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It's been a month and a half since we've talked about our experiences in Vanuatu. Jerry had just started fixing/strengthening our port hull and the World Cup Soccer was still going on. Time sure does fly by!!
We haven't met many other cruisers this season and haven't seen many other yachts, but did meet one nice family from Manchester, England on a catamaran that they'd sailed from England. We spent quite a bit of time with Graham, Louise, Max (age 10) and Isabelle (age 8).
Since the last letter we've spent time at the islands of Ambae, Espiritu Santo, Gaua, Vanua Lava, Ureparapara, Loh, and Hiu. We had to go to Espiritu Santo to get permission from the customs officials to go to the Banks Group of Islands. Then we had to go to Vanua Lava in the Banks Group to get permission to go to the islands of Loh and Hiu in the Torres Group. It was easy sailing all the way north, but now that we're going south again the wind is "on the nose" a lot, the sailing is uncomfortable, and we're having to tack a lot (mostly going 1 and 1/2 times as far since we can't sail in a straight line with SE winds).
Vatu: The local currency, the vatu, is referred to below. The last time we got money out of a bank, $1 U.S. was about 130 vatu. This means that 100 vatu is about 75 cents. 25,000 vatu is about $192 U.S. and is what the islanders receive for one ton of copra. The primary school fees for the August to December term at Gaua Island are 500 vatu for one child or 750 vatu for two or more children in a family. 500 vatu is $3.75 while 750 vatu is about $5.65. Sure wish education was only this expensive in the U.S.!! Property taxes would be a lot less. One indicator of the poverty here is that the parents of 15 out of 40 students in one village were unable to pay even these small fees. We contributed the total fee for these 15 children, 5750 vatu or about $44 U.S.
Many of the ni-Vanuatuans have asked us what we paid for the boat. We have to tell them that it is A LOT of money and we had to sell our house and land to get it. This isn't really comprehensible to them since they are given land and build their houses themselves out of local materials - bamboo and palm thatch. However, we paid over 19.5 million vatu for it so we are indeed millionaires here in Vanuatu. These people just can't comprehend that kind of money.
Some interesting statements the locals have made are: "I make bread for yachties, but I don"t have any flour." "I need to make a phone call, but our phone cards have run out." (We traded the one phone card we'd bought in Vila to one chief so that he could make some phone calls.) One guy asked Jerry if we had lions in the USA. Jerry said "no" and then said only in zoos. The idea of a zoo was again an incomprehensible concept to them.
We haven't had to worry about keeping our water tanks full this season as we've had quite a bit of rain and it has been mostly overcast when it isn't raining, so it hasn't been too hot. There have been numerous rainbows. Unfortunately we've had to run our engines about an hour a day to have enough electricity to use the refrigerator/freezer, computer, phone, and radios. When we were in Queensland, Australia last year we never thought this would be necessary. With constant sunshine in Queensland the three solar panels took care of all our electrical needs. Perhaps we should think of adding a wind generator to the boat for the times when there is plenty of wind but very little sun.
Many of the islanders have asked lots of questions about September 11th. We'd saved some newspaper clippings from Australia so they got to see what Bin Laden looks like.
We've seen many flying foxes, flying fish, and porpoises. On the way north to Gaua we saw a frigate bird. We hadn't seen one in many months, so it was neat to see one again. In some anchorages we saw turtles, but they weren't as prominent as they would be if the locals didn't feast on them.
The ukelele that was made for us at Ambrym Island was often used, and a good conversation piece. Some men looked very carefully at it and planned to make one for themselves. Some islands had homemade ukeleles, while others seemed to only have ones purchased from stores.
Food: We've had lots of fresh juice - papaya, grapefruit and orange. As in most island countries, the locals have kept us well supplied with food from their gardens - breadfruit, yams, manioc, sweet potatoes, island cabbage (similar to spinach), bananas, cooking bananas (plantain), passion fruit, soursop, limes, long green beans, huge ripe cucumbers that were good after the seeds were removed, even a pumpkin and two tomatoes at one village and green peppers at another. We were provided with many drinking coconuts. Most villages have no store. Except for the major towns of Luganville and Port Vila, we only saw (small) stores at Sola on Vanua Lava. In a few villages we were offered very small eggs for trade. This was a luxury item. One man told us that he likes to trade them as there are many wild cats on his island and they get the young chicks. On most islands the villagers always let the eggs hatch so that they have fowl to eat. As usual we've been making lots of bread, making lots of popcorn (very popular with both children and adults), baking lots of banana bread and pineapple upside down cakes.
