B

So it seems, the fishing curse has been lifted. However, we now suffer from a new affliction. We can only catch fish beginning with ‘B’. 4 Barracuda, we even ate the first one, so overjoyed to finally catch something. 1 Bonito, which made it to fillet stage, but were too seasick to eat, so that went over the side too and finally 1 Bigshark, which was terrifying and too big and toothy to bring on board, so he writhed around behind, throwing us off course until he finally freed himself.

Finally a fish!

Finally a fish!

Beautiful Bonito!

Jaws

This tally has cost an estimated $100 in lost gear, thats a very expensive fish lunch.

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Location:Pacific Ocean, Somewhere near the equator

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A fine pair of Pamplemousse

The girl in the dugout canoe wanted to trade 2 fine grapefruit and a pineapple for one of my bras. It seemed a fair trade, they were pretty nice grapefruit. But then, I only have 3 bras onboard, so they’re fairly valuable to me. I had to decline that particular trade. We settled instead on a Brazilian football jersey from last years world cup. She seemed chuffed, although her breasts would go unfettered for another while yet.

It was our last stop in Vanuatu, in the Northern Banks Islands group and this was our first real experience of trading. Up until now it was just a few fish hooks here and there. In Vanua Lava it was a different story, all day a procession of villagers in their canoes would call to the boat offering fruit, vegetables and fresh water prawns in exchange for an odd selection of requests.

Isor collecting prawns

Isor collecting prawns

Lunch!

Lunch!

We’d stocked up on clothing in Port Vila, along with batteries, fishing gear and rice, but were unprepared for requests of Boat Paint, Nail Polish and playing cards, and of course ladies underwear. Still, we always managed to come to an agreement and ate magnificently for our time there.

Like everywhere in Vanuatu, the people speak their local village language, the national language Bislama (a sort of pijin English) and either English or French depending on which school system they came through. Spotting the Australian flag, everyone always greats us with Hello. But we’ve learned to ask which language they prefer, and while I can’t partake so much when it turns to Francais, its great to what someone reticent and shy becomes vibrant and friendly when speaking in their preferred tongue.

Its a peaceful pace of life here. Beyond Port Vila and the main tourist areas there’s barely a cash economy. Each family tends their gardens, high in the hillsides, growing Taro, spinach, sweet potato, yam, bananas, papaya. The ocean and the rivers provide protein, while the forest provides building materials. No one goes hungry and the occasional trading with the yachts can provide goods that might otherwise be out of reach. It’s gradually changing though, modern life is creeping in, mobile phones, solar panels, health care, all beneficial but creating a need for income. Small scale tourism seems a potential solution, and most villages we’ve visited have guest huts and charge small fee for hiking and fishing trips. But slowly it seems inevitable that this gentle way of life will change.

Fred chilling out by the Guest House

Fred chilling out by the Guest House

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Location:Twin Waterfalls, Vanua Lava, Vanuatu

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Small Nambas

I’ve mostly given up wearing clothes recently. At least on board the boat. It’s just too hot and there’s no point in sweating into everything I own. It’s not quite a naked boat, I’m making very good use of my farewell present from my colleagues in Sydney, the inspired gift of a bikini for every day of the week. Thanks everyone!

This strategy doesn’t work on land. Since the missionaries convinced everyone to give up their custom ways, the villages are decidedly prudish in their dress, and covering up knees and shoulders is expected, no matter what the temperature. So its long skirt, sleeves and a big red face for our shore visits.

The traditional garb of a leaf wrapped around the penis seems a far better sartorial choice. But the Namba (the leaf) is now worn only in ceremonies and traditional dances.

We were in Banen Bay, a village of the Small Nambas on Malekula. The island is also home to the Big Nambas and understandably enough they’re not too fond of each other and have traditionally been at war, the Big Nambas pushing their smaller island neighbours out to the fringes or into remote mountain areas. Those differences have been put aside now, along with cannibalism (last recorded case in 1969). But the traditional dances still commemorate battles and the men will wrap up their manhood and ladies lose their mui muis or lady dresses in favour of grass skirts and bare breasts.

