Sunday 21 June, 9.53pm (Ndui Ndui, Ambae)

At 7.30 this morning a bell tolled somewhere on shore (probably a metal pipe whacked with another one), and we knew church had begun. A while later we saw two little figures waving, and realised that Isabel Purcell (nurse) and Tony Richards (GP) were coming for a visit on their R & R day while the others went off to spend the morning at church. Yes, the morning – services are three hours long, as Rob wrote weeks ago in this log. And there’s no sneaking in late and sitting down the back if you’re a guest; you’re ushered into the front row, asked to introduce yourself, and lined up to shake hands with the entire congregation afterward. I’m told the singing is wonderful, which doesn’t surprise me at all judging by what I’ve heard both as we were swimming down the canyon a few days ago (one of the guides was singing at the top of his voice as he kicked his way down the river holding Yannick’s camera above his head), and around the island shores as people are paddling their outriggers.

It was lovely to see Isobel and Tony after watching them disappear on the truck yesterday and thinking we may not have a lot to do with them over the next few days. Once they were on board, they suggested that we’d be better off anchoring at the village they’re based at, which is about an hour south of where we were. That way we could stay in touch with them easily and there would be more potential for us being actively involved in a supportive capacity. We upped anchor and cruised down the coast past the secondary school with its graffitied black rocks until we saw Ndui Ndui (pronounced Dui Dui) health centre, and a concrete pier jutting out from black rocky coast. The sky was much clearer today, but wisps of mist still skirted the mountains that rise just beyond the shore. Up there somewhere, sitting in a volcanic crater, is the highest lake in Vanuatu. Who knows, we may walk up there at some point if we can face the climb.

The islands are each quite different in character, but apart from their extraordinary fertile tropical beauty these remote places share the traits of hospitality towards strangers, strong community, dependence on fruit and vegetables and fishing for a living, extensive use of outriggers (I’m still determined to paddle one of those things), and woven and thatched dwellings. These often get flattened during cyclones, and take about three weeks to rebuild.

After a Chimere lunch of freshly baked bread hot from the oven, bruscetta spread, salad and dense sticky brownies, we freshened up with a swim off the boat, donned clean MSM t-shirts (the one I had on yesterday was filthy from me sliding on my back cross the deck after a particularly big wave, causing much hilarity) and went to visit the village. It appears to be relatively prosperous with its health clinic and its neat huts and gardens.We met Mary Tabo, a Ni-Van with a warm, glowing smile who has been involved with the Vanuatu Blindness Project from its beginning ten years ago, and reconnected with the rest of the team we brought down yesterday.

The guest house where they are staying is like something out of a fairy-tale. The woven bamboo walls are dyed in patterns of green and red, and the pitched thatched roof slants steeply. On the high fence posts surrounding the garden, candles sit inside dried banana leaves to light the place at night. They have the luxury of a flush toilet in the back yard, a laundry trough for clothes washing, and tank water.

Tomorrow Jen and I will go over and meet Godfrey, who has some jobs for us to do in the village while the medical team is off running a clinic elsewhere. Everyone is looking forward to getting to work having rested after their journey, so it will be interesting to see what we get up to tomorrow. There are so many multi-skilled people on this boat I can see all of us being fully occupied with no trouble at all.

Ann Shoebridge