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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Halfway to halfway

Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Republic of Vanuatu
19°31.4221 S 169°29.7752 E

We arrived at Port Resolution on Tanna Island of the Republic of Vanuatu on Monday, May 11, 2008, after a 7 day passage from New Zealand. We experienced southwesterly to westerly winds for the entire passage, which is very rare. None of the normal southeast trade winds materialized during our entire passage. Good thing we weren't trying to sail directly to Australia because that would have been very frustrating and uncomfortable. Two other boats arrived at Port Resolution on the same day, so all 3 crews needed to go across the island to the official clearance port of Lenakel and do the paperwork dance. The chief of the local village made arrangements for transportation for all of us for 0630 the next morning. This check-in turned out to be an all-day deal. Lenakel is the main town on Tanna Island and is located on the western side of the island, but the tiny "harbor" there is very rough and normally not safe for anchoring and leaving your boat even for the time required to clear-in. Port Resolution is on the eastern side of the island and is normally quite calm except during due-east winds or northerly winds, when the shallow harbor can become untenable with large crashing waves and boats must weigh anchor and get out quickly. Since we arrived the bay has been very calm and we are checking weather gribs daily watching for any forecasts of easterly or northerly winds.

A small pick-up truck picked us up right on time Tuesday morning. Our seats was a 2X6 board which lined all 4 sides of the back. The Kiwi people who have made this trip many times grabbed the best seats (the woman in the passenger seat of the cab and the 3 men on the wooden bench directly behind the cab). A Frenchman from New Caledonia, Bill and I sat farther back along the sides and the village chief sat on the rear bench, which was the bounciest place on the truck. We had been warned to bring something to sit on because it would be a very bouncy ride over roads that are nothing more than half-washed-out dirt trails through the jungle. Bill was able to sit on his backpack but my pack was too thick to sit on, so my amply padded butt was bouncing on bare wood with no padded protection all day long. Bill's skinny little butt would never have been able to stand it. I don't know how that poor village chief stood all that bouncing because he had no padding on his skinny little butt either. Bill was able to sit on top of his backpack and hold onto the top rail of the truck bed. I could not do that. I had to sit on that hard bench and lean forward so my hands could grab onto the bottom of the 6-inch wide bench; you absolutely had to hold on with both hands or be thrown across the truck as it bounced along. This bent-over position was murder on my lower back and every time we would jerk sideways and the top of the truck bed side would jam into my lower back it hurt so much that I wanted to scream.

The road/trail from Port Resolution to Lenakel goes through heavy jungle and across a mountain ridge. The views are spectacular. For several miles the path goes around the top of an active volcano and across an immense volcanic ash deposit. There were large rocks and boulders strewn about that had been spit out from the volcano. Luckily "the volcano--he was asleep" while we were driving across that area. I cannot find the words to describe this terrain but can tell you that it would make a fantastic location for a movie, especially a movie depicting the moon or Mars or another planet. We could not get any good photographs because of all the truck vibration as we sped across this eerie scene.

After almost 2 hours of this hard bouncing and jerking I asked Stanley (the village chief) if we had much father to go. He said we were "halfway to halfway." Oh God, that was bad news! I wasn't sure my back would be able to stand it if we really were only halfway to halfway.

But Stanley was just kidding and we arrived at the bank about a half-hour later. We converted New Zealand dollars into Vatu currency. It was a short drive to Customs where they graciously allowed us to check-in and check-out on the same day, thus saving us from having to do that God-awful round-trip across the island again when we are ready to leave. They allowed us to clear-in and out at the same time because we said we would only stay one week and then would be departing for Australia. Don't tell them, but we might stay here 2 weeks. Our drop-dead date for departure is May 26 in order to arrive in Australia well before our 8-year-old grandson arrives there to sail with us for a few months. We figured that if we said 2 weeks that they might require us to make a second trip, so we guessed our stay at 1 week. Really depends on weather as to when we will actually leave.

After Customs it was a fairly long drive to Immigration and then a shorter drive even farther out of town to Quarantine. And that finished our clearance process. You definitely need transportation in order to handle clearances at Lenakel. Stanley suggested lunch at a restaurant (there appeared to be only one) but none of us felt up to eating anything, so he took us to the local market so we could all shop. Available to buy were: brown roots of some sort, more roots, more unknown brown roots, several types of bananas, coconuts with outer husks removed, taro bulbs and stalks and something that looked like huge long cucumbers except they curved every which direction. I bought a small bunch of those short, fat bananas that Bill and I like so much. Definitely nothing else there that we would eat. We found the one "grocery store" that sold fresh-baked bread and bought a loaf of that. Bill bought a package of cookies and distributed them to some local kids. On the roadside we notice a large snail. Probably the largest snail either of us had ever seen.