Alvei, a huge old-fashioned wooden ship was anchored alongside us in the bay.

Alvei and the Doctors

Alvei and the Doctors

Among the crew were volunteer doctors and the founders of the healthcare program. This was the final year of the program which had built a clinic for the villagers and implemented many health programs over the year and as a farewell the village staged custom dances and a feast of roast pig. It was an exuberant affair with lots of bouncing bottoms and jiggling bits and a very sweet little boy in a skirt made of a leaf who joined in with the men and then interrupted the women’s dance looking for his mum.

Bare Bums and Small Boys

Bare Bums and Small Boys

Ladies Dance

Ladies Dance

We feasted that night with a local family and their recently deceased pig. This time I happily declined the Kava and was in fine form for church the next morning. Unnecessarily, I had donned my most nunnish outfit, as Lucy insisted I wear one of her islander dresses and I blended in quite nicely.

My lovely new lady dress

My lovely new lady dress

It was a sweltering morning and the whole village were packed into the tiny church, men on one side, the women on the other and the children sitting on the floor up front. The service was in Bislama and mostly a singalong which everyone was expected to join in. For mostly small people, they have extraordinarily powerful voices, the sound bellowed around the room, much for the children who all had their fingers in their ears, so my tone deafness was drowned out.

Banen Bay has been a great stop, its by no means the prettiest anchorage and sadly the reef is mostly dead after a crown of thorns attack, but the people have been wonderful. We met a dutch single hander at the very start of the trip who said the South Pacific is just palm trees and churches. It’s so much more than that of course, but after a while one beach does look pretty much like any other and it’s those that you meet on shore who make all the difference.

Fred learning how to prepare 'Bang Nut'

Fred learning how to prepare 'Bang Nut'

Fred and the Lads

Fred and the Lads

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Location:Banan Bay, Malekula

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Kava colada


There are no drink driving laws in Vanuatu, at least thats what the slightly drunk driver who gave us a lift to the night club told us. The evening had started tamely enough with pina coladas at sunset. We got chatting to the Aussie expat gang as they filed in and took their places at the bar. This led to rounds of rum as we heard the various stories of how they’d all got here. A two week holiday turning into ten years seemed a common theme. Along with a healthy appetite for booze they shared a desire to escape the rules and constraints of australia for the freedom of Port Vila.

And so started the pub crawl, descending into flaming shots, lots of new best friends, a lovely local guy who nominated us his new Mum and Dad, despite being in his 50s…and i may have signed up for salsa dancing lessons, again, oh dear!

The years of joint French and English colonisation appear to have left no bad feelings in Port Vila, the Vanuatu capital, just some tasty baguettes and a fine pint. Along with the fish and chips there’s some excellent french restaurants. Fred was brave enough to try the local delicacy, flying fox (fruit bat), which thankfully did not come served as I’d expected, wrapped in its own wings.


Among the chinese shops selling tourist trash and the duty free booze emporiums sits the Vila Market, with tables laden with fresh produce and the ladies asleep underneath. There must be official market hours, but wandering by at 2am its still possible to stock up on an arm of bananas or a bundle of crabs so long as you can find someone awake. The ladies who run the stalls make their home beneath the tables from Monday to Saturday, returning home only on market closing day.

Vila is a place to return to. Fred passed through here 7 years ago on his first South Pacific adventure, and the first person we met in the first bar we went to, was an old friend from those days. Other Fred, a charming and intriguing Mick Jagger lookalike, with an exceptional head of hair, had sailed many oceans since then, but he too had found his way back here. He gave us the lowdown on where to find everything in town and introduced us to the delights of Kava.

