Thursday, June 12, 2014

Tanna Island, Vanautu 2014

Proud mom's

Building the mound of gifts



Laying on the sugar cane stalks

Newly circumcised boys

More offerings


It took us 7 hours to sail from Port Patrick, Anatom Island to Port Resolution on the island of Tanna. We arrived in the anchorage to find “Gypsy Heart”, who left the day before us, already at anchor.  Sandy and Rankin were about to leave for a tour of the nearby Mt. Yasur volcano which we enjoyed last year.  Jon and Heather went to shore for a walkabout and, when they came back, said we had all been invited to a post-circumcision celebration early the next morning.  Our host, a kind gentleman named Stanley, whom we'd met last year, asked if we would bring cakes.  So, even though I just wanted to relax after along day of sailing, I pulled out the bowls and pans and set to work.  I had a couple of gluten free mixes on board but the anchorage was so rolly that they wouldn’t rise and ended up looking like chocolate tortillas. After two unsuccessful attempts to bake a decent cake, I finally baked a cake from scratch and eventually got to bed at midnight.  Unfortunately, a breeze in the night kept us sideways to the swells that were wrapping around the point and coming into the bay.  Neither of us got much sleep with the constant rolling of the boat.  The next morning, bright and early (6:45 am), we got a call from Stanley telling us it was time to come in. 

We all walked to the village where we met Stanley and he explained what we were about to see.  Three boys, ages 7-8, from the village had been sequestered for a month after being circumcised.  During their seclusion, they were attended to only by a few men who delivered food that their mothers prepared.  Arriving at the site where the ceremony was about to take place we saw that most of the villagers had already arrived.  Young children scurried about while a number of men were heaping woven mats, different types of cloths and woven bags onto three large mounds in the center of a clearing.  Next to the mounds were piles of yams (up to 3’ in length) and taro root.  Across the clearing stood the boys’ mothers elaborately dressed in brightly-colored, wrapped skirts and headdresses.  Their faces were painted.  Around the clearing sat family members and villagers and a woven mat was produced for our group to sit on.  As we looked around in amazement, Stanley explained that the mounds contained gifts to the families of the boys and that the ceremony would really begin when they brought in the pigs. We sat there fat, dumb and happy appreciating that this was an authentic glimpse into their culture and not just something arranged to entertain tourists.  We half expected to see smiling pigs marching into the arena but, to our surprise, the next few minutes were going to be quite shocking and disturbing.  A large pig in the nearby bushes (whom we all thought was napping) was bound at the feet, put onto a pole, carried to the end of one of the mounds and deposited on the ground.  A smaller pig and a goat were also brought in the same way.  Still having no clue as to what was about to occur, we watched a man with a very huge club walk straight up to the larger pig and proceed to bludgeon it on it’s head.  We were horrified!  The poor thing was squealing.  They did the same thing to the other pig and then slit the throat of the goat.  All the village dogs (who normally survive on just coconuts) were lapping up the blood on the ground.  The part that bothered me the most was that the pigs didn’t die right away and, as the ceremony continued, the guy with the club had to return several times and deliver more blows to the poor animals.

The processional of the three newly-circumcised boys came next.  They were surrounded by a group of other men and boys carrying staffs of sugar cane stalks. The boys were then seated on a mat near their families and offerings of food were presented to them.  While the boys ate, village elders gave speeches in their native language of Bislama while others began disassembling the piles of gifts and  dividing them up among the families.  Despite Stanley's attempt to describe what we were seeing, we all found it a bit confusing.  As the ceremony appeared to be winding down, Sandy, Heather and I were introduced to the three boys and delivered the cakes that we had prepared.  Before leaving, we were touched by the fact that we were offered gifts of woven baskets, taro and yams as a thanks for what we had given. We felt very honored to have been invited and to have seen something few other outsiders have seen.  I can’t help but think that 50 years ago it may have been us getting clubbed and piled on the mound next to the other gifts.  We were invited to participate in the preparation of food and the feast later that day but politely declined as we were anxious to get to Port Vila ahead of some foul weather.  We decided to leave after the ceremony for the 130 mile overnight passage for the island of Efate.  It had been quite a day, one that made us feel like we had experienced something straight from the pages of National Geographic magazine.
Celebration finery

Anatom Island, Vanautu 2014

Welcoming ceremony

At cultural presentation

Local dog Mum

Hiking with Jon & Heather

Hitchhiking baby sea snake (deadly)

We arrived in Anatom (Aneithym) Island, Vanuatu on the 26th of May 7 days after casting off our dock lines in Opua, NZ.  We dropped anchor at 9am under sunny skies with light winds and high humidity.  The passage from NZ was our best yet with winds averaging just 10-15 knots, mostly from behind, which meant very few sail changes. The seas were 1.5 - 2 meters most of the way.  We encountered no squalls and the boat remained dry almost the entire passage.  Amazing!  Due to the light winds and swell direction we did roll a fair bit and it took me 3 days to get my sea legs.  I told Mark from now on I want to look for a forecast with little to no wind.  I could even cook this time, although I usually try to make all of our passage meals ahead of time just in case it’s too rough enroute.  Our friends Sandy and Rankin on “Gypsy Heart”, who left Opua shortly after us, remained close to us the entire passage which made it more fun.  We checked in with each other a couple of times a day via VHF radio.

