Saturday, September 25, 2010

We enjoyed seeing these folks sailing home after a day of gardening. Traditionally they used to use palm fronds for a sail.

Standing on the bow of the 40 foot catamaran from Australia near Cook's Reef. View of Emae Island from the back of the cat.

I love this shot of these kids playing on the beach.

Here is some of the group having a dip in the fresh water after the trek through the jungle.

These next three pictures are from the mini Festival in Port Sandwich. The mask is truly impressive, it is made out of organic materials and looked quite heavy. Have a look at the bass player sitting on the box making music.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Yesterday we got to dive on the President Coolidge. It was a luxury liner that was launched in 1931 and then converted to a troop carrier for WW11. The Coolidge sank when it went off course and struck a mine, the captain managed to beach her before she sunk and all but 2 of the over 6000 troops managed to abandon ship safely. The wreck is situated just off shore so you actually walk into the dive and then follow ropes down to the wreck. It is lying on its side and it is massive.
Our first dive we saw helmets, rifles and shell casing that had been abandoned lying on the side of the wreck. The dive master stopped and put on the helmet and picked up a rifle and he looked kind of scary with that stuff on over his scuba gear. We swam along the side and then along the forward promenade deck. The big 3 inch gun that was bolted to the forward deck is still there along with more huge shell casings.
Our second dive we got to go and see" the lady" it is a statue about a meter high of a woman sitting on a horse. It was still in very good condition and the colours were still highly visible even after 60 years. Our dive leader gave her a good brushing off when we were there so I am sure the constant stream of visitors keeps her clean. Barry bravely removed his regulator and kissed the lady. Then we got to dive inside the wreck, we saw a chandelier and then looked way up and saw the sunlight streaming in the portals. It is deceiving, I kept forgetting that the wreck was on its side so although I knew which way was up that was not the orientation of the ship. We swam inside through some quite narrow openings, I was quite happy to let the others go first to make sure they would fit and not get stuck.
Apparently you can do over 10 dives on the Coolidge and you can see a different part every time. We may go back to Luganville and dive Million Dollar Point, the spot where the American government dumped excess machines after the war; jeeps, trucks, bulldozers and other heavy equipment. The story goes that the army wished to sell them to the French but the French knowing that the Americans would not remove the vehicles offered them rock bottom prices for them. Rather than hand them over for nothing the U.S. drove them off the point and sunk them. Apparently an Aussie told us that the Aus government pulled some out a couple of decades later, changed the oil and took out the rust and the bulldozers worked for many years. What a waste!
We are going to head up to a resort today, we have heard some wonderful reports on the spot and then will begin to work our way back south to Port Vila where we will wait for a good weather window to sail to New Caledonia.

