We're Now From Gibooblia
05 October 2013 | Norsup Island, Malakula, Vanuatu
Well I can't ever say that Jon didn't inherit some very good fix-it skills from his dad because he managed to fix his bike last week! He cut the end off the stripped nut off with the Dremel, reversed it to expose the good threads and screwed it back on. It's temporary but so far it has held. It allowed us to do a great bike ride on Epi Island where we were passed by 1 pick-up truck during the 6 hours we were on "the road". We had anchored at Revolieu Bay on Epi which is a pretty & protected anchorage away from the swell for a change. The village was set next to a stream and the kids had elaborate rope swings for staying cool in the fresh water. Since we'd reeled in another mahi on the way over, we brought some fish & the skeleton in to the village, then strolled around. And the following day, we took our bike ride. The island is filled with old trees, cute villages, calm coves and steep hills in a few spots. Like the kind you can hardly walk up, let alone bike up. It was a great day and felt so good to be moving.
We've noticed that Ni-Vans sure do a lot of joking around & laughing. We can hear them quite well when we're out in the anchorage. I read about some survey done a few years ago that voted them the happiest people in the world. They certainly live in close quarters in some villages. Often they remind me of weekends at a campground. Everyone is outside at their "campsite" with their outdoor kitchens & communal sitting areas. We easily waved & said hi to a hundred people on our bike ride.
We checked out Lamen Bay for it's famed dugong (manatee) named Bondas who's reported to be really friendly but he wasn't in. We saw some sea turtles and did some so-so snorkeling but there wasn't much drawing us to stay there. No stores filled with produce like we were hoping for. On the last night, after dark, the island ferry named Big Sista came in and decided to pass about 3 feet off our bowsprit. Its a miracle our anchor chain wasn't sucked up into the prop. There were 3 boats in the anchorage and we were all startled. So we each put our deck lights on to be as bright as possible and then stayed up till the ferry left so that we could at least see if we were going to get clobbered. They passed much more reasonably on the way out, but still close enough so I could make out the banana tree on the stern. We found that Lamen Bay had some internet but it was just good enough to SEE you had emails but not good enough to actually READ any of them! We made friends with a New Zealand couple named Ocean Pearl in this anchorage. They'd bought their boat in Ft Lauderdale, sailed all the way up to Canada, then back down & across the Pacific. Now the boat lives in New Zealand. We haven't seen many cruising boats in this part of Vanuatu, so when you see some, it's usually cause for a happy hour together.
We were disappointed to find out that we aren't going to be able to do the popular volcano hike on the island of Ambrym because it is October, an important month for the sacred customs of the north. Hikers aren't permitted because according to our cruising guide & a local we spoke with, "the spirits are working to assure a good yam harvest during this season". Which brings up a few other inconveniences that we've noticed as we move north. The customs intensify and therefore, there are more restrictions. We need to check in with a chief for nearly every anchorage now. You may get permission from one to walk around or dive but then another will show up and say he owns the reef and you should have checked with him. Fiji was way more organized so you knew exactly what to do. There are many more taboo areas including certain men's only paths & other women's only paths and of course these aren't marked! So you're supposed to get a guide but we're generally not in to that. Vanuatu people are known for their beliefs in magic and scared things. I remember in Tanna, we spoke with a man who was responsible for using his sacred stones for controlling the weather. They'd been passed down to him. He could either hold off rain or bring it on as needed for their crops. We all felt like this would be a good thing for our passage to NZ next month- if it worked! On Tongoa, the chief related to us that the reason they hadn't had a cyclone in so many years is that some people can chew a special sacred leaf and then spit it into the wind in order to stave off the storm. Isn't it funny how different beliefs can be?
We're all taking malaria med since it's around but we haven't noticed much of any mosquitoes yet. It's so hard to remember to take a pill every day. But we do have Malarone and it's been exactly the same as taking nothing as far as side effects go. The water hasn't been as clear or the snorkeling as outstanding the past few days but it's supposed to improve further up. There are some dangerous bays that have a history of shark attacks so there's that to contend with. We always wonder how it can be that the shark attacks only happen in certain bays while ones only a few miles away are apparently OK. I just hope we get out of here without seeing any big sharks and I'll be happy. Although they say you rarely ever see the shark that gets you- very comforting.
