Friday, November 28, 2014

The Maskelyne Islands: Part 1

The most peaceful anchorage EVER!
After leaving Lamen Bay off Epi, we sailed the twenty some miles west to a group of islands known as the Maskelyne Islands. There are several smaller islands surrounded by reefs that make up this group. It is a lovely and peaceful area. The ni-Vans use dugouts with outriggers so there are no motor wakes except those made by yachties.

Upon dropping our anchor, the locals came to welcome us. Several families were heading home from their gardens and had children with them. There had been no school today due a teacher's conference. The fathers had the harvest and the children in one large outrigger canoe and the mothers were in their own smaller dugout. Definitely a "two car family."

Returning home from the garden.
But that is where any hint of affluence ends! The people in this area are isolated and have no stores to service them. There is no real use of currency as there is nothing to buy here. They do need money to make purchases from the supply ship if they don't have fish or goods to trade for things they need. It is a difficult thing: do you encourage them to keep living as they have done for hundreds of years or do you help them acquire some of the conveniences of the modern world. This is a discussion among yachties during happy hours.

Looks like a successful day of fishing! They start young.
They live off the land and sea and without electricity, running fresh water and cook over open fires. They fish on the reefs, but their dugouts cannot go out into the ocean for bigger fish so they greatly appreciate it when a yacht has ocean fish to spare. They mainly live on fruits and vegetables from their gardens, an occasional chicken or pork meal when they slaughter one of theirs.

One little piglet that may be a pet instead of dinner one day!
She was looking for a writing tablet so we gave here a
notebook and some pencils. Can't resist that smile!
They come to the boat with produce and fish to offer as gifts - which really means trade, as one should give a gift in return. They offered pumpkin (winter squash), papaya, coconuts, and bananas to us. I am sure if we requested something else, they would bring it the next day. In exchange, we gave them canned meats, powdered milk, rice, flour, pencils, paper note pads and of course, lollipops. This is against my better judgment as a former dental hygienist, but the children's eyes light up when they see the candy. And it does bring a little joy!

(I know, it is not good for them either!)

Doing the laundry - the hard way!
These kids are amazing! They move around
the dugouts with such grace and balance.
The clothes they wear are second hand and are more like rags than clothes. Yet they are grateful to have whatever they can get. Dennis noted that one of the fathers was not wearing a shirt and the children were in tattered clothes, so he went below and brought up a nice T-shirt for the man. I was wishing we had more to give away. We will be bringing back more next year.

Another fisherman demonstrating the use of a slingshot type
 of device they use to shoot fish instead of a hook and line.
One man was looking for sail cloth to make a sail for his dugout. Another needed line so we offered some that we use, but figure we can replace in New Zealand. Fishing hooks were also requested as they catch fish to trade for supplies when a ship stops infrequently, plus fish for dinner. Another man with two little girls in his canoe was looking for a book bag for his daughter to carry to school in the canoe. She is now toting her books in a lovely black and white canvas LancĂ´me bag!

Grinding the pepper plant root to make Kava. Their Kava
is much stronger than other islands. I think it is because
they use the fresh root and others let it dry first.
We were approached by Vincent and two others inviting us to the village on Avokh for their Kastom (Custom) Dancing and Village Tour with the Chief plus food tasting. There is a $3,500 Vatu per person fee which is $35 USD. We were never able to get an answer to our question of who gets the money. Between the four of us, they took in $14,000 Vatu. Hopefully the village as a whole benefits and not just the chief.

Karina with the blonde hair!
There are about 300 residents living in three clans within the larger village. There were three different "neighborhoods", essentially. But all of them are related through many years of bloodlines. Each clan has a chief, but Chief Kaiser is the head chief and he gave us the tour. Vincent was along for the tour and helping with the communication in English. He had been educated out of the village, but had returned after marriage. We met one of his daughters who has blond hair! Sort of! She was shy and a real cutie.