Fishing: We've had to make several lures as "big" fish keep taking them. On the 5th of July while going from the west coast of Gaua to an anchorage on the north coast, we caught a shark mackerel that was over 2' long and a dogtooth tuna that was about 3' long. A shark followed the tuna as Jerry hauled it in, but didn't get a bite.
While listening to an 8 am "net" on SSB radio we learned that three boats, each with two people on board, had shared a large snapper at an anchorage off Pentecost Island. They were so ill that they couldn't get to shore. Only one of the six could talk on the radio and attempt to get help. There are not many medical facilities on these islands in Vanuatu. We couldn't get the net for a couple of days because of propagation, so we don't know how they got help, but we have since heard the boats involved on the radio and they are still suffering from the effects of cigeratura poisoning. They get chills and severe itching weeks later and have discovered that they cannot have caffeine or alcoholic drinks for at least six months or the symptoms will recur. We generally don't eat reef fish and if we do eat one we make sure it isn't a large one. We've been dealing with the likelihood of cigeratura poisoning since we were in the Caribbean and have been well aware of the dangers of eating large fish caught on the reefs.
At Loh Island Jerry used his small fishing rod on deck and caught 3 fish to give to some of the villagers who were on the boat. Then a few of the villagers learned to cast and one guy caught two fish to take home. A few days later the same man borrowed our dinghy to go fishing with his hand line. The village was having a feast for their church the following day, so he wanted to catch some fish, but he had no luck.
Schools: We discovered that teachers at the schools would like volleyballs with pumps, arts and crafts paper, erasers, pencils, pens, cellophane tape, glue, colored chalk, chalk, rulers, world maps, used school books, and puppets. They can also use notebooks but we discovered (after conversations with many teachers) that it is best to give notebooks and pencils directly to the students. We had many pictures that we'd cut out of magazines and tourist brochures so we let each child choose 3 pictures. Then we glued them inside the covers of their books. We proceeded to give them a pencil and put the notebook and pencil in a ziplock bag. They are really short of plastic bags in the outer islands, it rains a lot, and the students generally have to walk a fair distance to their schools, so they really appreciated the ziplock bags to keep their notebooks dry. Some schools have more than one teacher and if this is the case there is a head teacher who is paid by the government. It appears that the head teachers aren't always fair with the distribution of materials. Thus, if we give something to one teacher we like to give the same thing to each teacher to prevent jealousy and hard feelings.
We made lots of cubes and tangram puzzles with teachers, adults and children. After learning that the study of cubes is in class 4, I gave class 4 teachers enough origami paper for each of their students to make one if they decided to use the paper in that way.
Chiefs: As with school teachers, there is generally more than one chief in a village. We found that if we gave one chief of a village something (like kerosene) then we gave the same thing and the same amount to each chief. We attempted to figure out the hierarchy of chiefs and think we did come to some conclusions, but discovered that there is a lot of greed and jealousy. There is a lot of competition in the villages for whatever is aboard the yachts for barter or trade. Again, treating everyone the same has prevented a lot of hard feelings.
Trade Items: We found that there were many popular trade items including shampoo, toothpaste, T- shirts (VERY popular) and clothes of any kind that aren't too warm, towels, fish hooks, kerosene (very popular - trade boats hadn't been in the Banks and Torres Islands for months and they had to make coconut oil every day to burn at night. Although it doesn't create as bright a light as kerosene, it works for them.), and rope to tie up their bullocks. School notebooks, pencils and pens were also VERY popular for trading. Some popular food items for trade were corned beef, rice, sugar, oil, and flour, but we don't think they are really necessary, more like treats for the villagers. They grow plenty of food.
Transportation Between Islands: There are small airports on Gaua, Vanua Lava, and Loh Islands. Generally there is a plane once a week. The villagers near the airports can order supplies and have them delivered by plane, but kerosene cannot go on the planes. At Loh Island they hadn't seen a trade boat or copra boat since January. One arrived the day after we had arrived and many people got some needed supplies. The local dugout canoes almost never go from one island to another, so most villages are very isolated.
