Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sept. 8, The Banks Islands, Vanuatu

Vanuatu continues to astound and amaze us. Four weeks ago we thought we would never experience anything like Tanna again in our lives - but the hits, they just keep on coming. Here is a brief synopsis:

8/11 - 17 - In Port Vila, the capital of the country, population 30,000. Great restaurants and supermarket serve the large expat community. Swam in a gorgeous waterfall, finished the boat chores, got our visas extended, watched the weather turn beautiful and had one good hour online. We have been at least 50 miles away from internet, an electricity grid, paved roads, or grocery stores since leaving Port Vila. (This posting will be radioed to Eve who will post it on the blog.) We picked up Lindsey, a young American biologist as a passenger. Her "research vessel" (our friends on Fifth Season) had been delayed in transit from New Zealand.

8/18 -23 - In the Maskelyne Islands on the southeast coast of Malekula We partnered up with Ocean Star, a catamaran family from Hunter Valley,Australia. Between Lindsey's marine biology, eight year old William's gregariousness, and Tom's anthropology, we had a wonderful time exploring the coral reef and getting to know the locals, who commuted to their gardens on sailing canoes. At the school fundraiser, we sat on handwoven reed mats and ate lap-laps (puddings) with our hands. The headmistress of the school got the ladies giggly with kava. The men got way beyond giggly.

8/24 - 30 - Dodging ash and smoke from the island's active twin volcanoes, we attended the North Ambryn Back to My Roots Festival with about two dozen other yachts and a handful of anthropologists and fine arts experts. This particular community is the place where the most renowned art in Vanuatu - enormous carved slit-gong drums called tam-tams and tree fern statues - are made - in a culture that cultivates magic. (People from other islands will not step foot on Ambryn because they are so frightened of the magic here.) The festival was three days of non-stop dancing , singing and pig killing to mark the real-life promotion of a chief from one grade to the next. The women dancers wore grass skirts, nothing on top. The men wore belts and a penis sheath - a woven mat that is wrapped around the penis on one end and tucked into the belt on the other (so that the penis is held erect). You get used to it.

8/31 - 9/4 - We raced 130 miles north to the Banks Islands for the Vanua Lava Cultural Festival. This area is considered very remote even by Vanuatuans. No cell phones! The airport is a six hour walk or a 15 mile trip in a little motorboat in the open ocean, and the plane only comes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Nonetheless, the four day festival was fantastic and was considered a big success when 14 boats with 28 white people showed up (no one came by air). The costumes, singing, dancing, food, games. handicrafts, commentary, friendship, creativity and facilities would have been exceptional in a first world city of a million people. In a village of 900, where people lived off the land and didn't use money except to pay for school fees, it was absolutely astounding.

We are anchored now at Waterfall Bay, off the west coast of Vanua Lava, waiting for favorable winds to take us south to experience more Vanuatu. We plan to sail to the East Coast of Australia in the next month or two, and then fly home to the US.


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