Heading north

Vessel Name: Anna Rose
Hailing Port: Hobart
01 September 2013 | Honiara
01 August 2013 | En route to Luganville
16 July 2013 | Ranvetlam bay
12 July 2013 | Ranon Bay Ambrym
10 July 2013 | Lamen bay
03 July 2013 | Port Vila - Nambawan cafe
25 June 2013 | Port Vila
06 June 2013 | Port Vila
17 May 2013 | Bay of Islands
15 May 2013 | Tutukaka
10 May 2013 | Whangarei
Recent Blog Posts
01 September 2013 | Honiara

Journey's end

Well, we are as far north as we are going! Arrived here a couple of days ago and are now in the midst of handing the boat over to Oceanswatch...who have a crew of 8 taking her back to Fenualoa! They will be working there for a couple of months, then taking her all the way south again to NZ to get [...]

29 August 2013

The Banks islands and beyond

Written on 17th August at Graciosa Bay, Santa Cruz, Solomon Isles.

01 August 2013 | En route to Luganville

Blue holes

25 July 2013

White sand, sunshine and dancing

Goodness I find myself hardly knowing where to begin. We have had such a busy and fascinating and lovely few days! We have just arrived at Luganville, which is a proper town and an almost unbelievable contrast to some of the places we have been. We set off from a small island called Ambae at 4.00 [...]

16 July 2013 | Ranvetlam bay

Village life

We have moved literally about 1/2 mile since my last post! We have had some really strong winds in the past few days and where we were seemed to have its own private microsystem of particularly vicious gusts funnelling through a gap in the hills! So we and 4 other yachts are now sheltering in the [...]

12 July 2013 | Ranon Bay Ambrym

Black sand, volcanos and magic

We are now 30 or so miles north of Epi, anchored off a busy little village at the northern end of Ambrym, an island with black sand, two live volcanos and a reputation for magic and mystery. There is a big festival happening here in a few days which we thought we'd hang around for, so we have a couple [...]

Journey's end

01 September 2013 | Honiara
Well, we are as far north as we are going! Arrived here a couple of days ago and are now in the midst of handing the boat over to Oceanswatch...who have a crew of 8 taking her back to Fenualoa! They will be working there for a couple of months, then taking her all the way south again to NZ to get out of this area before the cyclone season. We fly to Aus in a couple of days then back to the UK on the 18th. Mixed feelings about leaving the boat, but hugely excited about seeing friends and loved ones.

The end of my last post had us regretfully leaving Vanua Lava, and heading 10 miles further north to a dramatic anchorage inside the crater of a volcano on the island of Uraparpara. The whole side of the island was blown out in a massive explosion which allegedly sent rocks hurtling as far as 25 miles away.. Not sure whether that is legend or fact, but no matter. It was a pretty impressive place and again a lovely welcome. (The volcano is now extinct by the way!) Surprisingly the boats that came to greet us were no longer roughly made dugouts with outriggers.. Instead they were swift sleek canoes, beautifully built .. a skill learnt, apparently, from the Solomon Islanders. Interesting that there was such a big difference with only 10 miles separating Uraparapara from Vanua Lava. I wonder why. It was not really obvious where best to anchor, so we took the advice of the locals and ended up very comfortably and picturesquely adjacent to a house on stilts someone had built for fun in the middle of the bay... We were slightly nervous that we might swing the wrong way in the night and demolish it, but luckily that didn't happen.

It turned out that that the house on stilts was built by a delightful man called Thomas for his son Roger, a musician, who sat on the apex of his roof for a good part of the next day playing his bamboo pipes. He was delightful too and by mid afternoon he had migrated from his roof to our cockpit, trying to vain to teach me how to blow his pipes, but rewarded at last by Simon who got the knack straight away. By early evening we had set up the Anna Rose cockpit recording studio, magnificently equipped with two iPads ..recording him on one, then recording him playing again, accompanied by the first recording and so on until we had a built up 6 or 7 layers of variations. Sounded dreadful, but it was fun!

Jerry the son of the chief and Riley, who said he was also the chief's son, and then said he wasn't (?!) helped us fill our water containers from a bamboo pipe and carry them back to the dinghy, then proudly showed us round the village. They are very remote and cut off, but life didn't seem hard for them. They seemed to have all they really needed, and the time and energy for fun things like Roger's house on stilts. The medical centre was definitely a bit spartan tho.. we gave them as many of our plasters and dressings as we thought we could spare and 1/2 our stock of painkillers.

We had been warned that it would be harder to get fresh fruit and veg in the Solomons so we put the word out that we would like to trade grapefruits (which keep well) and whatever else was available. Sure enough a succession of canoes arrived late in the afternoon as they returned from their gardens. By nightfall we had 16 beautiful grapefruit, several pawpaw, bunches of spring onions, snake beans and capsicums, and our bag of t shirts, fish hooks, reading glasses and pens was considerably lighter.

It was 70 miles or so to our next anchorage in the Torres Islands, and we set off at midnight (having gone to bed at 6.30, trying in vain to convince ourselves that it was bedtime!). Although it was a dark night, finding our way out of the crater was straightforward, and we were soon on our way with a lovely breeze and not too much swell, easily arriving at our destination with the sun still high enough to help us pick a good spot to anchor. The bay was uninhabited and unremarkable, but we had no expectations of it other than as a place to sleep, which we did, then set off at first light on the 170 mile trip to Lata, the southernmost customs check in place in the Solomon's. We arrived about a fortnight ago and I have already written about most of our time there in my last post, and so will move swiftly on....

We hadn't made a firm plan re our rendezvous with Chris from OceansWatch and were a little disconcerted when all our attempts to make contact with him drew a blank. We eventually met up with him tho about 10 days ago and sailed with him and a local guy the 40 miles or so to Fenualoa in the Reef Islands (not to be confused with the islands we went to off Vanua Lava... also called the Reef Islands!) We were glad to have them on board as the route through the very extensive reef surrounding the islands was complicated, tortuous and inaccurately charted. I don't think we'd have risked it on our own, but all was well and we found ourselves in beautifully sheltered waters, anchored off a low lying coastline with the 5 or so villages which OceansWatch are working with set back from a long white beach.

The most immediately striking thing was the light. The horizon was huge.. Like Norfolk, and the blues and turquoises in the water (not like Norfolk!) had a marvellous luminous quality, emphasised by grey, thundery clouds which hung menacingly above the horizon. The sun was getting low by the time we went ashore and the effect was even more spectacular. It is the season for collecting breadfruit, which they dry and store, as food is sometimes short. There were canoes laden with them, their lime green skins and the deep brown woodiness of the boats a perfect finishing touch to an already breathtaking scene. A photographer or painter's paradise! As if all of that wasn't enough to stimulate the senses there was a lovely smell of woodsmoke hanging in the air and the orange glow of fires being stoked for drying breadfruit and the preparation of evening meals.