Boat Work: We've had to put more fibreglass cloth and epoxy on the dinghy to keep it from leaking. We had to mend our Vanuatu flag as most courtesy flags aren't meant to last more than a month or two. We also had to mend our U.S. flag, but we've been using it since we arrived in Australia many months ago. It is the one we used on the schooner before we moved aboard the catamaran. Jerry has continued to work occasionally on strengthening the port hull that got damaged, changed engine oil, mended one of our sails, worked on faulty plumbing, cleaned the propellers and sides of the boat a couple of times, fixed the track for the staysail, oiled the shafts to the propellers, gone up the mast to fix the slide for the mainsail, etc.
We've had to clean our hulls several times here in Vanuatu. We get a lot of green grassy growth on them. We cleaned them ourselves until we got to Gaua Island. Then we decided to hire locals to do it. The first experience was not so good. The hulls weren't cleaned very well and we were getting ready to go to a different island where there were crocodiles and we wouldn't go in the water. After that experience we got in the water with two locals and worked together to clean the hulls. They scraped a lot of the grass off, but had no idea about the finer points of cleaning. However, they were a lot of help and we did the finishing touches ourselves.
At Espiritu Santo (the second largest island in Vanuatu) we got supplies in Luganville - diesel, propane, lettuce, cucumbers, sunglasses (Nina's were taken by a local in Ambrym when he visited the boat. We learned not to leave things on our table for visitors.), and basics like flour, oil, sugar, etc. We also spent a few days on a mooring in front of a resort and went to a feast at the resort to see some custom Vanuatu dancing. After the feast Nina was ill for 24 hours with diarrhea and upset stomach so she slept for over 24 hours. Jerry got to watch the semifinals of the world soccer cup games since our Australian TV worked in Port Vila and Luganville.
After leaving Luganville we anchored in one spot to explore a river by dinghy and go to a "Blue Hole" which is a very popular tourist spot. We also went to another anchorage that reputedly has the prettiest beach in Vanuatu. Apparently a cruise ship stops there on occasion.
(view Espiritu Santo Island photos)
Gaua Island: On our first stop at Lakona Bay we got a laplap cutter (laplap is their national dish) and natarak seeds (used for music and worn around the mens' ankles for custom dances), ate navel seeds for the first time, were asked if we would give them popcorn to plant, glued pictures on notebooks for kids, wrote in the chief's guest book as we'd done on several islands, gave young Chief Bruce half of our ointment for his "red eye" infection, saw nali nuts growing on trees, and celebrated the U. S. Independence Day on July 4th. Chief Johnstar and his son made kava for Jerry, and everyone stood when he drank it. We attempted to fix William's radio, Jerry drilled a hole in a piece of steel to be used for a needle to sew copra bags, fixed a ukelele, watched and heard water music by Margaret and Susan (wives of two chiefs), traded corned beef & magazines (last place that asked for them), and Jerry carried one cement block to the site of new clinic. When he carried it he was working with everyone in the village who had set aside that particular day to do this work. Chief Johnstar named his new puppy "Puppy" because that's what Jerry called it. William had his son Levi write a letter to his daughter on Toga Island in the Torres Islands and we said we'd deliver it. As it turned out, the water around Toga is too deep for yachts to anchor, so we gave it to people on Loh Island who promised to deliver it to her.
From Lakona Bay we sailed to Losalava Bay where Chief Reginald (from the Solomons and married a local lady) is in charge of the village. He was a missionary before he was elected chief of the village about 3 years ago. A chief from a nearby village and three children visited first, then 7 fishermen, then a man (Austin) and his son. Jerry stopped taking antibiotics for his ear infection while we were here. We had quite an experience watching the 3' tuna we'd caught being divided up after we took two steaks. The men who took it promised to give some to Chief Reginald but we learned later that they did not do that. We saw a motor vessel anchored in a peculiar place and later learned that it had accidentally hit the reef and bounced over, damaging its rudder and propeller. After all the initial visitors left, we decided to go meet Chief Reginald. When I went to put on my wedding ring I discovered that it was missing from the counter in our bedroom. I have a habit of writing guests' names in a small notebook so we showed the chief all the names of people who had been on board. Later we realized that we also had a necklace and cassette tape missing. About 10 am the following morning Chief Reginald came to the boat with the ring, necklace and tape. A young man named Aden had helped him since he was aboard at the time and knew who else was on the boat. We gave the chief kerosene and other food to thank him for all of his trouble. We are learning to leave nothing on counters and tables when people visit!
