05/25/2012, Awei Island, Vanuatu
Valary's smile lights up the world
A gust of wind gathers behind Paikea Mist and makes a deep tug on our huge Code Zero sail. The power from the wind translates itself through the rigging and propels the hull deep down the side of the wave. Michael and I look at each other, realizing it is time to furl in "Bluebird" and switch to a more conservative sail plan. In front of us, we can make out the peaks of Malakula Island. With just over 12 miles to go and the wind starting to gust over 20 knots from behind we know the genoa will make short work of the distance. After sailing thousands of miles together, Michael and I work through this sail change routine with a few signals, and within minutes have the Code Zero down and the genoa poled out.
The swell is running from the east, and as we near the island the sight and sound of it crashing onto the outlying reef is marvellous. The path into the protected anchorage behind Awei Island is almost a full circle from the approach. As we navigate our way in and around the channels, we end up looking back to the reef that mesmerized us while still on the open ocean. In the quiet anchorage, the water laps gently against the shore, and although it is only noon we are already looking forward to a peaceful night's sleep. At low tide, mangroves stretch their golden bronze limbs into the water's edge, and the reef is clearly visible. A wide expanse of coral heads lies between us and the ocean, where the swells reach skyward and crash down over the low lying reef, providing a constant background rumble.
We anchor within a stone's throw of a sandy beach, where a gaggle of kids dash this way and that. For a moment, they pause, shout a friendly hello, and immediately go back to their play, shrieking with delight at the water's edge. Their parents head off across the bay to their gardens, pulling their dug- out canoes skilfully through the water. Behind them, Maurice paddles out to our boat, introduces himself and welcomes us to the bay. He informs us that all the children come from one extended family, all cousins at play during their school holidays. After a relaxed conversation and promises of an avocado from his garden, he follows his brothers and sisters across the bay.
As we recover from our crossing we stretch out lazily in the cockpit enjoying the afternoon sun. The juxtaposition of our yacht here is a bit over whelming to us, and we can well imagine the impact we have on Maurice and his family, who like most ni-Vanuatans, live a sustenance lifestyle. While we sip our cool drinks, a single woman sits for hours atop her dugout canoe fishing the shallows of the reef as the children play nearby.
The children could be playing their games anywhere in the world. At one point the boys make their way onto the reef, and start hooting and hollering. Their aim is to scare the flying foxes, hanging in multitudes on the high tree branches above them into flight. They succeed, and the sight is amazing as hundreds of the huge bat like birds take to the air. A lone parent calls to the boys, apparently correcting them for disturbing the birds, and they quieten down immediately, as do the birds.
When Maurice returns later that afternoon, I signal him to drop by the boat, and give him a large bag of freshly popped popcorn. As the bag is passed down to Maurice a shriek of excitement runs through the children ashore. He thanks us and we watch as he paddles his boat to the beach, where he is immediately encircled. Once all the mouths are full, and the popcorn is gone, the children call out in unison. "What is your name?" "My name is Gloria". "Thank you for the popcorn Gloria!"
It's funny how a small kernel can pop into something bigger. The next morning, the kids paddle out with a papaya and an avocado. We invite them onto the boat, and four raggedy kids climb aboard in a flash, tying off their dugout securely to the back of our boat. They form a tight huddle around the stove and jump with excitement as the next batch of popcorn crackles in the pan. Moments later sitting in the cockpit, bowl of popcorn in hand, they start to sing. "We are the World, We are the Children".
My heart swells, and smiles flash across their faces and into their amazingly expressive eyes. They can feel my joy, and start to really sing out. A shiver runs up my spine as these beautiful children change my world, and for that moment in time we are definitely not worlds apart.
05/23/2012, Lamen Bay, Epi Island, Vanuatu
Even in dead coral camouflage is important!