Friday, September 17, 2010

We are tucked away in a great anchorage at Port Sandwich, Malekula Island. You are discouraged from swimming in these waters because a shark attacked a young yachtie a few years ago and she perished. We came here because we heard there was a feast and some dancing to be seen. It has been well worth it, the feast the first day was delicious with many traditional foods, more lap lap and lots of food with taro and manioc. A couple of local string bands played the night away, there were guitars, ukulele and a sting box bass. The bass was just a box with a stick attached to the top with a string strung from the top of the stick to the top of the box. It gave off amazing resonances. The singing was very high, there was a lot of falsetto singing and the harmonies were not what we had been used to with the Polynesians. We danced and joined in the fun that everyone was having.
The next morning a walk had been organized to a waterfall. There are 15 boats in the anchorage and about 8 dinghies full of people set off down the bay. We got off in a mangrove swamp and then took a walk through a very steamy jungle. The palm trees had vines that wound there way up the trunks making their trunks appear about twice the normal size.
We stopped at a bridge over the Murder River. This was the spot where the French and the locals fought in the 1800's. The story goes that one of the French contingent was having his way with the chief's wife so the war was on, thus the name. Cannibalism was practiced until the late 1960's on this island. The French governed here until independence in 1980 and apparently this island did not want the French to leave. Under their rule there was electricity, a good system of running water, and well maintained schools, life was good.
We turned off the road and went to a wonderful oasis. Fresh water babbled over boulders and fell in a 3 meter waterfall. There were pools of water above the falls and everyone stripped down and went in the water. It was a tad dirty but very refreshing after tramping through the steamy jungle. We got back to the anchorage just in time for a delicious lunch featuring some very tasty coconut cake and a wonderful chopped up fruit salad.
After lunch we saw some kustom dancing. It was an all male troop with painted bodies and very little on except the nambas or penis sheaths. They had on the most wonderful masks, they were about a meter high with long pointy tops, and full faces. You will have to wait for the pictures, it is hard to describe. There were nuts shells wound around their ankles and when they stomped to the beating of the drums they would clash together making quite the noise. They carried sticks that used to be used to bash people and pigs over the head to kill them, fantastic stuff.
After that was over we asked the peace corp. volunteer that was helping to get the island organized about how kava was made, She took 4 of us over and we watched kava being cut up in tiny pieces and then put through the grinder, then it was strained about 5 times before we got a sample. I had 2 bowls and felt very relaxed and laid back. One fella said it was good for high blood pressure so I may have to indulge more often. The string band returned and we spent the afternoon enjoying some good music.
Another Fast Passage 39 showed up in the anchorage so we got a chance to go aboard and have a look at how it had been laid out. Our interior was in much better shape than theirs but the owner is a young man of about 30, who lives to surf. He had a useable navigation station that we were very jealous of; maybe one day we might feel the need to do something about ours!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We have been slowly making our way north among the many islands of Vanuatu. Yesterday we had participated in a group sail. It was extreme amounts of fun. We were at an anchorage where there is a huge reef off the Emae Island; it is called Cook's Reef. There were 5 boats in the anchorage and we all piled into a 40 foot catamaran and sailed out to the reef and anchored and went for a snorkel. It was the first time I had sailed on a cat so it was an interesting experience. There were 16 on board, we had 2 local guides and the 12 others were Australians. It was great fun getting to know the Aussies and gleaning some great intel about Oz from them. I also quizzed them on some Aussies sayings so that I would know the lingo when I got there. Michael and Andrew, our guides, had a look of wonder and concentration on their faces as they were piloting the cat. We learned some more Bislama as well. The captain of the boat like to talk so we christened him Tok tok too much, and me lookum behind you, means see you later.
At the reef we anchored and spent about an hour in the water. Barry found some great shells but we left them there as they had creatures in them. (We did take one shell from Fiji with a creature in it and spent the next week, dissolving him out of it and putting up with the stink, so we have resolved never to pick up another live shell. I actually felt pretty bad about taking it!) Barry would dive down and turn these big shells over and then leave I felt bad about the poor creatures inside so after he left I would dive down and turn then back over. We saw some great examples of coral we had never seen before and there were a bunch of Nemo fish hiding out in the soft coral.
On the way back to the anchorage the Aussies put out the fishing lines and caught 2 good sized barracudas. They were thinking of throwing them back but Michael said that his village would love to have them. There were a couple of larger fish on the line but they snapped the 30 pounded test line and they lost three lures. That was a major loss and the captain was not happy.
I enjoyed sailing on the cat, I did not have the sensation of moving that you do in a monohull, and there is no heeling of course. Also the wake at the back coming off the pontoons made me think we were going a lot faster than we actually were. I lay on the trampoline that connects the 2 pontoons and watched the water for a while, I could see how you could just fall asleep out there. It was perfect weather for the venture and we had a terrific time.
We hope to get to a festival at the end of the week and then make our way up to the island of Espirito Santo where we want to dive on the wreck of the Coolidge, a former luxury liner that was converted to a troop ship in WW2, which sunk when it hit land mines going into the harbour at Luganville.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Port Vila is the capital of Vanuatu, which was formerly the New Hebrides. The British and the French both had a presence here and at one time there were two systems of government, the French would follow their laws and the English would follow theirs. Independence was declared in 1980 and Vanuatu just celebrated their 30 year anniversary at the end of July. There are over 100 local languages being spoken in Vanuatu at the moment as well as Bislama which is a pidgin English, it is written as it would have sounded coming from an upper crust English man. Here is ea, thank you, is tank you tumas, of is blong, or belong, ex. The Vanuatu Ministry of Culture would be Vanuatu Ministry Blong Culture, it is very interesting to try and decipher the signs that are written in Bislama. Vanuatu is an island nation with over 23 islands, but it seems each area on an island has developed their own language, we were making an effort to learn some of the language on Tanna but once I figured out they only spoke it there, I gave up. The children are taught French and English at school, so once they are done primary school they should have a working knowledge of 4 languages. Each island has there own culture and dances so we are looking forward to learning about each as we explore further north.
Port Vila is the seat of government so we took a walking tour and saw the parliament buildings, the residence of the President, which was surprisingly humble, the court house, the national bank, the big Catholic church, etc. The bank building was huge, it had better be because the exchange rate is a 100 to 1, so you walk around with 1000 vatu bills in your pocket as well as 5000, and they don’t go very far here. We figure it is rather like Yellowknife prices here, good thing we stocked up the boat before leaving Fiji.
We went to the museum on a Sat. morning and were lucky to come upon a cultural demonstration. A fellow was teaching cultural arts to school children and he explained how the sand drawings were done and how a story accompanied each one. Then he had some of the kids’ show us their drawings, the kids had been chosen to attend cultural expositions in other countries. As well as the stories and drawings he played the pan flute and sang and then he played the Vanuatu national anthem on these very cool bamboo instruments that were liked a percussion swinging xylophone, I guess you had to be there. It was fascinating.
There a big high weather system that has been causing high winds since we arrived. We are planning on leaving Port Vila today to go to a quieter spot for the evening and then heading further north tomorrow. Both Barry and I have infected cuts in our legs, I got a scrape when we were walking up the volcano and did not care for it right away. Barry cut his leg in Fiji and it never healed and then started to become inflamed awhile ago. I have managed to clean mine up and get it under control, but Barry’s did not respond as well so he is on antibiotics now. It just reminds you of how careful you have to be with even the smallest cut.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

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I posted 2 blogs on the same day, you should go back and check out the blog on the volcano!