Chris was excited to be back and excited to show us round and introduce us to people in the villages and explain about the projects OceansWatch is working on. It is very impressive.. They have installed a VHF radio so the small boats which regularly cross the 40 or so miles from Fenualoa to Lata can be in radio contact all the way across. It is a rough and exposed bit of water and there have been many lives lost. The radio will make it a lot safer. There is a coconut oil processing project.. Several women's cooperatives have been set up and loaned equipment to help them efficiently produce coconut oil, which is then sold at a far higher price than unprocessed copra, which otherwise would be collected and processed elsewhere. It is a small pilot scheme at present, but with great potential economic benefits. On the environmental front there are several initiatives; a sea cucumber conservation project, the establishment of voluntary marine protected areas, extensive monitoring of the quality of the reef, and planting of vetiver grass to help slow down the rate of coastal erosion. And then those 5 medical boxes, which we brought from Port Vila. Much to our satisfaction and delight they were finally delivered, one for each village. Little did we know where it would lead when we agreed back in Whangerai in April to take one box from NZ to Port Vila!

It was fascinating to see what OceansWatch were doing, and the commitment of Chris and the volunteers, and indeed the commitment and enthusiasm of the local people. We were formally thanked by the chief for the contribution we are making in lending Anna Rose, then garlanded and sung to, and had our hands shaken by everyone. Another regal experience, which we appreciated more than we liked... We hadn't made any real connection in our own right with people there and it all felt a bit forced and stilted.

We anchored beside Magic Roundabout, the other Oceanswatch boat, and were soon joined by Rob and Kate on Toyatt, who are committed conservationists and were keen to see and be involved with the OceansWatch work. We spent an easy going three or four days all together. We had a fascinating time one morning with Ben, an English guy whose parents settled on Pigeon Island, a small uninhabited island just off shore. His mum was a model, and worked for the BBC and his dad was a photographer. They sound like they were quite an unusual couple.. they sailed from England in the '50's in a Brixham trawler, and decided to settle in the Reef Islands. She was very into carpentry and built a small guest house and store, as well as a house for themselves.. which Ben has now inherited. It is all exactly as it was when she built it, and Ben lives there with his local wife and 1yr old adopted daughter, eking a living mending outboards and catering for the occasional guest.. Mainly NGO staff and visiting government officials. Only the most intrepid of tourists would find their way there... The only way is by boat...and unless you can cadge a ride on a yacht, that means a 40 mile trip in a small open boat. This is however all about to change: An airport is being built which will link the Reef Islands with Honiara. What a difference that will make.

We left Fenualoa for Honiara on Sunday morning with Chris. It was almost 400 miles and we made good fast progress for the first couple of days with the wind more or less behind us, but there was an uncomfortable sick making swell, and that edgy feeling of having to watch carefully for wind shifts so as not to accidentally gybe, so it wasn't a particularly pleasant trip. I would have hoped to have well and truly got my sea legs by now, but apparently not. Honiara is not the nicest of places, but It was quite a relief when we finally got here. Much to our delight we had a dolphin escort for the last few miles. They are the most wonderful joyful creatures, We stood on our bowsprit for ages watching them playing in our bow wave, getting more and more ambitious with their manoeuvres. They really do seem to know they are being watched and to rise to the occasion. How lucky we were! What a wonderful way to end our voyage

So here we are. At journey's end for the time being. We are satisfied with what we have done.. For us it has been quite a challenge. Chris's wife Julia flew in a couple of days ago and we are all now working towards a smooth handover of the boat. It is strange to have strangers on board, slowing taking over our lovely boat. We are very happy and excited to be going home tho, and glad that she will be useful, and that we are not having to rush into selling her to the first buyer, or worry about her deteriorating unused on a mooring somewhere. She really has done us proud and has earned a special place in both of our hearts. Who knows what or when our next Anna Rose adventure will be!

The Banks islands and beyond

29 August 2013
Written on 17th August at Graciosa Bay, Santa Cruz, Solomon Isles.

Phew.... Major catch up time! We have had such a lovely, busy, interesting, fun time since I last wrote this. I really haven't had a minute to stop and write about it, and it will now be hard to do justice to it all! Also we have no Internet, so I won't be able to post this for a while.

Anyway I will begin with where we are now.. We have made it to the Solomon isles and are anchored in a very beautiful spot at the head of Graciosa Bay. We are a few miles from Lata, the main centre in the Santa Cruz islands (the southern most islands in the Solomons), where we had to report our presence to the police and quarantine people. Having done that we are now allowed to spend a couple of weeks in the reef islands (where OceansWatch are working) before we get to Honiara where we can complete customs formalities. It is a substantial trip in the dinghy across quite an exposed bit of water to Lata, or a long walk, but we have been warned that to anchor nearer is dangerous and this is reinforced by the wreck of a large boat 1/2 sunk at the wharf! Besides it is gorgeous here.... A lovely friendly village, a sandy beach and a river with the most beautiful clear water.

It rained absolutely torrentially pretty much constantly for the first 48hrs we were here, but I am pleased to say I have changed my attitude towards rain. I have set up all sorts of water catchment arrangements and now welcome it, knowing it means we can wash up in fresh water, wash our clothes, and freely and frequently wash ourselves! It is so much more satisfying to hear it trickling, gushing even, into my myriad of strategically placed buckets rather than simply soaking the boat then sluicing out through the scuppers! I must say though that the weather gods here don't seem familiar with the concept of moderation. We could have filled our tanks several times over!

Lata is a scruffy place but extremely friendly. Kate and Rob, who we have met before, are here too and we went together yesterday in our very small dinghy across the very large bay to report to the police and have a look round. The first thing that struck us was how much rubbish there was .. We had to wade through old cans, bottles and goodness knows what to get to the shore. Quite a shock after all the lovely remote villages we have been to Vanuatu where we seldom saw any rubbish at all.

Anyway the rubbish was more than made up for by a lovely little experience.... Having been to the police we were just walking along beside a market, regretting that none of us had any Solomon Island Dollars so we couldn't get any fresh veg, when a guy in a van called hello to us.. We went across to chat and he asked if we were going to the market. We said we couldn't as we had no money. Without hesitation he simply reached into his pocket and insisted on giving us some. It was extraordinary, so unexpected and kind, and welcome. We each were able to get snake beans and cucumbers and aubergines and tomatoes. He then followed us into the market and bought us each a coconut as well! We invited him back to our boats later and much to our delight he came so we could repay his kindness. He had never been on a yacht before. We gave him a cup of tea, some biscuits, a DVD and a present for his 3 month old baby. It was a lovely heartwarming thing to happen.

