Sunday, November 6, 2016

Tanna. Vanuatu


When we awoke we went up on deck and surveyed the beautiful bay with children and men paddling around in dugout outrigger canoes. Mt. Yassur volcano was just behind us still spewing out ash and steam but luckily the prevailing wind was carrying the effluent away from us. Steam and boiling water spurt out of crevices in the rock surrounding the bay and we watched people bathe in the hot springs at the water’s edge.

View out of Port Resolution
Port Resolution is not a registered Port of Entry in Vanuatu but with prior written permission the customs and immigration officials will travel the 1.5 hours across the island to clear you in for a fee of course which worked out to be about USD$50 in addition to the normal clearance fees of $48. This is a much better arrangement than having to sail around the island to Lenakal to clear in and then either sail back to Port Resolution or leave your boat in a poor anchorage whilst visiting Port Resolution.
Port Resolution Yacht club

Some other friends of ours on Shuti, the only Israeli boat we have ever seen, arrived and we went ashore with Neil from Red thread to try and contact the authorities to tell them of our arrival. This is supposed to be done by contacting a gentleman call Weri who owns the Port Resolution Yacht club, sounds prestigious to me, who will call the relevant authorities and advise them of our arrival but when we landed we were advised that Weri had driven to Lenakal. We searched for Stanley, one of his brothers, who tried to call but the cell phone tower was out of action. I went back to the boat and collected my Sat phone and managed to call them and they said that they would be in Port Resolution in the early afternoon.    

We waited aboard our boats for the call on the VHF from the customs man and sure enough at 1pm we received the call. I went to collect him and bring him to the boat. The customs official was very pleasant and efficient. We had the forms already completed and the process only took about 15 minutes but we chatted for a while before taking him to our friends on Red Thread. Later in the afternoon the immigration official came to complete their forms and collect their money.

We had had a glimpse of the village when we went to call the officials but we were eager to have a look around the village and arrange to go to the volcano. We piled into the dinghy and motored ashore pulling it up on coral and pebble beach and climbing the dirt path to the yacht club and then walking down the dirt road to the village.

All of the houses were made of wooden frames covered in palm or pandanus leaves, normally only single rooms and about 20-30 feet in length. The village has a central park or grassy area with settlement of houses arranged around this park which we later found out were groups of houses of the same families.      


Port Resolution village


We walked the short distance to the beach going along a path lined with thatched houses. Just before we came to the beach we crossed the “Nakamal” which is the meeting area for the men of the villages who meet here every afternoon about 4pm to discuss local matters and drink kava. No women are allowed at these meetings and ladies cannot even walk through this area when the men are meeting. As it was before 3pm we all carried on to the beach.



There is a small restaurant on the beach, if you can call it a restaurant as it is a thatched single room house with one long table and a partitioned off kitchen and sand floor. We arranged for Suzanne to cook for us where we would bring the Mahi-mahi and she would make some other traditional dishes. Cost would be $7.5 for an adult and $4 for children. Not cheap but it would be an interesting experience.

To walk through the village of Port Resolution is truly like stepping back in time but I imagine the people are far more welcoming than when Captain Cook came here in 1774 and I also imagine little has changed since then. We chatted to a few of the villagers who all had excellent English, some telling us that they spoke up to 5 languages. They were so welcoming.

Stanley, Weri’s brother said that he could arrange to take us up to Mt Yassur in the pick up so we negotiated a deal for the ten of us on Sarita, Red Thread and Shuti to go for 1000 vatu each (aboutUSD$10) plus 2 gallons of diesel. This price was just for the transport there and did not include the park entrance fee which was 7,500 vatu - $75 each Ouch!!!! But we were more than willing to pay the price to get close to an active volcano. We could walk the 2.5hrs each way but would have to walk back in the dark, not something we particularly wanted to do in an unknown environment, turns out it would have been fine and we could have probably hitched a ride, probably not for 10 people though.



We walked along the black volcanic ash and sand beaches finding large amounts of obsidian, a volcanic glass rock.

Mt Yassur from above
Chief carrying the kava root
At 3pm we all piled into Weri’s pick-up truck, 5 in the cab and 5 in the back, and bounced along the dirt road to the Visitor center for Mt Yassur volcano. We were greeted by some of the villagers who ran the operation and collected our $75 each for the entrance fee. We then gathered in the Nakamal for a welcome ceremony of traditional dancing and some lucky man was chosen to partake in the drinking of the Kava root. The group then piled into yet more pick up trucks and trundled some more up the dirt road to a staging post ¾ of the way up the volcano. The excitement grew as we drove across the ash plain, void of vegetation or anything else for that matter and stopped to walk up the final 100 meters or so to the crater rim. As we climbed the volcano erupted making the earth shake and gave the sound of a very large train passing. Once at the summit we could look down into the smoke and ash filled crater like a cauldron of pungent smelling rock. There we waited for the next eruption and sure enough the ground shook again and the most tremendous noise battered our ear drums. It sounded like sitting next to an exceedingly large steam engine as the gases and rock exploded out of the crater. I don’t think I am capable of explaining exactly how it sounded but it truly left me speechless as one could feel and hear the sheer power and ferocity of magma being forced up from earth core to the surface. Wow!! Following each eruption there was a very strong smell of Sulphur, sometimes overpowering, worse than smoking 20 B&H I reckon.

Dancing in the welcome ceromony

We stayed at the craters edge and watched multiple eruptions until the sun fell below the horizon and darkness fell illuminating the molten rock being spewed up from the volcano. We all watched in awe, not wanting to leave this place where many people tick off a bucket list item, mine included.


