Saturday, 29 September 2012

Wala Island guest house

OK, so as described in the last blog post we had a great time on Wala island. It's located just north of Port Stanley. George, the village chief's nephew, has build a guest house and he welcomes visitors. We can wholeheartedly recommend a visit and we can guarantee it would be a very unique and different experience. You would experience real Vanuatu village life.

The guest house is right in the village which sits right on the beach. The beach too is lovely, beautiful sand and very clear water and we found the snorkeling just off the coast great. Everyone in the village are super friendly and were very interested to learn where we were from. George's wife cooked us a lovely meal and I'm sure she look well after visitors. We had a tour of the island and saw these ancient sites that were used for pig killing ceremonies. Big stones are arranged into tables and there were so many of them, very impressive. Wala also has custom dancing and we have hear it's the best place in Vanuatu to see it. We were there at the end of September which is dry season, so they didn't have any mosquitos which is always a bonus.

So, how to you get there? You fly into Port Vila, then fly to Norsup, the main town in Malekula and from there George will come pick you up. Easy peacy. George's contact details are:

George Enson
Wala Island
Cell phone is: +61 5626527

Either write him a letter or simply give him a call to get more info. You may be able to google more info, but it definitely won't be well publicised! Phil and I hope one day to be able to go back and visit Wala Island and George.

Meeting the lovely people of Malekula

We left Maskelyne islands and sailed up the east coast of Malekula. Our next stop was Banam Bay just north of Port Sandwich. It was quite a nice place, big sheltered bay, which is nice because it means we can anchor far away from the shore and be further away from flying bugs and have more privacy.

We happened to arrive late Friday afternoon, so it meant the kids didn't have school on the Saturday and came out in their canoes to fish and check us out. We first spoke with two kids in one canoe and later more boys arrived. We invited them onboard for popcorn, an offer they more than happily accepted. Two more arrived with some fish and I made another pot of popcorn, as there were now 10 boys onboard. They chopped up a couple of the small reef fish, head, tail and all, and gave to me to fry up and that was just a quickly devoured as the popcorn. Some of the boys went ashore and got us a couple of coconuts to drink while others stayed onboard and had fun playing with the binouculars and checking out Sophia. She did need several buckets of sea water after the visit to clean up popcorn and fish bits!

Later in the afternoon Phil and I went ashore to have a look around and find the shop. Some girls showed us the way, which was great, because there was no way we would have found it ourselves. Shop is generous word for a tiny hut with a few cans  and not much else, but we got some more 2-min noodles and met some nice people on the way. On the way back the girls giggled and asked if they could also come and visit Sophia, they must have heard from the boys about their visit, despite the fact that it was quite a big village. Sure, no problem, we arranged they would come the next day after church and lunch.

Sunday morning we had a good snorkel on the reef where we saw lots of Nemos, a black-tipped reef shark and some pretty big groupers. I baked a cake and we started waiting for our visitors. At 4.45 we had almost given up and were about to eat the cake ourselves, but they finally turned up. Three girls were escorted by one boys and two young men, so it wasn't the all girl visit I had hoped for, but it was OK. The girls had fun playing with my hair and were just as interested to see Sophia as the boys had been. They were all very polite, dressed in their Sunday best and we weren't at all worried about them nicking anything. The best part was when we asked them to sing for us. They sang beautifully, mainly hymns in bislama and songs about Jesus providing vegetables for us.

Next stop was Port Stanley. We first went to Norsup, Malekula's main village. It was different to the other villages we have seen because the houses were actually concrete and corrugated iron and not just wood, wowen and tatch. The people were still just as friendly, everyone says hello, smiles and waves. The anchorage was pretty rolly though, so we went further into Port Stanley to Sauro to stay the night.

Our last stop on Malekula was by Wala Island, just north of Port Stanley. Our guide said it was one of the best places to see custom dance. However, we were the only ones there, so we didn't feel like asking them to put on a dance show for us alone. George, the chief's nephew, rowed out and welcomed us and pretty much immediately invited us to come have dinner with him and he'd also show us around the island. Imagine in New Zealand if people invited total stranger tourists into their homes for dinner. They are just such amazing friendly people here. First we had a great snorkel on the reef. Some cruise ships also stop here, like at Mystery Island where we cleared into Vanuatu, and there was the same kind of plastic floating dock and fancy toilet building! Anyway, George took us on a tour around the island and showed us these amazing clearings in the middle of the islands where many many big stones were arranged like tables. We didn't quite catch the whole story, but there was something about Pentecost (antoher island further east), either the people or the stones were from there or going there or something. The tables were used for pig killing ceremonies. We did understand it was unique and the only place in Vanuatu that has them. It was amazing how they would have gotten all these big stones lifted into the middle of the island and arranged like that. The whole place was thick with culture and traditions.

