"Arctracer" Letters

Vanuatu, and Sail to New Caledonia, Aug-Sept 2002

Parlez vous francais? We don't speak much French, but we're beginning to understand a little bit of it now that we've been here for almost a week. We left Noumea yesterday to head to Isle of Pines (the southernmost set of islands in New Caledonia), but it has rained today and with overcast skies we don't want to negotiate our way over 30 miles of reef-strewn water until the weather clears. Thus, it is a good day to start another general letter.


Shortly after writing the last general letter we arrived at Luganville on Espirito Santo in Vanuatu. This is the second largest town in Vanuatu. We got diesel and went to the market for fresh fruits and vegetables before sailing down the west coast of Malakula Island. We also got rid of 3 grocery bags of trash that we'd collected in five and a half weeks. We are very careful about not collecting much trash in these countries as it is difficult to dispose of it. When we buy cereal, sugar, flour, etc, we put it in plastic containers and immediately dispose of the original cardboard and plastic in the larger towns. Also cardboard is known to harbor cockroaches and we don't need to provide homes for them on board the boat. We were lucky to find two coconut crabs for sale at the market, so got to indulge ourselves once more. They make a wonderful meal!

We stopped at two anchorages on the West coast of Malakula. Most cruising yachts travel on the east coast, so again the ni-Vanuatuans hadn't seen many boats. At both anchorages we anchored with a boat from Vancouver that has spent a lot of time cruising the Pacific. We finally met them when we got to Vila, but didn't spend much time with them as we were busy with the Melanesian Arts Festival and our friends from Epi Island. One day we had very rough seas and lost our small solar anchor light, but luckily we'd bought a spare in Australia. This light has saved us a lot of power from our boat batteries. There was no village at one of the anchorages (rare in Vanuatu) so while Jerry worked on strengthening one of the fore peak areas I started making new cushions for the main salon. (I'm still not finished, but hopefully we'll have some sunny days again soon so that we'll have plenty of electricity with our solar panels charging our batteries.

Fishing: While sailing from Malakula Island back to Epi Island we caught a good-sized dogtooth tuna. Shortly afterwards a huge sailfish took the lure after jumping several times. It was my last good-sized plastic squid and we didn't have much luck fishing after that until we found more squid to make some more lures. We bought one at a very high price in Vila but lost it shortly after leaving Port Vila. Then our Vanuatu friends cut up a burlap bag and made a lure that looked like a squid. They proceeded to catch a barracuda on our way back to Epi. We don't eat barracuda, but they fried some right away and then shared the rest with five other families the night they got back home. Before catching the barracuda we had lost the first lure they made when we had a hit. We didn't actually lose the lure until a larger fish took the first one. It must have been huge!

We continued to troll with their lure all the way back to Vila and then to New Caledonia, but didn't have any luck. In Noumea, New Caledonia the plastic squid were very cheap so we bought 6 and made 3 lures. Within 2 hours after leaving Noumea for the Baie du Prony we had a large tuna mackerel on the line, on the boat, etc. We ate tuna steaks last night and tuna sandwiches for lunch today. Tonight I'll fry some more and we'll still have some left for lunch tomorrow. We haven't eaten fish for a long time so it has tasted very good. Also, we bought some new, heavier fish line in Vila and I'm using 100 # wire on the lures, so perhaps we won't lose as many fish. We don't really want the huge ones though, so hopefully the line isn't too strong.

Lamen Bay, Epi Island: While at Epi, our school teacher friend Peter invited us to his house. I made pizza for his family of three boys and his wife, Nauli, made some local food to supplement it, including boiled lettuce - a first for us. Everyone seemed to like the pizza as I didn't put exotic things on it. Nauli made flower salusalus (leis) for us, gave me two necklaces, and Peter's son Joseph gave us a wooden knife that he had carved - very rustic, but it is the thought that counts. He was very pleased the following day when Jerry took a Frisbee to him. Unlike people on some of the islands, they had seen Frisbees before.

The day after arriving back at Epi we went ashore to Bennington and Apia's house to see if they were still interested in going to Vila with us to the Arts Festival. They have four sons and a daughter. Samson, age 20, is taking a correspondence course as the 63000 vatu it would cost for him to go to school now is too expensive for the family. Eric, age 18, is finished with school and just an industrious as his mother at figuring out ways to earn money. Netty is 16 and finished with school. Rodley, the 14-year old, is going away to school on the island of Paama and Andrew (age 11) is in class 6 at Peter's school. All students in Vanuatu have to take exams before the seventh, tenth, and twelth years of schooling. If they pass the exams then they can continue to attend school as long as the families can afford to send them or they can get sponsored by someone.

We had heard about the family from our friends Dan and Margaret on the English boat Antares and they seemed like a good family to invite aboard (3 or 4 people anyway), so we invited them when we were at Epi Island at the end of May. They were still interested, but we had changed our minds about when to leave as we decided we wanted to be in Vila for the opening ceremonies. Of this family only Apia and Andrew sailed down with us. School teacher Peter ended up hitching a sail with us too. His daughter had been chosen to play in a volleyball tournament in Vila and he wanted to be there with her as she is only 16 and was going to be in the city. His daughter had already gone to Vila for the tournament and he had to wait until the school holidays started on Friday. Bennington wanted to sell some crafts she'd made to some of the 1500 Australians on a cruiseship that was arriving the next day. Cruiseships only go there 2-3 times a year, so the locals look forward to making some money selling their crafts. Three days later Bennington and their daughter Netty came on a trade boat to Vila at 3500 Vatu each (quite expensive for them).

