Tag Archives: Vanuatu

Vanuatu in June 2017: Living Dreams, Part I

Vanuatu fulfilled buried fascinations planted decades ago through American television (Growing up, I’d often watch 8 hours of black & white television daily!). From the comfort of a California living room, I viewed: people walk along active volcanic craters, naked dark-skinned men and women dancing alongside costumed figures, young men leaping high atop rickety stick towers with fresh vines tied to their ankles, hitting the ground with their heads, unfathomable tropical bays more beautiful than anything Las Vegas or Disney Resort could build, and a WWII shipwreck dive. And this is what I experienced in Vanuatu in less than 2 week’s time, thanks in large part to the advice of Seven Seas Cruising Association’s Vanuatu hosts Dr. Alan and Debra Profke.

Two months prior to arriving in Vanuatu, before even vacating our French Polynesian dock space in Marina d’Uturoa, I reached out via email to Dr. Alan, asking advice on what to see in Vanuatu in a short time. In his reply, Alan painted a step-by-step itinerary to maximize a brief Vanuatu archipelago visit. Except for the recommended port of entry, we stuck closely to his program. We intended to land in Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital city, as previewed but winds and seas drove us further south, directly to Tanna, home of famed Mount Yasur volcano.From Fiji, a week prior to our arrival in Vanuatu, I duly filled and electronically submitted all required paperwork to Vanuatu Customs. In route to the archipelago, we reached out to Vanuatu Customs, via inReach satellite, asking if we could instead land in Tanna. Tanna’s Vanuatu Customs officer, Iau, directed us to anchor in Port Resolution on the southeast tip of Tanna. Capt. Cook named the bay after his ship more than 200 years earlier. Port Resolution is the closest harbor to Mount Yasur, but unfortunately on the opposite side of the island’s official port of entry. A $40 USD non-designated port penalty fee, plus $50 for land transportation were added to the standard $10 clearance fee. Later seeing the road conditions against which Officer Iau drove for 4 hours round-trip, it made the $50 transportation fee seem a bargain. Not having to sail a half-day against trade winds, from Lenakel to Port Resolution, made the $40 worth the penalty.

We arrived in the small bay of Port Resolution at dawn, Friday, June 16th after a 2-and-half day sail from Lautoka, Fiji. Motoring into Resolution, we were flanked by cliffs to port and starboard. The end of the bay quickly shoaled into a dark sand beach spread broadly across and in front of a lush tropical valley. A wild tropical landscape straight from the pages of National Geographic’s laid before us. A small fleet of fishermen in self-made dugout outrigger canoes paddled out toward us, casting and setting fish nets of fine monofilament. To the south, above, on the cliffside edge, a simple wooden thatched-roofed house delicately stood on stilts over-looking the magnificent bay, seemingly designed for a character out of a far-away, 19th century adventure novel. To the north, steam vented from the cliff side just above sea level, reminding us just how close we were to an active volcano, having witnessed its reddish plume against the darkness of the pre-dawn sky earlier that morning.

A few hours later, after clearing in with Customs Officer Iau, we reserved with Stanley, the Port Resolution Yacht Club representative, four places in a 4-wheel drive truck to take us to Mt. Yasur Volcano Park for the next day’s sunset excursion: $25pp R/T transportation and $100pp park entry fee. The volcano exists on private tribal lands, providing the community the right and privilege to operate an exclusive tour business, charging what they will. We soon learned that the businesses in subsistence-living Vanuatu elect to charge rates equivalent to those in Australia, while not paying staff accordingly. So restaurants, bungalows, movie theaters, and grocery stores are out of the general population’s price range. Thus we rarely saw locals frequenting these establishments. Anyway, we’d come this far, so why not spend the coin to take us the rest of the way for an experience of a lifetime, “Priceless” as the Visa commercial used to state.

‘Greeting’ formalities became quite clear and distinct after the first couple introductions. In Vanuatu, people want you to know their name and want to know yours. Instead of the generic “hello” or “how are you?,” it’s “My name is George,” followed by a look that begs, “and your name?” Then comes, “How are you?” Casual physical contact among Polynesians is rare. In French Polynesia, we say, Bonjour, Kaoha (Marquesan) or Ia orana (Tahitian); shaking their hand if it’s a guy, or a girl for the first time; and kissing both cheeks (more touching cheeks and making a kissing sound) if it’s a gal you know, or friend or relative of a friend. That’s it. In Samoa, people were very friendly, exclaiming, “Talofa,” when seeing you, even as strangers in passing. When being introduced, a handshake was less customary. It was an odd transition after two years in French Polynesia. It felt impolite not to faire la bise (pronounced, bees, meaning “kiss”). On a side note, in Fiji, “Bula” or “Bula-bula” was exclaimed at each passing or meeting. Apparently the government asked its population to greet any and all tourists with this customary Fijian “hello.” It works. You really feel your tourist presences appreciated. Fijians touch even less than Samoans. Handshakes are accepted but not expected. In Vanuatu, another Melanesian culture like Fiji, physical contact introductions were the same. Vanuatu differs in that they smile all the time, big bright beautiful cheek-bulging smiles. It’s relaxing and warm. As white people, dressed as cruising sailors, we were immediately recognized as interested tourists and treated courteously.

