Sunday, October 2, 2016

Happy Vanuatu

Mt. Marum's lava lake
Before we came to Vanuatu, a few people that had been here before would say something along the lines of, "They're very poor--they have nothing." From a Western perspective, that may be technically true. There is very little electricity or plumbing. Stores are few and far between. But from what we have seen, a typical village in Vanuatu seems to want for nothing that really matters.

Kids in Banam Bay, Malekula Island
The people are laid back and friendly. The houses are simple--bamboo and sometimes concrete block, wood or corrugated metal--but lovely. There are usually ornamental plants lining the litter-free paths. Most villagers have gardens that provide all the food they need. Growing, gathering, and preparing the food in underground 'ovens' is hard work--exhausting to even think about for someone with a stove, refrigeration, and flour I didn't have to grind by hand. But there is plenty of water and everything grows like crazy. There are even puppies, juvenile chickens, and baby pigs everywhere.

Bakery in Lamen Bay, Epi Island

The Ni-Vanuatu (as people from Vanuatu are called) seem to have it figured out and their place on the Happy Planet Index seems to agree. Of course, modern society can't be avoided. Many Ni-Vanuatu have phones and a lot of the men we have talked to have been to New Zealand or Australia to pick fruit to make money for things they can't make or grow.
Cacao beans drying in Banam Bay

It's not all rainbows and unicorns. You see signs here and there, like the one in a yard that warns kids not to stone birds with their slingshots. We met a man whose kava garden is three hours away to keep the local teens from stealing the precious crop. There is a judicial clerk in Loltong, the Administrative center on the island of Pentecost, who processes disputes among villagers. We have had a couple of chiefs complaining about people in their village giving tours and not paying a share to the village.

Lamen Bay turtle
With the number of cultures and languages in Vanuatu, it's amazing that everybody seems to get along as well as they do. It is not uncommon to find that what at first appears to be one village is actually four or more villages, each with a separate language and culture. People are very aware of race, unabashedly calling Caucasians 'white-skins' and not really comprehending that an Asian person could be from America. One man asked me yesterday whether it was okay for me to marry a white man. I think he meant from a cultural standpoint because my background is Korean, but I'm not sure.

Smol nambas dance in Banam Bay
Most of the dancers were later playing soccer
I was thinking that our boat hadn't needed a lot of repairs lately and I guess someone was listening. Our windlass gearbox started making an unpleasant grinding noise and Mark on Amelie IV suggested it might need oil.  Oil in the gearbox?  That was news to us. There didn't seem to be a place to add oil, but sure enough, located in an almost invisible--and almost equally unreachable--position there was a small cap that allowed us to add some oil.  (Turns out we're really supposed to remove the old oil too, but the instructions for that involved removing the whole windlass and turning it upside down to drain it.  Really? That's like having to remove a car engine and turning it upside down to drain its oil. In other words: not gonna happen.  After adding the oil, it ran much more smoothly but the chain kept jamming intermittently and eventually sheared off the pin (Woodruff key) that coupled the motor to the gearbox.  Matt contorted  himself into the anchor locker, replaced the pin and banged the chain stripper back into position (it had gotten a little out of whack when Matt was troubleshooting it). The bottom line is that it works now, we didn't have to spend $3000 on a new windlass (not to mention shipping and installing it), and Matt has recovered (mostly) from being stuffed into the anchor locker and covered with grease in the blazing heat (it took a lot of rum over ice).

We also broke a shackle on the main halyard from an accidental jibe in light wind, fixed an intermittently buzzing engine instrument alarm (again), and replaced the stop solenoid on the port engine (the one we had welded by the artist in Fiji). Of course, those were the repairs we had parts for.  The gooseneck on the boom needs a new washer/spacer and our freezer water pump valve has a slow leak. Not sure where we're going to find those.  Okay, the airing of grievances is over for now.

We're continuing to make our way north in the island chain. On Ambrym, we did a challenging day-long hike up to Mt. Marum to see one of the few lava lakes in the world with our friends on Amelie IV. Our friends on Field Trip put together an inspiring video documenting their hike to the volcano.

The boys with Phillip at the Volcano Gallery in Port Vila
Conrad drawing a bwathigo (sandroing bird)
with Edgar at the Vanuatu National Museum  


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