Not Cava the lovely bubbly Spanish champagny beverage, but Kava, a foul muddy water narcotic made from the roots of a local plant, grown all through the islands. Most authentically it is prepared by virgin boys, who chew the roots and spit them into your coconut shell, or more modernly, strained through an old sock. Traditionally is drunk only by men, and any woman who witnessed its consumption or even preparation, must be killed. They’re a little less touchy about it in town and western women don’t quite count as real women anyway, so it was quite alright for me to go along to the Nakemel (Kava Bar) and give it a try.

Its an unusual social gathering, in the villages, the Nakemel would be a sacred meeting place for ceremony and kava drinking. In Vila, it took the form of a car park, with a shed and a shaded area with tables. The coconut shells are dispensed from the shed, the etiquette is to walk off alone, with your back to everyone and down the mixture in one go. Perhaps best to do it with privacy as there’s always the risk of spewing your kava straight back up. Then wander back to join the crowd and communually enjoy the effects. Everyone warned me it was quite vile tasting, but it wasn’t so bad. I managed 3 half shells without disgracing myself, the only effects were a numb mouth, an inability to follow a conversation and gentle sense of being at peace with the world. My punishment was to come later, after making it back to the boat in one piece a distinctly unpleasent feeling settled in my tummy and i spent the rest of the evening retching over side. That will be the end of my Kava adventures for now.

Our stay in Efate has been very different to the other islands. Here we’ve played the role of tourists, and the holiday feeling has been made stronger by happy visits from friends. A Shared birthday with Emmanuelle and Antoine and charming the locals with the super star 1 year old Belene and her Mum and Dad, Karljiin and Patou.


It will always be a special place, because it is here Fred asked me to marry him. And I said Yes.

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Location:Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu

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Praise the Lord and the forgetful Chief

We’ve been rediscovering our christianity since arriving in Vanuatu. In the past weeks Mary Blair has hosted an impromotu bible music jamming session and a sermon in the cockpit. She is now a decidedly blessed boat.

The first missionary to come to Erromango, the unfortunate Reverand Williams, was killed and eaten by the locals. You can still see the rock where they laid out his body, scratched with marks indicating his height, perhaps to work out how many pigs he might be worth. The later missionaries must have been far more convincing as most of the villagers are decidedly devout.

When we arrived the community were preparing to install piping donated by an Australian church group. This is to run from the water source high in the mountains, down to taps in the village. This looks to be a vast improvement in quality of life, as at the moment, all water is carried by hand from the river.

Over the few days that we spent in Unpongkor (Dillons Bay), we were touched by the boundless genourosity of the locals. Right now there are 2 lobster wandering round the fridge (sorry mum) 3 pumpkins, 4 papaya, and bags of sweet potato, taro, green coconut and Cassava hanging from bags in the cockpit.


Every conversation we had seemed to end with ‘i go now to my garden and bring you vegetables’. Refusing didn’t seem an option.


A fun filled afternoon brought a macabre tour of the village’s old graveyard, up in the cliffs above Chief William’s private beach. Traditionally the bodies would be hauled up into the cave and left to rot down to a skeleton. But like many of the old local ways, the missionaries put a stop to this. The Chief himself showed us around, I worried a little as he clamboured up the cliffs, but despite his eighty years, he wasn’t as frail as he looked. Although claiming to have forsaken all the custom beliefs for a fervent presbyterian passion, he still performed a traditional ‘tok tok’ with the spirits to ask permission to view their bones… Just in case.

He is an educated man and a great story teller. Although his short term memory is a little hazy. We had a slightly surreal hour or so stuck in a loop of the same conversation over and over. Coffee and biscuits on board Mary Blair were capped off with a prayer session and a few hymns, again, and again.


Erromango doesn’t offer the same dramatic attractions as Tanna, but, because the locals have been so welcoming its been a wonderful stop over.

Onwards to Port Vila and the wondrous world of shops and launderettes.
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Location:Erromango

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Cursed

There are definitely fish in the sea. We’ve seen them. We’ve seen people catch them. A lot of them. So many they have to give them away.