Sailing from Epi Island to Port Vila for the Melanesian Arts Festival from 18 - 28 August: None of our passengers had ever been to sea on anything other than one of the trade boats, so they weren't used to having to tack and taking so long to get to Vila. We left Epi about 1 PM on Friday, August 16th and arrived in Vila at 5 PM on Saturday. We went 100 miles into rough seas with 25-30 knots of wind and consequently couldn't sail very fast. Also, our jib had blown out so we couldn't use it and had to motor the whole way with the help of some of the mainsail and staysail - a very noisy trip. Peter talked with Jerry until about midnight, but Apia and Andrew didn't feel well during the entire trip so they mostly slept. Ginger ale came in handy on this trip. Once the anchor was down at Port Vila everyone was fine. We learned to play the card game "Atu" that we'd seen many of the islanders play. It is a very interesting game with lots of talking, but basically you need to be lucky and get good cards to win.

Our jib was no longer of any use to us, so we mentioned giving it to Apia to make some sails for a canoe. Then we realized that he didn't have a canoe of his own and that we would probably use it to make money by selling the good part of the material to the men on Lamen Island across from where they live. These men row their outrigger canoes to the "main" island everyday to go to their gardens and then sail home with the prevailing winds. We especially used this rationalization when we watched a outrigger sailing race during the festival. We watched the men with the four canoes in the race raising their sails and starting the race. While watching, some men approached us and asked if we had any old sails. Jerry said that as a matter of fact we did so we arranged to meet them on shore a few days later to take the sail to them. Meanwhile one day Apia and Jerry worked on taking the turquoise-colored sunbrella off the edge of the sail as it was put on about a year ago and could probably be used on the next sail we have made. Once we got back to Lamen Bay Apia said, "sorry to ask, but do you still have the sail or did you take it ashore in Port Vila." Jerry told him that he had given it to the men of Lelepa Island since they had a sailing club and needed sail material so that they could have more sailing canoes.

One discussion that Apia and Jerry had while removing the material was concerning the deal Jerry made with our friends on "Panacia" who let us borrow the sail. Terry decided that we could either find out from a sailmaker in New Zealand (or Australia) what the sail was worth and send him the money or we could mail it back to him. Apia was simply amazed at this. At one point he owned a store, but he couldn't trust even his relatives to pay for the things they bought on credit. To think that Terry was going to Australia and we were going to New Zealand with someone else's sail and we might send money later to pay for it was beyond his comprehension. We tried to explain that trust was an important part of doing business. Trust is woefully lacking in Vanuatu and that certainly retards their development.

Peter and Kava: Before Bennington arrived, Peter stayed on the boat for a couple of nights. We later discovered that he had a brother in Vila and many friends and relatives to stay with, but apparently things were quite comfortable on the boat and he had his own room. However, after the second night when he was waiting for us to return to the dinghy on shore, and watching the slow reaction and difficulty getting onboard the boat as a result of drinking too much kava we decided that since he was a "kava man" we didn't want the responsibility of him falling in the ocean and not being able to rescue him. The following day we told him that Bennington would be arriving and we needed the room for Andrew, who had been staying in the room with his father. Jerry took care of the whole situation very nicely. It was absolutely amazing to watch Peter's actions once he did finally manage to get on the boat. He felt that he needed to eat before he went to bed, but he couldn't get his mind to work with his limbs to feed himself for a LONG time. Apia and Andrew played the card game Atu with us while we waited and watched the bizarre behavior of a man who had obviously had too much kava.

We still really like Peter, but drinking kava didn't warrant staying on the boat. We decided that he could sail back to Lamen Bay with us if Netty didn't go. We only have six life jackets, hence the limited numbers. At the last minute, Bennington said that Netty wasn't going but that it would be too difficult to find Peter - we were leaving in about an hour after the chain saw was aboard and their last minute shopping was completed. This reaction to his returning to Epi with us didn't surprise us as we were now used to the ni-Vanuatu people we'd encountered being concerned mostly with themselves and their agendas. Anyway, it wasn't convenient to find him and get him aboard in a hour. As it turned out, he waited until he got another paycheck as teachers get paid every fortnight. This way he could pay his daughter's way to return home with him on a trade boat. This boat arrived shortly after we did, but we didn't see Peter again as we needed to rush back to Vila to check out before our visas expired.

Melanesian Arts Festival

Sunday, August 18th was the opening ceremony of the Melanesian Arts Festival. Since the Solomons and Papua New Guinea didn't send any people to participate there were many dancers from the islands in Vanuatu. We don't imagine you hear much news about here in the Pacific, but both PNG and the Solomons are going through very difficult times now and very few cruisers are visiting those countries with all their political problems. Fiji didn't originally send representatives, but after the two government leaders talked, Fiji sent a group to represent them. New Caledonia had several people representing them. Unlike Western Civilized Countries, the Melanesian countries didn't announce their intentions of not attending the festival until the day before it was to start. This is understandable to us as they probably thought that the money might have come through at the last minute. We imagine it is quite likely that some politician absconded with the funds or they simply weren't available for the trip.

