Thursday, 8 September 2016

Vanuatu Part Two : Erromango and Efate (Port Vila)

Erromango:  Cannibals, Burial Caves and Genuinely Friendly People !

Still feeling the thrill of our close encounter with the volcano, we headed further North up the chain of Islands the next day, and arrived into Dillon Bay, in Erromango by lunch time. Dillon Bay is a protected anchorage and it is also known as Williams Bay, because of John Williams. No, NOT the composer, but rather the missionary who, along with fellow missionary James Harris, unwillingly became a martyr, after being killed (and eaten...) on Erramango in November 1889.
Unlike the unfortunate John Williams, we had a MUCH more welcoming experience in wonderful Erromango

This island was another pleasant surprise for us. The day after our arrival we took the dinghy into shore to visit the village. We were greeted by Jason, the chief’s son and by David, our friendly and patient tour guide. David took us around the village and through the farm lands and bush and to a favourite fresh water swimming hole where the kids had a refreshing dip. 

Meg going for a fresh water swim

We then had a lovely lunch at another villagers house. Donald and his wife had prepared an absolutely lovely spread for us, all made from local vegetables and fruit, fish and rice. Our host, so generous and inviting, was also amusing: I had to smile when, as part of his welcome speech, he told us that he calls every new comer he meets by either “Mom” or “Dad”. What ever his reasons, I think it is also a very clever way for him to get away with not having to remember everyone’s names !  ;)

Donald and his wife

Donald went on to share his life philosophy with us: That no matter what our religious beliefs or the colour of our skins* , we are all part of the same big family and together we all form a unit...we are all connected to one another.

Chris (from SV Scintilla) serving herself to our lovely lunch
 To prove his point, the beautiful meal he provided for us was offered absolutely free. If  there was anything we had to offer in return, he would gratefully accept, but there were no obligations. And so, when we found out that Donald’s wife ran a preschool all on her own (Some days up to 49 kids show up!) we were happy to donate a whole bunch of craft supplies, and Mark also offered  to help Donald fix his freezer. We were happy to give back. 

*It is something one may have to get used to here....being openly called “white skins”! This is completely without malice or any negative intent. It is so far from racism although, perhaps hard for some of you to believe, it is simply a fact to them; we look different, and they find no reason not to mention it, they sincerely appear to mean no disrespect at all. It just made a few of us giggle when we first heard our new moniker.

The burial caves;

It wasn’t until after the arrival of the missionaries (after John Williams), that the people of Erramongo started to burry their dead in the ground. Before this, they used to bring their dearly departed into some sacred caves, where they were left, uncovered, for all of eternity. We had the privilege to be invited to visit this sacred site. 

Before entering the caves, David had to “introduce us” to the spirits, so that they would not be angry with our intrusion and take revenge by haunting us in bad dreams later that night or tormenting our children. In order to achieve this he said a few words to them in bislama and then we were told we could enter.

Meg entering the first burial site

We entered two grave sites. The first cave, which one had to enter through a narrow opening, had been damaged by a recent land slide...but the bones and personal effects (bracelets etc..) had been lovingly recovered and placed back on the surface of the ground inside. The second was a former chief’s grave. We had to climb up a steep face to a ledge in the rock where the chief, his wives and former assistant had been laid to rest.  

The climb up to the second site


Yu Tok Tok Bislama ?  

Bislama, the “pigeon english” they speak here is a phonetic language. When you first read the public notices scattered around the villages, you don’t understand what you are reading. As soon as you start to read it aloud, however, the message starts to decode its simplicity and down to earth way to communicate. 

wat nem blong yu ?  (What is your name ?  “blong” literally means “belongs to”)
Nem blong mi M-C  (My name is MC)

Now it is your turn ! See if you can decipher this notice from the Health Committee:

Hint:  This is a recipe for making an electrolyte solution for children (pikini) who are suffering from  a certain unpleasant digestive disorder  (Sit Sit Wota). Wan= one Tu= two 

Efate and the Capital : Port Vila

After one more day sail, we arrived at the Island of Efate, and the capital of Vanuatu: Port Vila. We were happy to be able to go out for dinner and eat ice cream again. We fetched some groceries and got reconnected to the internet. Other than these guilty pleasures, we went to visit the excellent National Cultural Museum and the great handicraft centre with its small but very informative Volcano Museum. 

“Sandroing” (Sand Drawing)

Edgar doing Sandroing

I was simply rendered speechless when Edgar, our museum guide, demonstrated this ancient and unique tradition of Vanuatu for our group. He started by making a precise grid in the thin layer of white sand with his finger.Then, he put his finger down into the sand once more, and with his soft voice he took us on a journey...his finger tracing a curved and repeating pattern over and over and expanding outwards, making a more and more elaborate design. Each drawing is done in one slow continuous and flowing movement...his finger never stopping and never lifting out of the sand..

Each drawing is a story, passed on from generation to may be told or sung as a song, each drawing is different. The first one represented the expression of deep love for another, the second the arrival of the English “Black Birding Ships” into Vanuatu and so on. I think I speak for everyone who witnessed the demonstration by Edgar when I say that it was mesmerizing... visual arts but in its most “alive” form, what a thrill ! 

And..just so you know...
.I am not the only one who thinks so: In 2003, UNESCO proclaimed Vanuatu’s sandroing to be a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. 

We also were treated to some traditional wooden flute playing and an interesting tour of the fascinating displays of the history of Vanuatu (Which, you may know, used to be called New Hebrides, I found out today). If you are ever in Port Vila, do yourself a great favour and go and see it for yourself !

Coming up on our next blog

We travel North again, exloring more of the stimulating and wondrous Islands of Vanuatu….

Until then, as always, we are sending you lots of love, from the 4 of us here on board S/V Amelie!