A copra boat arrived while we were in the anchorage. They get about 25,000 vatu/ton for copra. A lot of work is involved! One of the workers on the copra boat made an attempt to clean the sides of our boat, but didn't do a very good job. We believe that they just don't know any better.
When we left on July 7th many canoes came around the boat, but only Tony, the chief's son, came on board. He brought fruit and vegetables for us and wanted fish hooks and notebooks. One man had two carved laplap pounders for sale but we couldn't think of any use for them and they were quite crudely made so we passed on buying those.
We learned that there is a Peace Corp volunteer (Mr. Hayes who teaches class 7) in this village. We didn't meet him, but met one of his students. Most children only go to school through class 4. If they want to go to classes 5 & 6 they have to go to a boarding school in a largish village. Then if they want to go to class 7 they generally have to pay a lot of money (for them) and have to go to a boarding school off their island.
Vanua Lava Island: We arrived at Port Patteson on Vanua Lava a few hours after leaving Gaua. There is no village there so we got to rest and do some of our own work. Although there is no village there is a school where carpentry is taught and where some students study the bible.
Across the bay from Port Patteson is the village of Sola. This was the only place in the Banks and Torres Islands where we saw students wearing uniforms to attend school. Jerry even saw a gas- propelled lawn mower at the Anglican headquarters there. We found two stores with limited supplies. We bought 25 kg of flour that had been on the floor for who knows how long. I spent hours sifting the bugs and their larvae out of the flour. Want some of my freshly- baked bread?? I've written in previous letters that when we moved aboard 8 years ago I never thought I'd use flour that had any sort of creepy crawly creatures in it, but such is life in these remote islands. As we were buying the flour, Anna who works at the clinic in Sola came to the store with the clinic's small 4-wheel vehicle with a basket on the back. She volunteered to take the flour a mile to the beach for us so we wouldn't have to carry it. What a help that was! We were very surprised to see such a vehicle there, but it was helpful. Also at the store we had manioc chips. They tasted a lot like potato chips. Some local lady had made them and sealed them in small plastic bags. The man at the store sold them at 50 vatu/bag. A good deal indeed!
Because of wind direction we found the anchorage at Sola untenable, so we moved the boat back to Port Patteson. While there this time we met one of the six students at the school. He brought two nice nautilus shells to us and some fruit and vegetables. We gave him a shirt and some notebooks that he glued pictures into. He is hoping to become a preacher for the Anglican church. He told us about a big celebration on Ureparapara Island on July 25th and invited us to go to see lots of custom dancing. He is from the island and hoped to find a boat going that way for the celebration. He also told us about two villages on the island that were not in our cruising guidebook. His father is chief of one of the villages. And, he said that it was possible to anchor beside both of the villages. We decided to think about visiting these two places that very few yachts go to.
Ureparapara Island (first time): We encountered many canoes and many people at Divers Bay. This is the only place on the island that most yachts go and quite a few anchor here. We gave each of the two chiefs that were in the village photos of their dance group performing at the October 2000 Pacific Arts Festival in New Caledonia. Chief David was especially pleased with the photos since his father just died on June 15th and was in charge of custom dancing in the village. Apparently they could tell that he was in one of the photos.
One of the teachers escorted us around the village and we saw hens roosting in the trees for the first time. Generally we don't stay ashore until dusk because of mosquitoes and malaria, but it was neat to see them. Nina also visited the school with three teachers and learned a little more about the politics involved with education and supplies from yachts.
Most villages have only one church. Denominations that we encountered were Anglican, Seventh Day Adventist, Assembly of God, and Presbyterian. This village at Divers Bay was so large (over 200 people) that it had two different churches - very unusual.
Torres Islands - Loh Island: We found it difficult to find a good anchorage, but finally put the hook down for the night. We thought there was just one village on the island, but the next day when two canoes arrived we discovered that there were 2 good-sized villages and one small village. We noticed jealousy amongst the men on board and knew that again we had to treat both villages the same. One of the men stayed on the boat and showed us a less rolly anchorage on the northwest side of the island. It was about a 1/2 hour walk from the boat to the closest village, but it meant that we didn't have company too early in the morning and there were no canoes, so we had to go get our guests with our dinghy.
On the island they showed us a cave that they live in when a cyclone comes. We also saw "Tourist Beach" where they take people from the cruise ship that comes in June and October. On this beach they do custom dancing for them and prepare a feast with local foods. They have crude benches for the tourists to sit on, but no fancy facilities.