Loaded with our veggies we retraced our steps to the dinghy and were approached by a man wanting to show us his carvings. We explained we had no money but he seemed undeterred and eventually, much to the amusement of a crowd of onlookers who had gathered, we swapped the old and rather threadbare lightweight waterproof tops we were wearing for a beautiful carved bowl and a traditional arm bracelet. Highly satisfactory all round, even for Kate and Rob, who could sit smugly in their waterproofs on the dinghy ride back when the heavens opened (yet again)! We are delighted with our bowl tho. It was well worth getting wet for!

Our small experience of the Solomon Islanders has so far been very positive. It has a completely different feel about it to Vanuatu (although every island in Vanuatu had a different feel as well!). We were welcomed when we arrived by a variety of people in canoes, including a delightful feisty lady called Margaret, who we subsequently spent quite a bit of time with, quickly learning that she was quite a force to be reckoned with. She didn't like the place we had anchored at all, and pretty much insisted we move to a much better place close to her village. She was in fact quite right and we are glad we listened to her. Where we are now is absolutely lovely. Having got us anchored to her satisfaction we were then told to report to her house in a hour or so, which of course we did, and were treated to a wonderful little tea party.. We sat on a mat on a raised platform in her kitchen, drinking '3 in one'. (An extremely sweet powdered mix of coffee, milk and sugar which I can see you could eventually develop a taste for) and eating breadfruit and cabbage cooked in coconut. An unusual accompaniment to the sweet coffee, but actually quite delicious!) She sat in state on the platform with us, issuing instructions to her long suffering 13 yr old daughter, to whom all domestic duties, including pretty much full time care of 3 younger brothers appeared to have been delegated. 1/2 the village was squashed into the doorway watching the spectacle. We felt a little of what it must be like to be the queen on a state visit. We were released eventually as it was getting dark, but not before we had promised to be at her door at 8.30 the next day to walk into Lata with her!

This we did, in fact we spent the whole day with her and it was both fascinating and good fun. It was a substantial walk each way, through several villages fringing the bay. She was good company, her forcefulness tempered by a great sense of humour, and a compelling openness and desire both to listen and to talk. We liked her very much. She taught us how to say hello and thank you etc in the local language and then giggled delightedly at the surprised response of the passers by we greeted (we assumed it was our pronunciation, but now I think about it, perhaps it was something else entirely that she taught us!) We shared a delicious lunch with her bought in the market .. Kumara and cabbage (again), served on a banana leaf, and washed down with fresh coconut water. The latest healthy thing apparently. Much needed as it was a long hot walk back. We briefly called in to her house to issue further instructions to Alexandria the saintly daughter, then all went back to the boat, which Margaret wanted to see. I'm not sure how it came about but I taught her to knit, which she took to like a duck to water and we spent a gentle couple of hours together, Margaret avidly practicing her stitches, Simon catching up on boat chores, and me trying to make a Solomon Islands courtesy flag out of material scraps. It was only darkness falling that brought it all to a close. I rowed her ashore, to where Alexandria was patiently waiting to ensure that her mother got home safely before it was completely dark.

Enough about Margaret... lots else to catch up on... We had an easy uneventful (very happy with that!) sail to the Solomons from the Banks islands... which we fell in love with and found it hard to drag ourselves away from. We had a good strong breeze behind us and raced along mostly at 6 or 7 knots, stopping briefly overnight in the Torres islands then covering the remaining 175 miles in less than 30 hrs. That is our last big sail on our own, as we will have Chris from OceansWatch with us on the journey up to Honiara. It is very satisfying to feel that (barring accidents) we can now do it! We were so nervous and inexperienced to begin with. We are far from complacent, but do feel pleased to have come have come all this way together.

My last post was written as we were approaching Luganville to check out with customs, re-provision and meet up with Catnapp to say our farewells and receive a battery .. All of that happened easily and we set off up north to the Banks islands about a fortnight ago. 1st stop was Gaua, a small island with a live volcano about 75 miles north of Luganville. We set off into a very dark night at 2.00 am, so as to be sure of arriving in daylight. The charts of this area are not very reliable, so you really do need daylight to eye your way in to avoid the reefs and to make sure that you drop the anchor in sand rather than on coral. I like early morning departures. I have a childlike sense of excitement getting up and setting off in the middle of the night, and I love sitting on the foredeck watching the sky slowly lighten. We have consistently had pretty much perfect winds all the way north....strong enough to get us going nicely and from a great angle...the SE trade winds. Fantastic. As long as you are heading North!

We were surrounded by people in canoes at Gaua before we had even got the anchor set. Whole families precariously squeezed into small dugouts just coming to say hello and welcome. Gaua gets visited by a supply ship only every eight months or so, and very few yachts go to the bay we anchored in. There is no road. Just a path across the island to the airstrip, or a fairly rough boat ride. It was a lovely village, which they were in the process of rebuilding as they had only recently returned having had to move away a few years ago when the volcano became particularly active and spewed ash out all over them. They seemed basically to be all one very big family and had very little, but were disappointed that we were leaving next day and they did not have time to go to their gardens to get vegetables to give us. We were sad to go too, but keen to keep heading north. We gave some reading glasses to a lovely old fellow called William, who seemed to be everyone's grandfather, and tried to straighten a sewing machine needle for one of the ladies (how annoying to have a sewing machine and a bent needle and an eight month wait until the next supply ship!) They were all delightful and we spent a happy hour or so just chatting and exchanging stories about our respective lives.

One of the things that has developed over the past few weeks is the Vanuatu cruisers net, which 'meets' every morning at 7.30 on HF 8230khz. It is a very informal way for all the cruising yachts to keep in touch (all 5 or so of us!), exchanging weather information, good anchorages and generally keeping an eye out for one another. We love it. Simon has become quite the doyen of the airwaves.. He even became net controller one morning! It is actually great.. Not only does it keep us all a lot safer as we all check in with our positions daily, but we can help the islanders too.. For example we have now arranged for the next yacht to go to Gaua to take some sewing machine needles with them.

After Gaua we went to Sola which is the administrative centre for the Banks islands, but it both looked and was reported by other boats to be so dull that we didn't bother to go ashore and set off instead the next morning for Letelwut bay on the NE side of Vanua Lava. It was a good decision Not only did we have a really memorable and wonderful time with the local people there, but we formed a delightful and what we hope will be an enduring friendship with Colin, Liz, Zinnia and Cosmo.. a family from Bosham who we first met a few weeks ago. They have been travelling for the past 3 or 4 years in their very comfortable catamaran Pacific Bliss. We ended up staying for 4 or 5 days, and each day simply was even happier and more fun than the one before. We were very sad to leave. They are still there and are not planning of leave until they really have to start heading south again and back towards NZ to avoid the cyclone season.