George's wife cooked us a lovely meal of yams in coconut milk, rice and tomatoe omelet. I had brought in chocolate muffins (again). George also had a visitor book we signed. He has built a little guest house, a proper concrete house with real windows and sometimes cruise ship visitors want to come back and stay and also sometimes cruisers. I'll write a seperate blog post with more info, including his contact details as it would be a truly unique experience to visit this beautiful island and be part of island village life.

We fixed a broken switch on a solar powered torch of George's, gave him some old rope, printed a few photos of his family I took, but in return were give a whole bunch of veggies and the lovely meal. They didn't want any money, but asked that we gave him a donation to pass onto the chief for the tour of the island, which we of course were more than happy to do. The whole village had just built a brand new church and had celebrated its opening. Every morning kids and adults row or boat over the mainland where there's a school and they have their gardens (veggie gardens that is). 

We're now in Luganville on Espirito Santo and enjoying things like ice creams and internet again. I have uploaded a truckload of photos on facebook, so check them out, this is hopefully a direct link: Facebook album: Vanuatu II

Friday, 21 September 2012

Attending village romance dispute and getting kava drunk

First a warning that this is a very long post, but we have had some really cool experiences with the locals and it requires a lot of explaining. If you're not into reading, just wait till we get on the internet and I'll upload photos that tell the stories with images.

Well, after we left Port Vila we first stayed two nights in Port Havannah, a very sheltered harbour on the north of Efate (where Port Vila is in the south). The most surprising thing there was a Raven 26! It didn't look like it was still in cruising mode, but it must have gotten here somehow, so now we know at least two Ravens that have made it to the islands :-) Great little boats.

We did go for a snorkel on a reef, but unfortunately it was mostly dead and there weren't many fish. We also met up with Sagata from Wellington, Phil once made them a main sail and they are friends of friends.

Next we sailed 55 miles further north to Epi, the next island in the chain. It has marked our first big change in temperature, besides obviously leaving NZ. Both in Tonga and in the southern islands in Vanuatu it has always been around 25 degrees inside Sophia at night when we go to bed, sometimes even a bit cooler. But now it's suddenly more like 28 degrees at night time and although it not a big change, it really does make a difference. We have also been using our fans during the day for the first time. I'm sure though it'll only get hotter and more humid from now on though.

We anchored in Revolieu Bay which is located in the middle of the west coast of Epi. It's quite a big and picturesque bay, which can get a little rolly, but not too bad. We intended only to stay one night and then move to Lamen Bay further north on Epi, but we ended up staying three nights because of the friendly and hospitable people ashore.

When we went ashore to ask the locals permission and advise on snorkeling the reef we met Jeffrey. He was one of many people that has just loaded copra (coconut) onto a barge. Anyway, we got talking and he invited us to come back and meet him later in the afternoon. I baked chocolate muffins in the meantime so we had something to bring along and Jeffrey met us again on the beach and we walked back to his houses. He's a chief for his part of the village which is quite spread out. He showed us a cave with lots of bats in it, little almost cute ones. He then took us on a tour through his land where we saw his cocoa trees (more valuable than coconut) and his garden which was very big and had all kinds of vegetables in it, for example three kinds of beans: regular 'small' beans, long skinny beans and fat and long snake beans (almost as thick as a cucumber and up to several times as long as a cucumber)! He picked a bunch of veggies for us. We then came along to the school on the school truck which had to detour into the bush and pick up firewood, literally driving right through the bush, you'd never think you could go through! The point of going to the school was to try kava, as there's a little kava bar by the school.

Kava is a kind of narcotic drink made of mashed up kava root. It's very common in the pacific islands and most people from NZ know what it is too. In a way it is much better than alcohol, because it makes people very relaxed and mellow, not aggressive and out-going. There's a downside to it too though, maybe people drink it too much and get too lethargic,I'm not sure, but Jeffrey apparently drank too much and hasn't had it for several months. Many describe kava as dirty dish water and it certainly doesn't look, smell or taste very good, but you just gotta drink it fast, most skull it. It has a peculiar taste, quite peppery, and it makes you lip and tongue a bit numb, but not for very long. The first night we tried it at the school we only had a quite small bowl each, not quite enough to feel it, but the next day (story follows), it was maybe stronger, and we also had a bit more and we definitely felt the effect. Phil liked the effect to alchohol, but I found it different, made me just want to sit and relax, and a bit wobbely on the feet and slowed down my brain, but it was actually an OK feeling, and I can see why people like it.

