21/09/2014 – Cruising Vanuatu

We spent 4 days in Port Vila, including buying SIM cards for the Ipads from Digicel. A word of warning for people following in our wake, they might not work! My iIpad is a version 2, three years old though I have downloaded updates to the operating system, and I got 3G coverage, internet etc. John’s is a version 3, two years old, and he could only access Edge, which is the 2G service and was absolutely useless. Once we left Efate to explore the more northern islands only Edge is available, and that doesn’t work, so we have had no internet at all. We left Port Vila in company with Trillium at about noon on Friday. We had bought some duty free spirits and had to wait for Customs to come and seal the bags containing the bottles. We can’t drink it until we clear out of Vanuatu at Luganville where Customs will inspect the seals on the bags. We sailed around the southwest corner of Efate and anchored in the shelter of Lelapa Island. The plan was to leave early the next morning for a long sail to Epi, however the weather forecast rather put us off. Instead we moved a little further north to sit out the predicted strong winds and torrential rain, due to sweep in during the early hours of Sunday morning. Sunday morning was overcast but dry and the GRIB files suggested the heaviest rain would now be a bit further south and arriving Monday. We decided to go for it. We had a cracking sail almost all the way, until the bulk of Epi blocked the wind, though it was too late to reach Lamen Bay, home of turtles and dugongs, so we anchored about 7 miles south. The next morning was very wet! Soon after lunch there appeared a break in the weather so we moved up to Lamen Bay. We managed to collect 4 full buckets of rain water, one was clean enough to go into the tank and I used the rest to wash clothes and bedding. John showered in the rain. We visited the village, walked on the ‘runway’ at the ‘airport’, and visited the bungalows which form a small resort. We arranged to go across to Lamen Island with a guide the next day, hoping to see a dugong when we snorkelled there. The village on the island was very well kept, with fenced compounds to keep the pigs in or out, a wide ‘road’ of levelled ground with stone walls on either side, many traditional buildings and quite a few newer ones made of corrugated iron. There were a few solar panels and I spotted one satellite dish! Our guide was very informative. We met a young American Peace Corps volunteer (think VSO in the UK) who was working in the kindergarten and went to see the children and a local child care worker. Sadly, the dugongs obviously didn’t like choppy water and the snorkelling was rather disappointing. On Thursday we moved on to the Maskelyne Islands, a group of small islands on the southeast corner of Malacula, an island renowned for its cannibal tradition! We had scarcely dropped the anchor before a sailing outrigger with four men came alongside. They arrived before Trillium who were only a mile behind us. One of them, Raphael, spoke French and Bislama but very little English as he had been at a French high school whereas George spoke English and Bislama and understood a little French. Until independence Vanuatu was called The New Hebrides and was jointly governed by England and France. We were invited to go to their island, Avokh, the next afternoon for a tour of the village, a native dance display and a food and kava tasting. Raphael also arranged to bring me some vegetables from his garden on the main island in exchange for some rice and a tin of meat. Avokh is a smaller island than Lamen, the buildings are far more scattered and the people seem a lot poorer. Vincent, one of the islanders, spoke good English and explained that they were the only island that relies exclusively on outrigger canoes for day to day transport. There is a primary school on the neighbouring island and the children paddle themselves to school! The traditional dancing can only be done by men who have taken part in a pig killing ceremony, each time they have such a ceremony the dancers can paint themselves with another colour paint. Chief Kaiser explained that they have recently encouraged the older men, who knew the traditions and the dances, to teach the younger men; it is also a way the islanders can get some income from visitors. It was a very interesting display, I’ll gloss over the costumes except to say they consisted of not much more than a leaf! John and Dennis offered to sharpen the three saws the village possesses, which were blunt, rusty and the teeth needed setting. We also gave Vincent a big bag of flour and some yeast for the village bakery when he arrived to collect the saws on Saturday morning. Today, Sunday, has seen a parting of the ways. Trillium are spending a day or two on Malakula before making their way back to Port Vila on Efate to clear out while we had a lovely sail to Ambrym, an island with two volcanoes and some hot springs. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the hot springs and it’s an 8 hour walk to see into a volcano! Tomorrow we are moving on, probably to Espritu Santo. Joyce

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