Chez Leah, Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu.
Rigneyskandu Inside Chez Leah Restaurant, Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu.

The next day, Saturday, we arrived ashore in time for our lunch reservation at Chez Leah’s, a 1-table restaurant in the village. We had three restaurants to choose from, but we liked the look of hers best. The others had more tables, but no one to speak to. Meeting Leah the afternoon before, we pre-ordered (no waste) our main courses. While Trent would have the omelet, we’d have the fresh fried mackerel. Both main courses were served on family-style platters, including separate platters of fruits and vegetables picked fresh from Leah’s garden. Even the lemon in the lemonade and the coconut cream for the vegetable sauce came from her garden. The eggs came from her hens; the mackerel, from the fishermen below fished that morning. Organic? Fresh? They don’t know any other way. From Leah speaking in French, we learned a little about village life, including utilities. Mini solar panels charge household cell phones and Bluetooth speakers. A single medium-sized household panel installed at the community store recharges portable battery-operated lights for all village households. Water comes from a hand-pump well in the center of the village—all you can carry.

Girls play volleyball; boys play soccer. Some villagers speak French as their third language, but most spoke broken English. The village dialect is spoken at home; the national language is spoken to other Ni-Vanuatuans (the Vanuatu term for native Vanuatu people). Leah’s French was so good, the island elected her to represent their craftsmen at New Caledonia’s annual Inter-Island South Pacific artisan festival. The experience changed her, made her appreciate more what she had, her lifestyle, etc. City’s are exciting, but nothing beats the simplicity of life in her beautiful part of Tanna Island. We were grateful for her generosity. Leslie gave her several gifts of basic food items and a handy sack that she appreciated. We think of Leah when we think of Vanuatu.

Leslie Rigney and Leah from Leah’s Restaurant, Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

The same day later in the afternoon, the drive to Mt. Yasur Volcano Park was a learning experience. Beautiful country with people’s quick smiles, these smiles made more radiant against their dark skin. At the park entrance, I asked if there was a different price for kids. “No. Sorry.” After filling out the paperwork (there are apparently risks associated with walking on the unrailed edge of an active volcano, especially at night), they asked us to select a wooden picket sign with our country of origin written across it. “USA” having been collected by someone else, so having been recent residents of both Nuku Hiva and Uturoa, sister cities of Tahiti, we picked “Tahiti.” No one believed it, but I didn’t care. I carried the sign with all the French Polynesian pride I could muster.

RigneysKandu guys trying to stay dry and film atop Mount Yasur crater, Tanna, Vanuatu.

A brief native dance and chiefly request/acceptance ceremony later and we were loaded into pick-up beds for the ride up to the crater. A bottle of water was included. The official language of Vanuatu is an English-French pidgin. It’s so much fun to try to figure it out. Try your hand it. The water bottle label read: “Nambawan Wota, Belong Vanuatu, Gud wota, gud laef.”As we approached the pathway to the crater’s ridge, we could hear its explosions more and more impressively and feel the action of the volcano spitting up pent up gasses and red lava. We were all so very excited. We didn’t even see the pending rain cloud coming. After another warning by the guide to follow him and to not endeavor on our own paths (Bryce wanted to snowboard down it!), we headed up the steep hillside of grey ash. Having not walked more than 20 feet at a time on Kandu for the past couple weeks, this proved more labor intensive than normal, . . . oh well. Once at the edge, the guide recommended we stay to the left side, opposite the potentially deadly sulfuric gas spewing cloud, the one four others where standing in . . . so much for listening to the expensive guide wanting to spare you. As each untimed burst occurred, with particular ferocity, we could not help but be humbled by the power, the earth jumps, the heat, the (shall I say it?) shock and awe of it. The backdrop of darkness from the setting sun made the experience even more impressive, more dramatically awesome. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my cold, wet face (yes, it was cold on the windward side of the crater, not the smoky sulfuric side). I was turned into an 8-year-old boy, so grateful and exhilarated. I wasn’t going to leave until the wise guide forced me. It was worth every Disneyland Park penny of it (about the same price, after all).