There is a special area where the dance is done and others
are not allowed in that part of the forest unless they have
attained a certain status - or are paying visitors!
Here in the larger island of Malekula, there are two different kastom dance groups. The ni-Vans in the north are called Big Nambas. The ones in the central and south are known as the Smol (Small) Nambas. The men must earn the right to dance by passing through several "grades" of status. These are not classroom grades, but rather levels of achievement of manliness. The big and small terms refer to the size of the penis sheath made of plant leaves worn during the dancing. It directly relates to the type and amount of plant material used to cover the penis, not the size of the covered object! Oh, to be so free!

It appears that only certain men can dance the traditional
bird dance. They called theirs the Hawk Dance.
Our guide, Vincent, was not even allowed to see the dance since he has not yet reached the appropriate grade. It is interesting that I was allowed - even encouraged - to take photos, and yet many people in the village have never seen the dance. There is definitely a hierarchy here among the males.

And women are very low in status. At least they have stopped knocking our the wife's front teeth. They used to do this to show that she was taken! More on them in the next blog.

Nambas and body paint with ankle bracelets did not leave
much to the imagination. Check out the muscle definition!
The dancers only wore the Nambas and ankle bracelets made of dried nuts that make noise as they dance. And some body paint - as in traditional designs in tan mud on chocolate colored skin. These dancers were physically fit. There was not an ounce of fat on their well defined muscular bodies. Even though they were basically undressed, it was not a distraction as the dance ceremony is taken very seriously and is held in esteem. Like all of the other dances we have seen throughout the islands, they had their version of the bird dance. This performance was the most closely aligned to the ancient ways as we have seen so far.

The Chief wanted Joyce and I to have a photo taken
with the dancers. Since not everyone can see it, I am
not sure why it is okay to have photos!
Someone asked why we all have on so many clothes when the natives are naked. It is a malaria area and the mosquitoes love me so I am covered up, wearing repellent sprayed clothing and taking medication! Therefore, not taking any chances as I don't want malaria!

Dennis downing a coconut shell of Kava.
After the dance ceremony and tour, we returned to the landing area and the community gathering structure for a tasting of their traditional food and kava. The kava in Vanuatu is said to be much stronger than on the other islands. I don't care for it so took a pass, but Dennis, John and Joyce can vouch for the difference in strength and effect. It was a quiet evening on the boats after the kava!

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Lovely Village on Lamen Island

The village is very well laid out. Individual
homes looked like small compounds with
several structures in their yard area.
We booked a tour to the village on Lamen Island as we had been told it was a very nice village. Several hundred people live there. We found the community to be well laid out and very clean and tidy. Obviously, the villagers take great pride in their village.

Our guide took us to the traditional building
where ceremonies and village meetings are
 held. It is built out of timber, bamboo and
leaves all lashed together. The floor is sand.
Traditional building materials are used with a few
more modern corrugated metal structures mixed in.
It almost looked as if there had been a city planner involved, but the village has been here for a long time so that is not the case. The structures were traditional, built of wood and leaves. There were a few corrugated metal buildings. Each yard appeared to have several structures in it. There was a wonderful old stone-lined path through the entire village. Our guide, Kenneth, said it had been there for hundreds of years.
An primary class in session.

The village has a nursery school, Kindy and Primary schools for the children. The older ones go by boat to the mainland of Epi to the high school we had seen the day before. The kids on Lamen Island do not board on Epi as it is a short ride across. It appears that they travel with the men going to the gardens.

We did not want to interrupt the Primary class meeting outside by the shore so we just observed them from a distance. That, of course, was enough to distract them from their lesson!

The Kindy class of students. They sang Twinkle, Twinkle
Little Star in Bislama.

We met one of the two Peace Corp volunteers who are there teaching English to the young ones.  They have a two year commitment to the program and are halfway though it. They did not know where Vanuatu was until they got the assignment. Other than the threat of malaria, they think they have a great assignment. Actually, compared to a lot of places in the world, I think they are right. Vanuatu is a lovely place with good weather - until cyclone season!

Along with Joyce and John on S/V Starblazer, we met the
Peace Corp Volunteer who is teaching English to children
The entire village was very nice. There was no junk piled around and it looked like they use everything to the fullest. Then it is returned to the land and sea in some way.