It was a small bay and Pacific Bliss were the first to arrive. As we entered we could see people on the beach who canoed and swam out to meet us, helping us to find a spot to anchor that was coral free. There was a terrific feeling of celebration and happiness that we were there. The others were already ashore and we joined them as soon as we could and were formally welcomed by Pascale, the custom chief, and members of his family, including his elderly mother, for whom I developed a particular fondness. They had made flower garlands for each of us and prepared Kava for Colin and Simon (a ritual I am very happy to be exempt from being a mere woman). Everyone sat with us under the shade of a big tree on the beach for ages.. Is funny thinking back now to then. We got to know them all really quite well, but at first it is hard to remember who is who and where everyone fits, and at that stage they were just a very friendly bunch of people who made us all feel incredibly welcome. They also told us that in the neighbouring village that evening there was a special celebration, with a bamboo pipe band from a nearby island. So we all zoomed off to the next bay in our dinghies and were as warmly welcomed there. It was a wonderful evening, an event which everyone in the village seemed excited about and joined in with.... Lots of dancing and general happiness and such a sense of (very well founded) pride as they showed us round. They have a lovely kindergarten and are in the process of rebuilding their school. There were flowers everywhere and a beautiful big dancing/playing field. Cosmo (aged 8) had a fantastic time playing soccer with all the boys (big and small!) and Zinnia (who is 11) found some mates to do sand drawing with.. Its a tradition on a number of the islands.. They make beautiful designs, which represent different stories or legends. It is done either with a stick or a finger, but all in one long graceful movement. Zinnia is becoming quite an expert.

We were glad of Pacific Bliss's company on the way back in the dark. It had become quite squally and rough and it definitely felt as though our tiny dinghy was way out of its depth as we plunged and rolled our way out through the reef, round the point and back to our anchorage. Arrived back very sodden, but all full of excitement about what a great time we had had.

Somehow or other a plan was hatched that evening and the next day we set off together to visit the Reef islands which lie about 8 miles offshore. They are very beautiful, very low lying and no longer inhabited, but were once lived on by the forebears of the people of the two villages, who are the custom owners and clearly hold them close to their hearts. They are too far offshore for them to easily visit in their canoes so we each took a family with us. We also took Zinnia who fancied a change of scene and company. That was a particular delight, and the foundation for a very lovely and happy friendship between her and me, which developed over the next few days. it was altogether a fabulous day... A perfect sail both ways and such a pleasure to see the smiles on the faces of the couple of lads we had on board when we let them steer the boat. None of them had ever been on a yacht, or been to the islands before. The islands were lovely; white sand, coconut palms, coral reefs, turquoise water, big multi coloured fish. We rafted up with Pacific Bliss and had a lovely pot luck lunch on their capacious aft deck... (Well more like a patio than a deck... Since getting to know PB I have become a bit of an catamaran convert... There is so much space it really is like an apartment... And wonderful in this climate having such a massive deck space with easy access from the living area. Very civilised!)

We paddle boarded, kayaked, fished, snorkelled,walked and chatted the afternoon away while the locals searched for megapode eggs and washed up plastic containers which they could reuse to store water. A satisfactory haul of each was collected and we eventually set off for 'home' with just enough time to get ourselves back inside the reef and safely anchored before night fell. PB capped it all by catching two magnificent yellow fin tuna on the way back. One for the village, one for the boat, which feasted on with them for the next few days, starting with sushimi that evening. It was a truly memorable day, full of warmth and laughter and lovely cross cultural exchanges. Megapodes are a type of duck, whose eggs are huge and greatly prized.. They found loads of them and carefully wrapped them in pairs in banana leaves, tied with bits of dried grass. Who needs egg boxes! We were given one which we scrambled. It was delicious. They also found a live chick which was brought home and is going to become a pet!

Next day we had been planning to leave but the day just unrolled into another magical one and somehow we didn't manage it! First we were summonsed ashore and ushered into a tiny building on stilts just back from the beach which serves as their church and a general meeting place. We were presented with a most wonderful selection of fruit and veggies from people's gardens to share between both boats, then proudly shown round their gardens. It was fascinating. They are very productive and absolutely central and essential to people's lives, both in terms of how they mostly spend their time (especially the women) and how they feed themselves. I feel as though we hardly scratched the surface in terms of knowing what they grew and how or why, but alongside the staples (such as taro, yams, cabbage, pumpkin, capsicums and spring onions) they grow particular plants for different situations, such as a particular type of taro for nursing mothers, and of course kava for pleasure and relaxation, and reputedly to ward off Malaria. Everyone has their own garden, with new areas being cleared and cultivated for the youngsters as they grow up. We have talked more to other people about gardening since then and it seems to be a very sociable and cooperative affair. Although every family has their own garden the women especially often work together in each others.

The rest of the day centred mainly round food. Zinnia and I spent a happy couple of hours together making Tzatziki (heaven knows how you spell that!) and salad and we all had a magnificent lunch consisting of that and six lobsters which PB had been given as a thank you for the day before! They were very delicious, especially accompanied by a bottle of cold NZ Sauvignon.. PB's last, which they very generously shared with us! Hardly had we had time to digest that before we were summonsed again to go to the next village, where Brian, the son of the chief and his wife Rose had prepared a feast for us! We were garlanded with fresh flowers and treated to freshwater prawns, fresh Tuna, megapode egg omelettes, more lobster... It was very special. Brian's father the chief, known as ol' fela (a name now adopted for Simon by PB!) was there and Brian's other brothers, and all their children. We didn't go by boat this time and it was about a 1/2 hr walk along a small jungly path back to 'our' bay afterwards. We were not very organised about torches so their was a good deal of hilarity finding our way back in pitch blackness, especially when we came to the bit where you had to balance on the fallen trunk of a coconut palm to cross a boggy patch! But we were guided by David, a local guy who did have a torch, and serenaded by Cliff who didn't, yet managed to sing to us and play his guitar all the way without pause... even crossing the boggy bit! Another lovely lovely day!