One morning we were awoken by a knocking on the hull of Sarita. I went up to see who it was and found a man in a dug-out canoe beside our boat. He politely introduced himself as Philemon and asked if it was possible for us to charge his phone as his village did not have electricity. “Sure, glad to help” we chatted a while and it turned out he was the chief of a number of villages in the area. He invited us to come and see his village in the mountains, a 1 ½ hour walk each way. We jumped at the opportunity for a guided walk through the forest to a remote village so we arranged to meet him on the beach the following morning.

Jude rummaged through our storage space to find things that would be of use for the village, clothes, food etc and I found some other items like rope to bring along as a gesture of thanks.

Philamon was promptly waiting on the beach at 10am with his horse called Blacky and we commenced our climb up the mountain to his village. The path was a single track through dense forest but passed well cared for food gardens along the way. We climbed up the hill to maybe 1500 feet before we came to a well maintained and raked path lined with neatly trimmed shrubs with flowers and banana trees with the volcano continuing its eruptions in the background.

Philamon had been telling us stories of the area as we walked and we were taken aback by the beauty of the spot when we arrived. Philamon showed us the grave of his father, the previous chief before introducing us to his wife, Rose, and his young daughter. He then showed us the Nakamal, which he told us was the largest in all of Tanna and that once a year on April 1st many of the larger villages of the island meet here to discuss important political and cultural issues.

He told us that his lands extended far and that Mt Yassur Volcano was included in these lands and that he was in a battle to reclaim the rights which had been taken away by the government. He showed us papers of a land survey conducted in 1985 which showed his boundaries and was signed by the department of lands. Clearly he wanted some help in trying to retrieve his rights.

Rose, cooked us a lovely traditional meal of fish, yams, taro root and local cabbage and we ate this in one of the thatched huts in the village, and Philamon told us ancient tales. He then showed us to his collection of stones which he uses to summon spirits to action. These spirits include the Yam, Shark, sea, Sky, Rain, Sun etc and he believes that he can influence nature by working with the stones. Fascinating.


We walked down the mountain a different way to that of our climb, this time walking through dense forest to look at other gardens and sandalwood plantations and eventually down to some steam springs by the edge of the bay. Wat a great day!
     
The following morning there was another knock on the side of the boat. I came up and this time a man called Patrick in his dug out canoe first gave me a bag of vegetables and fruit and then a bag containing a rather dusty and rusty looking sound speaker. He showed me the problems and asked if I could fix it. I said I would have a go and asked him to come back in the afternoon. I took the speaker apart and soldered some parts and sliced some new cable and found some replacement plugs which I attached. I have no idea if it worked as I needed a 220v connection to test the repair, which we don’t have on the boat. Patrick arrived in the afternoon and looked very pleased when I showed him the repairs. We did not hear any hip hop booming from the village in the evening but I hoped the repairs did indeed work.

Philamon invited us ad Neil and Jesse (Red Thread) to join in a celebration in the village of Yanapai, which we passed on the way up to Philamon’s village. Philamon said that we should arrive at about 4pm and the girls would meet with the women of the village while Neil and I joined in the Nakamal.

One of the houses in Yanapai
We arrived laden with gifts for the women and children, food, clothes carrot cake and popcorn which the children went mad over. I went to the Nakamal and watched as village elders too their turn in standing up and speaking, some following their speech with by singing a parable that supported his speech.


No sure is she is enjoying the carrot cake?



After all the speaking was concluded the men formed a circle and started a traditional dance with clapping hands and stomping of feet. Neil and I joined in (Jude was amazed that I danced) and had a great time. We were told that the song sang during the dance was about when the first white men came they were the devil but now they were their brothers.

Nakamal meeting
After the dancing Neil and I were invited to drink some kava. Unlike in Fiji where the kava root is with a pestle and mortar into a powder in Vanuatu the root is chewed by the men and then spat out onto a leaf in a form of paste. The paste is then put in a piece of coconut bark and water is added so that the water mixes with the paste and strained through the bark before being placed in a half coconut to be consumed. An interesting though that you are drinking a mixture of water, root and spittle.

Philamon speaking at the Nakamal
The rain came down, we drank more Kava and chatted with the men before heading back to the beach to have an alcoholic drink with some of the locals. All in all it was a wonderful evening with lots of new experiences.

We had heard about a village that existed on the island where all of the villagers still wore traditional dress being grass skirts and Nambas or penis sheaths so we arranged for Weri to take us there with Neil and Jesse.












The village of Yekel is truly like stepping back in into medieval times. All the houses are thatched pandanus and the people do indeed wear traditional clothing. We were greeted by one of he local men who gladly showed us around the village and its gardens and met a number of the local villagers along the way.
 
Nakamal in Yekel




As wonderful as it is I find it a bit awkward walking around these villages, I don’t exactly blend in and feel like I am intruding on their lives but all of the locals were wonderful and did not seem to resent our presence.

When we had finished walking around the village the men and women of the village gathered in main Nakamal of the village that was surrounded by some of the largest banyan trees I have seen, one of which had a house high up in the branches. I was invited to drink kava again and this time its effect was much stronger than any of the previous times I had taken it. I felt quite euphoric.




The locals then started one of their traditional dances with the men in the center of a circle dancing, singing, clapping their hands and stomping their feet while the women ran around the outside with the children. The dance was similar to that seen in Yanapai but on a grander scale with women included.







If you are interested in the village then watch the movie Tanna which is set in Yekel. Well worth the watch.


We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Vanuatu but left a little sad as we wanted to do so much more for the locals. We had left them with clothes, food and lots of books and stuff for the children but it simply does not seem enough for these wonderful people but yet seem quite content with life as it is.  







Granny with a machete

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