Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas in Palau

As you might have guessed from the title, we did make it to Palau yesterday, 24 December in the morning, yeah, it was a happy xmas on Sophia after all :-) 9 days in total for 830 miles, although in reality we did sail quite a bit longer than that. Phew, I'd say has probably been our worst (rough and rolly wise) passage, although a close second to the previous one from Kavieng to Hermit Islands, but at least that one was shorter.

We called up the harbour on the vhf to announce our arrival and request permission to tie up to the main dock, which we had read is what's expected of yachts arriving. The person that replied was sooooo hard to understand, basically impossible. The only thing I kept picking up was something yacht club. We though they wanted us to go to the yacht club instead, which we were really keen to do as well, because there it was blowing pretty hard right onto the wharf and we weren't keen on Sophia banging up against that. But it finally became clear that we did have to go onto the dock. Luckily it wasn't too bad, but one person did have to stand and help the fenders. It was quite uncomplicated checking in and after an hour or so we could motor over to the yacht club anchorage area around the corner.

There are maybe 15-20 yachts here already, the far the majority American. They are allowed to stay here as long as they like, whereas all other nationalities only get 30 days, extendable up to 3 months. As it's supposed to be clear-ish from typhoons (although far from guaranteed) some (Americans) stay for a while and also leave their boat here. They were super friendly though and several came to say hello and introduce themselves. Everyone had also heard our exchange on the radio and no one else had understood what they were saying, so it wasn't just me. We were told that there are two Danish boats here, but they are out cruising at the moment, but I really hope they come back here so I can meet them. They would be the first Danish boats we have met.

We had already been invited for Christmas dinner (24th) onboard Jenny, a Norwegian boat we met way back in Malekula in Vanuatu and had stayed in touch with via email. They had also invited the only other European boat (besides one UK one), a German/Russian couple, so it was a very international Christmas. It was a traditional Norwegian xmas dinner, which is surprisingly different from a typical Danish one. Lamb (supposed to be racks, but was a leg) was cooked for a long time and very salty with a root vegetable mash and melted butter. We also had a roast pork, potatoes and gravy. Phil was in heaven :-) I had made ris a'lamande, slightly 'funny' because the whipped cream does not behave well in +30 degrees, but it was liked nonetheless, the Norwegians also sometimes have that for xmas dessert. Today we're invited to the German/Russian boat (we don't even know the boat name yet, but they are called Andreas and Ana) for more traditional Christmas food, so that should be interesting.

Palau is a country on its own, but has some ties to US (can't remember exactly what it's called), so we were looking forward to checking out the supermarkets here. We didn't go into town (45 min walk away) but just went to a small mini mart and oh my gosh, it was amazing! Lots and lots of choices (mostly American and some Asian) and prices werent' bad at all, we even found it pretty cheap! Definitely the best we have seen since Port Vila. We're really looking forward to checking out some of the big supermarkets!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Day 7, passage from PNG to Palau and squalls

We're almost into day 8 on our passage and we're just really looking forward to ending it. The last two days have been quite windy, gray and very squally, of course mostly at night. We have had several squalls that have brought along 30-35 knots of wind when it's worst, sometimes lasting up to two hours. We're going for headsail only and often it's partly furled. We have had mostly 1 knot or even more of current against us, but luckily it's now down to about half a knot against us. All this wind and squalls (and worse weather north of us, exactly where the wind comes from) means a big seas and us bouncing around.

But, it does look like we'll make it to Palau on the 24th, fingers crossed, touch wood! Very typically, when I wrote the six months anniversary blog, I actually knew that our main auto pilot ram was playing up and needed work. Unfortunately this time Phil wasn't able to fix it and we're going to need a new one when we get to Palau. We're now using an old ram that still works, but it has already done a lot of miles and it's making some noises too. More fingers crossed it will hold up for this last bit as we wouldn't like to have to hand steer the whole time.

We played some Christmas music today to try and bring some holiday spirits to Sophia in the middle of this massive blue ocean. I'm also hoping I'll be able to do some xmas sweets and baking tomorrow, but it all depends on the state of the sea.

Position: 5, 44, 66 N and 136, 42, 15, E
Miles to go: 162
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Friday, 21 December 2012

Six months anniversary musings

Today is our six months anniversary since we left New Zealand (Gisborne). Funny that it's also so close (four days!) to us crossing the equator. It's been a great half year and we're most certainly loving this cruising life style. Longer passages is not our favourite thing, but they are far from the norm.