Once anchored, we took our dinghy ashore along with Sandy and Rankin and  tried to check in with Richard, the customs agent based at the tiny police station, but he was busy taking care of the cruise ship that anchored about the same time we did.  The area is visited by two huge ships each week. The ships anchor out and take people to a small island adjacent to the main island. Mystery Island, as it is known to the cruise lines is quite pretty and normally uninhabited.  We have to laugh though, because the ships disgorge hundreds of passengers onto this tiny island that, for the day, has been turned into a village complete with a craft and souvenir market.  When the cruise ship leaves, late the same day, the locals pack up and shuttle everything back to the real village on the main island.

Unable to complete the check in process, we dinghied back to Blue Rodeo for a much needed nap.  At about 11:30 am we were rudely awakened when we felt the boat shudder and shake accompanied by a loud rumble. We thought for sure that we had been hit by another boat but found out  later that there had been an earthquake nearby.  We remembered we had experienced a similar sensation, although not quite as pronounced. during an earthquake last year while at Minerva Reef.  We later asked the locals if they had felt it and they just shrugged their shoulders and replied that it was quite common.

During the 10 days we spent at Anatom, we went for long walks, reacquainting ourselves with a few of the locals we met last year, snorkeled and attended a local dinner and dance presentation.  We knew folks from several boats sharing the anchorage with us, Annemieke and Gerrit from “Fruit de Mer” and Douglas and Sandy from “Freycinet II”.  One evening we hosted a get together on “Blue Rodeo” for drinks and hor’s de ouvres. All in all it was just what the doctor ordered after the frenzy of trying to get the boat ready to leave for the season.  While we enjoyed the hospitality of the island’s friendly residents other friends, Jon and Heather from “Evergreen” were underway from New Zealand and would soon join us for more fun.

On June 5th we sailed up to the north end of the island to Port Patrick.  We took the dinghy into the tiny village and were introduced to the chief who gave us permission to walk around and do some snorkeling. We met a local named Ben, who gave us a bit of a tour and lead us into the jungle where he climbed a tree and picked us some oranges for us.  He then took us to his house and garden where he picked and gave us some green onions.  We asked what we could offer him in return and he said he wanted some beer because he liked to mix it with his kava.  As we returned to our boats with Jon and Heather, we agreed that we were reluctant to give alcohol to anyone in these “dry” islands so Mark took in a gift of pop and canned corned beef instead.  We found the anchorage there to be quite pretty but the snorkeling was disappointing so we elected to leave the next day for Tanna, the next island to the north.
Children at Play on beach

Rock outcropping

Woman with child on her back plus groceries

Reef Fish

"Evergreen" with Rainbow

Clown Fish

Large Clam

New Zealand Land Travel 2014

Excellent Aviation Museum

Tiger Moth

Jo, Trevor and Anne with Domini aircraft

Rush Hour Traffic

Suspension Bridge

Alpine Hike in Milford Region

Helicopter Tour Glacial Landing

Gertrude's Saddle High Country

Malarkey & Blue Rodeo Campsite

Pretty but Pesky Kea

Campsite Pizza Chefs

Environmental Statement

Mt. Cook

Beautiful Alpine Scenery

As we write this, we are 400 miles south of Anatom (Aneithym) Island, Vanautu more than half way on our 940 mile passage from Opua, New Zealand.  We realize it’s been many months since our last blog posting and we’re sure that our followers must be convinced that we’ve been abducted by pirates or sailed off the edge of the earth.  The reality is that since sailing back to New Zealand in November of last year, we have been constantly on the move.  At this point, we’ll do our best to recap the proceeding months and bring everyone up to date. 