You know how things grow differently in jungles. Made me wonder what else was out in that jungle that we needed to be careful about. One good thing is that there are no venomous snakes on this island.

Then we sat on the side of the road and video watched the waves crash into the Lenakel harbor and thanked our stars above that we had wisely chosen not to come over here in our boat. There was an inter-island transport ship trying to unload but the waves were bouncing it everywhere. Waves were crashing over the concrete wharf. The ship almost landed on top of the wharf on one particularly large wave, so he pulled anchor and moved out to sea. Then they continued to unload the ship to a small boat from out at sea. The harbor was simply too dangerous. The small boat would maneuver between large rocks to a beach and could land there without too much surge. What a job.

videoThere was a small yellow sailboat anchored at Lenakel that was being thrown about like a toy. The owners were not aboard. Nor could they have managed to get aboard if they had wanted to. Stanley said this boat was anchored here last Friday with no one aboard and it was still here on Tuesday. The waves surging across the reef were tossing that boat and yanking of the anchor chain to the point that we all thought it was going to break loose at any second. The local folks were sitting around watching and they all thought it was going to be washed onto the rocks at any moment.

The language of Vanuatu is called Bislama and is sometimes referred to as Pidgin English. Many people also speak French and/or English. We got a kick out of some of the signs in the town market area. Both Bill and I could read most of the signs even though we could not understand anything when the local people talked among themselves. The phrase I liked best was: Wat nam blong u? Or, what name belong you? That is how you ask someone his name. The sign on theleft obviously says that smoking in that location is taboo or forbidden and also in other places like the hospital, etc. And the notice on the right says that if anyone finds Doctor Lisa's scuba mask they should please give him back, thank you too much.


On the 2 ½ hour trip back across the island we stopped several times to stand up and relieve our aching backs and butts. Once several of the men stopped to "wash the vegetables" as Stanley put it. Hadn't heard that euphemism before. Beside one of the enormous trees alongside the road there was a produce market with a couple dozen villagers sitting beneath the tree. We stopped so the Frenchman from New Caledonia could buy some kava roots, and Bill again distributed cookies to the little kids. The trunk of the tree was as big around as a jumbo jet fuselage. There were thousands of these large trees in the jungle all across the island. They appear to be centuries old.

Kava is popular in Fiji and Vanuatu, but there are 2 different kinds of kava. The kind in Fiji is dried and is called "brown" kava. It is very mild. In Vanuatu they use "green" kava and it is supposed to pack a whallop. Kava is absolutely forbidden to women. Women are not even allowed near where kava is prepared or drunk. Fine with me; the men can definitely keep this joy all to themselves. For those who don't know, kava is prepared by first chewing the root and spitting into a bowl. Then water is added. Then men drink this nasty stuff that supposedly tastes like ditch water. (Sound familiar to anyone who read "Clan of the Cave Bear" by Jean Auel?) Two bowls of the Vanuatu green kava will put a large drinking man flat on his back, so we are told.

On the final stretch back to Port Resolution a man was riding a horse down the road. This was the only person on a horse that we had seen all day. Bill shot a short video of the guy and horse galloping up behind our little truck. A cowboy in Vanuatu?

video

There is a group of 30 Romanians currently at Port Resolution. They are camped out at the Port Resolution Yacht Club, which is basically a large hut on the hilltop overlooking the bay and is run by a man named Weery. The Romanians are here to build a new church for the Seventh Day Adventist religion. These Romanians are from all parts of the world - Australia, Italy, and Canada, among other places - and they paid for all the building materials themselves. The building materials were delayed 2 weeks in shipment and just arrived the same day we arrived here. So the Romanians were sitting here waiting for 2 weeks and they only brought food supplies to last a scheduled period of time. Since the butcher in New Zealand screwed up my order and we have more meat than we can possibly eat, we are giving our surplus to them. Any fresh or frozen meat onboard when we reach Australia will be destroyed; so rather than waste perfectly good food, we are giving a lot of it to the Romanians. Guess this time they will believe that God does indeed provide. They are almost completely out of food and we arrive with a surplus. I gave them about 7 kilo boneless chicken breasts, 4 kilo round steaks, and 4 bags of freeze-dried ground beef along with cans of tomato puree, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and 4 kilo of dried spaghetti noodles. I also gave them a huge bag of instant potatoes, butter and dried milk.