We were very impressed with the lumber the men had cut from trees with a chair saw! The wood was like an 8-10 foot 2 x 4 board and straight. Amazing skill to do that!

This reef is relatively healthy. The Chief has banned reef
fishing for the time being so the fish can restock themselves.

There is a Presbyterian Church on the island. There
had been Presbyterian missionaries on the island
for years. Now there is a pastor who serves
the  two churches in the village.

Our snorkeling turned out to be disappointing. Part of the problem was the rough water which made it cloudy and difficult to hold a position to explore. The other issue was that the reef was not that well stocked with sea life. In fact, the village chief had declared that there be no more reef fishing so the fish population could increase. So those who only have a dugout canoe for a boat will go without seafood for a while.

I did see a Parrot fish, a lot of sea cucumbers (ick!) and sea snake tracks in the sand. I was glad not ot see the snake itself! Two of the highlights were some electric blue and neon yellow fish. Since I don't have a fish identification book, I don't know what they were, but they were very pretty. There were also some very large fish in a school just hovering around.

The coral seemed very healthy here and we saw types we had not seen before. With the roughness of the waves, I did not want to swim across the coral. Having been cut by coral back in French Polynesia, I remember how the flies attack the sore and how long - as in weeks- it took to heal. We have net too many cruisers with infections from various sources. Sea water and open wounds are not a good combination. You would think the saline solution of the ocean would be good for washing out a cut, but it is filled with little critters you don't want!

Here is the biggest fish of all!

I didn't like Sea Cucumber when I was in China. I like it
even less now. They are ugly and just seem to sit on the
bottom. You can see the trail its minimal movement leaves.
I had not seen this type of coral before now.

Not sure what this is. Another type of Sea Cucumber?
I don't really want to know!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Exploring Epi and A Small World

We anchored here for a night before moving further into
Havannah Harbor. It was a little rolly from the swells.
Now it is time to leave the lovely town of Port Vila (we will be back later to explore it) and head out to the outer islands. We will focus on the islands in the north central region of Vanuatu as we will be visiting Tanna with the World ARC next year. We are fortunate to have more time to explore the rest of this island group.
We spent two days in lovely Havannah Harbor on the northwest
site of Efate on our way up the island chain. Very peaceful!
We have been sailing with Joyce and John on S/V Starblazer, a Hallberg-Rassy 42. We look like big sister and little sister sailing along and at anchorages. We timed our departure from Port Vila to reach a section of rough water at Devil's Point during slack tide for a more comfortable and shorter trip. We headed up the west side of Efate with a goal of making a southern anchorage in Havannah Harbor before sunset and the threatening rain. Mission accomplished!

Little ones playing on the beach - totally unattended. And
you should see the machetes the kids carry and use!
The rainy night made for good reading time. Dennis is refreshing his German language skills so he spends a lot of time with a headset on and the computer. Some nights we play a card game known as Hand and Foot. I am lucky when I can win - usually because he makes a mistake or isn't really engaged in the game! Sometimes I think he plays just to appease me. We learned this game and played regularlay  with our friends from Michigan/Arizona/SV Revello. (We do miss you, D and B.) Usually it was the guys against the gals and it was a battle for victory!
The village on Lamen Bay, Epi, Vanuatu
With the threat of high winds and more rain, we moved up further into Havannah Harbor, which is a very peaceful and lovely anchorage. Just before weighing anchor, we heard a voice calling "Trillium" and found a New Zealand fisherman wanting to give us several kilos of MahiMahi. He is a commercial fisherman, but loves to watch his wife have fun catching fish when vacationing so they share with the villages and other cruisers. It was cleaned, skinned and filleted! What more could you want!
The beach near the airstrip on Epi at Lamen Bay. Good
snorkeling off the end of the runway (grass strip!).

