widows' declared one young woman, but there are plenty of small children around, so that can't be literally the case!
Thankfully the rain has stopped, the sun is out and it is a little cooler. After a second night on Epi we had a beautiful 20 mile sail to the Meskalyne isles on the southern tip of Malecula. Very remote. We are anchored off a very friendly village, more or less in open water, but sheltered by an extensive reef. The landscape is beautiful, the culture fascinating, and this afternoon we are enjoying the benefit of a very welcome cool breeze.
Soon after we arrived yesterday we were visited by Philip and Andreas in their canoe, who welcomed us and asked if we would like some lobster, and if so, how many.. Not unreasonably we asked how big they were, which provoked a troubled frown and an apology that they could not answer that, as they hadn't caught them yet! Sure enough back they came a couple of hours later with 4 amazing looking crayfish wriggling round in the bottom of their canoe. We invited them on board for a cool drink and to negotiate a purchase (or an exchange) and had a fascinating time hearing about their lives, and about how the villages round here have initiated a conservation programme for clams and turtles, and are considering one for the Dugongs. All of these are eaten by local people and the turtles in particular are an essential component of some of their customs and festivals. I am not sure whether the driver for these conservation initiatives is a recognition that they are overfished and will soon disappear, or a realisation that they have more value alive than eaten! Whichever it is, it's good to see, and interesting to hear how they came to an agreement.. It's impossible to really see how a society works from a relatively superficial encounter such as ours, but fascinating nonetheless to get a glimpse. We have been struck wherever we have been by how strong the missionary influence is, and how fondly people speak of them. They are keen to preserve some of their traditional ways, but they talk with gratitude about how Christianity enabled them to move away from their old practices such as black magic and cannibalism.. (I can see their point!) Each village has a substantial church.. We have yet to find ourselves in the right place at the right time, but apparently the services are wonderful happy events with fantastic unaccompanied singing.
Kif, Anna et al safely delivered back to Port Vila, where they are having a couple of days in a resort hotel (to recover from their holiday!). Simon and I feeling a mixture of relief (that they are back in one piece) and bereft, as it was so nice having them. It has been a wonderful and extraordinary fortnight, but quite challenging at times, especially for them. I am absolutely full of admiration .. We have been to some pretty remote places, had some very uncomfortably hot weather, been in some very rolly anchorages and done some quite long and rough sails. Poppy has been fantastically adaptable and tolerant, Theo has smiled his way through everything, and Anna and Kif have behaved impeccably too!.. Anna is the only person I have ever met who can smile, assure her children that all is well, reassure us that she is having a wonderful time, and manage to look cool and beautiful...all whilst throwing up over the lee rail and being seriously sleep deprived!
Our lobster buying session resulted in an invitation to go and drink Kava that evening. Kava is I guess the Vanuatu alternative to alcohol..It is a root which is ground (or in more remote villages chewed) and then soaked in water and strained through muslin.. What you get is something looking quite like muddy washing up water and traditionally just the men, but now in some places women too, gather and drink it together..it is prepared for everyone by the Kava master, and it definitely a very social thing. It was a memorable experience. No sense of time or rush.. Everyone just chatting while the kava was prepared (an elaborate process involving many different plastic washing up bowls and lots of washing and rinsing and squeezing and straining). You have it by the (coconut) shell full.. In fact nowadays they use bowls, but that sort of amount... We all (except Anna who is breastfeeding) tried a shell.. in fact Simon and Kif had two! It is disgusting! Tastes like medicine, but it does have a very relaxing effect..slightly numbing on your lips and tongue as you drink it, so it's best 'down in one' rather than prolonging the agony, but the effect is really quite pleasant.. Makes you feel very mellow and relaxed...or maybe that was due to the warmth and friendliness of everyone.. They all thought it was very funny watching our faces as we drank it!
Sensibly took our leave before it turned into a 4 or 5 shell session and wandered through the village and back to the boat in a haze of Kava induced and lobster anticipating contentment. They were delicious. Simply boiled and washed down with our last bottle of NZ fizz.
