Sunday 4 June 2010

[new Mission2 – Part 2 images available]

The night before last was our final night spent in Vanuatu. We had handed over the yacht to the new crew and with the release of responsibility a feeling of tiredness came over us. We were ready to go home. None of us were hurrying about it. We have had a wonderful experience and really didn’t want it to end. We hired a 6-berth dormitory for the last night as our bunks, of the last month, were now occupied by the new crew. Our only concern was getting 6 people through the one bathroom in the morning before our bus arrived. This particularly concerned Chris. She relaxed when she remembered there was a second bathroom, which the yachties use. Actually we all relaxed at that thought.

In the morning it all flowed seamlessly; no need for concern at all.

The weather yesterday morning was quite cool and seemed to be preparing us for the trip home.
Rob came to the airport to make sure we left, all the while mentally going through check lists of things to do to be ready to leave on Sunday night. I pointed out that the cargo from Port Vila hadn’t arrived which is supposed to be transhipped to the yacht. That is just a normal logistical problem to deal with in Vanuatu. The cargo included a knock down operating theatre which Tour 2 was supposed to transport however, that part of our work had been cancelled. We are all keen to know how that works out and will be reading the log to find out.
Our trip from Luganville to Port Villa was very pleasant with good views across the islands dotted on a deep blue sea. We had check through to Sydney from Luganville. However, Carl couldn’t check through to Brisbane because he was changing carrier. At Port Vila Pacific Blue didn’t have him listed on the flight. They had him down for a month later. The mix up dates back to the flight cancellation back at the beginning of June when it took two days to get all of us to Port Vila. Fortunately it was all fixed quite easily and Carl caught his flight.
The rest of us waited and waited for our flight. It was due to leave 15 min after Carl’s but it didn’t leave for another hour and a half. It didn’t seem to worry management and no mention was made of the delay.
Paul and Grant had an amazing adventure over 2 days just before leaving. We implored them to write it up for the log. On the flight home Paul applied himself to the task and produced an excellent report (see below). It might not be a trip you would want to do yourself but it makes very interesting reading and a testament to the sense of adventure all the crews share.
By the time I got home last night it was 11:30pm and 4 deg C . I went to bed with layers of bedding and clothing on. During the night I pulled a mohair blanket over my head to keep warm. In the morning Nila was up first and when I got up she gleefully called “You’ll want a woollen jumper and a coat when you go outside”. I am back home.

Andrew

Out of this world (Paul)

After having visited a number of island villages and with a few days to spare in Santo we were keen to see the differences in the mountain people.  We had heard interesting tales of the Lysepseps and Mal mals – two distinct peoples inhabiting the highlands of Vanuatu’s largest island.

Our excuse for such a venture was climbing a mountain – we hadn’t time for the really high mountains in the Cumberland ranges or Santo’s highest peak (at circa 1800m). However, we spotted a lesser mountain on the map that was only 780m – easily achievable in a day and with potential panoramic views of the eastern side of the island.  So it was that we headed off for Mt. Tanaker!

We soon discovered that the road to the nearest village of Butmas required a four-wheel drive and a bus trip was not going to cut it – we also learned that the village was French speaking so we were going to need a guide!  With most of the boat chores out of the way and the girls all set to complete the sewing of the jib, we set off early on Thursday morning with a guide and his 4WD. Joseph was a native of Fanafo – a popular tourist venue – who was a little bemused that we wanted to climb a hill and stay overnight in the village before returning home – but was keen to make the experience a good one. He explained that the two villages were on good terms and he had in mind a guide to take us to the peak.

We travelled along the Eastern Highway – recently constructed with US funding and passed by the popular Yachting anchorage of Oyster Bay and numerous smart resorts, a recently commissioned agricultural college funded by the Chinese govt and several large plantations with various international interests.  After half an hour we turned off onto a track built by Malaysian loggers in the mid-nineties and headed up – into the hills – and an experience that will stay with us for some time.

Joseph happily pointed out the gate at which community land started and kustom life was resumed. Until the road was built, villages would walk to Luganville and the isolation of the villages must have been hard to comprehend. We passed by a village that straddled the track and stretched for over 2 km. The houses were simple and a mixture of traditional and modern materials. Local villagers ambled back and forth, waving and smiling. We picked up three young fellow walking back from Luganville. As we climbed still further the feeling of remoteness grew stronger, huts more sparse and were made in the traditional style. Until Joseph dropped off the boys at a junction in the track and happily announced that if we needed the toilet there were now no more houses and be sure to let him know.