The barracuda hit the bait like it was his last supper. And it was! We reeled the 3 foot long fish in, and got it ready to give to a villager on Epi Island, where we soon would find a sandy bottom in Lamen Bay to call home for the next few days. Barracuda is not our favourite fish, but the islanders are not as fussy, and it's always nice to bring a fresh catch when you can. Often the villagers don't get too much of the larger fish which are caught offshore as they require a bigger boat with a motor. After Max directed us through the hazards of coral heads to the beach and helped secure our dinghy to a low lying branch ashore, we handed him the fish, and apologized that it wasn't a Mahi Mahi! He smiled broadly, and thanked us, but his eyes said even more. Vanuatans have the most expressive eyes, very warm and sparkling. I'm pretty sure he would have been absolutely over the moon with a Mahi Mahi, Tuna or the like, but the barracuda will not be wasted.
This morning we sailed out of Port Havannah on the North West side of Efate Island, making great time- 60 miles in just over 7 hours. Not bad for a day's sail, but it was a bit on the rough side with confused seas splashing salt water everywhere, again! Port Havannah was, I have to say, underwhelming. I know that we are quite spoiled in the places we have laid the hook down, but this anchorage was not one of those. The sail up the narrow channels leading to the bay was exhilarating, fast with good wind on calm seas, complete with beautiful coastal backdrops to admire. On the way to the anchorage we passed pristine white sandy beaches dotted with fashionable homes of some of the more wealthy of Efate's residents. We tried to anchor off the beautiful sandy spit at the hotel, but the fall off was too steep, and there just wasn't enough room in the shallower waters. So to the end of the bay, we went. We anchored in a muddy sand bottom. When we went out to explore the surrounding corals, they were all dead, something we have now witnessed in several areas in Vanuatu. We are still hoping to find some live reefs. During the day, we had to change anchorages twice to escape thick fumes from fires burning in the nearby gardens.
While at anchor here we had a great visit from Amanda and her two kids. Amanda and Mike live with their two kids in Port Vila, and were introduced to us by a friend of our daughters. We had enjoyed a lovely visit in their seaside home just outside of Port Vila. It turns out that Mike and Amanda hope to go on an offshore sailing adventure of their own one day. The world is full of amazing people, and we really enjoyed hearing how they live their expat lives in Vanuatu, and their various entrepreneurial endeavours. Mike is engrossed at the moment building a Zip Line, so he wasn't able to come for the afternoon visit to the boat. The kids were on their school holidays and I think they really enjoyed the experience. They certainly found every nook and cranny aboard, reminding us of when Kristine and Nick used to clamour all over our various boats when they were that age. It's always fun to have kids aboard- and we were happy they could come and visit us while we were still on Efate.
On the other side of the 60 mile day sail, Lamen Bay on Epi Island is a big hit. The coral reefs here are in a recovery mode of sorts, with some live areas. I spent a good ten minutes acquainting myself with a sea turtle yesterday which was a real joy. Speaking of real joys- the best part of Vanuatu is definitely the people. They are the friendliest folk, curious to know where you came from, which way you sailed and where you are headed to next. Many offer us fresh fruit, which is really considerate of them.
We have been traveling in and out of the company of two other boats, Imagine from the US, and Ambika from Sweden. All three boats are headed for Darwin for the Indonesian Rally. We think it was truly amazing that we all met up with no previous knowledge of each other here in Vanuatu! Tomorrow we will continue to head further north up the chain. Trade winds are in high gear still, so we should have another fast sail. Still haven't had to motor anywhere since leaving New Zealand!
We've had wonderful trade wind sailing as we make our way north up the island chain of Vanuatu- here we are soaring down wind with the Code Zero and the genoa out in full force!
Check out our new photo albums...Our wild ride to Vanuatu from New Zealand, village shots, fixing generators, volcanos and more!
05/15/2012, Mt. Yasur, Tanna Island
How a Volcano can breathe fire into your soul!
Wedged into the corner of the overloaded pick up, my view is limited to a narrow track directly behind the truck. The island's inner secrets and natural beauty slowly slips by behind us as we make our way up the rough dirt road to the volcano. Our skilled driver finesses the clutch to grind the truck into his lowest gear inching his 16 passengers up the steep incline. The heat of the engine wafts in open fumes up the sides of the truck. Massive trees, disguised in twisted vine pass by us on either side, making the trip seem like something out of a Jurassic Park movie. Just where are we going?!