- We have visited four countries (Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Island and Papua New Guinea) and sailed just over 6000 miles (since Christchurch, which adds three weeks to the half year).
- A quick rough count shows we have spent about 48 nights at sea (and still counting) which is actually surprising, but a bunch of them are just single night passages, often when a day passage is too long.
- Far the majority of our nights are spent at anchorage, and on average we spend 2-3 nights at each place.
- We have only caught maybe 10 fish in total, nowhere near as many as we would have liked (eg compared to Stewart Island). Solomon Islands probably had the most strikes, though only 2-3 caught there, but we lost quite a few lures from something big taking it, and sometimes the fish just jumps off the hook before we can reel it it.

Stuff broken:
Overall we have been lucky and nothing important has broken, but f course we also did do a lot of work before leaving and almost all gear is newly installed on Sophia, although a fair amount is secondhand. Generally speaking stuff simply breaks at sea, it's just a really tough environment.
- auto pilot rams. To be expected, especially considering they are the ones that have steered 99% of the 6000 miles! However, they are not waterproof (contrary to what you'd expect), so Phil quite often has to take them apart and clean and re-grease them. Luckily he has become very apt at fixing them!
- the nexus wind speedo suddenly stopped transmitting in Solomon Islands. This also explains why we have been guestimating wind speeds since then... It's one of those things that aren't necessary at all, but merely a nice to have and it also took a lot of consideration whether to get one or not before leaving.
- the toilet lid has cracked off! Because it's a lavac, it works creating a vacuum and so the lid is necessary. It's now taped on with duct tape and kind of does the job, but it's it's annoying and another crack also means it isn't flushing as efficient as it's supposed to. Hopefully a new lid (and seat) are waiting for us in Palau.
- one of the (front) hatch friction hinges has cracked off. Thankfully the hatch still closes and opens just fine, it just means the hatch can't hold itself open, so a wooden spoon now has that job.

So, not bad at all, and nothing that stops us cruising, maybe besides the auto pilot, but we have one and a half spare ram and touch wood, Phil has always managed to fix them so far. Thankfully the engine (original) is still working just fine, touch wood again, but Phil is also pretty religious about maintenance and always remembers fuel additive. Naturally we have gone through several filters and oil changes, and we have changed the alternator belt and my parent brought along a new exhaust elbow to us in Solomon Islands as the old one was getting very worn.

Highlights have been:
- whales in Ha'apai, Tonga
- Yasur volcano in Tanna, Vanuatu
- manta rays in Hermit Islands, PNG
- all the many amazing and special village visits (boils down to friendly people) in all of Melanesia (Vanuatu, Solomon and PNG)

What we miss the most (besides friends and family, naturally):
- unlimited fresh water (and especially showers, especially for Phil)
- food (I miss well stocked supermarkets and Phil misses fast (junk) food). Tropical fruit is a pretty good consolation, but the supply and variety isn't as good as you'd expect and it spoils very easily
- cold. OK, we don't miss NZ or Danish weather at all, but since north Vanuatu we have been very HOT. During the day the temperature can easily be 35 degrees both outside and inside, and we're lucky if it climbs below 30 at night in the cabin. Add a general high humidity to that and it means a lot of sweat. We LOVE our fans and wouldn't survive without them! I especially miss being able to cuddle up under a duvet, or even just a sheet for that matter. But, we're not complaining, overall the heat is great.

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Day 6, passage from PNG to Palau and a mystery at sea

We're on day six now and there are three days to Christmas and it's still within reach to make it to Palau in time. Two days ago the weather file we downloaded indicated that a tropical storm/potential typhoon was forming NE of us and heading just north of Palau, so we have mostly been heading west (as opposed to NW which is the direction of Palau), so we could quickly head south if things were starting to look dicey. We also got Helen (Sala) to keep an eye on the weather (Guam is especially good for typhoon monitoring) for us, thanks for that! Thankfully it doesn't look as bad anymore and we are again heading NW.

Weatherwise it has also been up-hill, as we have had about 1 knot of current against us the last two days. This slowed us down considerable especially on day 4, but then suddenly (of course at night just after the moon had gone down so it was hard to see much) what initially seemed like a squall was just lots of strong wind coming (30 knots), but with a squally front also containing rain. Luckily it's on our starboard rear quarter, so no where near as bad as beating into it, but with it the sea has been very rough and consequently we're rolling around a lot. It has eased town to sometimes maybe 20 knots, but often more. At this point we're pretty keen to arrive at Palau and just get this passage over and done with.