Next day we really did have to leave, but not before church which was at 8.00 in the tiny building on stilts where we had been given our veggies. It was just set back from the beach, and the locals, who must have been up 1/2 the night, had constructed a flower arch and lined the path from the beach with stones and flowers. The building was transformed too, with an altar made of beautiful fresh hibiscus and frangipani, and about 30 people already squeezed in, but space left especially for us along one side. They call it their glorious church and it really was glorious and incredibly moving to be taken into the midst of this tiny community in the way that we were, and to see in such an intimate way how central to their lives their Christian beliefs are. The service was taken by Patricia, the wife of Levi the pastor, and was conducted in English for our benefit. I am finding it hard of find words to express how affected by it I was. There was a purity and simplicity about it that really spoke to me, and moved me deeply. The rich and natural harmony of each person unselfconsciously singing with no accompaniment, everyone dressed in their best island dresses, the easy compassion and understanding they had for one another, their gratitude and appreciation for what they had, and the generous way in which we were included. The Pacific Bliss/ Anna Rose scratch choir sang 'Morning has broken'.. Nothing like as tunefully as they sang, but they (and we) were glad we had made the effort, and at the end they sang a beautiful hymn of farewell for Simon and me, and all came up and embraced us. MiniRose and her family, (who we had taken to the reef islands) gave us a beautiful carved pig, and the younger girls had made garlands for us. I have to say I was in floods of tears, as were Liz and Zinnia (who weren't even leaving!) It is hard to explain, in fact I know I can't and it will probably sound stupid, but we felt really blessed and loved and hugely loving in return, and that we had made a real connection with people which completely transcended our short acquaintance, the language barriers, and the knowledge that we are unlikely ever to meet again. The mother of Pascale and Minirose, a beautiful, gentle, old, frail lady with an extraordinary stillness and depth in her gaze held me close to her, and I held her back, reluctant to let go and let the moment pass.

It took us a very long time after church to say goodbye to everyone from both villages and get back to the boat. Sadly we also had to say goodbye to Liz, Colin, Zinnia and Cosmo on Pacific Bliss, as they were staying put for a while then heading south, while we needed to get on up north so as to make our rendezvous with Oceanswatch. Liz made a delicious risotto for us all and we had a lovely final lunch, sorry to be saying goodbye, but happy to have had such a wonderful few days together and with firm intentions to stay in touch. It was well into the afternoon before we managed to drag ourselves away, but we only had 10 or so miles to go and the there was a good breeze behind us.

Blue holes

01 August 2013 | En route to Luganville

We are now on our way back to Luganville having spent the past few days in a very beautiful area about 1/2 way up the east coast of Espiritu Santo. The coast is sheltered by a line of offshore islands and you can sail for miles inside them in really sheltered waters. We have had a choice of delightful anchorages, all protected by reefs, making them doubly sheltered and calm. It's quite tricky getting in and out tho. Usually there is just a narrow passage with coral heads and waves breaking on either side. Sometimes it looks as though there can't possibly be a way through and its alarming going so close to the breaking waves. We have quite a good system tho: Our cruising guide gives us coordinates for the entrance which we can plot on the chart plotter. These are great, but not necessarily 100% reliable, and we have only once come across any channel markers, so we have one of us either on the foredeck or half way up the mast looking into the water, while the other steers us through. So far so good (I'm touching wood as I write that!)

One of the very beautiful things about this bit of coast is that there are a series of rivers which start at 'blue holes'.. These are crater like springs with deep crystal clear water which really does look bright blue. We went up to one in the dinghy a couple of days ago. It was a brilliant little adventure. A mile or so up a river which was really fast flowing to begin with as it narrowed under a bridge... we could only just make progress with our 3hp engine going flat out. But then it opened out into the most lovely tranquil waterway, winding through the jungle, with a white sand bottom, clear pale turquoise water, and no sound other than the birds. We couldn't believe the hole could be any more beautiful than the river, but when we got there it quite took our breath away... Extraordinary colours: Every shade of blue from pale turquoise to deep cobalt, vivid bright green luxuriant vegetation dipping down into the water, and the occasional flash of orange fungus on a tree trunk, or a deep red flower. And just incredibly clear water. Apparently it comes up through limestone which is what gives it its clarity and colour. There was no one there except us, and swimming was like gliding through silk. Coming back down the river we just allowed ourselves to drift with the current which was wonderfully peaceful, until we got back to the narrow bit, which was even more alarming going with the current than against it, especially as we were being watched and cheered on by about 20 local boys standing on the bridge above us! Luckily our trusty little dinghy (with us paddling like mad) managed it admirably!

Yesterday we went to the other blue hole, a longer dinghy ride across to the far side of the bay then up another river. This time there were no rapids to negotiate, and the river flowed lazily, overhung with huge trees with gnarly roots and rope like vines hanging down into the water, which gave it a mysterious feel, especially as the sky was overcast and a bit threatening. The upper reaches were more open, but there were thick mats of some sort of floating plant on either side, which had encroached so much into the river that there was only a narrow channel through. With the sun briefly breaking through the thick grey clouds the contrast between the bright green of the plant and the clear turquoise water was amazing, although somewhere in the back of my mind I think it might be quite an invasive plant, and not very good news. (I am not sure about this, and there is not good enough Internet here to do a google search and check my facts!) Anyway, it got narrower and narrower until we eventually rounded a corner and there it was! Another possibly even more stunning blue hole! They are extraordinary, especially as they are so unexpected in the middle of the jungle. This one was slightly more commercialised and we were greeted by a very nice man, who very nicely asked us for 300 vatu each (about £2) which we very happily (and nicely! ) paid. Beautiful swimming again and very well worth every penny!

It is only 20 or so miles to Luganville and we are motoring as the wind is on our nose, and we need anyway to charge up our batteries. We are heading on to the Banks and Torres islands in a few days, then on to the Solomons, and have to clear out with Vaunatu customs at Luganville as there are not any customs facilities further north ... or much in the way of other facilities either apparently, so we will make the most of the last opportunity to stock up on food and fuel for a month or so! And it is Simon's birthday tomorrow so we can go out and celebrate! We can also link up there with Catnapp, who have a battery to give us which we need to take for someone in the Solomons. We are becoming quite a little cargo ship with that and our 5 medical boxes (each about the size of a school trunk). Lucky we are just a deux.. Our fore cabin is completely full to the ceiling!

Even though we are motoring along past a pretty uninhabited bit of coast, there seems to be a reasonable Digicel signal.. So lets see if I can post this.....might have to wait til we get to Luganville for the pic tho!

Oh and Happy Birthday for yesterday Pip!

White sand, sunshine and dancing

25 July 2013
Goodness I find myself hardly knowing where to begin. We have had such a busy and fascinating and lovely few days! We have just arrived at Luganville, which is a proper town and an almost unbelievable contrast to some of the places we have been. We set off from a small island called Ambae at 4.00 this morning by the light of a nearly full moon and were well on our way by the time the sun rose a couple of hours later. The flat calm of the early morning was very beautiful and peaceful.. We sat on the foredeck drinking coffee and chatting, letting Arabella (the autohelm) take us where we needed to go. Soon the wind picked up and we zoomed the 50 or so miles here under full sail, arriving several hours before we expected to. At long last the weather seems to have come good. It is sunny and warm and the trade winds are blowing a steady 15-20 knots from the south east, which suits us very well indeed! Life seems a little more like we were expecting the South Pacific to be!

