Friday 15 September 2017
Tasmat Village Anchorage, Merelava Island
Introduction by Rob Latimer
There’s something very special about Merelava. This is our fourth visit in eight years. Each time similar but each time very different.
First there’s the scale and remoteness of the place. Ninety nautical miles NE of the regional centre of Luganville, out on its own in the ocean, rising 1,000 metres into the air and just 4-5 km wide. A jungle-covered cone, a once-active volcano, surrounded by a sharp, black volcanic rock ledge.
Then there’s the people. A resilient, welcoming, generous bunch who seem incredibly fit on account of the steepness of the terrain and just how physical and challenging everything is here.
On arrival, many of the local kids clambered excitedly over the rocks that rise from the sea near the anchorage, leaving your heart in your mouth, hoping beyond hope they didn’t trip and fall onto the rocks below, or into the sea. But no chance of that. These kids are agile like no others. Following the kids were pigs of different sizes and colours also negotiating the rock-hopping track.
As the kid-numbers grew there was much squealing, yelling and hand waving as we secured the main anchor and then the stern anchor, all the while the wind howled and the rain-showers came and went.
Despite the rough seas off the point, this little corner of the island, fairly close to the rocky coast and below the village of Tasmat, provided a sufficiently calm anchorage, with a sandy bottom of between 5-12 metres, to make life aboard bearable.
On arrival, yesterday morning, the gear and people were transported ashore and with lots of willing hands, the considerable pile of gear was carried up the steep track to the village.
Through the night, torrential rain and wind gusts down off the island in the order of 30-40 knots kept our wind generator operating at maximum capacity. The anchor held well and whilst the rain seemed to have passed, the wind gusts remained strong all day.
Our amazing Survey assistant Annette takes up the story from an on-shore, clinic perspective …
By Annette Vincent – Misfit, Mission 4
I describe myself as misfit on two counts –
1) that I am neither medical nor sailing crew, so counting myself very fortunate if somewhat confused to be included on this mission, and
2) that I am the lone Kiwi among a crowd of Australians!
Seriously, I have been volunteering with Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) in Port Vila along with my husband for 6 months, and I happened to get involved as a recorder for the National Oral Health Survey on the Missions around Efate, so my application to join Mission 4 described me as Nambawan Recorder and Generally Useful Person – and it worked!
Day 2 on Merelava – So far every day has brought some sort of an adventure. Just getting to our clinic today was an adventure. The first challenge (excluding getting up after a night of rocking and rolling in a strong wind and only our sliver of protection) was getting from the dinghy onto the wet and slippery rocks on shore in the still strong wind and significant swell.
Captain Robert did an excellent job of holding the dinghy hard up against the rocks so we could achieve this. All our equipment had been carried up to Tasmat village the previous afternoon, but even with just our own day packs it was quite a hike up a very steep path, with more slippery rocks and tree roots to negotiate – the second challenge. I arrived bathed in sweat – so much for having a shower last night!
However, once there, the warm welcome by the people made it all worthwhile. We achieved the target for the Oral Health Survey, and there were plenty of people requiring medical, dental and optical treatment.
At lunchtime, there was fun and games with the children, instigated by Deb getting the team to do the Hokey Pokey and teach it to the local children. They thought it was hilarious watching us doing it first, but then they had lots of fun joining in. There followed several more games with Deb and Martin teaching the children some and then Greslin, the church secretary, getting the children organised to teach us some. There were plenty of adults sitting around the perimeter of the village communal area, thoroughly enjoying the spectacle.
Richard then started teaching the children some cricket skills. Three cricket bats and several tennis balls appeared, and a short section of coconut tree trunk and a box of soap made adequate wickets. After a few variations on the game, there was great fun with several batters and balls and lots of catching, running and fetching, and of course giggles.
Merelava is a steep cone of black rock, covered with lush vegetation apart from a skirt of bare rock around the base. Not many boats come here because there is no good harbour and landing is difficult, so our visit was much appreciated. The village and the climb up to it are truly beautiful, and although the climb down again was a bit scary, none of us have any regrets about going there. There was minor injury along that path on both the way up and down, with Dr Graeme Duke going for a slide each time and acquiring two minor scrapes. Our local helpers negotiated it with apparent ease while wearing jandals (thongs for those from the West Island) and carrying boxes of our medical supplies! However Kresline told us she had previously broken her leg on that path – wish she had told us after we had completed it not when we were on the worst section!
As we departed on the dinghy, a few small girls waved us goodbye from the rocks – they were so cute that Rob had to do a loop around in the dinghy to get a photo of them. The people are so wonderful, and we had a very special time there but we have other islands to visit, so it is time for farewell.
Fair breeze, smooth seas and the Ups and Downs of Merelava.
[images taken on previous trips to Merelava]