After sitting out the rain in Havannah Harbor, Efate, we headed to the island of Epi and Lamen Bay. We were told there were many sea turtles and a dugong (sea cow) living here. And that you can swim with them! Why not? We were greeted by turtles upon arrival in the bay, but didn't see any others and did not get to swim with them or the dugong.
Typical village structures
Local mode of transportation. I can't believe how many people
they load into a single canoe. Good that they have outriggers!

We went ashore to explore the village on Epi. After asking permission to walk around, we saw villagers working on projects, returning from their gardens with produce and children playing on the beach. The older children were in school. There is a boarding school for the high schoolers who come from other islands. Chickens and pigs roam freely around the houses.

Tasso runs the Paradise Sunset Bungalow
resort and arranged a trip to Lamen Island
for a village tour and snorkeling for us.
We chatted with some men from Lamen Island who have come over to their garden plots on the big island. They do this each day and return with the day's harvest - and that's what they have for dinner! Some come in dugout canoes and others have motored skiffs and charge passengers for the ride across the bay. We failed to ask if we could buy any produce from them. And they did not seem to offer or look for a trade of any type.  Apparently, one of the gardens has yielded over 2000 kilos of watermelon which are sent to the markets in Port Vila. Not only does that sound like a lot of work, think of hand carrying these melons down from the garden to the shore just to get them started off to market.

School girls - a little shy, but cheerful!

Harvesting breadfruit from the tree.
It seemed to be a community event!
They poke at the fruitwith a bamboo
 pole and it comes crashing down!
We enjoyed watching one of the men "harvest" breadfruit from a tree in the village. Using a long bamboo pole, he jabbed at the fruit until it broke loose from the tree and dropped to the ground with a "thug" sounding like a bruiser to me. I guess that is how you do it when there is no ladder or cherry-picker available.!

We did make arrangements to take a skiff across the bay for a village tour and snorkeling on Lamen Island. On the way back to the boat, we met several others on yachts. It was decided that sundowners would be at 5:00 on S/V Starblazer.

Then once back in the boat another yacht crew dinghied up and wanted to chat with Americans. They were from Washington State. I told them that Brad and Linda, the couple on S/V Lark, were from Port Townsend, WA so Robin and Mark went over to see them. As it turned out, they knew each other as they lived close. AND, just to show how small the world really is, Linda had done a landscape plan for one of the cottages at Pointe aux Barques, MI! Now with only 18 residents and a total of 68 houses, how could it be that we knew the same people! It's a small world after all! (Now don't start singing!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Exploring Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

Such a lively and colorful place!
We have found Port Vila to be a great place! Often the port towns are disappointing, so we were pleasantly surprised by the sophistication of this one. It has its traditional food and handicraft markets, but it also has a number of stores and attractions. One of my favorite areas is the handicraft market where the women will sew something for you right on the spot. There is a women's cooperative handicraft market in a building as well as this one near the waterfront. They do not push their wares or make you feel uncomfortable to just look.

I love these handmade baskets!
My second most favorite stop is always at the food market. It is also lively and colorful. This one is especially crowded as it has a food court area as well. The aisle are filled with baskets of produce, stacks of pumpkins, rows of watermelon. I nearly made a scene when my foot got tangled in a rope and started to fall with my arms loaded with bags of goodies. I now scout out safer places to weave though the stalls.

It is mostly women working in the market here. They are
wearing the traditional "Mother Hubbard" dresses.

One thing about this place is the French influence. That is, how wonderful is the French patisserie! It required a stop for break - and a treat. There are several Chinese restaurants. One in particular is very good: Golden Port. It is on the hill above the mooring field. We went there twice: once with the Germans and once with the Brits!

He couldn't even wait for the cappuccino
 to arrive at the table!
There are many talented artists selling their work in
cooperatives and stores.

Wood carving is a popular art form, but it needs to be
certified if you want to enter other countries with it.
We spent a day hiking through the lower and upper levels of Port Vila. The shops are down near the waterfront and the Parliament, schools and museum are all up on top of the hill. It is a bit of a winding climb up there and it was a hot sunny day. Even though I complained about the walk, the museum was very interesting. So I was glad I did it. Although, you can take a taxi up and walk down.

A view of the harbor from the hilltop.