We certainly continued the bad weather theme on Ambrym tho. Day after day it rained and rained which did get a little depressing, particularly in contrast with the much talked about heat wave in England! And the black sand really didn't help.... Its quite atmospheric in the sunshine, but give me white sand any day - especially as the sharks apparently prefer the black! And boats, high humidity and heavy rain are not a good mix, although we did realise we were in heaven compared with a young Aus Aid volunteer we met. She had just arrived on a year long contract and was living in an extremely basic hut with next to no facilities or any company, other than the resident rat and a large number of cockroaches! Quite lonely, given that it gets dark at 6.00, there is very little electricity and a young woman can't walk about at night on her own... Not that there was anywhere to go anyway. Missing our own young, we happily slotted into surrogate parent role, and invited her to stay on the boat for the night and enjoyed being able to offer her some home comforts. We even managed to find her a rat trap, and Simon got a lamp working for her on solar power. Her job is to help local people to develop tourism initiatives in the area. Quite a challenging and controversial role. There are lots of different factions in the village, some of whom might benefit, while others won't. It will be hard for her to find her way, particularly as a girl in a very male dominated society. We really admired her courage and enjoyed her company and wish her all the very best.

The Fenla festival was interesting. It's purpose is twofold.. It allows visitors to see some of the traditional dances and rituals which would otherwise be Taboo to outsiders, and it raises much needed cash for the village. I guess it also helps to ensure that the 'custom' traditions are kept alive. We came away with very mixed feelings... Especially a propos the role, or non-role of women. They were not even allowed to watch, let alone participate. They were, however, allowed to prepare and clear away the lunch.

After the circumcision dance, and the ritual pig killing, a particular highlight was the Rom dance, which is a local speciality... It was quite a spectacle, with elaborate masks and costumes and all sorts of rules about who is allowed to perform it and who is allowed to make and wear each mask. All very hierarchical, and performed with much pomp and ceremony for and by the chiefs and chiefs in waiting from Fenla and neighbouring villages. Apparently you have to be male (obviously) and to have killed a certain number of pigs to earn enough status to participate, and it was a great honour that we could even watch. We were warned not to go too close or we may be clubbed by the dancers, who each held a long 'hand extension' for just that purpose! The origin of the dance is particularly delightful: it celebrates the story of how a woman once made a very beautiful mask and wore it in order to gain the love of a man. The man however was jealous of her skill so he killed her and stole the mask, claiming the design as his own. Women were then banned by the men from making masks, or participating in the dance (I can imagine they might not have wanted to after that), or even watching it unless they were born in the village. An exception to this rule was made for us Vatu paying white visitors. There was sand drawing and some rather disappointing magic, and a tour of the village, but the whole event was neatly rounded off by a small earth tremor (seriously!), which gave the building we were sitting in a pretty good shake. Now that really is impressive isn't it!

We visitors were quite a small group and as I am sure you can imagine there was plenty of discussion about it all as we walked back down the hill at the end of the day. It's easy to go for the totally outraged response, especially as a woman, but one of the things we are realising is that there is layer upon layer of complexity, much of which is obscured from our view, and it is impossible and foolish to make hasty judgments. We have noticed, for example, how often the men we meet talk about and value the things that have helped to stop the violence and killing which used to happen between tribes....such as the chiefs from neighbouring villages dancing together, or traditional dispute resolving customs of giving and receiving, and of course the missionaries. Church and 'custom' seem to have an interesting relationship. Both hugely powerful and far more relevant in people's lives than central government. It's different in each community and quite bizarrely when we left Ambrym we found ourselves accidentally in the midst of an evangelical Christian secondary school, and with an altogether different set of challenges to our sensibilities!

The next island north of Ambrym is Pentecost and we shot across the narrow, rough strait between them in no time at all on a beautiful broad reach, then pootled up the coast close to the shore, so we could see it all clearly. The weather was perfect.. Sunny, warm and 15-20 knots of wind. Just to put icing on the cake we were accompanied for a short time by a humpback whale. Pentecost is long and thin, with high hills and tumbling rivers, and it is famous for land diving ...which I will tell you more about in a minute.

We decided to give the first bay we came to a miss as the sand was black and the cruising guide suggests its best not to swim there as the locals sometimes have a cattle carcass tied to a buoy in the middle of the bay to attract the sharks (which they hunt). Besides, the second bay sounded idyllic.. White sand (hurrah) and a huge waterfall a short walk from the beach. And idyllic it was... Azure water, white sand, palm fringed beach, a reef to snorkel on, a fresh water stream running down to the beach, friendly people, a stunning waterfall with an amazing jacuzzi-like bubble pool at its foot (which we could swim in) AND sunshine! And, as it turned out lots of other things too, but first the waterfall...

We knew we would have either to pay or trade to go to the waterfall, and as funds are getting low we went ashore with a bag of hopefully tempting goodies. The first man we met when we landed happened to be a member of the family with the waterfall rights. He seemed to like the idea of trading and happily took us along a beautifully planted path to the waterfall and waited while we had a swim and took pics etc. Gauging what and when to trade is a fine art which we are (hopefully) slowly getting better at. Too much rather than too little seems to be a good guiding principle as we have far more than they do and people are mostly very straight and will say when enough is enough. This trade involved a DVD, two 2nd hand shirts and some reading glasses and seemed to be satisfactory all round. Hands were shaken and goodbyes said and we went on our way, only to be recalled and presented with a beautifully woven basket made by the man's mother, which he insisted was a gift. It is lovely and we were very moved.

Feeling like we'd arrived in paradise we strolled back to the track running along behind the beach, and rather to our surprise came to the playing field of a big secondary school. There seemed to be quite a few people milling around and when we asked what was going on we were told that it was the school's 'Custom day' when the students, who come from all over Pentecost and the surrounding islands, celebrate and perform their custom dances and rituals. We were invited to stay and had the most wonderful time... So much more fun than the Fenla festival.... Fantastic dances and music and costumes, and young women and men dancing together in a spirit of delight and enjoyment. Some of the dances were clearly so familiar to parts of the audience that they simply had to join in.. So much so that you could no longer see the performers, but it didn't matter a bit, it was just such a lovely atmosphere and a riot of colour and sound. And a real insight into how important to people their customs are. The highlight was land diving.. A tradition of southern Pentecost. During the months of April and May the young men build a high structure out of wood and then dive from the top of it with fronds attached to their ankles to break their fall...it is bungee jumping with absolutely no health and safety. It is a almost like a form of sacrifice .. They jump to ensure the success of the Yam harvest. The fronds are chosen by the jumpers for strength, flexibility and appropriate length, and are tied to them by experienced elders. Before they jump the young men are encouraged to speak their innermost thoughts... knowing these may be their last words. It was the most extraordinary and nerve wracking thing to watch. The womenfolk sing and dance their support and encouragement, and the atmosphere was electric with excitement and danger and the courage of the young men. Having spoken their thoughts they launch themselves off with their arms braced to protect their faces. Thank goodness they all seemed to have judged their frond length and strength well and they just brushed the ground with their foreheads exactly as they were meant to do. Amazing.