Loh Island is well known for having many coconut crabs. Most Pacific Islands have depleted their supplies, but apparently Loh still has many. The men told us that they get 600 vatu per kilogram for them shipped live (tied securely) on the weekly plane to Luganville and Port Vila. Some weeks they sell 1000 kilograms of coconut crab. The villagers are all worried now because the National Fisheries Department is establishing a closed season on them from October through December starting this year. They are also putting a quota of 5000 kg/year on selling them. Of course we think this is an excellent idea, but it will mean a big loss of income for the island.
A man from one of the villages, John caught 4 coconut crabs for us, wrapped them in bush twine (vines) and put them in a custom basket. We had intended to cook two the first night and the other two in a couple of days, but after cooking two, we heard noises in the cockpit. The largest crab (and they're huge, with claws that can snip off a finger) had gotten loose! Jerry carefully used two pails to recapture it while I got the water boiling again. We ended up cooking all four crabs the same night and after a feast we took all the rest of the meat out. We had delicious crabmeat sandwiches for three days. Wonderful!
We decided to give John and his family (wife from Gaua Island, mother, baby son, and adopted daughter) each something to wear, 6 mugs that had been on the boat when we bought it, and some photos of them as they'd never had photos before. We thought this made us even in the trading, but on my birthday John brought us leis, a very curved pig tusk that had been his father's, two custom laplap cutters that he'd made, sweet potatoes, and wild yams. What a man! He is by far the least selfish man we've met in Vanuatu. We felt we had to do something else for him, so we gave him a set of wood- carving tools, a book for his son's birthday, and some pictures of animals glued to cardboard. These islanders simply do not see pictures and I'd cut out many in Australia. It is a real treat for them.
We gave the chief in each of the two larger villages kerosene, rice and clothes for children. They really appreciated these things since there had been no trade boat to the island since January. The same day Father Chuda asked us if he could sail north with us to the island of Hiu (his home). However, the following day a trading boat arrived from Luganville with some much-needed supplies and Father Chuda sailed home with them. We asked the chief's son about the supplies we'd given and he said that the chief would give them to the families that didn't have any money to buy supplies. Perhaps we brought them good luck. They do have the plane that they can get supplies on, but they don't know how to handle money, think ahead, etc.
Many children visited the boat. We gave a notebook with pictures glued inside, a pencil, and a ziplock bag to over 30 children. We'd heard that there were 40 in the school, so perhaps some didn't want to come to the boat.
The grandaughter of one of the chiefs was albino so we gave her a bottle of suntan lotion. No one had ever given her any and she was about in tears to think that we were helping her. We also gave aspirin to the clinic on the island.
On July 20th we were invited to the birthday party of an 8-year old. They sure put on feasts for birthdays! They talked about celebrating my birthday on land, but when I saw how much trouble they went to for birthdays, I decided to have just a small celebration on our boat. The women in the village were very busy preparing for Children's Day (a national holiday) and a church celebration - so they had plenty to do without preparing another huge meal. I made Rosaky a birthday cake and gave her a dress and a notebook and pencil. For the first time we stayed in a village until well after dark and had many escorts for the one-half hour walk back through the bush to the boat. While waiting in the village for the birthday feast we saw people playing cards. Later we taught about 6 people how to play "war" with cards and they seemed to really like it. We wonder if it will be played in the village now. At the feast they had a huge table (from their guest house) with an elaborate table cloth and benches. It was amazing. We'd never seen anything like this before in any village. The village pastor, village teacher, Rosaky's family, and we sat at the table while all the other villagers sat on mats on the ground. All of our food was in European (as they say) dishes, while the locals' food was on custom plates (mats and baskets). They really did much extra work because they thought we would prefer eating "European" style!
On my birthday we had over 25 people on board after church. Again we had a birthday cake. We had taken a family photo of one of the chief's daughters and she made us leis for the celebration. Many children sang for us and we recorded their songs on our portable cassette player. Again, they'd never heard their voices on tape, so it was an exciting time for them. They wanted to listen to it over and over.
One of the last people to leave the boat on my birthday was Bryan. He is the secretary for the church. Since we planned to leave their island the next day he asked (after all the children had their notebooks) if I had a notebook and pencil he could have to take notes. When I gave him two he got tears in his eyes and was very emotional. Can you imagine what they must think of people on yachts who live in absolute luxury??
On July 22nd with our letter from Gaua delivered and a reply from the school teacher's wife back to Levi in Gaua we headed to Hiu Island.