We were exhausted after our 5-hour round trip ride to Lenakel on Tuesday and just wanted to get back on the boat, get a hot shower and relax. But we arranged with Stanley for the truck driver to return on Wednesday night to take us to see the active volcano. There were 8 of us scheduled to make the trip. Unfortunately the driver did not make it back to Port Resolution on Wednesday night, so this excursion is rescheduled for Thursday night. We are apparently back on Island Time, I guess. Things happen when they happen. I mentioned earlier that Stanley is the village chief. Actually each village has 2 chiefs. One stays in the village and works with the people and settles and disputes among the villagers. I think this chief is called the yemen'a. The other chief is called the yemen and his job is to be the spokesman for his village. Stanley is the yemen for the village at Port Resolution. His father was the yemen until his death earlier this year; he was called Rodney. Upon his father's death, Stanley assumed his father's name of Rodney and assumed the duties of spokesman for his village. That is why he accompanied us to the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine offices. By law, the officials must accept Stanley's word about our arrival and boat location. We would not have been able to clear in at Lenakel unless our boat was physically anchored at Lenakel unless we had the village chief there to vouch for us and say that we arrived at his village. Stanley is only 31 years old and seems young to be a village chief, but as mentioned earlier Vanuatu has a very young population. Some of the villagers now call him Rodney and some of them still call him Stanley. I would be willing to bet that as the years go on he will become known simply as Rodney.

Now our short geography and history lesson: Vanuatu is a country comprised of 83 little islands, situated between Fiji and New Caledonia, north of New Zealand, and southeast of Papua New Guinea. This area was named the New Hebrides by Captain Cook and in 1980 the name was officially changed to the Republic of Vanuatu. The total landmass of these islands could easily fit inside of the State of Arkansas but they are spread over 700 miles of ocean. Vanuatu lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire and has several active volcanoes, one of which is located on the island of Tanna and we plan to visit it tonight or tomorrow night.

Vanuatu has a multicultural society. The people are predominantly Melanesian although there are a few Polynesians and whites. Melanesians are black, whereas the Polynesians are light brown or almond-colored. Vanuatu is the only Melanesian area that we will visit. Some of the Polynesians arrived in these islands via outriggers in the 11th century. The first whites to arrive were the usual mix of European explorers followed quickly by traders who realized how valuable the native sandalwood trees were, and blackbirders (slavers) who realized how valuable the native people were. On a few of the islands there is presently an effort to again grow the valuable sandalwood trees. The best sandalwood trees are the old male trees and the smell is only detected when cut deep into the main trunk. I had hoped to smell one but the only ones we have seen are too young to have developed the distinctive scent. By 1839, Protestant missionaries arrived to try to convert some souls. The islanders wisely dealt with this latest threat by eating them. Vanuatu was one of the last regions of the Pacific to accept Christianity. The last officially reported act of cannibalism in Vanuatu was as recent as 1987.

Unfortunately, the explorers, traders and missionaries brought with them a collection of germs and diseases that wiped out whole villages: cholera, measles, smallpox, influenza, pneumonia, mumps, scarlet fever, and the common cold. The population of these islands is estimated to have numbered 1 million in the early 1800's. By 1935 there were fewer than 41,000 ni-Vans left.

Early European settlers hailed from England and France, the latter usually via the penal colony next door in New Caledonia. In 1906, the two countries set up a Condominium government in Vanuatu, which granted both of their nationals equal rights. During the Condominium, there were two sets of laws - one applying to the French, one to the English and both to the ni-Vans (it pretty much sucked to be a native). There were two sets of courts, two police forces, even conflicting rules about which side of the road to drive on. One wag referred to this time as the Pandemonium.

During World War II, 500,000 Allied Troops passed through Vanuatu. James Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific based on his experiences in Vanuatu during the war. The island of Bali-Hai was entirely mythical but there actually is an island called Vanikolo about 175 miles north of the island Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu, a name that strongly resembles the mythical island of Vanicoro in Michner's book. The Allies hired the ni-Vans to work on the military bases. The disenfranchised ni-Vans were surprised to receive good wages for working on the U.S. military bases and were astounded by the seemingly equitable treatment of black and white soldiers. Not surprisingly, after the troops pulled out, an independence movement developed that resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Vanuatu in 1980.

The population of Vanuatu is now estimated to be around 200,000, fifty percent of whom are under the age of 15. It is a young country in so many ways. But it is also full of people practicing very old ways of life, particularly on the out islands.

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