It was a fantastic evening and we were so lucky that we stumbled into it. Eventually we wended our way back to the boat by the light of a huge moon. The sea was beautifully clear and calm, and there was a smell of woodsmoke from a fire on the beach. We sat on the foredeck for ages soaking it all in and really appreciating what a wonderful day we had just had.

At the Culture event we met several Australian and English volunteers who taught at the school and we were invited to go to the school Sunday service the next day... It was quite an event.. Lasted 2 1/2 hrs! Full of dance and song, and hallelujah and hell fire rhetoric. Loved the singing and the strong rhythms and the way everyone gets involved and claps and dances. We are not great church goers but the time flew by! Males and females sat on opposite sides of the church. I think I had a better time than Simon did as the girls were much more into the dancing and clapping than the boys.

The school is one of 24 secondary schools in Vanuatu. All the pupils board as they come from so far away and, as we have seen in the places we've been to, parents really struggle to find money for the fees. There must be such a huge juxtaposition between traditional life in the villages and the western style education they are receiving. And it is pretty evangelical. They have 6 hours of compulsory church on Sundays and 1/2hr in the morning and evening on weekdays. Another one of those complex issues. We spent quite a while after church chatting about it all with the volunteers. Came to no conclusions, but in the process we acquired two passengers for our onward trip up the coast to Loltong.

Having arranged to meet our passengers on the beach the next morning we said our goodbyes and went for a beautiful walk along the track behind the beach..which is in fact the island's only road. We chatted companionably as we walked with a couple of ladies and their children, who kindly showed us the best place to ford a river we came to which had become quite a raging torrent after all the rain of the past week or so. There are no bridges, so when it rains a lot the track simply becomes impassable until the river levels fall again. It was lovely tho.. Beautiful clear fresh water tumbling over worn rocks and down to the beach. We are saving our tank water for drinking, so we took all our washing ashore and spent part of the afternoon soaking and scrubbing and rinsing it in the river like a proper old pair of washerwomen. And what a treat to be able to wash my hair too!

As a courtesy we stopped on the way back from our walk to pay our respects to Silas, who has the custom rights for the beach and runs a small guesthouse. He showed us the best place to go snorkelling, then invited us to join him and his guests (who happened to be our passengers) for dinner. We had a lovely evening sitting in his makeshift dining area under the palm trees fringing the beach. Thoroughly enjoyed the company and it was fascinating to gain more insight into how society here functions. Silas used to be principal of the school and is now in the process of building a technical college. This seems like a very good idea. It is striking how lacking in technical skills people are. We keep coming across things which have been donated or built, which work for a while, then break down and are useless because local people have no idea how to maintain or fix them. A couple of days ago we spent a night off a village which used to have electricity via a hydro scheme someone had installed, but which now doesn't work.. It must be quite tough for people to get used to having the benefit of electricity, and save up to buy fridges etc, and then for it to stop working and never be fixed.

Our two passengers were a delight. A young couple living in London. She worked at the school in her gap year and now runs a small charity sending volunteer teachers there on year long placements. Bizarrely they are in the process of buying a flat very close to ours in Kennington! We had a beautiful sail up the coast to Loltong, and anchored in a gorgeous little bay protected by a coral reef with only a narrow pass through. This was our first really tricky anchorage but once we were in it was completely protected and very picturesque. The terrain was rocky and village rambled up and down and round the shoreline, with lots of shrubs and flowers and more ornate and sophisticated houses than we have seen before. We were met by Matthew, the son of the chief who ran the 'yacht club'. The village is the largest in the region and he proudly showed us their very substantial Nakermal, and explained the various ways that peace is maintained in the area. The Nakermal has an altar-like stone area, and if you are standing on the stones no one is allowed to harm you. A bit like 'home' in a game of tag! Predictably, it is normally only men that can stand on it. Women occasionally can, but only if they are in real danger of being killed. He also told us how disputes are settled. If you have wronged someone, or are wronged, you can either go to the 'white man's court' or you can settle your differences the custom way by the giving and receiving of woven mats. (These, and bags like the one I was given, are a Pentecost speciality) It was fascinating, especially as Zoe, our passenger, speaks and understands Bislama very well indeed so could translate in detail what he was telling us. We were once again struck by the importance given to the maintenance of peace, and also by how disempowered women are.

Zoe and Fabian stayed the night with us then left the following morning on a three day hike back to Waterfall bay. They did seem a little unclear of the route, or indeed whether there was a route, but I am sure they will somehow have got there!

We left too and crossed another rough little strait between Pentecost and Maewo, where we anchored in another bay with a waterfall. It was very pretty, and we were looking forward to another wonderful waterfall experience, but it had an uncomfortable feel, and we left as soon as we could the next day. It was an interesting encounter with the negative effects of tourism, and/or the power vacuum left when a chief dies. There has been a 'yacht club' there for some years, right in the midst of the village and run by Nelson the chief. He recently died and a distant relative has set up a western style bar (although minus any drinks!) in competition with the 'yacht ' club, now run by the chief's daughter. Inadvertently we took our dinghy to the landing stage of the new place, and it then became clear as we walked into the village that there was quite a lot of resentment and discord. Yachts are really their only visitors and there are really not enough of them to support one business, let alone two, and the new one has kind of bagged the most prominent spot by the waterfall. We were the only yacht there and we felt we'd accidentally put our foot in it by going to the new landing stage. It was awkward and difficult, and a shame, especially as by all accounts the number of visiting yachts is actually diminishing not increasing,

The island we are now on is called Espírito Santo and once we have re provisioned and topped up our phones we will carry on up its East coast. There are beautiful rivers with deep blue pools to swim in which sound quite magical. Our friends on Catnapp are about 40 miles up the coast and we plan to spend a few days with them. There are two events to celebrate. The 38th anniversary of Vanuatu's independence and Simon's 62nd birthday!

Village life

16 July 2013 | Ranvetlam bay
We have moved literally about 1/2 mile since my last post! We have had some really strong winds in the past few days and where we were seemed to have its own private microsystem of particularly vicious gusts funnelling through a gap in the hills! So we and 4 other yachts are now sheltering in the next bay along.. Winds still gusty and the forecast is for it to be very windy, wet and stormy for the next few days. (Smile on all of you in England, basking in beautiful sunshine!) The Vanuatu Met service this morning described the sea state in this area as 'phenomenally rough' Even allowing for the idiosyncrasies of south pacific English that doesn't sound nice! ... neither we nor any of the other yachts are going anywhere!