The other day we spotted what initially looked like a ship. We're close to a shipping route from Chine or Japan to Australia/NZ, not sure, but anyway, it means we fairly often pass ships, or to be exact, they pass us. They always come up on the AIS before we actually spot them visually, so it was unusual to first spot the ship. As we got a bit closer, it was clear it wasn't a bit ship. Was it a fishing boat or something then? It did seem very square and strange. With binoculars and the zoom on the camera, we both realised at the same time it was a house! We weren't too far away from it and could make it on the tack, so we turned towards it. As we came closer we could see it indeed was like a raft with a small house built on it and it was actually fairly well made and sturdy. Lots and lots of birds were using it as a resting place. Very strange experience for sure. We're very happy we spotted it during the day, as it certainly wouldn't be nice to hit it at full speed at night time, obviously there were no lights on it.

Speaking of birds, this night we had two birds come rest on Sophia. We tried chasing them away, but they kept coming back. It took them a while to realise the swinging boom (we're going for head sail only) wasn't the best place to sit and rest, it was real funny to see how they were struggling to hang on.

Position: 4, 09, 58 N and 138, 46, 27 E
Miles to go: 318

PS: Last post, day 4, was a little unfinished, I had written it on my watch and Phil sent it while I was sleeping without my usual last check-over.
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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Passage from PNG to Palau, day 4

It's now four days since we left Hermit Island and we're making good progress. After heading north (and slightly east) the first two days, we finally started heading NW, actually towards Palau and it was nice to see the miles to Palau start diminish.

The wind is still on the foreward quarter or beam on, but that means good speed, sometimes, with 1/2 - 1 knot of current with us, up to 7+ knots. This is only possible as long as the wind doesn't go too strong, maybe over 15 knots or so, because then the sea builds too big and slows us down.

Day three was pretty light, we could still have sailed, but only at 1.5-3 knots, so we choose to burn some diesel and make way to Palau We were motoring for 6-7 hours before the wind came back. Normally it wouldn't have bothered us, but xmas in Palau seems pretty nice and still within reach. We would also have to pay overtime if we arrive on a holiday.

Position: 3,42,06N 141,27,15E
Miles so far and to go 474

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Monday, 17 December 2012

Sophia across equator and now in the Northern hemisphere

We crossed equator at about 9am yesterday morning, a day after leaving Hermit Island. It was fun to watch the GPS count down and go all zeros and it's interesting that we're now in the northern hemisphere, but other than that, it was quite uneventful. At the time we had the company of another boobie (or some kind of a bird) on the solar panel and we got a celebration photo of all three of us, but then we had to shoe him away, as he was shading for the solar panel. We celebrated with freshly squeezed juice of Hermit Island oranges, banana cake and yet more delicious fresh pineapple. Yeah, I know, we're such party people :-)

So far, finger crossed, touch wood, it has been a pretty pleasant passage. We started with about 15 knots of wind, now we're down to 10 or less knots, but because we're closed hauled, we're still making pretty good speeds. The only problem is the wind is directly from the direction of Palau, so we have been sailing NNE (Palau is NW), but hopefully we'll reach the NE tradewinds in a day or two. We don't regret any bit going to Hermit Islands and having all that headwind, as the visit and experiences were more than worth the effort. We haven't had any doldrums or squalls of any significance either, which is surprising, but great. Just lots of stars and some of them shooting.

Palau is still 718 miles away, we have only gained 100 miles towards it the last two days, even though we have sailed about 200 knots since Hermit Island. There is a chance we'll be spending Christmas at sea, but that's OK, we're very far from in xmas mood, when it's 30+ degrees and all blue ocean around us. We did see a few Christmas decorations in the supermarkets in Kavieng, but that's the limit of our xmas exposure so far!

Position: 1° 15' 91 N and 144° 44' 68 E
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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Snorkelling with Manta Rays at Hermit Islands

WOW, Manta Rays are super duper cool animals. This was definitely an experience on par with whales in Tonga and the volcano in Vanuatu. They are very majestic and apparently very intelligent too.

These islands are the kings of pineapple growers! There are tons of them and they are deliciously sweet. We have eaten at least one a day and we still got 4-5 more that will need eating within the next few days. We also traded for eggs, kumera, pumpkin, beans, lemons, limes, oranges, mangoes, guava and of course bananas.

