In the shadow of the volcano

Friday 29 September 2017
Asanvari, Maewo

The day began very slow and sleepy aboard Chimere; Asanvari is that kind of anchorage.

Having arrived just on dark last night there was no chance to go ashore to meet with any of the village leaders, but around 7:30am the first canoe could be seen heading our way from the main beach.

“Save a pancake” I said to Cathy in the galley, “we might have a guest”.

Our visitor introduced himself as Chief Justin and in a very humble and obtuse kind of way presented a problem … “that you might be able to help us with … but only if it’s not too much trouble … and if you can’t that’s fine … ”

As it turned out there was a boy in the village who had hurt his arm playing soccer and they needed to take him over to the Lolowai Hospital on Ambae. Plus they needed to bring back people being evacuated on account of the volcanic activity … and … “what we were after was some fuel … some petrol”

“Yes, we can help with some petrol, and maybe our nurse could have a look the boy. We’ll bring the fuel over in the dinghy shortly”

As he was leaving we asked Chief Justin how many people they were intending to bring across to Asanvari and he said around 150, with tomorrow set as the date for evacuation of the whole island.

“Would it be useful if we took our boat over to assist?”, we asked.

He agree this might be a good thing and we exchanged phone numbers when we met on the beach a short time later, after Cathy determining that the boy was fine and that the local nurse Olivette had done a great job bandaging up the graze.

After giving Chief Justin 30 litres of petrol (supposedly in exchange for some fruit … bananas, pamplemouse and especially mangoes) we waved him good-bye. Meanwhile the island of Ambae, 10 miles away was reasonably clear and silent, although as volcanologists would probably agree, looks can be deceptive. Apparently last week the explosions from the top of Ambae could be heard 20 miles away and were sending rocks into the sea several kilometres away; locals could see the splashes when they hit the water.

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Meanwhile we all enjoyed the snorkelling and the nearby waterfall, with our host (Chief)Alex showing us around and making us feel welcome. Also, Martin, a young boy of 10 (and brother of the boy with the sore arm) took Annette, Barry, Matt and Cathy on a guided tour of the village.

Mid-afternoon, I received a call from Chief Justin to say that he had spoken with the regional disaster coordinator and there was a view that Asanvari and the whole region of south Maewo and north Pentecost was still too close to Ambae to send evacuees, on account of the tsunami risk in the event of earthquake.

So the request from Justin was … “could we evacuate people 28 people to Santo … Luganville, tomorrow?”

This would mean going back to where we had started. But at least the wind would be from the behind.

“Yes, we can assist, we can be there at 8:00am tomorrow morning.”

Chief Justin was supposed to come back in the banana boat this afternoon, but we’ve seen no sign of him. Likewise, we haven’t been able to raise him on the phone … but that’s not so unusual in these parts.

The rest of the day was spent tidying up Chimere in readiness for the 90 minute sail across to Lolowai in the morning and the welcoming aboard of 28 people. From Lolowai to Luganville should be around an 8 hour sail, so we’ve organised some in-flight food for our guests. Just have to sort out the entertainment now.

In chatting with “waterfall chief”, Alex, he recalled the mud brick demonstration I did in the village back in 2010 and expressed interest in seeing it again. This involved an enjoyable walk up the mountain to obtain the clay, all the while learning more about this fascinating guy and the politics and history of the region.

As a past-meteorologist, journalist, radio station founder and business man, Alex is certainly not your average Ni-Van! After making 5 very handsome mudbricks and leaving him with an instruction manual, plus a mold we’d made from onboard materials, Alex promised to send me a photo of the building he intends to make from the bricks.

Barry led the charge in making dinner … a very tasty spag bol … after which he declared “there are no more condiments left in the galley”. Suggesting he might have been unclear which herb, spice and sauce to add, so he’d included them all.

With a big day ahead it was an early night for all.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and in the shadow of the volcano

Rob Latimer

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