Next day we were taken by Philip and a couple of his mates on a journey through the mangroves to see the turtle sanctuary (turtle free as yet! .. they were planning to catch some and put them in in a few days time), and the island where most of their grandparents lived before an earthquake in 1965 destroyed the whole village. No one died, but in spite of fears of attack, they moved to the shores of the larger island where the village is now located. Malecula is occupied by two tribes, big Nambas and little Nambas, who seem in the past to have done a fair bit of feasting on one another, but are now at peace. The big ones form the majority. 'Big' and 'little' refers to the size of the penis wrapper each tribe traditionally wore, not the penis itself apparently. (We were in the company of little Nambas!)
We awoke next morning to a glassy calm, after a baking hot night which had us all finding different ways to keep cool.. Kif and Poppy slept in the cockpit, I wrapped myself in a wet sarong, Simon reckoned that if you didn't wriggle around it wasn't so bad, and Anna was so tired trying to stop Theo from melting that she was beyond caring. Definitely time to move on!
No wind, so we motored the 20 or so miles back to Lamen bay on Epi, grateful for the breeze generated by the movement of the boat, and tempted by the knowledge that if we got there early enough chief Tosso who ran 'paradise beach resort' and the 'Lamen Bay yacht club' (which is nothing like anything you would imagine a yacht club to be) would fire up his generator and cool some beers for us, and barbecue chicken. All went according to plan and we had a lovely evening. It's a beautiful place and we felt very content watching Anna Rose bobbing gently in the bay with the sun setting behind her.
Tired after not much sleep the night before, we went to bed early and were just settling down and loving the slightly more manageable temperature, when out of nowhere came a most annoying and persistent swell, which brought every cup, saucer, block and halyard on the boat alive, and tossed each of us relentlessly back and forth. Even Theo didn't like it and by 2.00 am we were all wide awake, feeling sick and weighing up our options.. Stay or move on elsewhere? Quickly realised that actually there were no options.. No other anchorage anywhere near that would be sheltered or safe to enter at night, and uncomfortable tho we were, at least we were perfectly safe.
So, even more tired after even less sleep than the night before, morning eventually came and we clattered and lurched our way through breakfast, wondering whether we had the perfect formula for a new reality TV show.. 4 adults, a three year old and a baby, confined space. Boil them for a night, then roll them for another, throw in a few mosquitos, some heavy rain, a bit of seasickness and the shore tantalisingly close but impossibly out of reach due the danger of getting into the dinghy.
Eventually it did calm down a bit and were all very very happy to get ashore. Spent the afternoon on the beach and the evening at the 'yacht club' with the crews from a couple of other boats in the bay, watching our boats continue to roll, wishing we had a tent to pitch on the beach, and exchanging news and information about where we all have been and intend to go. Meeting other cruisers is fun and interesting, and extremely useful. We learnt that there was a big market early the following morning in a village a couple of bays away, which we'd have known nothing about.. It was a lovely, colourful, jolly event... A bit of a cross between the WI, mums and toddlers, and a farmers market... Women of all ages, surrounded by children and grandchildren, all dressed in their lovely island dresses, bringing fruit and veg from their gardens, (rather than cakes and jam) but as interested in meeting each other (and us) and chatting as in selling their produce. Came back laden with palm leaf baskets full of sweet potatoes, and something called nouse, which tastes slightly like a russet apple, and island cabbage (which we have decided will be perfectly safe if we wash it carefully and cook it well) .. We are slowly learning about what to buy and how to prepare things... It's fun discovering new tastes and textures.. And its all completely organic!
I must stop ..firstly it is getting so long no one will want to read it, and secondly we are about to go and have something to eat and listen to music at the bar just across the water from where we are moored.
We are here in Port Vila for a few days and while we have reasonable internet will upload some more pics ... Not tonight tho.. Music and food (and a drink!) beckon.