We spent almost a week on the island of Tanna, where the volcano was. We also took a walking tour of the hot springs around the anchorage. A 15 year old boy was our guide and he was very informative. At one spot where the vents occur, he reached down and found some very soft clay which he painted his face with. There was red, white and a bluish colour that he could use to decorate his body. The water in places was hot enough to cook with. At one spot he explained that during the rainy season the other vents were covered up with water so all the hot water in the area would fill up this cut in the rocks and come spilling over, mother nature at her finest.
We sailed all day to come to an anchorage called Dillon’s Bay on the island of Erromango, which means, land of the mangoes. All the trees are in bloom now and you could tell that when the fruit ripens there will be mangoes everywhere, to bad we will have to move on before that.
Yesterday we were treated to a lesson on how to prepare laplap. I had seen it mentioned and thought it was a doughy substance that was cooked over a fire. I was wrong. First they prepare the insides of the dish, there were three different laplaps. The first was mashed up bananas, with rosettes of spinach type leaves inserted in the banana goop. The second was a mixture of yams and sweet potatoes, the third was pumpkin and taro. The women put down vines in a criss cross manner, then they lay banana leaves on top, they sprinkle the banana leaves with coconut milk and then add the fillings. Then they add more coconut leaves and then they fold up the edges of the leaves and tie the vines making a big banana leaf package. The package is about .75 meters square and weighs up to 7 kg.
While the women are preparing this the men have built up a fire rocks are piled in the fire and super heated. Once the laplap is ready the men scatter the stones, put two of the banana leaf packages on the fire and cover them with stones then add the third laplap on top. Then the place banana leaves and other vegetation on top of everything to keep the heat in finishing off with a woven pandanas mat which was weighted down with stones and firewood. The food is then left for over an hour to cook. We were invited to stay and sample the wares. It was a long wait, well after our normal eating time but it was worth it. Everything was delicious, the spinach leaves in the banana goop was scrumptious.
It was wonderful to experience this, sharing in the Ni-vanuatu’s lives was a privilege. That is what keeps me cruising.

These guys are using pronged sticks to move around the red hot rocks, they put on their flip flops for the job, normally they are barefoot.

We also took a walk up to see the sandalwood groves and the swimming hole up the valley. We had to ford a stream, Mike and I took off our shoes and gingerly made our way across. We both wore them on the way back, it was very slippery. I seem to remember doing the same sort of thing when we lived in Tungsten, the water was a lot colder then!
We walked up to see the volcano, what an experience! It was quite a hike, we tromped through the Vanuatu rainforest. Our guide led us up a winding path which led from the anchorage to the rim of the volcano’s crater. It seemed like we were climbing forever, we went past where the villagers have their gardens. They grow bananas, grapefruit, cassava, taro, manioc and coconuts. It was about an hours walk just to get there. We asked why it was so far away from the village and were told it was because the soil is better higher up and there is more water. The rain forest was very thick and luscious with several layers, the undergrowth and then the canopy. If we did not keep up to the person in front of us we soon lost sight of each other, having to call out when we came to a crossroads to figure out which way to go.
We emerged from the forest onto the ash plains of the volcano. The ash has suppressed plant growth immediately around the volcano and it is like being on a moonscape. There are old lava flows with jagged boulders sticking up and a thick layer of black ash that covers everything else. As we clambered up the steep side of the volcano you could hear it rumbling and then a large round plume of smoke would emerge from the top. Once we reached the top it was AMAZING. I think being there has to rate as one of the most wondrous things to experience.
Both hot spots of the volcano erupting at once

This is an ACTIVE VOLCANO, you are standing on the edge and you see a shock wave coming and it hits you, then there is an eruption, molten lava, red hot, shoots up into the air. The lava comes in blobs that change shape in the air as they go through their trajectory. Immediately following the lava is a billowing plume of ash and dust, it shoots straight up and then spread out as it ascends forming a huge cloud of every increasing size. You smell the sulfur that is spewing out, you feel the ground shake, you hear the volcano rumble and roar and you see the pyrotechnics of the lava. Then the mountain rests and you wait, and then boom, another eruption happens and this time the molten boulders are shot up over the rim of the volcano, it was absolutely fantastic. We watched in awe for over two hours. We arrived late in the afternoon and stayed until night fell; leaving only when the wind switched and our guide said it was not safe to remain.

Watching that volcano made me realize the power of nature and how fragile our planet really is. The thin layer of the earth’s crust is all that is protecting us from the molten center, we had better take care of it.