We had read another cruiser's account of the islands when they visited in 2007 and back then they did have some Taiwanese fishing boats here (it's not their mooring we're on, but one the village has put down for yachts). Apparently they cheated them and used cynoid (?, poison), so luckily they sent them away. They have also for years been making money on sea cucumbers, but the government has put a ban on that now (probably to let the population recover). The islands are too far away from anywhere else to make any other trade viable, fuel is simply too expensive. This all means that there's no way to make money and they are therefore very keen to trade with us. We got the impression that they they have been used to having money and being able to buy stuff, but haven't actually saved much up. Many people have solar panels, batteries and there are some generators in the village also. They also have 40 hp outboards that they use to go to Manus and the mainland, a 6-12 hour trip using 400 liters of fuel. Vanuatu is so poor that canoes are the only mode of transport and most people have no power at all, if lucky maybe a solar panel, but batteries are expensive, so often they weren't hooked up. Solomon was a little bit in between. Most amazing though is that almost everyone in all three countries has a cell phone, even when there's no reception where they live, they still have one for when they travel to where there is! We have also several times been asked to charge a cell phone for someone.

Trading-wise, sugar, like at Nissan Island, was the most sought after item! Lucky for them this is the last place where we can trade, as we don't anticipate much of that in Asia, and if there is some, it's easy to buy new things in the bigger towns. We has a fair bit of clothes, rice and various other items left, so we were quite generous with our trading.

Back to the Manta Rays. There's a passage between the two biggest islands where there's usually always Manta Rays, sometimes even hundreds! Bob, the village councilor who doubles at the tour guide took us there and we anchored Sophia nearby for the night so we were ready early next morning for the low tide. Unfortunately the visibility wasn't the best (May to August are the best Bob told us) but it was still maybe 10 meters or so. At first we didn't see any and had almost given up, although it has still been a pretty good snorkel where we had also seen several turtles and some huge giant clams. But suddenly we spotted one Manta, and then there were several They are really beautiful, most were black on top and white on the belly, but one was all black with only a small white spot on the belly. The biggest one would have been 3-4 meters wing span. I got some OK photos, but unfortunately the battery went flat quite early on, big time bummer, as I could have gotten some really cool ones because they didn't swim away from us, but mostly stayed in one spot and we could even swim down to them and be within touch distance! At one point there were three Mantas and one turtle and various fish and remoras (sucker fish) in one frame, would have been such a awesome photo!

We have only been here three days, but we have already made some really good friends. Hermit Islands despite its isolated location gets a surprising amount of yachts visiting each year, and actually throughout the year as it's on the passage both to and from Asia (both via Indonesia and Philippines). The visitor book was full of praise and many people declare it a favorite, but we actually hadn't read or heard much about it beforehand, so it seems a bit of a well kept secret, or otherwise we don't mingle enough in the cruising circles. All the people we met were super friendly and really keen to chat with us. Last night we were invited ashore for a farewell meal and lots of people came along to see and chat with us. The cookies I had made and the small photo prints I can make were a huge hit.

So, the islands are very paradisaical and visitors tell the locals how lucky they are to live here. However, if you're stuck in paradise it may not seem like it. People live off the land and the sea, but they still need clothes and some foods they can't grow themselves. Then there are all the other nice things you can buy like cell phone, boom-box (music player), TV and the list goes on and on. Plus school past primary cost money, as well as hospital and dentist. It's very hard to move on and there aren't many jobs around either and even less on this small island.

If the weather we are about to download looks OK, we are leaving for Palau now. It's a bit over 800 miles and xmas is in 10 days so we are in a bit of a hurry!
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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Finally at Hermit Islands

Phew, we made it! It was a really tough passage where we were constantly beating into the wind and even tacking, making it extra slow, as we have to cover a lot more ground and it's frustrating to look at the chart and see our zig zag course. What we had expected to be a 3 1/2 day passage took us five full days. We haven't yet calculated how many miles we actually covered over the ground, but it sure was a lot more than a straight line. We did actually arrive here maybe midnight last night, but spent the rest of the night heaving-to. We went through the eastern entrance this morning and did have mostly sun, but typically a super vicious squall came through exactly at that time and brought winds 30+ knots, but thankfully no torrential rain and the reef and islands were sheltering for the sea and we just motored right through. There were also several markers, so it wasn't difficult.

After the last post where we were NE of Admiralty Islands, the wind didn't die down at night, on the contrary, we actually had quite strong winds for the remainder of the passage, most of the time 20-25 knots, a few times easing to 15 knots. When we were planning our trip through PNG and to Palau, we had hoped to make it to Hermit Islands, but we also agreed that if it was all headwinds and tough going, we would just go directly to Palau. It's a good question why we then just didn't do that. I guess we were quite keen to get here, as it's supposed to be really great. We also weren't very prepared for a long passage, as it we hadn't done any cooking beforehand, and it quickly gets old eating canned spaghetti and baked beans.

