Hey, there’s a giant turtle

Tuesday 12 September 2017
Nasawa Village, Maewo

Last night I wrongly informed everyone that we were headed for the village of Naravorovo on the island of Maewo (pro: My-woe). Well I got the Maewo bit right, (hard to mis a whole island) but I misled you on the village. Simple mistake. It’s actually Nasawa. Pity really, because the village of “Nasawa” isn’t nearly as much fun to say as Naravorovo.

They are close, about 10 minutes by boat, and fortunately the anchorage is pretty good – sand at a depth of 10m with minimal roll.

Getting here from Loloawi took about 2 hours, with the 20-25 knot breeze off the starboard bow pushing us along at around 6-7 knots with just the jib hoisted; plus the engine ticking over in the back ground at 1200rpm, mostly to charge the batteries.

The Ni-van dentist, Wellan, from the Ministry of Health and his dental hygienist colleague, Pakon, quite clearly had gained their sea-legs after day one, when they were starting to feel queasy in the calm of the Segond Channel; before we’d even made it into open water. On the other hand, it might have had something to do with being prescribed one of Graeme Duke’s “Power Pills”; with more likely to be handed out before the mission is complete.

The rain was off and on all day, with the transfer of the five from shore at 6:00am being a relatively smooth, and dry, exercise.

The island of Maewo was shrouded in a cloudy mist, obscuring all but the bottom third of the 1000m high central mountain ridge. As we got closer, more detail could be made out ashore, with a spectacular waterfall in one spot carving a vertical swath through the otherwise jungle-green terrain.

Our initial landfall was a bit too far north and after a phone call from Richard to the local nurse, it was confirmed that we were indeed at the wrong place – Naravorovo – when in fact we should be at Nasawa (not as much fun to say)

“I’m standing on the shore holding an umbrella” said the nurse on the phone. “Can anyone see someone ashore with an umbrella?” yelled Richard.

Soon we were in the correct bay and had found some sand amongst the coral on which to sink our anchor. But not before sending Martin over the side with his flippers (known in the local language Bislama as … “leg blong duck duck”” … and mask to confirm the best spot to release the chain, making absolutely sure we weren’t going to get caught up on a big rock of coral reef.

“Hey, there’s a giant turtle!!” yelled Martin … “ask him how old he is” someone yelled back.

It was sometime later that Martin made it back to the boat, well after we’d dropped anchor and turned off the engine, truly enjoying his task and making his way around the whole bay looking at the coral here, and the coral there… Always good to enjoy your work.

Launching the dinghy, I went ashore with Richard, Bob, Jay and Wellan to check where the clinic was to be set up, and the accommodation for the medical team ashore.

My first impressions of Nasawa are that it seemed like a little piece of paradise. A waterfall up the valley leading to a river running through the village. Buildings, including the clinic, school, church, bungalow-house, market-building and private homes spread out along the coast amidst lush lawn, gardens, trees and forest. The “beach” was enough to make most from the UK homesick, comprising uniformly round stones from really small at the water’s edge, to much larger further up the steep bank. Chickens, cows, pigs and the occasional dog, wandered peacefully around at leisure and we followed the local custom of shaking hands and saying hello to the strangers we met; from old ladies with walking sticks to little kids with their mums.

By 12:00 noon all the medical and dental gear had been transferred ashore and carried a few hundred metres to the local medical centre, with the bags and other belongings of the medical team transported to the bungalow, just up from the water’s edge, but a few minutes further up the coast
We all had lunch ashore together, provided by the bungalow owners, and around 1:30pm the medical folk began doing their thing at the nearby clinic, with the four sailors, Matt, Matt, Martin & Rob (me) returning to Chimere for a cup of tea and a good lie down.

Much like Lolawai, there will be a full-day’s clinic tomorrow, and if things go to plan I’ll have contributions from other team members to include soon.

At clinic closing time there was an opportunity to swim and play on the nearby rocky-beach with the locals as the sun got closer to the horizon out to the western horizon; a walk up to the waterfall above town somehow being a problem due to the recent rain causing the track to become too muddly and slippery.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and hey, there’s a giant turtle

Rob Latimer

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