We enjoyed the parade before the opening ceremony and Jerry bought several boxes of disks for lots of photos (our digital camera is ancient now and we're still using disks for the photos). He still hasn't had a chance to organize the photos, but perhaps we can get a slide show together about the festival to bring home with us the next time we get there.

The ten days of the festival included (1) the Melanesian Arts festival with lots of custom dances, demonstrations of cooking and crafts, and singing, (2) Fest Napuan with lots of string bands and reggae music, and (3) the Festival of Praise on the second Sunday.

(1) Melanesian Arts Festival: We enjoyed the many Vanuatu groups performing their custom dancing, tolerated the many pig killing ceremonies (with Nina looking the other way), watched weaving demonstrations, wood-carving, carving jewelry from seeds from a certain palm tree, canoe-making, and sand drawing, enjoyed the singing and dancing of the groups from New Caledonia and the Lao Group of Islands in Fiji, and enjoyed viewing the art exhibition set up at the French Embassy. Some of the dances were the snake dance from Ra Island in the Banks Group, the Yam dances from the various islands, the circumcision dances, and the marriage and funeral dances. It was neat to see two handicapped performers in the small namba group from Pentecost Island. One chief had a leg half the size of the other and walked with a cane. He played the drums very well and sang on stage at one point. Another member of this group had elephantiasis and one leg and corresponding foot was huge. It did indeed look like an elephant's leg and foot. The chief from Wusi had only part of one foot, but he walked on it well, even if awkwardly.

One evening Bennington commented on the small nambas costumes of a penis sheath. She mentioned that they were quite embarrassed to look at these dancers. We proceeded to remind them about the time before the missionaries arrived and what their ancestors wore. We also showed them photos in books we had of some of the people in Vanuatu and the way they still live. They seemed to have no conception of the way things used to be. (Speaking of dress - the "Island Dress" in Vanuatu or "Mother Hubbard" dress in Tonga, is called the "Mission Dress" here in New Caledonia - quite appropriate.) We had noticed that most of the audience of locals laughed when they were embarrassed. There was also much laughing during one of the dances by the New Caledonian women who showed more skin in their grass skirts and low cut grass tops than the ni-Vanuatu people were used to seeing. At first we didn't comprehend the response, but finally "got it."

We were surprised one evening to be sitting in front near the stage when some Kanaks (natives of New Caledonian) presented a dance. They were excellent and it was neat to be so close to them and for a good view of their facial expressions. All the young men were in wonderful physical condition. They did a modern dance that was absolutely outstanding. The group is named NYIAN, and their performance combined modern and traditional dance movements. They performed at the Avignon Festival in July 2002.

Often during the evening performances (it gets dark about 6 PM here) the lights in the food booths would all go out. People were overloading the electricity lines provided for the festival by using small freezers, fry pans and boom boxes. This electrical line was connected to the lights on the stage and interfered with the mixing of lights. What did they do to alleviate the problem? They announced over the loud speaker that people should unplug their freezers. Now, these booths are a fair distance from the stage, the people in them appeared to be constantly waiting on their clientele and we can't imagine that they were paying attention to the speakers from the stage. Anyway, this happened several times a night every night. One would think they would have run a separate wire to the stage and had a separate circuit breaker for it, but this is Vanuatu.

The festival committee had hired a crew from Australia to organize the sound and lighting systems. Even with this it took a lot of time between performances.

Our cruising friends on the boat "Panacia" brought us the front page of the newspaper the "Presse" when we returned to Vila. Jerry was walking along the parade route as the parade made its way to the Festival Village for the closing ceremony and was in a photo on the front page. There were many speeches at this ceremony and a little dancing. A good deal of time was given to the exchange of gifts - material, large mats, and plaques. The Festival Flag was presented to the Fijian Representative as the third festival will be in Fiji in 2006. The first festival was held in the Solomons in 1998.

(view Melanesian Festival of Arts photos)

(2) Fest Napuan: Jerry's favorite at Fest Napuan was originally from West Papua (Irian Jaya) and called "The Black Brothers." They have many new members now and call themselves "Pacific Gruuve." We heard them a couple of times at the festival and ended up getting a "Black Brothers" CD - our 5th CD now. Most string bands sounded the same to us. Most of them had 9 men participants but we saw a couple of women's string bands. The only one that was different was a band from Futuna Island called "Futuana Fatuana." They had 11 bottles of various sizes with varying amounts of water in them that one man played and they had 11 bamboo sticks of varying sizes that they played with paddles - both added a good variation to the other basic string bands. We learned from Peter that there are basically 4 chords played on ukuleles and that the only songs played by string bands deal with these chords so to our ears there didn't seem to be much variety in the songs.