Leslie & Bryce Rigney atop the Mount Yasur crater, Tanna, Vanuatu.
Mount Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu.

On the drive from the park back to Ireupuow Village, our driver mentioned that tonight, in his village, was a talent show to support the local schools. Every few months, in different bays around the island, youth groups lead by adults gather to perform in an ad hoc talent auction, the proceeds of which benefit each group’s respective school. Tonight’s talent show auction happened to be in his village, the bay where we had anchored Kandu the day before. How could we miss this? The event was held in the covered community center, a medium-sized cement-block hall with newly mounted tin roof following 2015’s Hurricane Pam. We tried to view the spectacle from outside, but those inside soon covered the windows. No freebies. The local kid standing outside next to me said, 50 vatu per person ($0.50). So we went around back to pay our entrance fee: 200 vatu per person (tourist price, perhaps?). Oh, well, it’s for a good cause. Sitting on the floor in the midst of the villagers was magical, transformative. The young lady next to me explained what we were witnessing. The performers sing and/or dance. A member of the audience will pay the kitty to remove a particular performer from the stage, vanquishing them from performing. Less than a minute later, another member pays more to have that person returned to dance again. It’s all in good fun, no hard feelings. Mothers were pulling their sons off while their sisters or aunties paid to have them renewed. After about 10-12 minutes, the emcee cuts the music, and then starts the process of auctioning the price to have them start again. When he got to 1000 vatu ($10 USD), I handed the vatu currency note to Bryce and insisted he be the one to brave the crowd and pay the ransom. The emcee was surprised to see a young tourist come to him. He asked Bryce what he wanted for the money. Bryce said, for them to dance again. This impressed the villagers. “Dis is a gud ting,” smiled the young lady next to me. And the dancing renewed. We LOVED it! Almost 9:30 p.m., understanding the event would run past midnight and not having the habit of staying up much past 8:30, . . . and having to dinghy back to Kandu, we decided to call it quits and left between two acts, all eyes on us. It felt odd to be ogled as foreign objects, but so it is.

Eric Rigney on Tanna Island, Port Resolution, Vanuatu.

Daily Log: Vanuatu Notes

6-13-2017 18h00 – Leslie. Off to Port Resolution, East Tanna, Vanuatu. Clearing out of Customs early in the morning, Eric was informed that we had to leave Fiji within the hour and that we were not to stop anywhere on the way out. Not stopping is standard protocol.  Leaving in one hour is not. He then asked Eric when we expected to leave. Eric smiled, “Why, within the hour, of course.” No way! Family boats don’t spin on a dime, and most customs agents respect this, typically giving us 24 hours. It took the good part of the morning to prep Kandu before we could leave. Before sailing completely away from Fiji, we needed to stop over at Port Denarau Marina to pick-up a new outboard prop that died on us in Suva. Eric had ordered it the week earlier. Port Denarau Marina is a high-class modern vacation marina, intended especially for super yachts and the like. It even sports a Hard Rock Café. We were in and out within an hour, wishing we had had more time to visit. By 19h00, after a standard tropical sunset, we sailed through the last Fijian pass and into open-ocean, a three day passage.

Trent Rigney walking down the main dock to enter the classy Port Denarau, Viti Levu of Fiji.

6-16-2017 Friday 11:00 am – Leslie. Arrived Port Resolution, Tanna, Vanuatu (originally known as New Hebredes). Our original port of entry was supposed to be Port Vila on Efate, but the winds directed us more south, so we turned toward the first island in the archipelago, Tanna. Through our InReach satellite texting, we asked good friend Ron Bruchet in Victoria, Washington to email the immigration authorities our circumstances and to find out if we could clear on Tanna. Vanuatu customs indicated Port Resolution on the southeastern tip would be the best anchorage even though the customs office was located at Lenakel on the west coast of the island. Upon arrival, arrangements were made immediately for a customs officer to drive the 2 hours one way over rugged dirt roads to clear us in. Wow, what service!6-23-2017, Friday 2 am – Eric. After more customs and immigration business plus getting some laundry done, we left the very expensive, not-so-pleasant Vanuatu capital, Port Vila. We’re sailing from Port Vila, Efate to Ranon Bay, Ambrym, passing several islands in a narrow channel. We were passed by two inter island cargo/ferry boats, fore and aft. Winds light from south due to storm in New Zealand. Helping us sail a bit. Motor sailing too. Nicer ride than any other since French Polynesia.