(view Loh Island photos)
Hiu Island: There was no village near the anchorage so we had a chance to write a little email, do some boat work, and relax before going to the big celebration back at Ureparapara Island. We could have gone to another anchorage, closer to a village, but needed a short break.
Ureparapara Island (second time): Deacon Benjamin was ordained Father Benjamin of the Anglican Church. This was a huge occasion as he is only the second person from the island to become a pastor. The highlight for us was all the custom dancing and the custom of carrying the new "father" in an outrigger canoe with a paddle symbolizing his new power to steer the people. They also went through a ritual of handing over a leaf from a special palm tree that represented peace. They feel that a pastor should have peace within himself before he can lead people. Attached to the palm leaf was a triton shell for him to call people together. After this there were custom dances. From what we gather, the men and women never dance together for custom dancing. There were a couple of dances that the women couldn't see, so they were all herded into a building until the dance was over. It was quite a unique experience for us and we were glad we had the opportunity to share in their celebration. The people from the three villages on the island attended the celebration and it was a very emotional event - many tears showing how proud they were of Benjamin.
After the ordination ceremonies and before the dancing there was a big feast. They used their battery- powered loudspeaker horn to tell us that we should join the VIPs for eating. This meant that we had a bench to sit on, plates to put our food on, and got to eat with all those associated with the church headquarters in Sola. The feast was good, but talking with the Bishop was more interesting than the food. We sat beside the Bishop who has been in Vanuatu and in charge of the Anglican Churches in the Banks and Torres Islands for one year. He is from the Solomon Islands and spent three years in Fiji. He is a very knowledgeable people-oriented man and it appears that he wants to do as much for the ni- Vanuatuans as he can. It was neat to hear his one-half hour speech in Bislama and be able to understand most of it. Apparently no Anglican clergyman in the South Pacific has a doctorate, but now one is studying in an Australian university for his PhD in Theology. Also, no priest from Vanuatu has a master's degree and they are hoping to get funds to send someone to school for that too.
The day after the ordination we went back to the smallest village on Ureparapara. The time spent with them was fantastic and no one asked for anything. We gave them the rest of the used clothes we had and they treated us like royalty - made special food for us and gave us all kinds of fruits and vegetables. The following morning when we left the chief came out and thanked us for helping them. If we revisit any village in Vanuatu next year this will be the one. We also gave the chief some eyeglasses and some Vanuatu newspapers written in Bislama that we had bought in Vila and Santo. He really enjoyed getting the back news from May and June. No newspapers make it as far north as the Banks Islands.
(view Ureparapara Island photos)
Vanua Lava Island: On our return south we went down the west coast of this island and stopped at an anchorage called Waterfall Bay. Locals invited us to stay for Independence Day, but we decided we'd rather spend it in Gaua and deliver the letter to Levi that we'd picked up for him on Loh Island. We were hailed on the Namba Net on our SSB by the sailboat "Rivendel II." We couldn't hear them very well, so some other cruising friends of ours on "Panecea" relayed their message. Hank and Naleka wanted us to help them out with their medical/clinic project for the last two weeks of August. We could not help them since we had a previous commitment to islanders from Epi, but it was good to confirm that our radio transmits OK.
Gaua Island: Chief Johnstar and his son Jonathan visited us after having no luck fishing. We gave him an old hunting knife that had been on the schooner when we bought it and some eyeglasses. He invited us to share their celebration of Vanuatu's Independence Day - July 30th. They have been an independent country since 1980. Again, there was a huge feast. Some men had gone out in the bush and speared a wild bullock for one course. (They have no guns.) We watched volleyball games and were entertained by a string band. Their national anthem was sung as they raised their flag. It was upside down, but we didn't really know that until we got back to the boat and checked. Our courtesy flag was right side up.