From Epi, we sailed westward with Mark & Anne to the Maskelyne Islands off of Malakula. We anchored behind a cute little island named Awai with a shallow reef forming the end of the basin. Within minutes, dugout canoes began to materialize out of nowhere. They would paddle over to one of both of us and weren't bashful about getting right in to asking us for stuff. They ask us where we're from, then say "rich country". Well, we personally aren't rich but we are rich compared to them. But then, we can't help where we were born either and we did work for what we got. We can give some, but if we gave as much as they wanted, we wouldn't be able to afford to be here..... For the first time this trip, we felt like nothing more than a dollar sign. Tom, who paddled over from a neighboring village & was well spoken, proposed that his village was a kastom smol namba village and they could show us a dancing performance. He would also "show us" a good diving spot although we're pretty darn good at finding our own dive sites. He said he could also show us the dugongs. In a weak moment, we said "OK" and it was scheduled for the next day- Jon's birthday. It would be $5000Vatu for each couple or $55US for the dancing & for Tom to show us the dive site. That evening Mark & Anne had us over for dinner to celebrate a day early since we knew the next day would be full. We had a great evening, and we both showed a slide show of our past lives- them flying their plane out west and us backpacking & traveling around in the camper. Seeing those pictures really messed with my head.
The next day came and we moved the boats a few miles into the Uliveo anchorage to be near the village. It says it's a tight entrance with 2 shallow bars but at mid-tide, we never saw less than 10 feet. Once settled, a canoe came over with 2 guys in it. Very little to say, just talking among themselves, hanging around the boat waiting for something. We headed out in our dinghies to go see the dugongs. We saw several, but every time we got in the water to swim with them, they would disappear. Jon & I had such a great experience with them in the Crystal River, Florida, that it would be hard to top that but we were hoping. It ended up there were plenty in the anchorage and from the boat, you could see them pretty well and hear them snorting when they came up for a breath. Next was the dancing. It ended up being 4 men dancing & 1 man playing a slit drum rather than the village participating as is advertised in most spots- oh well. After 3 songs, they got Jon & Mark out there to "dance" for the last song but not before they painted them up with mud and gave them sticks to carry. Our pale skin sure doesn't look as good as the Ni-Vans do when painted up. The contrast is missing. The smol (small) nambas are the penis sheaths made of pandanus leaves that the men wear for kastom dancing. A picture is all that is needed here and I'll produce one at some point. We handed over the money immediately following thinking we should have known better to fall for this.
Immediately following the short dance, we went scuba diving to catch the high tide. The vis was just OK and the reef wasn't nearly as perfect as we've been seeing although we did find several new flatworms. When we finished, we were cold & sort of ready to be done but Tom urged us to come ashore for some kava, "it goes with the dancing; it's a welcome ceremony" he said, and we felt obliged. We get in there to the campsite village, and they sit us down and say that each cup is 100 vatu and then quietly say that it is customary for us to buy a round of kava for all the men. Customary where? First we've heard of this "custom" and we didn't want any anyway and they grow the kava themselves and we didn't even have any money on us, whatever!... Jon & Mark had a cup and then we got out of there. The next morning, 2 of them came paddling out to collect their money for the kava and they started asking for more stuff! Anne gave them 3 cans of food and they offered her a papaya. She gladly accepted it thinking it was an exchange but then they said: "200 Vatu" ($2). Meanwhile papayas are dropping from trees all around in Vanuatu, there are so many. People just give them to us all the time. How infuriating. One good thing about being the smaller boat, we don't get bothered as much as Mark & Anne do. Everybody heads for the big white boat first!
So... we had a nice time together as we always do but really, this place was the worst of Vanuatu in our book. It reminded me of parts of the Caribbean, things I haven't seen in all of the Pacific and it casts a very big shadow on this area. Whatever you give, it's never enough so the whole encounter was negative on both sides. We have decided that the response to where we're from will now be "Gibooblia, It's a small country over near Canada." Here is something from the Jason's Vanuatu Visitor's Guide that I find interesting. There are a group of people on Tanna island who live in two different" John Frum" villages. One of them was over near the volcano we biked around and we had planned to visit it but we got sidetracked by the soot. The book says: "They worship a figure named John Frum who is claimed to be returning from the USA at some point with worldly goods to give to them. The villagers celebrate John's impending return on Friday nights with music & dancing. Visitors are welcome."
Well this answers it! Perhaps my wonderful Jon is THE John Frum and the people here think he's arrived! Needless to say, we vacated Uliveo as fast as we could the next morning and sailed all day to distance ourselves from it both mentally & physically. It was a lovely sail.