Ambrym has 2 active volcanoes. They practice magic (black and white), Rom Dance and sand painting. Dr. Alan of the Seven Seas Sailing Association recommends we meet with William Adel to take us to the volcano. Don’t have nearly enough time to explore, as we must leave Vanuatu for Darwin by June 20th to arrive before the ‘Sail Indonesia Rally,’ which starts July 29th. All is well and working about Kandu.

6-23-2017 7h00 – Eric. Arrived Ranon Bay, Ambrym. Descended Kandu to find William Adel. Witnessed Rom Dancing in Fanla Village. No time for a 3-day round trip hike to see the active volcano. Fortunately, we had already witnessed a live volcano on Tanna. Did exchange some new T-shirts and a long solid rope for a carved statue in volcanic rock and local produce.

Eric Rigney looking for William Adel.

6-24-2017 6h00 – Eric. Departed Ranon, Ambrym for Wali, Pentecost. Morning sail. Arrived 8h30 to see extraordinary10h00 presentation of Land Diving by village boys and men. 16h00 Kava Happy Hour to meet Chief of Wali village. Fantastic!

6-25-2017 6h00 – Eric. Left Wali, Pentecost for southern tip of Maewo, Asanvari Bay. Easy day sail. Beautiful and comfortable anchorage with a stunning waterfall to boot! How could cruising get any better?

6-26-2017 5h30 – Eric. Departed Asanvari, Maewo for Luganville, Espirito Santo. Anchored 16h00 in front of The Beachfront Resort in the second channel on the southeastern corner of Espirito Santo next to the main port, Luganville. We were told there had been some recent yacht theft, but decided to risk it in order to be close to the principal city of Luganville. We had many plans: diving the President USS Coolidge WWII wreck, touring WWII sites, swimming the Blue Hols, and of course, provisioning for our upcoming 20 day passage direct to Darwin.

Luganville’s Temporary hold for Japanese POWs during WWII.

7-1-2017 17h00 – Eric. Weighed anchor from Santo at 14h30. Fuel and water topped up (diesel, gas, propane). Last of provisions acquired.

Two locals helping us provision in Luganville.

Left a day later than planned to see East coast of Santo and to start in a slightly easier way (less windy). Still steady, wind and seas pushing us right along at 6 knots. Clear skies with occasional traveling rain cloud. Rocking a bit but not crazy seas, mostly steady. Estimated 16-20 days to Darwin, Australia. First waypoint is +1250 nautical miles away, lining us up for the Torres Strait. Weather forecast constant SE trade winds, 13-18 knots. Hope we can get away without running downwind much. All excited to get this crossing behind us. Boys helped a lot in getting the boat ready. Makes things easier. Poor sleep the night before leaving. It was a Saturday night and I feared reported thefts, so set-up the motion detector alarm, but it went off twice in the night. False alarms. No intruder was seen onboard. However, there was a cockroach intruder crawling on my naked legs during the night. It was annoying!

7-1-2017, Saturday, 11:30 pm – Leslie. Cleared out yesterday; we left Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu at 2:30 pm. Eric had hoped to depart in the morning, but as always, it took longer to get everything arranged from acquiring diesel, last minute provisioning in town, returning our day rental car, and the cleaning, wiping down, and deflating of the dinghy plus tying it down onto the port foredeck.Our tour of Vanuatu was Eric’s dream come true. Ever since he was a boy, he dreamed of seeing land diving off of log and branch scaffolding, which he had seen on TV. We were quite fortunate to have witnessed it actually. Our June travels brought us to Pentecost Island of Vanuatu on the last Saturday presentation of the year. Only the day before were we anchored at Ranon Bay on Ambrym, the “black magic” island, where our contact William Adel of Ranon Beach Bungalows informed us of the following day’s last diving-of-the-year event. We were completely unaware. What luck to have been in the right place at the right time! Ambrym to Wali Bay on Pentecost was only an hour and ½ sail. We’d sail early the next morning. But on Ambrym, before leaving for Pentecost, we hiked up the hillside for a tour of Fanla Village and a private presentation by men of their sacred Rom pig dance, a bamboo flute performance, and their special sand painting.

We felt honored and privileged to have heard and seen this special ritual that even their own women are not allowed to witness. Afterward, the village carvers displayed their beautiful wares and we bought 2 carved bamboo flutes and a gorgeous wood statuette depicting their Rom mask.

