Planning in port Vila
03 July 2013 | Port Vila - Nambawan cafe
Goodness, we have been here more than a week and the days have slipped by without me really being able to say where they have gone.. We are definitely operating on 'island time' .. Everything that needs to happen happens, just quite slowly and without too much hassle. It's great. I like it... In many respects the way things work here is remarkably efficient, just not quick, or pressured, or hi tech. The bus system for example is wonderful.. It doesn't seem to exist in any formal sense at all.. Certainly no timetables or schedule, or even routes that we can determine.. Just a huge number of minivans of all sorts...The only way you know they are a bus is that they have a B at the beginning of their number plate. Wherever you are you seem just to have to look vaguely as though you might want a bus and one stops beside you, and for a standard rate of 150 vatu (about £1) takes you where you want to go. Other passengers get on and off, and the bus might wait while someone nips into a shop or collects something and everyone takes part in the discussions about the merits of going this way or that. If by any chance you find yourself without a bus to hand you just have to go into the nearest shop or cafe, and they talk to someone, who talks to someone and before you can say Jack Robinson (me sounding more and more like my mother every day!) along one comes. Amazing!
Port Vila is a nice easy place to be. We are beginning to feel quite at home here. It's the capital city and centre of national government, but you wouldn't know it.. Its delightfully scruffy. Government buildings intermingle along the main street with all the business of the market, the harbour and everyday life. It is definitely the only place to buy anything or get anything done, and you can buy most things, but no one seems particularly stressed or busy, and absolutely everyone has time to stop and say hello. It feels more as though people are playing than working which is really nice. No problem at all getting the checkout girls to smile here Kate!
We have actually spent the past week deliberating and negotiating, and have now made a quite radical decision and change of plan. We have signed an agreement with a charity called OceansWatch which gives them the use of Anna Rose when we return to England in September. So, rather then sailing south to New Caledonia then back to Australia, we are now heading on North!
OceansWatch is a small charity made up of professional yacht skippers and owners, and volunteer marine biology, ecosystems management and international development grads and post grads. They work here in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and elsewhere, helping local people to protect and conserve the reefs and fish stocks on which their communities depend, and to develop sustainable practices which will help them survive the challenges posed by global warming, overfishing, and the weakening of their traditional village chief system. This, in the past provided an authority which was respected and obeyed by everyone, but an increase in democracy and other external influences has led to quite a lot of social change. In the past a good chief would be able, for example, to call for catches to be limited if fish stocks were threatened, and this would be effective, but nowadays, not only does he not have that unquestioning authority, but also there are outside factors beyond his, or anyone's control.
We really like the philosophy of the organisation.. they are very small scale with no big govt. or NGO funding or tie ins, and they only work where they have been invited in by representatives of the local community. They see themselves as facilitators and enablers, helping communities find and effect the solutions which work for them, rather than impose ideas and solutions from the outside. Yachts, being fairly low impact and self sufficient are a perfect vehicle. Volunteers can live and work in these remote and vulnerable places, without putting further pressure on already struggling communities, and their very limited resources.
As we see it, its helpful for the communities, great field experience for the grads and post grads, hopefully good in terms of safeguarding fragile and threatened ecosystems, and it is actually a very good arrangement for us too! Broadly speaking they will have the use of the boat during the months they can work in the pacific (ie mid April to mid December) and will maintain her and meet her running costs, while we retain ownership and will be able to use of her during the antipodean summer months (which is the pacific cyclone season, when they wouldn't be able to be here anyway). Very neat for all of us. Big doses of trust, goodwill, enthusiasm and idealism all round, but we like the people involved and are also all pragmatic. We know it wont be risk or problem free. We are happy with that tho. It feels really good to be involved with something we believe in, and to put our investment in Anna Rose to good use, and indeed to have the possibility of doing more with her ourselves at some point in the future.
So, our plan now is to leave here in a day or so, spend a month cruising slowly through the rest of Vanuatu, and then sail 250 or so miles further north, to the southernmost part of the Solomon Islands, where OceansWatch will already have a boat and a team working. We will spend a month or so with them on a remote Reef Island called Fenualoa, before sailing on to the capital Honiara and handing the boat over to them there at the beginning of Sept. (we can get flights back to Australia from there). Hopefully we will be able to involve ourselves in some meaningful way in the work they are doing in Fenualoa , but at the very least we will be keen observers, and will come away with a clear idea of what our boat is being used for! We do see this as something we would like to have an ongoing involvement with tho, and an added plus for us is that the organisation has strong links with Devon and Schumacher college in particular.
I have been sitting in cockpit writing this for a while and a fresh fruit juice in the Nambawan (1st lesson in bislama ..say it exactly as the syllables sound!) cafe seems like a good idea. (You can get Nambawan beer, and Nambawan loo paper as well!) Nambawan cafe also happens to have the best free wifi in town, and free moonlight film showings several times a week. Its a good discovery. Perhaps we wont leave for another few days!
We are actually feeling a bit lazy today. I know I always seem to be complaining about the weather (well, I am English, so merely living up to my reputation!) but is baking hot and very humid, and we have a mañana-ish feel about the various jobs we have to do before we leave.. These include filling up with fuel and water... Last chance for the next 8 weeks! Luckily we have big tanks for both. We must also stock up on food.. Apparently there really is very little of anything in the Reef islands. They are very remote and also can't grow much as their topsoils are very thin due to a tsunami washing most of it away. Unlike the islands in Vanuatu we have visited which are veritable gardens of Eden in terms of fruit and veg, apparently there really isn't enough food for communities to feed themselves, let alone us as well.
Both of us are in truth perhaps a bit homesick.. Missing friends and family, and aware that as soon as we leave here our internet connections will be very hit and miss, especially as we go further north, so perhaps that is why we are dragging our heels about leaving. On the other hand what we are about to embark on will be fascinating. The trip up north will take us to more and more remote islands. Each with distinctive customs and traditions, and dramatic and beautiful landscapes. When we were at the Meskalyne islands we could look across to the island of Ambrym, home of two volcanos, glowing in the dark. Ambrym is one of the islands we will visit, but given the brightness of the glow from 25 miles away, and their reputation as volatile, I think we'll be giving the rims of those two a miss!
More than anything tho are the lovely friendly people. Vanuatu certainly deserves its reputation as a place full of warmth and laughter. Even here every encounter really is a pleasure, but in the rural areas people are welcoming, interesting, generous and fun, and it feels like a real privilege to be able to be amongst them and to visit their communities in the way that we are. And now we have the OceansWatch lot, one boat is going straight to the Solomon's but the other will be travelling more slowly through Vanuatu and our paths will undoubtedly cross. We have spent quite a bit of time with them all these past few days and, in the way of travellers away from home and their loved ones, we have become quite fond of everyone. We will be pleased to see them again. They haven't left today either.. We all seem to be gripped by the same lethargy.