The island of Tanna, one of the southernmost of the Vanuatan island chain, boasts some of the largest Banyan Trees in the Pacific. The bases we pass are easily 20-30 feet across, a tangled majestic mass of trunks and vines, each one a natural playground which could keep a dozen kids occupied for days at a time. Our enthusiasm holds fast even as rain starts to fall lightly onto the open back truck. Behind us, framed perfectly over the retreating forest, hangs a deep and vibrant rainbow. Squeezed as I am in the truck, with no room to fiddle with my camera I take a picture in my memory. Click. Deep forest greens, pure sky blues, strung together with all the colours of the rainbow. I take a deep breath, filling my nostrils with the scent of the jungle around me.
As we climb higher up the side of the mountain, the thick vegetation gives way to dry ruddy brown earth. Finally dark grey sand leads to the lunar landscape at the base of the volcano. Here, heaps of messy lava stone are scattered far down the sides of the steep slopes above us. Our truck passes a very official but lonely looking sign: "Parking Lot 2" sits empty, as if expecting a much larger crowd. Click. Our driver takes us to the front row, up to "Parking lot 1", some 200 feet further and brings the Toyota to a well deserved but lurching stop.
We are parked ON a volcano! We uncurl ourselves and slowly pour out and over the back of the truck; our eyes held fast on the sights above as the volcano busies itself with what volcanoes do. Along with a handful of other travellers we are about to discover one of the biggest attractions in all of Vanuatu- Mt Yasur, the most accessible live volcano in the world. Although a roughly laid cement trail leads the way up, there are no cautionary gates, warning signs, or other words of wisdom, just us and the volcano, and that sign, Parking lot #2!
We climb high above the truck, nervous anticipation racking our bravado the entire way. As we ascend, the volcano comes increasingly alive, imparting its guttural, other worldly, larger than life growls. A 747 passing 50 feet over our heads could not have been louder. We reach the first summit and look over the enormous double cauldron. Click. Click. Click.
We are standing at the edge of an erupting volcano- HOLY MOLIES! Standing beside Michael, I smile into the camera. Just as the camera shutters clicks someone lets off a 100 cannon firing squad. BEHIND US!!! NEVER turn your back to a live volcano... it is now throwing steam, ash and yes, huge chunks of glowing rock hundreds of feet in the air. I look to my right and to my left, and on either side of our ever so cute photo are castaway hardened chunks of swirled lava, just like the ones I am now watching falling, cooling and sliding back into the red hot fires below.
As the sun nears the point of lowering itself behind the rim of the volcano, we trudge up and up to the very top edge of the rim. From here we can see deep into the heart of the volcano. As the sky darkens the red hot hues come alive, and each explosion provides an impressive firework display. We watch as one explosion bursts out of the volcano after another. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. The grand finale seems almost staged, easily three times as high as the other explosions, thrusting red hot fire hundreds of feet above us. The vibration through the souls of my feet shakes me to the core.
On the edge of a volcano you can't help but feel humbled, reminded that we stand only in the very moment that is granted us.
Happy to have enjoyed the moment, we are equally satisfied to distance ourselves from the grumbling giant as we slip and slide our way down the tumbled slope to the relative safety of the Toyota truck, parked in its lurched stop on the side of Mt Yasur.
For this moment anyways, we have escaped the real grand finale.