After first night of kava drinking, Jeffrey and Lydia (his wife) walked us back to the beach and they invited us to come back in the next day for a meal, and we also invited them to come out and see Sophia. The next morning I was busy making kringel (a Danish cake) for the visit on Soph and also falafel and cucumber/yogurt dressing to take in for the meal for them to try. Jeffrey and Lydia came directly from a village meeting but had kindly left it because of our visit. They had cooked a traditional meal, chicken, fish and veggies wrapped in leaves and cooked on hot rocks on a fire, similar to omu on Tonga. It gives the food a great taste and makes it very tender. One of their sons especially liked the falafel, said it tasted like meat. They are catholic and have 12 children, some of the oldest already moved away from home, but the youngest is about 5 years old.

After the meal they took us back to the meeting. They don't have police and courts, but disputes and problems are solved within the village and with the chiefs. They don't have any serious crimes, and they try and get problems solved early on. We didn't quite understand the full issue, but it was something about a couple having problems, the husband wanted to split from his wife because she had a boy friend (on another island). There must have been more to it, because a lot of people were involved and there was a lot of talking going on. About 35 people were sitting under a big tree, plus a bunch of kids and the usual dogs and chickens running around. The meeting must have started maybe at 10am, we got there about 1pm, and it went on for another hour or so. There was one main chief, also called chairman and maybe 6-7 other chiefs, among them Jeffery. Finally they went aside and took about 10 minutes to come up with a resolution which they announced and everyone seemed happy with it (basically making the couple stay together). An hour later (during which the principal of the school took us back there and showed us around), there was a ceremony where woven mats, 200 vatu (about NZ$ 2), kava roots and a pig was exchanged. This is where it was more confusing, because three mats were given by the husband who wanted to split to various other couples and several people gave each other coins and shook hands and made statements. Afterwards they even rang up the boy friend on a mobile phone on speaker phone and told him not to contact the women any more! I asked the principal if it wasn't kind of embarrassing for the couple with problems to have everyone involved and discussing it, but he didn't even understand my question at first and insisted it wasn't.

Everyone were super nice and wanted to come and meet us and hear where we're from. Lots of people have been in NZ picking fruit, mostly apples in Motueka, so of course it was funny that Phil grew up there. They insisted we stayed for the kava ceremony as well, now that we had been part of the meeting. By the way, the meeting was all in bislama, the local pidgin English, so we didn't understand much, just the odd words here and there. The pig was also killed, it had its feet tied, and the neck was simply cut with a knife. Then the long process of making kava began. First they gotta cut all the roots into pieces they can peel with a knife, then cut it all into small pieces. Kava roots are very twisted, so that along took a long time, but they also seemed to make a lot of it! Then it has to be mashed up, which was done manually by pounding the kava pieces with a rod in a pipe. Other places they use a machine, and traditionally it was chewed to ground it up. They were very proud of their kava process and didn't seem to mind the hard work. The roots were mashed up, then soaked in water and mashed up again, then soaked in water, many times. Finally they strained the water and it was ready. We were made to drink first. Phil and the principal of the school shared the first two cups, then the main chief and I shared the next two cups and so forth. The point of the kava was also to make people to put the dispute behind them and relax together. The pig was also being prepared at this point and I'm sure they all continued into the evening, but it was getting dark and we were still to go visit Sophia with Jeffrey and Lydia.

Luckily they arranged that the school truck drove us back to the beach, otherwise I know I would have struggled with the half hour walk right after drinking the kava! The school truck driver and two of their kids also came along. Phil and I aren't the first cruisers they have interacted with, they had a visitor book we signed and they visited yachts before. Jeffrey we gave a pair of sun glasses as his eyes had some sun damage and Lydia got a pair of my old glasses (long sighted), plus an old towel, some coffee and a comic book (in Danish, but you can still see pictures).