4Ms at Sea 

Do you know how to milk cows ?  Do you dream to travel to a beautiful and remote paradise far far away ?  Well….have we got an opportunity for you !!

Stay tuned as Mark tells you all about this exciting and unique opportunity…coming soon !

Saturday, 3 September 2016

VANUATU PART ONE: Aneityum and Tanna

As you may have read our adventures at sea will be coming to an end in 2017. The process of getting the boat ready for selling is strange....Definitely bitter sweet. But we still have a few adventures onboard her before we leave ! 


Aneityum Island

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it....What was it about Vanuatu that I like so much ? It is my second visit to this country and I was surprised to see that upon arriving I was filled with the same peaceful feeling as I was 5 years what is it I wonder ? 

After the first few days, I think I’ve finally figured it out: It is the “Non Energy” of the place. The absence of noise and technology. It is the quiet, soul-nourishing peace of the place that I love so much !  

“So? ...How is that different from every other place you’ve been in the South Pacific?”
 I hear you ask ? 

Well, in direct contrast to the lovely and lively people of Fiji....the people here are very reserved. They are polite and welcoming, but not in a festive way like their neighbours to the East.. You can wonder around the still villages, and not encounter anyone....those you will see in the distance are aware of you, surely, but they go about their business...carrying the firewood or fruit on their backs....if you go to them and say hello they will happily speak to you and welcome you....but that is all up to you it seems. We are utterly left alone here...and that is just what I was yearning for it seems...

Add to this an uncommon natural beauty of the surroundings. Aneityum, the first island we visited, has a very tidy village, reminiscent of the cleanliness you see in the French Polynesian islands, it must be from the European influence.

Mystery Island:

What is unique about Aneityum though is that they have an island which was designated specifically for the purpose of entertaining cruise ship guests. It is an idyllic white sandy island, complete with turquoise waters, surrounding reef great for snorkeling and swimming. The island is set up with the traditional bamboo thatched houses that we see in the “real” village in Aneityum, except that these houses are completely empty on non cruise ship days. 
The island does not have any inhabitants. 

It is an interesting concept to us that these islanders have figured out a way to keep their everyday life separate from the craziness that comes with the arrival of thousands of tourists that land on the shores across the bay from them...on those days the villagers hop into their long boats loaded with crafts and souvenirs to sell at the “market” stalls of Mystery Island. Also kids dressed in their traditional grass skirts greet the passengers with song and dance. The make shift signs are all announcing tours, “Swim with Turtles!” “ Traditional Dance Displays”, Kayaks to Rent” etc....we enjoyed visiting the island one cruise ship day and then the next day when we had the whole island completely to ourselves.....this gave us a chance to feel so privileged to have seen life in Vanuatu...behind the emerald curtain.....

Mt Yasur, Tanna Island

“TAKE ME TO....THE VOLCANO!!!!” : (Joe Banks in: Joe Versus the Volcano)
For fans of the movie…please note orange soda product placement ! 

After leaving Aneityum, we high tailed it to the next island called Tanna, to get our volcano fix ~   Mt Yasur, is the 6th most active volcano in the world...and maybe, perhaps, the only one you can get so close to the rim to witness all of the intense power of the volcano.   As you step out of the truck, at the base of the stairs leading to the top of the crater....a moonlike landscape surrounds you. Black ash and extrusive igneous rocks abound. As a welcome, the volcano lets out a mighty roar and smoke billows into the sky....yellow, black, brown, grey  pyroclastic clouds....then your ears drums pop and you see a burst of red lava erupting upwards above you....the lava is expelled in clumps, some larger than the others...and these partly solidify before landing with a “wet blanket thump" on the ground around the crater....this show consistently delivers thrills such as these, in intervals of only a few minutes....and each time, more terrifying than the next....the crater breathes....and sounds like a massive dragon.....the power of it all is quite mind boggling really. 

When the sun sets, the spectacle inspires even more wonder from us all....the lava is now fluorescent red and each explosion is like the most epic of all fireworks display every seen....

Matthew silhouetted in front of a very active Mt Yasur !

When I was here with Mahina Expeditions back in 2011, the  volcano tour was a lot more low key. Our captain had hired a driver from the village near Port Resolution and we were driven to the crater, as we were on this day...but now, they have organized the tours more formally. Our group was greeted (in both French and English) at the Mt Yasur centre, and we were given a safety briefing,  then a safety officer was designated to your group along with your guide and we are given specific instruction: “not to run away from any eruption” avoid anyone getting hurt....

At the centre we were also treated to a traditional ceremony complete with songs and dances and an offering of kava to the traditionally clad chief. One of the dances performed before our ascent to the crater was called the “Volcano Dance” and it ended with each of us receiving a necklace of flowers to protect us from the volcano. There have been a few rumours of accidents happening at the site over the last few years so it is nice to see that some safety precautions have been put in place... but still.....there is no greater adrenaline rush than to know that you are this close to danger...and that the safety standards put in place here are very different than those that would be in place back home....there is just NO WAY anyone would get away with this back in Canada or the U.S...  To really emphasize this, just as everyone was leaving the top crater,  one particularly large “Lava Clump”  (the size of a large coffee table) landed on the spot where our friend Matt’s backpack had been resting only ten minutes before...that REALLY brings chills that are hard to forget !  

All and all  we had a fantastic experience and we give Mt Yasur Volcano : Two Flaming Thumbs Up !

                              We will try to add a video link of the volcano soon !

Erramongo Island:

We are now safely anchored in Dylan’s Bay in Erramongo Island. Site of the last cannibalistic event in Vanuatu’s known history. More about this and other adventures in our next blog....

Until then, we send you loads of love

from the 4 Ms at Sea