11/30/2013, Vanua Lava, Vanuatu
A line of Snake Dancers
A four day native festival, on a remote island, for $25 per person? That sounded reasonable to us.
After a fast overnight passage up to Vureas Bay on Vanua Lava, we dropped our anchor, the only boat there. We hoped that we didn't have the dates or location wrong.
Shortly after arriving, paramount chief Godfrey rowed up in his canoe, carved from mango wood, and welcomed us to his village. Chiefs here do not look chiefly. They wear the same ragged shorts and t-shirt with holes as any other native. His outrigger canoe certainly had no chiefly design or carvings on it. Godfrey assured us that we were in the right place at the right time for the festival which would be starting the day after tomorrow as planned. He wondered with us how many cruising boats would arrive.
Over the course of the next 36 hours, 4 more boats anchored nearby. The anchorage was horrible. Waves wrapped around the south end of the island to set the yachts rocking, endlessly. But all cruisers went through a lot of trouble to get here so were determined to stay.
The morning for the start of the festival, we motored the dinghy near a strip of sandy beach and were greeted by breaking waves. The rest of the shore was breaking waves on rocks. But the landing crew was ready, waving arms on just where to line up our run in and between which wave to goose it. We flew on the front of a small wave to be perfectly landed on the hard sand as the wave receded. As our feet touched the sand and began running up hill, many hands of the villagers swooped the dinghy high above the tide line.
We didn't even get splashed. We remained poised with camera to take pictures of the other cruisers as they landed on to the beach. Some were calm, others looked as scared as we had been. Everyone stayed dry.
The next 4 days were filled with interesting and entertaining events. We learned how traps were used to catch fresh water prawns and we walked to their old village site to see their sacred sites and learn about the old ways of their chiefs. We hiked to the village at the top of the hill to see their concrete walled school, clinic and Nakamal, communal gathering place. We saw water music where older bare breasted women (not an attractive sight) wade waist deep from the beach. With cupped hands they slap the water to make a rhythm and a music. There were countless historic dances like the snake dance. The snake dance is in respect to the poisonous black and white sea snake. At the end of all the events, we even got to dance ourselves in the public dance which is now my most favorite dance in the festivals. Giant drums beat out a primitive beat, and we all join arms and run around in a giant circle to the beat. The ones closest to the center can go slowly, so most of the older women are there. The teenagers and children are on the outside, literally running to keep it all going. It gets you really out of breath and tired, but it is truly mesmerizing, almost trance like. When the drums threaten to stop playing, every one hoots even louder to keep going. Yong men playing the wooden drums, are putting full strength in to smashing those drums as loud as they can. Everyone has the time of their lives.
We had a few delicious lunches ashore for about two dollars each, including our drinks. When the festivities lulled, the cruisers had social hour waiting or we discussed the meanings of the dances with the locals. After the days activities would come to a close, some of the cruisers partook in cava with the locals, while other went home with the locals and traded fruits and vegetables. They were long busy days, and we enjoyed every minute of them.
At the end of each day, the men would join us on the beach to launch our dinghies and give equally excellent help to get the dingiest back in to deep water. Many boats would have brief happy hours, but I think we were all in bed by 8am so we could be ready for the next day's adventure.
The people of Vureas Bay are truly nice people, so isolated from the rest of Vanuatu. When a young boy of 7 comes up and asks not for lollies or money, but a pair of trousers, you know you are in a good place. When he offers you 2 chicken eggs that he had managed to find to thank you for helping his infant brother with his scabies, you know you are in a good place. When you sit with the grandmother of this infant, who is the same women who performed barebreasted water music the day before, the same women who demonstrated how to cook taro and manioc in a bamboo pan, the same lady I danced arm and arm with in the public dance, you know you have made the type of connection with someone that you never would have made so quickly back home. I constantly wondered what my life would have looked like had I been born in this village. It was only by chance that I had been born in to a society that valued education, competition, motivation, and career development. I could have simply been a mother of 5 in a village with no electricity or lights, perhaps as content as any villager to never see the other side of my island. Instead I search the world for paradise, for meaning, and for something new and exciting.
From Efate island, we sailed out of the lumpy ocean into the protection of the lee on the south west shore of Ambrym Island.
The island of Ambrym is known for its active volcano, but it is a docile bubbling pool of lava and smoke; no wild explosions like at Tanna.
It was late in the day so we snugged up to shore and dropped the anchor for the night. The shore was a densely vegetated black beach. The cruising guide talks of a path here to a lake, but sights further along this coast held a bigger interest.
The next morning, we found the very picturesque cove of Bouma Point. The hot springs which flow out of the cliffs are all fresh water as long as the ocean tide is low. Fortunately in Bouma Point, the water was like hot bathwater.
We had our first sightings of wild parrots here, with lots of swallows darting between the high cliff walls. We found the best place to soak in a large clear pool, and I took the first hot bath I have had in years. It was so hot that Patrick could not bear to get in, but I got out feeling very well cleansed. I took the opportunity to use my most luxurious shampoo and separate conditioner. All of our laundry was now clean and then it was time to go.
We sailed the last 10 miles in the strongest wind we had experienced since our arrival in Vanuatu. But it was coming from the land. With only a jib, we flew over flat water at hull speed. We made it to Ranon village, and put down the anchor with 4 other boats, off a black sand beach. We slept well that night. Were here to explore the volcano.