We continued to travel along the track – and into the white mist of the clouds. Eventually, after two hours of travel, we crested a small hill and in front of us was the picturesque village of Butmas. The view was stunning – to the left was the school in a lush green field and behind the house of the professeur. To the right the small church with its water butt and the pastor’s house. And in front the spectacular collection of houses – the Namakal, even larger chiefs house and a collection of smaller houses. Apart from the school house and small church, with corrugated tin roofs and clapboard walls – the huts were made with woven bamboo walls, sturdy timber frames and the ubiquitous thatched roofs.

We parked at the crest of the hill and Joseph went off to speak to the chief.  It turned out that the chief was not well – the cool damp conditions appeared to have taken many of the villagers down with flu. However, Johnnie, the chief’s son came up with his cousin Frank. Joseph patiently explained our wish to climb the mountain. Johnnie took this with a slightly bemused air and asked again whether we wanted to climb today (since it was by now raining heavily) or tomorrow. Without further ado – we took Johnnie and Frank aboard and headed off down the track in search of the path to the mountain. Being the largest mountain on the east side of the hill we were in two minds whether there would be a track or not.  We were assured that that was a track and it would be no problem. Some 5km further the truck turned and we were dispatched.  Joseph pointed to Frank and said – ‘he speaks French’ – he pointed to me – ‘you speak French too, right?’ I mumbled in my best schoolboy vernacular something along the lines of ‘err – oui – un peut!’. Grant maintained a studious silence – but more of that later!

So it was that we set out for the most unusual hill climb. Both Grant and I are of the same mind – the track didn’t really exist anywhere but in Johnnie’s mind before the ascent – but was definitely a track after he had set to with his huge machete. We later discovered that I have a couple of years on Johhnie – so struggling to keep up can be justified – but Grant had no such excuse. The path was trailblazed at a rate that neither of us could keep up with – we could only follow the trail of carnage from his flashing machete!  Even so – our progress was remarkable – not being able to see the peak for the rain we persevered over vines, negotiated fallen trees and within half an hour we came across Johnnie leaned against a tree with machete in hand. He maintained his slightly stern but amused expression as Grant and I beamed at each other with the satisfaction of a job well done and took out the camera for posterity sake.

Having thought that we had achieved our aim – we were puzzled to learn after a broken conversation in English, Bislama and French that there were four peaks that constituted Mt. Tanaker and would we like to climb another one? Of course we said yes and off we went again. On leaving the truck we had conferred over whether a coat would be advisable or not – there being incessant rainfall and humid conditions. I opted for no coat with the idea of changing into dry clothes on our return – Grant took the alternative course –mostly to demonstrate that he was far better prepared than I and had better kit! By now however, Grant had thoroughly wetted his jacket inside and out so it was discarded along the way – along with our pack – for collection on our return.

After climbing three of the four peaks – to equal displays of enthusiasm on our part and only a slightly warmer reaction form our guides (perhaps our excitement was contagious) we started back along the logging track to the village.  We would have climbed the fourth peak but for the fact we couldn’t even see it for the rain being further off the beaten track and Johhnie was not quite sure where to pick up the track. Climbing up and down slippery jungle was an enjoyable experience that left us very wet – and very dirty – but happy – we felt on top of the world!

Some time later we arrived at the village of Butmas for the second time that day. Johnnie took a short cut to his house to put on a dry shirt and Frank led us into the village. First we were taken to the Nakamal – the communal village centre – where the school children had just finished there lunch and were returning to class.  I don’t think we had quite realised the fascination that we would hold for these children – tourists don’t visit this village and the idea of two white fella spending the night there was a novelty for them as well as us!

Frank introduced us to his uncle – the chief. The chief has his own hut – and it is the largest and finest in the village. Of beautiful construction the hut is around 6m wide, 15m long and 3 or more metres high. The hut is divided in two with the women mostly occupying the far end. As we entered a huge fire was burning that would soon become a sort of hangi with our dinner roasting inside. We had come prepared with wind up torches borrowed (hic!) from the ships store to offer to the chief and they were well received. Slightly embarrassing was demonstrating the radio function. I did all the right things but had to concede that perhaps the torch bit was the more useful. Until chief put them back in the box and one came to life with a short burst of static.  Just when you need Carl………

Following our welcome by the chief – we went to the Namakal to have lunch.  We were brought yams – roasted on the fire and we knocked up a quick tuna mayonnaise to go with it – and a bread roll.  We shared our lunch with Frank who had by now developed even worse symptoms of flu so Grant delved into his first aid kit and proffered up some headache tablets.

We were eager to find out about the village – so we resumed our tri-partite language battle with some small successes. Our enquiries about the water supply led to the offer of a wash in the river just over there – that we reached about 20 minutes later!  The river was fully equipped with a wash board and a shower fixture – resembling a 2 inch pipe fixed into the stream! But it was a very refreshing wash – with soap supplied by Frank – and Grant had brought along our dry clothes and a towel.  We were delighted to be dry again – but the feeling was short-lived as another downpour threatened to undo all our good intentions. We donned our wet weather gear and returned up the muddy path to receive a tour of the village.