(3) Festival of Praise: We went to the "Melanesian Festival of Praise" on the Sunday of the Festival and found that the groups represented were quite evangelistic. Many young people did "skits" to recorded music. We hadn't seen such an event before, but they chose lively music and had some good dancing motions to go with it. However, after a few of them using the same singer it got old quickly for us. There is a 14 year-old singer in Vanuatu whose name is Vanessa Quai. She is quite a good singer and a good performer. Her mother is Fijian and her father is from Vanuatu. Her father and step mother accompany her with her singing on stage. Our guest family was very proud of Vanessa.

We were often asked questions about Christianity by Peter and Apia and usually came back that as cruisers we accept the religious beliefs of everyone, no matter who their deity is. This seemed difficult for them to grasp, but we doubt they have ever had such religious conversations with "yachties" before. Most yachts stay in a place for a day or two and move on without really getting to know any of the local people.

Time Spent with our ni-Vanuatu Friends:

The days spent on board with our ni-Vanuatu friends were very interesting. We aren't sure that we can convey what we learned/experienced in words, but will make an attempt. Of course everything is from our point of view. We did pressure them into some discussions and attempt to better understand their thoughts/beliefs, but our cultures are VERY different and we aren't sure that we always understood. We truly believe that their chiefly system has much to do with their behavior these days and we aren't really sure where their religious beliefs fit in. Many of the locals have lost a lot of their cultural understandings, but the church they belong to doesn't really seem to have taken the place of many of their ancestor's beliefs and actions. It doesn't appear to us that they live by "the Word of God" even though they deal with religious songs, read the Bible regularly, and have formed youth groups, women groups, men's groups and Sunday Schools. Basically they don't seem to trust anyone and are not very "giving" people. This family, along with the other ni-Vanuatu people that we got quite familiar with, seemed to be out to get whatever they could get from cruisers, friends, relatives, etc.

This particular family was quite affluent compared to the families we met in the Banks and Torres Islands. Apia is a pastor of the Apostolic Church at Lamen Bay that has 5 families as members. The others who attend church belong to the Presbyterian Church. He worked for the Agricultural Department for a few years and has had the experience of living on several of the islands in Vanuatu. He gave up his position and a future pension when his father needed him to help tend their land on Lamen Island. However, while in this position he went to many workshops and learned things like how to rotate crops, how to build an oven to make bread and cakes, etc. We also met the MP (Minister of Parliment) from Epi when Apia was with him. We later learned that Apia was chairman of the political party on Epi Island that he was elected from. Bennington and Andrew really liked their MP as he bought them ice cream. He now lives in Vila (but once from Epi, always from Epi) and owns a couple of businesses.

Bennington is very industrious and always seeking out ways to earn money. They raise peanuts and harvest them twice a year. Each time they get about 2 large sacks full of peanuts to send to the market in Vila for 7000 vatu.

They are very proud that they have a new house. It was built between the time that we arrived in Lamen Bay at the end of May and returned during the middle of August. It has a concrete foundation (unusual outside Port Vila and Luganville) and wooden beams with corrugated iron for sides and roof. It must be hotter than Hades! They also have some church friends in Australia who sponsored them to fly there in July to attend a huge church convention. Their friends gave them a chain saw (126,000 vatu as announced by them) to cut the boards for the beams of their house, a lawn mower (for who knows what as they live on the beach) and a cement mixer. Jerry suggested that they really needed a circular saw to cut their beams, but this didn't seem feasible to them as they have no electricity. We ended up taking another chain saw back to their village on the boat. They had called their Australian friends and requested another chain saw as the other one was getting so much use. They also bought some extra chains. We learned that they rent out all of the above equipment on a daily basis for others to create houses other than the traditional bamboo/thatch houses. It appears that they make quite a bit of money doing this and we imagine that most of it goes to the church. They have no church building at the moment and are working towards the construction of one. Often when this family wanted to buy something, it appeared that they attempted to rationalize their "church" money paying for it. They bought a helmet and some overalls to wear while using the chain saw and the church has musical instruments for their services.

Previous to knowing their financial situation, we told them that we would take care of the food during our stay in Port Vila. We never felt comfortable giving them money to buy food as we would have done with "Europeans" (all white people) as the ni-Vanuatuans call us. We had bread with cheese or jelly for breakfast and for the first few days of the festival ate the food prepared at the many booths at the festival grounds. As it was we never spent more than $20 U.S. on food per day as we could get huge plates of local food for under $2 each. At first we bought Andrew (age 11) ice cream, but later learned that they were each buying their own every day at about a dollar a dip. (These people aren't poor.) Also, Andrew was into spending money on games with very high odds of losing his money and we learned that they had given him 1000 vatu to spend as he pleased. They also filled the cupboards in our guest room with things they bought to take back to Lamen Bay. Anyway, we lived the way we normally live - walking everywhere instead of taking buses or taxis as many Americans do, taking bottles of water with us instead of buying cokes, having an occasional ice cream when we were by ourselves, buying T-shirts when we were by ourselves, and not portraying any indication that we had all the money we needed to do whatever we wished to do.

After a few evenings at the festival we saw some people with cotton candy. Andrew had never seen it, so we bought a couple of sticks of it. The woman making it said that she wasn't used to rolling it on the cardboard yet, that it was a new machine, and that she felt she would get better and quicker at making it. We didn't see too many people trying it, but we hope she has made a good investment.