Luckily we were planning to stay here anyway for the festival which is happening on Thursday and Friday, and we are quite enjoying today just hunkering down with our books and iPads! There is a plan with the other boats for a BBQ on the beach tonight, but in the current drizzle that might not be much fun.

We have had an interesting few days. There is a track going along the coast and we have walked several miles in each direction, through delightfully picturesque villages and gardens. Small houses, often on stilts made of woven palm leaves and bamboo and sometimes painted in beautiful geometric designs. They have separate outside kitchens with open wood fires, so there is a lovely smell of wood smoke hanging in the air. Paths are beautifully swept, edged with beds of flowers or small hedges. Lots of chickens and dogs and pigs and small children, and occasionally a tethered horse or a cow. Everyone we pass greets us warmly and asks where we are going. We have learnt to be non committal. People are so determined to be hospitable and helpful that they are likely to offer to escort you, and will go hugely out of their way to do so. The other day in Port Vila we asked a young woman for directions to a hardware store and in spite of our protests she spent her entire lunch hour trailing round with us looking for it!

Yesterday we spent in the village by where we are anchored. I went to visit the primary school to give them some exercise books and crayons, and dauntingly found myself in front of class 1 being asked by their teacher to tell them about England and what work I did. Alexander Technique is not the easiest thing to explain at the best of times, but somehow it seemed to be ok and it was very sweet to see twenty or so 5-7 yr olds enthusiastically feeling for their sitting bones and mimicking how hunched over their grandmothers had become! Simon in the meantime went to help a man whose solar panel didn't seem to be charging his battery. Word spreads fast and by lunchtime he was Mr Popular, and he and his multimeter had a series of assignations with all sorts of battery and charging systems which weren't working properly. (Lucky he had all that experience of charging systems in Whangerai before we left!) There is no electricity in the village. A few people have generators, but solar panels are the latest thing and people seem to have expectations way exceeding what they can deliver. One guy asked Simon what was wrong with his because it wasn't working at night!

It really is raining quite hard now but apparently the BBQ is happening nonetheless. Very British.. (Yet we are the only Brits!) I'd better go and dig out our oilies!

Black sand, volcanos and magic

12 July 2013 | Ranon Bay Ambrym
We are now 30 or so miles north of Epi, anchored off a busy little village at the northern end of Ambrym, an island with black sand, two live volcanos and a reputation for magic and mystery. There is a big festival happening here in a few days which we thought we'd hang around for, so we have a couple of gentle days ahead of us exploring inland on foot, watching village life and keeping an eye on those two volcanos from a nice safe distance!

We had another lovely sail a few days ago from Lamen Bay to Ambrym in the company of Catnapp and spent a night together anchored off a very remote beach with a hot freshwater lagoon fed by a hot river... Hot is not exactly what we needed, but a mineral rich, freshwater wash was a real treat, and it was rather exotic and beautiful, tho a bit creepy too... We were glad we weren't the only boat there. It was the first time we have been somewhere where there are no people. The land behind the beach was very steep and heavily vegetated and we thought perhaps just too inhospitable for people to live there, but we have since learnt that there was a village which was completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Lots of people died and no one has ever gone back there to live. No wonder we thought it was a bit creepy.

We have now parted company for the time being with Catnapp, who have gone to another island to get on with their conservation work. Where we are now is only about six miles further up the coast, but has a completely different feel about it. A vibrant, friendly community, some nice walking tracks, and even the possibility of topping up my Digicel credit, which I have galloped through far too quickly.

There was a big village wedding yesterday which was fascinating... We arrived as it got to its closing stages during which the bride price is divided.. Not sure at all by or for whom, but there were huge piles of yams, manioc, bananas, dead pigs and cattle carcasses and what seemed almost like an auction which ended with everyone going home laden with different bits of animal and armfuls of produce. It was quite a sight. Some of the guests had come from Pentecost and they camped last night on the beach (with their piles of booty) just by where we are anchored and were collected this morning by a small island hopping ship. The thought of all that meat just sitting out in the open covered in flies all night, then in the heat all day is pretty unappealing - especially to a vegetarian!

We spent ages on the beach this morning. Just sitting watching the wedding guests leave and another inter island boat arrive laden with supplies..All sorts of packages manhandled up the beach including piping, hardboard and a huge water tank, and then an equal number of packages manhandled down the beach... Goodness knows what, but one thing that walked on was a huge pig! We talked to a lady who told us that a pig like that would be sold for 50,000 vatu.. About £350.. I felt quite relieved.. i've been worrying about how they manage the school fees!

Eventually the beach activity died down and we sauntered along the track leading out of the village along the waterfront, enjoying the picturesque palm and thatch buildings and the feel of life just quietly going on in a gentle and un-pressured way. We were vaguely heading in the direction of Fenla where the festival is, and soon we were escorted by a man who was on his way back there and would show us the way. Fenla we discover is a 'custom' village, where tradition is particularly important and it is Tabo (forbidden) for visitors to wander freely. So, after a steep climb up a path we would never have found without him, our escort delivered us safely into the hands of John, the village 'tour guide'. John gently explained that we couldn't go to the village without him by our side, and that we would need to give him 1000 vatu for his services. We readily agreed to this and it was worth every penny to hear all about the structure of village life, and to look round knowing that we were not intruding or unwelcome.

Fenla is a little way inland, hidden away in the bush on the top of a hill. About 100 people live there, in extended family groupings. The land is owned by them all and shared out between the families. When a son marries, he builds his home in the family compound. They have a custom chief, and nowadays a community chief. The latter is elected and is responsible for anything that central government might be involved with. We thought he sounded a bit like the village policeman. The custom chief is an inherited position, passed from father to son and his realm of influence is more concerned with maintaining the status quo (handy if you happen to be chief!) and apparently one of his main means of doing this is by magic. John told us how one family has lost all the menfolk of the senior generation. He didn't tell us what they had done to deserve this fate, but inferred that their demise was the doing of the chiefs magic. Clearly he is not someone to be messed with! Apparently we will be told more, and even given a demonstration when we go next week to the festival. We will most definitely be on our best behaviour!

Ambrym has a strong tradition of wood carving and we were shown elaborately carved masks and totems which I guess traditionally played a part in their custom rituals, but nowadays they would like to sell to the likes of us. They were beautifully carved, but not really our cup of tea, so it was slightly awkward. Fortunately they are quite big and we could plead the smallness of our boat. We did however agree to trade a small bamboo flute made by John's wife for a pair of flip flops. John's daughter got hit on the head by a coconut when she was 6 (I wonder if that was the chiefs doing too) and has lost the sight of an eye and an arm. It was sad. She is 14 now and he said she used to be beautiful, but now she isn't. We didn't agree, but we wondered what her future prospects were in her damaged state. We said we would include a t shirt for her in the bamboo flute trade.. I will find the best one I have.

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