The village turned out to be larger than we had anticipated.  100 people live in the village and it is spread over three areas – the larger was the village centre where we had been entertained by the chief. Johnnie – the serious but remarkably agile eldest son lived with a collection of his relatives up a short path.  Having negotiated the mountain I felt on safer ground passing through the village.  How wrong!  Grant had kindly loaned me his thongs to allow my feet to get some respite from my wet shoes – and he was paid in full when I  started a rapid descent of the muddy village path to stop inches from bowling him over two. I thought I had recovered well until he extended his finger and I fell flat on my face.  Laugh?  He nearly died!  I had also managed to slice open the sole of my foot on the way down. Even Frank was highly amused.  I tried to explain to him how Ni-vans have magic thongs and seem to be able to do anything in them – but I think something was lost in translation…..

The third part of the village was the most amazing – we had enquired of Frank whether they hunted whilst on our trek to which he replied that they hunted birds with arrows. So we were taken to a small clearing with only one house from which two fellows emerged wearing only loin-cloths and the sternest expressions! It was father and son and were Mal mal people (meaning naked in Bislama) and they were happy (in an unsmiling way) to show us their bow and arrows. These were remarkable – a length of cane with four steel barbed points  that they can shoot up to 40 metres!

The most amazing memory that we will all bring back from Vanuatu is the children – their delight in merely looking at a white man, their broad grins and their happiness. We had sensed a feeling of reserve in the village until the children were let out from school – then the village came to life! They played football with their older brothers and dads on a football field that defied the description of a field – having no grass at all. It sloped about 15 degrees into a bog that provided the most enjoyable arena for the older fellas to gently propel the youngsters out of their way and invariably onto their knees! After the game the girls had a go and I am pleased to report that their balance was far superior!

Meanwhile the children had spotted us – and our camera. Their curiosity overcame their shyness as they posed for ‘photos’, and steadily edged closer. They were tickled pink when we photographed them with us and for some time giggled amongst themselves whilst not allowing their eyes to drift from us for one second! ‘Nom blong yu?’ I asked each in turn and they were delighted to tell each other’s names! We had to get used to the children looking at us – because we had several pairs of eyes on us at all times wondering just who these strangers fellas were – and whet they were doing!

Finally the damp conditions and cool air encouraged us into the chiefs hut where a small fire had been lit for warmth.  Frank explained to us that the lap lap leaves and woven mat in the corner were going to be our bed!  Whilst there was still a shaft of daylight – that barely penetrated the darkness of the hut – we unpacked our bedding and I began to realise why boy scouts make such a big deal of good preparation! Grant had a beautiful sleeping bag – and I had a cotton liner!

For some time we sat around the small fire in the smoky hut – continuing our difficult conversation with Frank – occasionally moving to avoid the smoke. Then dinner was served – taro with a handful of stringy beef.  The beef was very tasty – but how, we wondered, these strong and active people survive on such meagre pickings?

After dinner we were invited to the Namakal to witness kava preparation – an elaborate process that finally yielded a good size bucket of brown water. The men relied on a few torches and candles for light – until fire was brought in from the chiefs hut and the fire wood was carefully laid out in a star shape to give warmth with the minimum of waste.  The  mood was jovial and expectation high as the muddy water was offered up to each in turn. We took a cup and drank quickly as is the custom – our lips tingled and our stomachs turned slightly. Feeling tired though we soon headed for bed.

I have been told repeatedly – in fact all the  next day – that Grant slept fitfully.  The experience was magnificent. I tried to make myself comfortable by sleeping on my towel to negate the effects of the hard floor – and wearing two jackets! The ladies stayed awake for a while – combing each others hair by torchlight – some children cried, dogs murmured, chickens scratched. We were at least twenty people sleeping around the hut and gradually the noise abated – until it was almost silent – and dark – in fact pitch black. Then the rain began again – the pitter patter against the roof and then the babbling of water running down the gulley just inches from our heads – but outside the hut.  Whoever built that hut knew a thing or two about keeping out the rain! Not a drop of rain. All through the night we heard the sounds of highland family life – the baby howling, dogs barking followed by a whimper when something was thrown at them – the croaking of the frogs in the jungle. Occasional whispering. And then the sun started to rise – the cocks crew, the children stirred, the frogs abated and another day started.

Breakfast was a bowl of cold taro with warm liver – not the most appetising thing first thing in the morning – but surely good for keeping these highland people going through the day! We struggled to eat as much as we could and then emerged into another misty highland day.

Staying in Butmas for only one night and understanding how the people live was a truly remarkable experience! No electricity, no heating, no medicine. No coconut palms or bananas grow at this altitude. The only light from a few torches and the fire and smoke – everywhere!

Paul