I musn’t neglect to mention that the first stop on our Vanuatu tour began on Tanna, the most southern island in the chain. We enjoyed the beautiful people of Ireupuow Village situated on the east side of the large bay called Port Resolution. Firstly, we were beautifully welcomed by Stanley, the Port Resolution Yacht Club custodian. He hooked us up with the customs officials right away. He helped us exchange money across the island in Lanakel, and made reservations for us to visit volcano Mount Yasur. While walking through their simple village, we passed out toys to the children, explored the village of thatch roof, one bedroom huts/houses, provided skin medicines to an older gentleman with a nasty knife injury, traded rice, corned beef and electrical re-charging of a phone and video camera for limes and bananas with a man in a canoe,BnT played frisbee and volley ball with the local kids (two gifts to them were frisbees), we ate a nice local lunch at Leah’s Restaurant (incidentally Leah spoke no English, only French),

Leslie Rigney and Leah from Leah’s Restaurant, Port Resolution, Tanna Island, Vanuatu.

and attended a quarterly talent show school fundraiser of local song and dance accompanied by modern mixers, microphone and speakers à la karaoke. Witnessing the fun spirit of the locals in song and dance was a highlight of activities on Tanna. To top off our quick stay on Tanna, we traveled 4-wheel drive over craggy dirt roads to experience the remarkable active volcano, Mount Yasur. It exploded a minimum of every 2 minutes. We arrived onsite at twilight, and when night set-in, the exploding lava light show was spellbinding, visually hitting our eyes the same time as the shock and sound waves hit our bodies and ears, we were that close. You could actually see the shock waves in the mist.

 

Leslie’s Letters: Vanuatu in June 2017

View of Kandu from Beachfront Resort, Luganville, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu

June 27, 2017

Dearest parents,

Well received all of your incredible newsy emails. Thank you ever so much. I haven’t written you many emails of late. I’m in the midst of posting some of the blog entries that I’ve been collecting and writing at night. It’s a long process.

We’ve had the most incredible experiences here in Vanuatu. Exploding volcano, Rom dancing, hiking into remote African like villages, Land Diving, eating local yams and local mackerel – what adventure!

Mount Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu.
Rom Dancing, Fanla Village, Ambrym, Vanuatu.
Leslie Rigney hiking to Fanla Village, Ambrym, Vanuatu.
Land Diving, Pentacost, Vanuatu.

Tonight we’re anchored outside The Beachfront Resort (friendly and helpful to cruisers) on the island Espiritu Santo in Luganville and are planning to have dinner at the resort in order to benefit from their great Wi-fi X 4 people/devices. We’re hoping the wind dies down a little so our dinghy ride back in the dark to Kandu is not bumpy and wet as we’ll be transporting computers.

Eric got the engine figured out, which had been causing him angst since yesterday. Happily, the problem was apparent and the solution was simple; he had changed the oil and filters but didn’t stock up the new filters with oil, so the engine was sucking air. When we get our retrofitted pactor modem in Australia, we’ll actually be able to send emails in route over the ocean along with low-resolution photos. It will be great to have that working again along with our wind sensor.

I’ve got to send a message to Teaching Textbooks (Bryce and Trent’s math programs) regarding the discs we’re having problems with probably due to being in a salty environment since early 2015. They said they would send us replacements. We need them badly now that the boys are boat schooling full time. I must find the list of bad CD’s that we painstakingly drew-up! Where could that be? Sigh.

This week, we plan to go on a scuba dive of the USS President Coolidge 600 foot troop carrier wreck that sank in 1942 during WWII.

Image of USS President Coolidge wreck on it’s side.

It is located in relatively shallow water so it will not be a problem for the boys to dive it considering their low degree of experience and skill. We also plan to take an afternoon island tour of the WWII leftovers: Million Dollar Point where the Americans dumped massive amounts of war vehicles and equipment deep into the water after the war, hospital sites, quonset barracks and shelters still in use, an old prison cell built to detain Japanese POWs, etc,

Trent Rigney at Million Dollar Point looking at rusted engine parts.

It should be a great education adding to the boys’ understanding of World War II and how it affected even the most remote peoples of the world.

Also, I think we might rent a car to tour the northern part of the island up to Port Olry, fitting in a swim in one of the celebrated Blue Hols along the coastline and a visit to Champagne Beach where the sand is beautifully fine.  Friday – we’ll stock up and check out of immigration. Saturday we’ll be leaving.

Gotta go – dinner is ready. I love you, and dittoing your memorable salutation, send you back clouds of love love love, Leslie.