Anyway, we made it now and we are very happy to be here to get a rest, see these beautiful islands and get ready for the next leg to Palau. Check it our on Google Earth, it might recognise Hermit Islands, otherwise, 01°30'56.3"S and 145°05'6.40"E should get you there. It's actually an atoll and there is an almost circular reef around a couple of islands in the middle. We're anchored just south of the village where it's very protected from the weather. It's quite deep, but luckily a boat came out and told us which mooring we could use. Apparently they have sold fishing rights to some Taiwanese fishing boats, and we guess it's their moorings, but none are here now, so that's nice.

Beside having a non-moving and quiet boat, the best part was jumping in the water! Because our bodies haven't been near any water since Kavieng, but also because we're right on top of coral and lots of fish. When I was snorkeling on the mooring I even saw a turtle. Hopefully a sign that we'll have a few nice day here.

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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Upwind passage

We left Kavieng almost 2 1/2 days ago and we are currently just north of Admiralty Islands (Manus) which is a bit over halfway to Hermit Islands (200 miles done so far, 150 to go still). We're making slow progress as the wind has mostly been on our nose and it usually dies at night. The first night we at least had about 2 knots of current with us, so we were still moving along, but last night there was none, and we were literally bobbing around. At times we almost welcomed the frequent squalls, as they usually bring along wind, although we never know from which direction or how much. We're also quite happy to at least have wind during the day and don't mind beating into it and luckily Sophia is also quite capable of it. We are hoping to stay a few days at Hermit Islands and maybe also Ninigo Islands before heading north to Palau, so we have to make sure we have enough diesel until then, hence why we don't just motor through the lulls.

Last night a bit before sunset a bird (maybe booby, not sure) came to rest on Sophia, at first on the solar panel, but a little later it moved into the comfort of the cockpit, although still in a corner furthest away from the hatch. After much grooming of its feathers, it stuck its head into one wing and slept all night. It took off a little after sun rise. It was fun and interesting to watch, but it was also quite a smelly visitor, though thankfully the rain had washed away most the mess it made.

Kavieng was a pleasant stop and we stayed four days. The best part was the water was quite clean and inviting (and no crocs!) so cooling off was great. Usually when anchored near a town the water is too dirty for our liking. Close to the anchorage was also an interesting Second World war plane wreck that we could snorkel. It's situated at 7 meters and is quite complete still and had good reef and fish life around it.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Our route

It is now half a year ago we left Christchurch, and we're about to cross into a new hemisphere and continent, so I figured this would be a good time to write about our past and future route.

We left Christchurch at the end of May 2012 and sailed up to Gisborne via Wellington. We waited patiently in Gisborne for three weeks to get a good weather window for the passage to Tonga. We finally left Gisborne on 21 June and arrived at Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga 11 days later.

We spent six weeks cruising the Vava'u group and Ha'apai and it was a great introduction into the cruising life as everything is very close by and it's pretty ideal cruising grounds which is also evident by the many yachts present. Towards the end of August we did a seven day passage to Vanuatu, bypassing Fiji on the way. We spent another six weeks in Vanuatu slowly making our way north. A short two day passage later we were in Solomon Islands where we spent about five weeks before heading further north to Papua New Guinea where we are now in early December.

We're hoping to spend Christmas in Palau, so we will soon make our way first west, then north, all depending on the weather. On this passage we're going to cross the equator, so that's quite exciting.

From Palau we'll sail to Philippines probably in January. We think we'll spend a few months (supposedly the safe-ish season from typhoons) in Phillipines before we're heading towards the north coast of Borneo and we'll hop along Malaysia towards Singapore and eventually Thailand. Our plans are very loose and subject to change, but this is the rough plan anyway. We are pretty much at loss as to what we'll do after that, but I'm sure we'll find out as we go.

Before leaving New Zealand we had only really committed to visiting Tonga and Vanuatu and weren't really sure where we were going after that, although we did think we would head towards Asia. It's really mostly thanks to yacht Carillon that we got onto the PNG-Palau-Phillipines route which happend to suit us the best, both route and time wise. It's always a bit of a puzzle to match a desited route with the different sailing seasons.