During the day I had a chance to talk to the head teacher. Fifteen of the 40 students couldn't afford the fees to attend school for this coming term (August through December). He said it cost 500 vatu for one child for a term and 750 vatu per family for two or more children in a family. We decided to help, but when the chiefs found out, they wanted money for their children's`fees too, even though they had already been paid. The three chiefs got together and generated a list in addition to the list provided by the teacher. The chiefs list said it cost 500 vatu per child, even if two were in the same family, so we were pretty sure this was a scam. After discovering this we asked the high chief to go to the school with us. In front of the teacher, we asked if his original list was all the students who hadn't paid. He said "yes." At this point the chief gave him back the list of names and amounts due, with the added chiefs' list on the back of the paper. I turned the paper over and asked if the students on the second list were now paid. The teacher said "yes" and the chief said "okay." The chiefs evidently wanted a little extra cash in their own pockets. When confronted in a polite way the chief was in complete denial. What an experience that was! We later gave cash directly to the teacher for the 15 students so the chiefs did not get to handle the money first. We now think children are allowed in school whether they have paid the fees or not. The chief said the fees were used for nails and cement, but when we visited the school we saw it was built with just bamboo and thatch. Who knows what they really use the money for. We will NEVER get involved with school fees in remote areas again. We sure learned a lot getting involved in that experience. After we left, the next sailing vessel there called us on the SSB radio. One of the chiefs was aboard his boat and wanted to know if his rival chief had received any money from us. He also wanted to know how much money we had given the head teacher. We didn't really like talking about this on the radio to a (possibly large) audience, but at least we discovered that the head teacher is a very honest person and that now there should be no hard feelings amongst the chiefs (thinking the other one got more than his fair share of something).
On the last day of July, Chief Johnstar, his wife Susan, and three of their sons took us up in the bush to see the remains of seven old villages. Chief Johnstar's grandfather was a very high chief and was chief of one of the former villages. The other villages had chiefs that were brothers of his grandfather. Most of these villages had just 4-8 families/houses. They told us that we were the first "Europeans" to ever see the sites. We saw an old steel pot that Johnstar said came from Queensland (result of Blackbirding). We also got to see the present huge gardens way up in the hills and watched one of the sons use his slingshot to kill a fruit dove. They started plucking the feathers immediately which surprised me. Apparently these birds are quite tasty, but we don't care if we ever find out about that. They also use the slingshots to shoot flying foxes (big fruit-eating bats) which they also eat.
The day after the walk we were invited to Chief Johnstar's grandson's first birthday. Another feast was in order and the women worked all day preparing the food. They made us flower necklaces and had the children prepare a farewell song for us too. While the food was being prepared I did my laundry in their river nearby. It was great to have plenty of water to rinse my clothes. Also during the day Jerry took some antibiotics up to the head teacher. His foot was VERY swollen and infected, so we hope the antibiotics do the trick. Of course this village has no supplies in their clinic either. We found out that the boat who called us later on the radio was taking the Anglican priest to another village which has a better clinic as he had contracted malaria and needed to be treated.
(view Gaua Island photos)
Espiritu Santo Island: One village is in charge of guides in the only National Park in Vanuatu. They decided to stop logging and try ecotourism. We had hoped to support this, but found when we arrived on Saturday that they only have guides on Monday to Friday. We explored the Jordan River, but after pulling the dinghy up the first three sets of rapids we gave up. Our guidebook had said you could explore the river for miles in a dinghy, but we found this wasn't the case. We then sailed around the top of the island and down its west coast, stopping at two villages. One village had two other boats stop this season - one from New Zealand and one from Australia. The other village had only one boat stop this season and that was a month ago. In both villages we arrived about 3 p.m., had many canoes tied to "Arctracer" and let about 20 villagers talk to us in the cockpit and up front on our huge deck. They really appreciated this as most yachts don't allow them aboard. At the second village they make pottery (using a method practically identical to the old Lapita pottery). We went ashore and saw several pieces. When I'd found one I wanted to buy I asked the price. After much discussion they asked me if 200 vatu (U.S. $1.50) was okay. Since they are all made by hand and fired in leaves in the ground we imagine it takes most of a day to make one. We sure got a deal there!! They told us that some of the women would be demonstrating the method of making them at the Melanesian Arts Festival in Vila from 18 to 28 August, so perhaps we'll see the artist who made ours there.
(view Wusi Village photos)
While anchored off the "pottery" village (and there are only 2 such villages left in Vanuatu) a small motor boat arrived with medication for everyone. Every year they take a pill to prevent Elephantiasis which is spread by mosquitoes.
We still haven't decided where we'll be going when we have to leave Vanuatu on the 6th of September, but it won't be to the Solomons. We've had email contact with some cruising friends of ours and things are NOT good there. They found themselves in dangerous situations near Guadalcanal and Customs officials attempted bribery. Since the government is not paying their officials presently that is "sort of" understandable, but we don't believe in bribes and will wait to go to the Solomons after the fighting and unrest is settled.
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