After three nights we were sad the leave the beautiful island and the lovely people, but there are many more islands to visit! We are now in Maskelyne islands, just to the south of Malekula island. We're at a beautiful anchorage by Awai island. And yes Sarah, the snorkeling here is great, the first good snorkeling we have experienced in Vanuatu so far. We have seen lots of clown fish, a huge napoleon (?) fish and even a turtle, plus the water is very clear. No dugong yet, but we're still hoping. Now though it's time to sail further north up the east coast of Malekula.

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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Enjoying city life in Port Vila

We have now spent almost a week in Port Vila. We didn't quite intend to stay this long, but the days have just passed by so quickly and there are so many things to do here.

We only stayed the first night on a mooring, then we moved to another area where you can anchor. We don't understand why so many people want to pay $14 a night on a mooring, when it's free to anchor. It's OK though, because it means we have a more room here at the anchorage and it's easy to find room to tie up dinghy onto the main water front wall. Max from the (yet another, they are everywhere) Christchurch boat 'Sunshine' even showed us the showers outside the toilet building near the dive place. There's no privacy, but late in the day or early evening there aren't many people around there, just a few ladies closing up their market stalls and they are used to us now and are very friendly. The water is cold, so Phil isn't as keen on it as I am. I'd rather have a cold shower than no shower.

We have had fun walking around town finding supermarkets. Supermakets here are actually real supermarkets (as opposed to Neiafu's 'supermarkets' which are basically diaries in NZ). We have been able to find almost everything we wanted so we're very pretty happy. Of course some (most really) things are more expensive, but that's to be expected. One French supermarket (Leader) has only French products and there are no English descriptions, so that was quite fun, since neither of us speak French. It had lots of good stuff though. We're pretty well stocked up now and should definitely last another while, of course along with all the NZ food we still carry.

When we left NZ we weren't sure we were going to go to Solomon, so we didn't buy a cruising guide, partly also because it's quite expensive ($107). We are heading to Solomon after Vanuatu, so we needed one, but they are not exactly selling things like that up here. Long story short ( was part of it), Phil ended up working one morning on Sea Hawk, a NZ yawl, (the slides needed new webbing) and in exchange, we got the cruising guide, as they aren't going to make it up there this season anyway. It was such a coincidence, but a lucky one, both for them and us.

We have also been to an outdoor 'museum', Secret Garden. It had a lot of Vanuatu kastom (maybe translated to folks?) stories about all kinds of Vanuatu things, as well as a few native animals such as fruit bats, birds, snakes and iguanas. The two latter we both got to hold, which was very interesting. Check out facebook for photos, as well as photos from Aneityum and Tanna (volcano!). One interesting fact we learned, which we have been wondering about as well, is why they drive on the right side here. Vanuatu got its independence from joint a French/English condominium in 1980, but back when they started having roads, they couldnt' agree on which side to drive on (so horse carts would almost collide). Typically French and English. When no agreement could be reached, it was decided that the next person that arrived on a ship and which ever side that person was driving on would be it. It happened to be a French priest, so right side it was and still is.

We are now sailing north to explore several more islands. We probably won't get internet until we get to Luganville on Santo, but we'll try and post a bit with the sat phone.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Cruising costs for Tonga

We have been keeping a close account of every penny we have spent, as it's a good way to find out where our money goes, and also to stop us over-spending. We do the accounting for our own sake, but we might as well share it, as we know there are several future cruisers back home, it might be able to give you an idea of cruising costs. Below is money we have spent cruising for July and August. It happens to be almost exactly the time we have been in Tonga, plus our passage to Vanuatu.

A few things to note: we are pretty frugal. We have eaten out for dinner only twice in those two months. Other eat out is the $3 fish burgers we got from the market and ice creams and the like. 'Drinks and food for internet' is mostly not money we would have spent on drink or food otherwise, but it's often the cheapest way to get on internet. We differ from most cruisers by our alcohol consumption. It's very low, as we just think it's too expensive, it was on Tonga anyway, getting closer to Asia should improve that situation. Sophia was also extremely well stocked coming directly from New Zealand. I did not keep a budget while in NZ, but I'd guestimate we have spent a few thousand on groceries alone in NZ to stock up Sophia with all the things that are either impossible or very expensive to find up here. Some of it should hopefully last for many more months to come, but it did lower our food budget while in Tonga.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Volcano and rain

Still no internet, so still just boring text and no pictures. And this is even a really long post as we have had some really neat experiences.

