August 25, 2004
Vanuatu in sight
We are less than 20 miles from Lenekal Vanuatu and it is Friday afternoon. We don't know if customs will be open or if we can land as there is no harbor and the wind is not ideal. More on that later.
This has been an easy trip. We left Noumea at 8:00 am yesterday after fueling up. We have had steady ESE trade winds from 10 to 20 knots with mostly sunny skies. The boat is fast and easy to handle. The autopilot seemed to act up today but I put it on gyro and all seems fine now.
It was time to leave Noumea. We have so much to see and hanging around another day would only postpone the adventures ahead. We need to meet some other cruisers with the same agenda we have. Jeannie needs the company and it would be good to share ideas and information.
I do not have a good chart of the island we are heading too. The best information I have is a CD lent by Wanderer that has a free program put out by Tusker Beer with pictures and basic information about the anchorages in Vanuatu.
August 30, 2004
The news today in Vanuatu is that the Police Chief has been sacked. He issued an arrest warrant for the Prime Minister. Also, the Daily News, the only daily newspaper, reported that, on a tip, a reporter had found a stash of cocaine on a beach worth forty million of dollars. After removing the drugs to the trunk of a car, the reporter and two policemen withdrew to have a few cups of kava with the locals before heading back to the station.
We are sailing from Santo to Gaua. Last night was one of the few where we were not greeted by several dug out canoes hoping to trade for something or just courious. Every anchorage has a village and one is supposed to check with the chief before snorkeling or even anchoring. In some places it is taboo. In others it is for revenue as the village owns the sea including the fish to a depth one can dive too.
Our first village was in Port Resolution in Tanna. We caught a large Wahoo just before entering and gave the head, bones and some of the meat to the first canoe that came along. As it turned out this was to the son of the chief who invited us to come to lunch the next day. The chief explained that it was the custom that the chief gets the head of the fish as symbolic that he is the head of the village.
The chief asked us to tell him stories about America. This island is a center of the John Frum cargo cult religion which believes that their reward will come in this world rather than the next. They worship the red cross and wait for the planes to arrive from America filled with presents. The village at the top of the bay even has an army dressed in fatigues adorned with "USA" patches.
Two days ago we caught a Mahi Mahi and gave the head and bones to the first canoe in Vao Island to give to the chief. Yesterday we launched the dinghy and went into the beach. No lunch here. We did not even get any fruit. It turns out this is a densely populated area and there are seven villages, each with a chief. Each village boarders on the next and one must be a native to know whose village one is in.
The most interesting island has been Ambrym, the home of the wood carvers, black magic, and two active volcanoes. Barry rowed up in his dugout just after we dropped our anchor. He offered to show us around the village and introduce us to the carvers starting with his collection.
All villages are similar in that they are made up of a number of dirt floored one room thatched and woven huts, scrawny dogs and the odd pig or cow here and there. An old dive tank hangs in the center of the larger villages. This is the bell for calling to church for the Christian villages and for other gatherings in the "Kustom Villages". Even in Barry's village has one. Ranon is known for its tam tams, large hollowed out logs with carved faces that are used as drums.
After touring the village and meeting the carvers we selected one of Barry's figures of a woman and one with two heads from another carver. We also traded a rope for a third and bamboo flutes. Barry explained that to be a carver one must pay cash and pigs to the head of the family that owns the rights to the design. The more heads on the carving, the more pigs one must pay. He was only able to afford to pay for one and two head designs.
I also asked him if he were married. "No, I can not afford it". The going price for a bride is about five pigs. I explained that in our culture the father of the bride has to pay many times this on a feast when his daughter gets married. The groom gets her for free. He thought this was very funny.
Barry took us to the school to meet the Peace Corps volunteer. We had paper and pens for the school. We were going to give them to the school in Port Resolution but found out that a shipment had just arrived from a group of yachts that had visited several months earlier. The teachers were thrilled and were now selling these to their students.
Our Peace Corp volunteer was Allison Murphy, a twenty two year old mechanical engineer from Oak Park and a St. Ignatius grad. The village was relieved. After two years someone from her village had finally come to visit her. Over dinner she explained how the village worked. Black magic was very strong here. People form off the island were reluctant to visit. If someone in the village got mad they would put a spell on the enemy and sickness and even death would follow. After two years Allison seemed to take it seriously.