Vanuatu, from Malakula to Vanua Lava
We are still in Vanuatu and sail from Lamen Bay to the Maskelynes, where we stay a couple of days. Here too the people living on the islands visit us in their canoes to trade. First they spontaneously offer some fruit and vegetables. Then they ask for things like fuel for their generator or they give you their mobile phone and charger and ask if you can charge the phone for them. Tomorrow is a national holiday to celebrate Vanuatu's independence, so we give them a litre of petrol so they can play music for a couple of hours at their independence party.Our Happy Monster lighters are very popular too and the children always have fun with our Happy Monster balloons.
In exchange for a small fee, the inhabitants of the island of Avokh organise a traditional dance performance and a tour of their village for us and a couple of other sailors. In a clearing at the end of the village a dozen men dressed in traditional outfits and with rattles tied around their ankles perform a dance. It's magnificent to see their beautiful muscular black bodies dance. At the end of the afternoon we can take some vegetable and fruit snacks from a beautifully set table and we are of course offered kava. This time we politely decline, because we don't want to get diarrhoea again.
The last couple of days there has been quite a bit of wind, but at last the wind has subsided and the sun reappears after a long time. One quiet Sunday morning we go on shore to burn a couple of bags of waste on a deserted beach. We haven't been able to this the last couple of weeks, so it's about time. We dig a hole and light a nice fire with a couple of drops of a mix of old petrol and diesel. Fortunately, we don't have to do this secretly and it doesn't give us a bad conscience because this is the only way the local population can get rid of their waste. When we're finished, we hide the ashes under the sand and we take anything that hasn't been burned, such as cans, back with us on board. The appearance of a manatee, which surfaces for a couple of seconds right in front of our boat, is a perfect ending to our morning.The next day it's raining again and together we write the song "The Forecast".
Port Sandwich festival
Our next destination is Port Sandwich, a large, deep bay south-east of Malakula. Weeks ago we already heard about the festival of Port Sandwich, a huge two-day festival with traditional dance, and it's the reason for our visit to this beautiful bay. We still have a couple of days before it starts and we visit Simon and Marie's farm. We walk with Simon over the beautiful, well-kept grass between the coconut palms. When we ask how he manages to keep the grass so short, he points to his cows which are walking on the grass: very healthy and tasteful beef which makes a lawnmower superfluous. They don't milk cows here, the only milk they know is made of milk powder. People here think that everything that is excreted by a cow is filthy. :)
In the village of Lamap we do some shopping and fortunately we can also buy petrol for the generator and for Mickey, our reliable outboard motor.
By now, at least eight sailing boats have anchored in the bay, they have all come here for the festival. On the morning of the first day of the festival, we are picked up by a truck at the agreed time and we drive to Dravai, the village where the festival takes place and where everyone is dressed up. The two foreign volunteers who help organise the festival explain how we have to approach the village chief in the traditional way, walking slowly, accompanied by singing villagers. After the chief's short welcome speech the festival can begin.
On a remote piece of land, which is decorated with totem poles and palm leaves, the first traditional dance is performed. Many villagers, especially the women and children, come here for the first time in their lives. In previous years, the festival was held a long way away from the village, but this is the first time it is held in the village itself. Women and children are usually not allowed on the "dance floor", only initiated, circumcised men are allowed here. But especially for the festival a ceremony was held yesterday to allow everyone to be here during the festival, including women and children.
The earth reverberates, many feet are stamping and drums are thrumming. The men, painted with clay, with rattles tied around their ankles and their penis dressed in just a namba, a tube made of leaves, perform three different dances for us. They wear different masks for each dance. It's one big dance party and we thoroughly enjoy it.
After lunch, the villagers explain how different things are produced in the village, such as copra (dried coconut), tamanu oil with coconut milk which is used to treat skin diseases, dried cocoa beans and woven roofs for the houses. Mats, baskets and jewellery are made from natural materials, mainly by the women. At the end of the day they demonstrate how kava is made. Fortunately, there was also beer.
On the second day, school children perform a short play about how the Christians converted the cannibals on Vanuatu to a peaceful people when they arrived here years ago. We play a game with other children. One side must defend a pile of coconut shells while the other side tries to eliminate the children one by one by throwing a ball. The women perform a traditional dance as well. There are not as many of them as for the men's dance and it is a bit boring. At the end of the day, we return to the holy dance floor for the last dance of the men. Again we are treated to wonderfully energetically dancing men in beautiful outfits, accompanied by many drums. When we are asked to join them for the last dance, Hans is the first who voluntarily tries to follow the rhythm and he realises these men must be in excellent shape. Dory has filmed this unique moment and you can see it here on YouTube.
After this festival we return to our boat tired and content and start to prepare for the next trip.
During our long trip we have learned that there are many beautiful places in the world and that everyone has different opinions about them. According to some people, Asanvari bay on the island of Maewo is such a place.Apparently, you really must have seen it, so we sail during the night and after a trip with lots of rolling and lots of wind we arrive in a beautiful bay with a magnificent waterfall which directly flows into the bay. We take a freshwater bath at the bottom of the waterfall and we do some laundry. The "Etosha" with the three kids on board has arrived as well and we give their parents the afternoon off by inviting their kids on board Happy to play games. The afternoon ends perfectly when Dory introduces them to real Dutch pancakes, unfortunately without real Dutch treacle. In the yachting club, which is just a beautiful, traditional big hut, we celebrate Kim's birthday. She is Jim's wife, from the "Auspice". The village chief plays on our ukulele and Jim's homemade pineapple wine is delicious.