We made it to Port Resolution last Saturday (1st September), but we arrived in rain and it rained almost solidly for 3 days while we were cooped up on Sophia, passing the time watching Lord of the Rings and baking cakes. Yesterday it finally cleared up, and we have been up at the volcano. It was another most amazing and awe inspiring experience, right up there with swimming with whales in Ha'apai (equal in Phil's opinion, just below it in mine).

After an extremely bumpy drive there in a 4wd, we got to Mt Yasur half an hour or so before the sun was setting. Apparently the volcano's activity level was 2, which is perfect as it is the most active level before it's too dangerous. 5 is full on eruption, 0 is quiet. Another amazing (or crazy) thing is that there is no fence or anything. They built a bit of walkway up to the crater rim and there were a couple of Vanuatu guides (in plain clothes and bare feet) but that's it. We were viewing the volcano right on the rim and could look almost directly down into the volcano's red lava. There was a pretty constant smoke billowing up, but every few minutes it would make a big bang and rumble and lava rocks would be thrown up in the air, some even higher than our level and more smoke would come up. Luckily the strong SE wind blew the smoke away from us, but occasionally you could still smell it. I don't think it would be pleasant to visit it on a windless day!

After initially getting used to each of those 'small' eruptions, suddenly there was an ear-shattering loud bang and simultaneously a massive shock wave and it even felt a bit like an earthquake. It was actually just like explosions in action movies when people are thrown away from the explosion. OK, I don't think anyone fell over, but everyone were kind of pushed backwards, pretty crazy (and a bit scary). The guides even told us to move away from the viewing area that was closest to the rim and we all have to retreat to one that was a little bit further back, as it was too dangerous. That big explosion had thrown one particular big piece of lava rock up towards where we were, and it just kept burning (quite literally) for 10 minutes.

In the dark it got even cooler, because then you could very clearly see all the lava rock pieces as they all glow hot red against the black. It was very impressive and quite a humbling experience to feel the power of the earth and see how little and helpless we are. Total cliche, but it really was.

As soon as we arrived in Port Resolution, actually even before our anchor was down, a local in a dug-out canoe approached us (though he politely waited till anchor was set until he came over). Patrick wanted to see if we were interested in papayas. We were happy to get our first fresh fruit since Tonga. He promised to come back the next day with some kumeras (NZ word for sweet potatoes). The next day was when the rain was the very worst and didn't ease at any time, so it was another day before he came back. This time he brought along an old portable DVD player/screen which was broken. Phil took it apart, although he didn't find anything obviously wrong with it, it was working afterwards, so that was nice. We also fixed the broken zip and strap on his backpack.

The next day in the afternoon when the rain was only drizzling we finally went ashore for a walk. After passing the main village we suddenly found Patrick on the side of the road by another cluster of houses. He had just gotten some more kumera and was about to row out to us but could see our dinghy wasn't by Sophia and then we walked right by. He took us in to meet his three children (2, 5 and 8) and wife and then proceeded to show us his 'garden' which was several large sections with all kinds of crops growing on them. Back by the houses his wife gave us a big slice of some interesting looking (grey!) cake to taste. It was made of tapioca, coconut and other things we didn't understand what was. It was unusual and I won't be trying to copy it, but it was very nice of them to give us some.

The most interesting part was seeing how they lived. There was a whole bunch of small thatched little huts/houses and he said it was all his family living there, obviously a big and extended family. There's no electricity and only a few water (cold obviously) taps were sticking up from the ground, one to maybe 20-30 huts. Patrick pointed to one hut which was their bedroom and another hut which was their kitchen. We had a look inside the kitchen hut. It was maybe 3 by 4 meters big and most of it was made up of a raised bed/floor, in the corner was a fire (on dirt floor) and the other corner held a small table. No shelves, cupboards, chairs or anything. They literally place the pots on the fire, on the floor. Water would have to be carried in containers back from the tap. Sure is a very basic and simple life. The DVD player would have to be charged by someone else who has a generator, but it's definitively was a luxury item. But it was all quite neat and tidy and they had planted flowers around the place.

We left with kumera, basil, spring onion, coconut, arrowroot (it was new to them too, so they didn't' know how to cook it either, just said boil it, we'll have to google it when we get to Port Vila), capsicum, ocra (I think it called, not sure) and I'm sure I'm forgetting something .Oh yes, the DVD player so we could charge it for him. We paid him for the veggies and invited his family to come out to Sophia the next day if they were interested. Only Patrick and one son came, something about the wife having a headache, who knows, she was probably just busy cooking and child minding. We had one empty DVD disk which we copied a movie onto for him which he was very happy for.

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