Because of the cultural differences we never went to a restaurant. We met many of their friends and relatives that live in the Port Vila area and learned that when someone took them out to dinner that they were "rich." It was amazing that Bennington and Apia never kept any of their purchases a secret. They were too excited about them. It is not often that they get to go to the big city to make purchases. As with other locals we found that they seem to have no analytical qualities and don't seem to understand the relationship among things (like they would appreciate it if we bought some things for them, but don't hide the fact that they can afford it themselves if it is something they really want or need).

For instance, for the first few days, if we went wandering about the shops they found many things that they were interested in having. We generally said they were nice and that when we wanted to buy something we worked and saved our money until we had enough to buy whatever it was we wanted. After a few days, when we went ashore in the dinghy we made our separate ways, with us going to the festival grounds to take in the cultural events, while they shopped, visited people they knew, made numerous phone calls or made arrangements for meeting church leaders and politicians. Before Bennington arrived on the trade boat, Andrew had nothing warm to wear, so I had taken him to a shop and bought a purple jacket. He had seen some flip-flops he liked so bought some new ones to match the jacket. He never said thank you, but that evening when he got back to the boat he said "this is my lucky day." (The majority of the time they all spoke Bislama very quickly so we missed much of what they were saying.) That was good enough for us. Perhaps because I had purchased these two items they thought we might be into buying many more things. It got rather cold during the evenings and we always took our coats with us, so we felt it appropriate to buy a 1500 vatu jacket and 400 vatu flip-flops for him. Before realizing that he didn't have any warm top, I had mentioned buying a Melanesian Arts Festival T-shirt for him, but they didn't have any for children.

The three of them seemed to always find us about 5 PM and stay with us until the events ended. During this time we got our dinner at one of the booths and enjoyed the performances which generally ended about 9 PM. A couple of evenings were much longer - midnight for the Festival of Praise and 3:30 am for the Fest Napuan which was held in conjunction with the Melanesian Arts Festival on Saturday night.

We had many conversations during breakfast and after our return to the boat. Also, after about 5 evenings of entertainment we found the dancing repetitive so after seeing a dance for the third time we decided to start fixing dinner on the boat. It was amazing to us that Nina did all the cooking while Jerry helped with the dishes. We had anticipated Bennington being in the galley as she spends so much time at home collecting and preparing food. They did talk about what a nice restaurant we had, so that made it all worthwhile. We were pleased that they really seemed to enjoy the food we prepared. They especially liked curried chicken with rice, sweet potatoes and yams. They also liked island cabbage (like our spinach) and actually ground up coconuts from the market to make the coconut cream sauce they liked with it. They even highly complimented us on the way we cooked rice (the way Jennifer and Agu taught us) and said that we were the first Europeans that cooked it the same way they did. They liked the steak with green peppers and tomatoes with rice and the hamburg with mushrooms and cream sauce with rice. I didn't try any very spicy foods or pasta dishes, as I didn't know how they would go. I had watched what they were buying to eat at the festival and cooked accordingly. At home they generally don't eat a lot of rice (it costs money) and never seemed to get enough of it. It is one of our staples, especially when we can't buy potatoes. (Speaking of potatoes, they sell them in Noumea - a real treat after being deprived for four months in Vanuatu.) At breakfast when I put a huge hunk of cheddar cheese on the table without removing the price tag they were amazed at its cost. It is not available in their local store, but they had eaten it in New Zealand and Australia. They also mentioned that when they were in Australia that they were fed a lot of lamb and when asked what they would like to eat, they would tell their friends that they would like chicken or fish.

Peter, Bennington, and Apia all enjoyed wine. The first couple of nights on the boat Peter drank wine with Jerry, but Apia declined. However, once Peter was gone and Bennington arrived both she and Apia would drink wine whenever offered any. When we didn't choose to drink wine, they talked about what it would cost and we wondered if they'd be buying any. They never did, but Jerry only drinks one glass per night, so that is what they did and there weren't any great quantities of wine consumed. Peter was the first person to spill red wine on the new whitish cushion covers I'd started making. I wasn't too concerned as I want a boat that can be lived on, but I've since wondered why I like the material so much - especially on a boat. I had put scotchguard on it and the stains did come out when I washed it so I was lucky this time.

Another treat for them was to get a rice dish with meat and have the luxury of also buying a chicken wing to go with it. If they had been buying their own food they would have picked the most food for the least price and buy nothing extra, but when they saw that we would spend more than $2 they knew that they could do likewise. It was amazing how much rice was served with very little sauce - huge amounts in our minds.

It was neat to have our guests when we were reading one of the local newspapers written in Bislama. They explained a lot of words/phrases to us. Everytime one of the four local small newspapers (three written in English) came out we bought them and everyone read them. They don't receive newspapers in Lamen Bay, so enjoyed keeping up with the local, national and international news. Also, Bennington helped us write two letters in Bislama to a couple of the families that we'd met on Loh Island in the Torres Group. We had promised to send them some photos and wanted to include a letter. One of the families speaks very little English, so it was great to be able to send them their letter written in Bislama!