October and November's cruising expenses

I missed October's months budget because of my parent's visit, first of all because they were here during the end of October and the beginning of November, and also because their visit kind of screwed up those two months' budgets. We were recording costs before and after their visit, but we totally stopped while they were with us as we were spending a lot more money than we would if we were alone, particularly on alcohol and eating out, but also somewhat on groceries. Another reason is they kindly paid for all those extra expenses.

Anyway, here is both October and November's cruising expenses. It's not 100% accurate, but I still think it's a pretty reasonable reality of what we spent, if we had just been the two of us alone. Overall the countries have been pretty cheap for cruising, although food (besides fruit, veggies and a few staples) is still more expensive than NZ, but then it's also quite limited what you can buy in the first place. Solomon Islands is quite expensive for clearing in and out of though. Interesting is also we haven't spent anything on mooring fees (haven't been any) or water (we have almost exclusively caught it all with our rain catchers). Drinks out has pretty much merged into eating out, I may delete it next month if we don't start going out drinking a lot. It's also mostly a night activity and we have spent pretty much all nights on Sophia for security reasons.

More interesting village visits

We left the extremely secure anchorage of Cigaregare and moved just around the corner to Teripax village. It wasn't as good an anchorage (a bit rolly), but visiting the friendly village more than made up for it. We spent a fair bit of both Saturday and Sunday hanging out with the locals, meaning mostly kids. They don't get many cruising boats visiting, as most stay in Cigaregare anchorage, which is only half an hour walk through the bush though. We did the walk while in Cigaregare with a couple of young men as our guides. The best part of that was submerging ourselves in the creek, only just deep enough for it. It was quite elevated, so no crocs up there.

Anyway, the kids in Teripax were great. Only kids under 8 or so were present, all the older ones stay most of the time in a neighbouring village (a canoe ride away) where they go to school. We brought in baloons the first day, always a big hit. They like getting their photo taken, but they love looking at the camera afterwards. This means they have quite serious faces for the pictures I take, and then I get all the smiles and laughts when they see the pictures! I brought in my old camera, so I was comfortable handing it over to the kids. This produced some quite interesting photos, they definitley relax more that way and also make some more daring poses, for example one guy though it was fun to stick his blood red (betel nut) toungue out in all the pictures! For some reason they also love making hand signs for the camera. Check out facebook for pictures.

Some of the very little kids were not used to white people and started crying if we got too close. The slightly older kids were very facinated by us though. I'd often find myself being stared at by half a dozen little ones. The women were also very curious and at one point started enquiring about my hair. When I released it from the bun they were uhm-ing and ahh-ing and carefully touched it and declared it was very beautiful. To that I could only say thanks, but I love curls :-)

Sunday we brought in our laptop to show a movie for the kids. We had been shown through the village and the men/boys only house was shown to us. We also saw these (from outside) in Nissan Atoll, no women or girls are allowed, only boys. However, for some reason, it was suddenly OK to use it for showing the movie, I was worried none of the girls would go in, but everyone seemed happy to go there. Strange. Anyway, watching a movie is definitely a rare treat, if not even a first for many kids, but it was a little hard to keep concentration naturally as they don't understand English that well or at all, plus it's a quite small screen in a big room.

Later on the women were practising their custom dance and singing, which was interesting to watch. They do the when they have special celebrations and feasts. Buka, Nissan Atoll and also the people we met on Tabar are all been catholic, so there are a ton of kids around and some very young mothers.

Chewing betel nut is done by everyone, including breastfeasting mums and I'm sure preagnant ones too, though we never see them, it's something about preagnant women being taboo or something like that. Even little kids are allowed to chew it. Mark, the resort owner on Lihir Island told us that one ingrediants in betel nut is used commercially as a sedative for horses! The gold mine has a strict no betel nut policy for all their workers during work time.

After an over-night passage, we're now in Kavieng, which is a provincial capital. We're anchored across from town by a small island where there's a resort for surfers mostly. It's a pretty long dinghy ride, but our good steady little dinghy did make it. The town is very typical with a bunch of small shops all selling pretty much the sime kind of Chinese cheap junk and a bit of food. It wasn't until the 7th shop we found ice cream, phew.

We are going to spend a few days here getting ourselves organised before leaving. There tropical low/typhoon we eluded to ealier on did indeed turn out to be a typhoon, for a while it was even a super typhoon. It hit Palau a day or two ago with some damage, but no loss of life and now it's on it's way to Philippines. It's the first typhoon to hit Palau in over 20 years, so we keep our fingers crossed it won't happen again while we're there. The 'scary' part is that it's out of season and the typhoon's path was irregular, I'm sure all signs of global warming!