After returning to the same slip in Whangarei’s Town Basin Marina that we used last year, we hurried to prepare Blue Rodeo for a number of months of inactivity and enlist the aid of local friend, and fabricator extraordinaire, Steve Eichler.  Our plan, while traveling home to the States for the holidays, was to get Steve started on several galley interior upgrades that we had in mind.  We also arranged with a local sail maker to have a new mainsail built as a replacement for the one on Blue Rodeo that was beginning to show wear and tear from our many miles at sea.  Before arriving in NZ, we had made the decision to divide our time at home in the States into two separate trips allowing for five to six weeks in January and February for travel around New Zealand by land.  Good friends Trevor and Joanne, whom we’d sailed with in 2012, had sold their boat (Malarkey) and were raving about their NZ travel experiences with a car and travel trailer (caravan) that they had purchased.  They were anxious for us to join them in a thorough exploration of the South Island before they returned to England.  After returning to NZ from our first trip home, Mark hurriedly constructed a sleeping platform with storage underneath for the back of our Toyota minivan (dubbed the “Rodeo Mobile”) that we purchased last year.  Into it we also piled camping and hiking gear and our new folding bikes and headed south to rendezvous with Trevor and Jo near the south end of the South Island.  We had a lot of kilometers to cover and our plan was to head as quickly south as possible taking more time for sight seeing as we worked our way back to the north. 

The trip began with two stops on the North Island to deliver our two SUP’s (stand up paddle surf boards) to new owners who had purchased them from us on Trademe, NZ’s version of E bay.  The second stop required a diversion to the coastal cities of Tauranga and Mt. Manganui south of the Coromandel Peninsula.  Along the way, we were treated to the variety of NZ’s terrain and beautiful scenery as the route took us through areas of green rolling hills, farm land and dense forests.  From there we went to Wellington southernmost city on the north island and home to the Te Papa national museum.  A visit to the museum proved to be very interesting with displays of NZ’s history, flora, fauna and culture.  Of particular interest was a giant squid on display in a tank filled with preservative.  It was caught by a vessel in the Southern Ocean, was over 23’ long and had eyes the size of volleyballs.  It was definitely not something we would ever want to encounter while scuba diving!  The museum also featured a portion of the World of Wearable Art (WOW) exhibits that are normally viewed at a museum in Nelson on the South Island.  The creativity of design and materials used for the costumes was truly amazing.

From Wellington, a pleasant 3 1/2 hour ferry ride across the often treacherous Cook Strait took us to the town of Picton, gateway to NZ’s South Island.  After a car camping overnight at a holiday park, we pointed the Rodeo Mobile south along the east coastal highway with the goal of reaching the city of Christchurch by late afternoon. It was there that we paid visit to NZ cruising friends, Chris and Irene from “Cuttyhunk” and John from “Awaroa”, who live there.  John’s better-half Helen was in Australia visiting their daughters.  After a night as guests at Chris and Irene’s home, we continued south, catching up with Trevor and Jo at their campsite in a park in the Caitlin region.  For the next month we traveled in their company sampling many of the South Island’s delights.

We soon realized that even a month is not enough time to see and do it all but we did our best by making it to the southern most town of Bluff before zigzagging our way back through the popular tourist areas of Te Anu, Milford Sound, Queenstown and the Southern Alps.  Along the way, we included almost daily hikes (called tramping in NZ) some bike riding and even splurged for a helicopter tour, complete with glacier landing, in the Milford area.  Winding our way back north, our route took us to the quaint seaside community of Greymouth  on NZ’s west coast and then back through the rugged interior for another visit with the “Cuttyhunk and Awaroa” crews in Christchurch.  This time John’s wife Helen was there and our group of eight laughed and reminisced about the adventures and good times we shared during our 2012 Pacific crossing.

Before we were ready, it came time to say goodbye to Trevor and Jo and start heading back to the north island where we would check on “Blue Rodeo” and prepare for our second trip back to the States.  We did take time though, before leaving the South Island, to explore the charming city of Nelson.  Our last night before boarding the ferry was spent at a harbor-side hotel in Picton where we were pleased to meet up with good friends Bob and Ann from the yacht “Charisma” who had just arrived to begin their South Island exploration.  It happened to be our anniversary, so we happily shared our celebration with them over dinner at a nearby pub.  The next day, before boarding the ferry, we all hiked to an overlook with a splendid view of famous Queen Charlotte sound.

Back on the North Island, with the barn door in sight, we hustled north to Gulf Harbor, on the north shore of the Harauki Gulf, for an overnight visit with another couple of wonderful friends, Bev and Robbie of the yacht “Mersoleil” who had spent nearly a year there having their beautiful Hylas 46 rebuilt after the failure of a boat yard jack stand caused it to topple over doing a tremendous amount of damage.  It was a pleasure seeing them and hearing that repairs to their floating home were nearly complete.

Looking back, we realize that we just skimmed the surface of the wonders that New Zealand has to offer and that we could spend years there before feeling content that we’d really seen it.  Alas, even more interesting and exotic places are calling to us and we feel motivated to continue sailing west.  New Zealand will, for us though, always be place that was beginning to feel like home and one that we’ll return to in the years to come.