Arriving in the small village of Anelgoahat., Aneityum* offered us an immediate immersion in Vanuatan culture and village life. Usually we enter countries through larger towns and then search out the more remote places to explore. The small village of Anelgoahat was a mix of traditional thatch buildings, and the more sturdy 'hurricane ' style buildings we have seen across the Pacific. The islands Senior High School is situated here, and all the yachties were invited in for their fundraiser- a sporting day to mark the end of classes for the term. The villagers here are accustomed to tourists, as a large Australian cruise ship stops here on a regular basis. On these days, the typically white pristine beaches of Mystery Island become a sea of color, as 2000 (yes- 2000!) people off load onto the tiny island to enjoy the tropical beach and reefs. The villagers make money by taking their trinkets across and selling them to the tourists. (*Anatom is the French name- the islanders themselves call it Aneityum)
The sports day was highly entertaining as we watch teenagers sprinting around the 'track' bare footed in hot pursuit of each other. Having watched my own children in track and field events, I enjoyed the subtle contrast and similarities with interest. The track was a rough dirt trail which outlined a large field, which was more or less flat. On the second turn, which they ran counter clockwise, the track went around some huge Mango trees, up the hill and then along the main village path. There was no preparation to the track, and the children raced across what ever happened to be there, their feet registering no concern! No fancy track shoes for this crowd. Man were they fast! They were competing for qualification to attend the upcoming Pacific Games in Thailand later this year. According to a friendly villager with good command of English, any one placing first in their event was entitled to compete in Thailand! We forgot to ask how they would afford the trip. Racing around the track, some had incredible racing insight, waiting to kick at the end to pass the leader. Many kids leading made the tactical error of looking back to find their opponents, loosing valuable seconds, and sometimes coming in second as a result! We have some great shots of the beach front track action, but will have to wait for an internet connection to post. We did see some cell phones flashed about, but the police/double as quarantine official admitted that signal strength was very poor.
By the second day of post passage recovery, we had dried out our lockers and were ready to set off. There were seven boats already in the bay by that time, and although we were invited to a yachtie pot luck that night, we chose instead to go around the backside of the island to explore a small anchorage there. The island was a stunning backdrop to our sail as we made our way around to the north side. We actually went in search of time in the water with sea turtles, as the area is toted as a marine sanctuary. The water was very murky, with heavy sediment from slips above the small village, possibly as the result of attempts at forestiy. So no jumping in the water here., but as we entered through the reef system, villagers came down to the beach, with a gaggle of children pouring down shouting and whistling their excitement. It became obvious that we were meant to have our first 'real' experience of village life in Vanuatu! In seconds of dropping the hook, four young men paddled out in their outrigger canoes to greet us and invite us to the village.
We again struck it lucky as the primary school in the village was having their session closing events. Many of the boys were dressed in traditional wraps of leaves and colorful head dresses, with face paint. It was open house, and the teacher gave a summary to the parents and then invited them into the classroom to see their children's work and report cards! A peek around the small classroom showed a strong emphasis on hygiene and health. How to keep your eyes healthy, washing hands before you eat, that kind of thing. The teachers presentation to the parents was lengthy, during which time we watched as preening went on amongst the audience. Adults running their hands through children's hair, and even kids plucking lice out of their neighbour's hair. Some even had a partner in the attack, passing on the tiny critter for it's ultimate destruction between the teeth of their assistant. This is just part of life here, and was as natural to the villagers as picking up a ringing cellphone is to a North American. ( note to other cruisers- a nit picking tool would likely be a very nice gift or trade item to bring along!)
Outside the classroom we had lots of fun sharing our camera with the kids, who were very shy in taking photos with our camera. We like to pass our camera to kids, as they often become more spontaneous and relaxed as a result. We were the first boat here in over a year, and it was very obvious that the kids did not have much experience with tourists of any sort. We enjoyed watching the typical social dynamics, with the young men hanging out by the beach, working the dug out canoes to greet us, setting up their fishing nets and listening to their music played through a boombox! Most of the adults were attending the school function. The preteen boys hung in a loose circle under a tree, a comfortable distance from the smaller kids who all sat on a mat near the teacher. The village has only 100 people living there, and by our estimation about 1/3 were children!
We spent most of our time with Noti, who presented us with a large basket, probably about 15 kilos of freshly picked mandarin oranges, to which we offered in exchange some good quality rope, and other small items. The village had a DVD player and we made a copy of Nemo for the children to watch, and supplied the school with a box set of Planet Earth. They were pretty happy with the exchange. We also took group photos of the school kids and made copies for their teacher.
We are now on our way to the island of Tanna, to see the live volcano of Mt. Yasur!
Any one want an orange?