But no matter what we try, the only catch we’ve made is an unfortunate flying fish with a bad sense of direction who died of exposure on the deck.

Squid rigs, rappellers, even old fashioned frayed rope… We’ve heard all the advice and tried everything. But still the sashimi set lies unused.

There is a story that the ashes of a previous owner are hidden somewhere onboard the boat. In all the renovations we’ve made, we’ve not yet uncovered them. But the story persists, and there’s a fair few hiding places. There’s always a cheery atmosphere on board and I like to think he was a happy man.

But perhaps he didn’t care for fish.

Donated fish

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Location:The pacific ocean

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Haus Blong John Frum

We crossed the island from Port Resolution to Lenekal to a soundtrack of Reggae and Jesus music. The flat bed truck bounced down the jungly dirt tracks and struggled over the ash plains while the sixteen passengers clung on, crammed like cattle in the back, bashing limbs and ducking low lying branches

We’d arrived into Tanna after a 2 day passage from New Caledonia and headed straight for the safe anchorage at Port Resolution, just under the rumbling, belching volcano, Mount Yasur. The steam caused a thick haze all around the island as we approached, and inside the bay, steam vents and hot springs sent billows of white clouds into the sky. It was our first stop into Vanuatu, so we had to raise our yellow quarantine flag and clear customs and immigration. Unfortunately the administrative centre is all the way over the other side of the island, a 2 hour truck ride away.

Despite the bruising, it was a happy journey, shared by the local people on their way to market and another yacht on the same mission as ourselves. We passed by the volcano, through the eerie ashplains, alongside villages, with woven huts among the huge banyan trees with the kids waving and shouting ‘Bye Bye’. There’s only a few trucks on the island and I think ours was the dud. It coped fairly well with the huge craters in the road, but anything more than an gentle incline was beyond its ability, and there were plenty. Sputtering gently to a halt with a slightly alarming roll backwards we’d leap off and get pushing. The locals approached this with great hilarity; one guy trying to push, while the others tickled him. The only sign of any impatience came when it was getting late for Kava time.

From the moment we dropped anchor on our first day, everyone has given us a wonderfully warm and generous welcome. The guys fishing in the bay paddled over straight away in their dugout canoes to say hello and offer some of their morning catch.


A lot of people speak english or french, along with one or more of the 8 languages on the island, and the national language Bismali, a form of pijin english. There always seems to be a least one person in the groups we meet that we can talk too, otherwise they’ll just shout for the nearest anglophone to come translate. We’ve learnt a couple of phrases in the village language, and this is an easy way to make friends quickly. But I’m not sure if i’ll get the chance to use my favourite expression in bislami where a bra delightfully translates as ‘basket blong titties’.

This is an island where along with believing a great American god called John Frum will arrive and shower them with gifts (they call the volcano ‘haus blong John Frum’

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Frum

they also worship Prince Phillip as a deity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Philip_Movement

These more interestings forms of religion exist peacefully alongside Presbyterians, Baptists and 7th Day Adventists. But they all seem to get along perfectly well

Mount Yasur was at a peaceful 0-1 on the volcano disaster scale, but it still put on a spectacular show. Another bone rattling truck trip brought us towards the crater in the late afternoon, just as the light faded. Predictably the engine gave up on the final steep climb and we walked the last the few hundred metres up the gently smoking road. At first look there were just clouds of steam rising up past brittle crusty peak.

But with low roar and a sudden boom, the smoke pulsed with its resonance, and a spitting fury of molten rocks were expelled. We watched mesmorised as night fell… Sometimes lulled into feeling its just another fireworks display, until a high pressurised venting sends firey reminders just a little too close.

I think I’m going to like Vanuatu.

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Location:Tanna, Vanuatu

Location:Tanna, Vanuatu

Posted in Cruising, Mary Blair, Vanuatu | 2 Comments