After spending a couple of days on the boat in Port Vila, we told Bennington that if the bed Andrew was sleeping in was big enough for their 16-year old daughter Netty that she was welcome to sleep onboard too. She had too many young friends ashore to take us up on the offer. Also, she decided that she wanted to stay in Vila with her aunt who worked as a waitress late at night. Her parents said that she had to sail back with us, but when they found out that the aunt wanted to buy Netty some clothes and things within the next week they went to the house and collected all of Netty's things to take back home with them, confident that without her clothes she would take a boat back home after her aunt took her on a shopping spree. Most young people that we talked with liked living in Vila. The people from each island have a section of the city that they stay in so there are Epi Island communities as well as communities from all of the major islands.

We learned that when a person from Vanuatu wants to take a shower they say they are going for a swim. If they want to go swimming, then they say they are going for a swim in the sea (Bislama). We had a problem with our water tanks having brackish water during our guests stay, so they knew the problem of dealing with fresh water on boats. We did have some water in jugs for drinking and cooking. They usually took showers and did their laundry at friends and relatives houses, while we avoided doing laundry and took salt water showers with the water in our tanks.

In one morning discussion with Bennington she got into the subject of "black magic." She said that most Europeans didn't believe in it, but I said that many different cultures have one form of black magic or another without relaying that it sounded like a lot of hogwash. The idea that people take out others intestines and put in old rags just sounds like murder to me. Also the idea that a person can become a shark and attack their enemies sounds a little outlandish, but I do indeed believe that sharks sometimes attack people.

Another morning at about the end of breakfast Bennington announced that something terrible had happened. We couldn't imagine what it could be. Apparently she has frequent dreams and during the night she must have given the mirror on the wall a tremendous kick. We've since forgotten the topic of the dream. She had broken the frame and there was jagged plastic everywhere. We removed it so that she wouldn't get hurt another night.

When we were on the boat at 7 p.m. at night the TV news was turned on while Nina prepared dinner. We think we mentioned the format in a previous letter - news in Bislama, then international news in English, then French on a rotating daily basis.

We each take a multiple vitamin every morning and I take calcium pills. They were very interested in the calcium pills and the reasons for taking them. They have never studied balanced diets from what we can tell, nor do they know about the needs of their bodies. Many people seem to die quite young in the islands. I ended up volunteering to type up some information I had for both Peter and Apia.

Money always seemed to be a big part of conversations with ni-Vanuatu people. People were forever asking the price of things. Bennington and Apia were no different. We imagine that they would not comprehend that we don't even discuss the details of our finances with our closest relatives. We never mentioned what we spent when they were with us.

We had told them that they shouldn't feel they had to stay on the boat if they wanted to stay with friends and relatives, but they immediately declined and said they enjoyed staying on the boat. When I went to the fruit/vegetable market with Bennington one day we saw 6 people that she knew. Each time she said they were staying on a catamaran in the harbor. She never did make introductions, so they didn't know my name, nor did I learn theirs.

This same day, I stopped at the tourist information office with Bennington as I wanted to show her some of the brochures that advertise things on Epi Island. Since they are considering starting a campground near their village I thought they might like to advertise it. I had stopped earlier for Peter to get a booklet about the islands so that he could have it in his classroom. Both of them wondered if ni-Vanuatu people could also get the information and were amazed that it was free.

We did meet one close friend of Bennington's who has been living with an Australian teacher who is teaching in Vila at the moment. He had previously been teaching at Epi Island. This friend, Mary, gave me a basket (bag used as a pocket book) that her mother on Futuna Island had made and proceeded to tell me that they sell for 3500 vatu. Later I asked Bennington if I needed to do something in return. She said not necessarily, but later we did give her a warm top to wear. Every evening that we saw her she wore the same warmish shirt and she still seemed to be cold. She seemed to appreciate the "gift" very much, but we still don't know if we were expected to reciprocate the gift giving.

Twice while we were anchored in Port Vila with them the wind came up and the boat was very rocky. On both occasions Andrew wasn't able to eat and retired to bed early. When I asked him at the end of the trip if he would go on another boat there was no doubt in his mind that he would.

Vanuatu Police Force and Vanuatu Mobile Force

A few days before the end of the festival the police force provided some real live entertainment. In Jerry's words:

Want a real-life story which reads like a comedy? Vanuatu is getting a new Police Commissioner. Usually the job goes to the Assistant who has been training to take over the top spot, and this time he was the first choice of the advisory committee who reviewed the qualifications of many candidates. The job was given instead to someone from the Vanuatu Mobile Force, the military unit which is in many ways a rival of the Police. The Committee was annoyed that its recommendations were ignored. The Police were upset to be headed by one of those other guys. What game were the politicians playing? Someone made official charges of conspiracy, and in a surprise raid at dawn the Police arrested 15 people, including the new Commissioner, the Attorney General, and other officials. They were out on bail by nightfall, but the Police have six months to gather evidence and take them to court. This was an unusual set of arrests, and perhaps all the official procedures were not followed exactly. A week or so later, the VMF surrounded Police Headquarters with troops in camouflage uniforms and loaded automatic rifles trying to arrest 27 Police officers on charges of mutiny. The guns were a shocking sight since nobody in Vanuatu except the Police and VMF are allowed to have any guns at all. Bystanders argued with the VMF to go back to their barracks. It was one of the few days each month that a cruise ship was in town ("Pacific Sky" that had stopped in Lamen Bay on Epi Island a few days earlier), so 2500 passengers took in the scene. An Australian cameraman filmed the whole thing for Australian TV news. The Police simply refused to come out of their building, and apparently said some rude things to the VMF. No shots were fired, and the VMF finally went away with just six arrested Policemen. One newspaper reported that the Prime Minister was in hiding during the scene, but it turned out he was chairing an all-day meeting. Vanuatu public relations took a beating, and Australia recommended that travelers reconsider visiting the country. Was the situation deteriorating into another Solomons mess? The editor of the local paper took the whole front page to urge reconciliation and suggested combining the two feuding units (not the first time this has been recommended). The Prime Minister appointed his Deputy to work out an agreement. In just a couple of days an agreement was signed by the Prime Minister, the Police, the VMF and the head of the national council of Chiefs. The Chiefs were very influential in the negotiations. (Many high politicians, including the Prime Minister and his Deputy, are Chiefs with added political titles.) To conclude the reconciliation, they had a traditional ceremony in which each group apologized and gave gifts (mostly pandanus mats) to the others. The Police killed a pig for the VMF. The VMF killed a pig for the Police. The Prime Minister apologized and killed a pig for the Police and another for the VMF. It was all very emotional. The Ombudsman tried to say something about the rule of law, but this was pretty well smothered by people saying how the traditional Melanesian approach had solved all the problems. Another committee is looking at candidates for Police Commissioner. The police are still facing mutiny charges, and they may yet gather evidence for the conspiracy case. More chapters of this comic opera are yet to be written. One of the most amazing aspects of the whole thing to us is that most citizens just shrug and consider such antics as normal.

Return to Epi Island

The return trip to Epi which started on the 29th of August was not nearly as rough as the trip from there. We stayed at an anchorage in Havannah Harbour the first night which was very protected and calm. Our guests took the dinghy ashore to look for hermit crabs to use as bait for fishing, but had no luck. They enjoyed talking to the locals in the bay in Bislama too. Some were camping on Efate near where we were anchored while the children were on holidays. We gave them popcorn and they seemed to really enjoy it. One canoe came by and gave us some wonderful tomatoes, so we also gave them popcorn and asked if we should give them something else too, but they said the popcorn was enough. The following afternoon we were back in Epi. We were able to use our spinnaker for a couple of hours until the wind got too strong, we were going over 13 knots and it was difficult steering. Bennington thought the speed was great, but we were concerned about keeping our mast and rigging so took the big sail down and put the jib back out. It was amazing to us that Bennington and Apia were in no hurry to go ashore. They stayed on the boat for a couple of hours before collecting their things. We were tired and went to bed shortly after they left without having dinner. We'd had cheese and crackers with them, so didn't really need dinner anyway. A couple of canoes came by the following morning so we bought a nice pumpkin and some bananas. One of the canoes had a father and son paddling and were going to their garden. They wondered if we wanted some Chinese Cabbage and papayas so we said yes. It was going to cost 200 vatu so I wanted to give them the money then in case we weren't on board when they returned and they could just leave the items on the deck. However, this was a foreign concept to them and they didn't want any money until the goods were delivered.

Going Away Thank You Party: We wanted to leave almost immediately upon arriving at Lamen Bay. However, Bennington and Apia invited us to dinner the following day at their house. Little did we know that we would be given salusalus (leis), a feast under a specially prepared roof of pandanus with flowers attached all around and the best mats placed on the ground. We couldn't believe the amount of food, the different dishes served or the number of people that ate there - Apia's mother, 4 of their sons, Bennington's niece, and a few other children. They are very proud that they have plates and spoons for everyone, so we got to eat in European style. A fellow cruising friend of ours from the U.K. had given them a solar panel with a 15 watt bulb attached, so we even had electricity (along with a kerosene lamp) to eat by. We took our portable tape recorder so that they could record the song "What Color is God's Skin," and discovered that they have quite a large radio/tapedeck run by batteries. They also took a photo using a flash camera after dark with us holding a colorful mat they had gotten for us from a person on the island - a very nice gesture on their part. In Bennington's speech to us after dinner, when she thanked us for the experience they had, said something to the effect that they knew we spent a lot of money, had saved them about 12000 vatu in travel expenses, that they wouldn't have been able to experience the Festival if we hadn't taken them, and that not many ni-Vanuatu children of age 11 have ever had such an experience. They appreciated the experience and that was a wonderful thing to hear. We had printed out a few photos for Andrew and put a note on the back for him with one of our boat cards. Apia was aghast when he saw that we had photos of them on the boat the previous day and one of him holding up the barracuda he'd caught. We don't think he'd ever seen photos "developed" so quickly. Apparently they had photos developed while they were in Vila, but they never showed them to us. Jerry had seen Andrew looking at them. This is amazing since the people in the more remote islands had never even seen photos of themselves. When Bennington left the boat the previoius day, she said that they had plenty of fresh water so she would wash the bedding for us. I noticed that she only took the pillow cases which seemed rather odd. I wonder what their custom is in respect to sheets. Anyway, after eating I remembered my laundry that she had done and she gave it to us - or at least she gave most of it to us.