Espiritu Santo, Luganville
On leaving Asanvari bay we also leave the clouds and the rain behind us. We head to Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo, the second biggest city of Vanuatu. We drop the anchor at the "Beach Resort", a rather rough anchorage, but the anchor sinks deep into the mud, which feels good. Between here and Australia we won't have a chance to do any more shopping, so we use the opportunity to stock up. The screen of our only serviceable navigation computer overheats and we don't have a good backup. We search high and low for a reasonably priced laptop and finally we find a nice Asus EeePC. Hans installs the necessary software for our Iridium phone and the OpenCPN navigation software. Then it's time to leave our rolling anchorage.
Palikula and Oyster Bay
A short trip takes us to Palikula Bay, where we find a nice sandy spot among the coral to drop our anchor. After Luganville we immediately notice the quiet and calm. We disassemble Wendy, our wind vane, because we've noticed quite a bit of play between some parts, but fortunately nothing is broken. Everything is working well. We swim around, scratch Happy's hull clean and enjoy the overwhelming scenery. We even spot a few turtles in the water. When we leave again after a couple of days, at first we can't find our way among the coral. To prevent getting stuck we have to go back to our anchorage to start our route again. Long live our GPS!
Our next stop is Oyster Bay, where we arrive during low tide. We would have preferred to enter the bay completely by sailing between a couple of islands, but it is too shallow. There are two other boats in the outer bay, "Mokisha" and "Reflections", and there is just enough room for our Happy. There's a strong wind and it takes a day before we can disembark. In our Mini we chug on to a beautiful river. At the end we arrive at the so-called "Blue Hole", the source of the water of this beautiful river. The water does indeed have a remarkable blue colour and the area is beautifully decorated with flowers, especially for the tourists. We don't see anyone around while we bob up and down in the blue hole. We rinse some laundry in the ice cold fresh water and on the way back we leave the outboard motor off and float calmly on the current all the way back to the bay.
Before we leave here we want to have dinner with a couple of other sailors in the Oyster Bay Resort. We spend our last vatus and since we won't encounter any more ATMs until we arrive in Australia we will just have to hope we will have enough cash left.
Since a strong wind coming from the wrong direction is expected, we want to leave this small and not very sheltered anchorage, so we sail further north on our foresail to anchor safely in Hog Bay. Along with the people from "Mokisha" and "Reflections" we go on a snorkelling trip to a particularly beautiful coral reef and we visit Champagne Beach, where the sand is whiter and finer than on most beaches. On shore we meet Tjon, who asks us for a rope for his calf, so it will have more room to walk around.The next day we bring him an old halyard and he is surprised we want to see how he ties his calf to the rope. We help him and are unpleasantly surprised by the rude way they treat their animals here. There's a lot of pulling and shoving and his son tries to hit the calf. Apparently they don't have an animal protection society here...
Swimming in this bay is an unusual experience because of the cold fresh water coming out of the ground. This means you feel gusts of cold and warm water. While trying to scratch our boat clean for the umpteenth time we discover that the mixture of salt and fresh water makes the water turbid, so you cannot really see what you are doing.
With anticipation we sail to Losalava on Santa Maria. This is the place where the women make water music. We have seen a short clip of a promotional video and we are looking forward to experience this in real life. Just after we have dropped our anchor Mariska passes us in her canoe. She offers us some fruit and when we ask her what she wants in exchange, she shyly asks for notebooks and pens. We love this and we promise her we will come back tomorrow.
The next day we go on shore and ask about the water music. We are lucky: the next day they will organise a performance especially for us. And since we have hardly any cash left, we don't have to pay 5000 vatu, instead they happily accept a pile of second-hand T-shirts.
Later that day we visit Mariska. It turns out her father is the village chief and when we unpack a bag of knick-knacks, including the notebooks and pens for Mariska, we are again showered with fruit and vegetables, including a large pumpkin.We are shown around the village and the area around it and we are invited to have dinner with them before we leave.
The next morning at a quarter to eight someone in a canoe arrives to tell us the ladies are ready for the water music. With our pile of T-shirts we row to shore, where we find eight beautifully dressed ladies. Before the start of the performance they put a garland around our neck. Then the ladies walk into the water of the bay. When the water reaches their waist they start moving their arms and hands through the water. Deep drum sounds alternate with high-pitched splashes - the variation in sounds is truly overwhelming. There are no words to describe experiencing this performance in this unique location in the world and it exceeds all our expectations. After the performance the T-shirts are handed out and with the rhythm of the splashing water still in our heads we go back on board.
We stay for a couple more days and the evening before we leave we have dinner with Mariska and her family. We receive another garland, this time it is made of African marigolds. According to local custom we are served a meal while the family looks on. Fortunately, the pumpkin pie Dory baked resolves the issue: while we are having dinner, they are tasting the pie.
Checking out in Sola
The end of our Vanuatu adventure is in sight. It seems a very good weather window for our crossing to Australia is on its way. We sail from Santa Maria to Sola to check out. The anchorage is very rough and we don't particularly like the island. It's a good thing we didn't plan a long stay here. When on the second evening a local commercial motor boat anchors dangerously close to Happy and its anchor starts to drag we really don't enjoy this location any more. We check out, spend our last vatus and leave for Kangaroo Island.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)