Within an hour after the going-away feast we had our anchor up at 10 p.m. and were headed back to Vila - in lots of wind (30-35 knots) and heavy confused seas. Two wine glasses broke in the galley during the trip and a custom painting from Gaua Island fell over and some of the paint cracked. The two boards on the outside hulls pulled away from the hull in places too. We need to write to the builder/designer about that problem before we fix it. In fact the trip was so uncomfortable that Nina didn't feel well enough to do a watch - the third time since we've been cruising. Somehow Jerry managed to stay awake through the night until I felt better - what a sweetheart! We had the watermelon, papayas, sweet potatoes, limes, and bananas that they had given us too. I discovered on our sail back to Vila that Bennington had only taken one navy blue pillowcase that matched our sheets in the guest room and the one she had taken to wash wasn't returned. In Vila I took the one on the boat, bought an envelope, put the correct postage on it and addressed it to us in Noumea. I put this in another envelope with a thank you note to them and asked that they try to get the pillow case on the next weekly plane. If she is able to return it I will be saved the time and trouble of attempting to get one to match. Another saga.....

The only other thing that came missing was a tarp that we use under our tents. They wanted something to sit on during the festival so we let them borrow that - not having any local mats of good size to take. When I asked Apia if he'd found it, he never replied to the question and we still don't know what happened to it. Perhaps one of their friends in Vila had a good use for it or perhaps one of their neighbor's thatched roofs had a smallish leak. We'll probably never know.

The above part of this letter appears negative in places. It is not meant to be negative, but to make an attempt to portray the people we became familiar with. When I attempted to start this letter, I knew it would be difficult to write and it sure was. Their culture is so very different from ours and is much too complex for us to really comprehend in the four months we spent there, but hopefully this attempt at conveying it to you doesn't show that we are anti-Vanuatu, anti- local people or anti-local culture. We really enjoy encountering different cultures and learning some of the history of these Melanesians. When Chief Johnstar on Gaua Island took us (the first Europeans) to see the ruins of his ancestor's villages we were very enlightened. Most of the villages had four or five families and they could not go to another village unless they had good reason - trading. If they appeared without justification they were likely to be cooked and put on the menu. And, these villages had chiefs that were brothers and cousins. Amazing! They also indulged in black magic and used the poisons of various plants to kill people that they felt had offended them. We think that a lot of this background history has a lot to do with the attitudes of the people today. Since the people in the more remote islands have no radios, televisions, newspapers, or foreign visitors they simply don't know any other way of relating to people. The people who have tourists visiting their islands see some of the differences, but no tourist stays long enough to have much impact. Also, there are a few Peace Corp volunteers scattered throughout the islands, but they are quite busy with their own agendas and we are sure they aren't sent there to attempt to change the attitudes of the locals.

Port Vila Before Heading to Noumea, New Caledonia

We had our third and final hepatitis AB injection, picked up our 3-month visas for New Caledonia at the French Embassy which took about a week to process, and had dinner with our cruising friends Lenore and Terry on "Panacia" who lost their last boat when it struck a container. They were rescued while in their life raft. Also, they are the ones that let us borrow the sail until we get to New Zealand. We picked up Nina's favorite gin and some Baileys Irish Creme duty free after checking out. We also got duty free diesel and filled our water tanks after pumping the contaminated salt water out. We think the salt water got in during one of our many rough passages when we didn't have the openings closed tightly enough. We stocked up on tins of curried chicken as canned chicken is difficult to find in New Zealand and Australia. I had seen some seeds to make music at the market, but Bennington and Apia said they were too expensive and they had seeds at their house they would give me. When they didn't give us any (they were very busy the one day we were at Epi), we went back to the market and bought a shaker made with a coconut shell on a stick, some seeds to tie around ankles for dancing, and some seeds tied to sticks to make music. We also got a tambourine at duty-free prices and some polarized sun glasses for Nina since hers were taken by a local on Ambrym Island. New Caledonia has lots of reefs so we wanted to be able to see them well.

Nina made a new canvas bucket in case we catch fish and need to clean out the cockpit. With its steel ring in the top it is the best kind of bucket for getting water on board while underway.

Trip to New Caledonia

On the day we left for New Caledonia about 4 boats left before we did at 7:30 am. We had a great sail and didn't have to do much tacking. Near the end of the trip the wind stopped so we had to motor, but that was a great concept after having stong winds and rough seas for most of our passages the last four months. After 311 miles we put our anchor down in Baie du Prony for the night before continuing through a pass with strong currents and sailing the last 31 miles up the west coast of Grande Terre to Noumea.

We spent about 5 days in Noumea getting a few things and visiting people on three yachts that we'd met before - one from the U.K, one from New Zealand, and one from Australia. We are presently back in Baie du Prony waiting for good weather to sail to the Isle of Pines.