Sophie is on a mooring in front of a resort at Aore Island, opposite the city of Santo (Luganville) in Esperitu Santo, Vanuatu. 15.32.262 S 167.10.805 E.
We enjoyed a couple of pleasant days in Wala and Malakula. It was dumping rain on our first morning there, so we were late for our appointment with George for a tour of the village.
That didn’t stop Don from showing up at Sophie at 7:30 with 3 enormous coconut crabs that were still alive, tied up with palm fronds. They were gun metal blue,weighed 1-3 kilos each, and looked like the aliens from the movie Starship Troopers. We had to cook them in 2 batches using our big pot on the stove, and they were delicious. Since the crabs exist mainly on coconut milk, the crabmeat tasted like sweet coconuts. We got 3 meals out this catch. Spectacular.
We eventually dinghied in to the village for a quick tour of some grave sites, the church, and George’s house. George’s main goal was to escort us across the harbor to the opposite village to watch another Smol Nambas dance. I have now learned that “Nambas” is the name for the palm frond penis sheaf they wear here during performances, and the dances are either Smol or Big depending on the amount of costume the dancers wear.
We arrived unannounced in the village and met the young chief while he was out fishing in his dugout canoe. Since they were not expecting us, we had to wait for almost an hour under the roof of a building that served as a factory for making concrete blocks and also as their church. The chief had to go up into the bush to find people to do the dance. We were joined during our wait by some local kids who made mud pies on the concrete floor. Hazel played with them and got a little messy. The local kids usually walk 30 minutes down a trail to a big catholic school overlooking the bay, but school is canceled on days with heavy rains due to the mud.
Our wait was definitely worth it, because this village’s Smol Nambas featured men and women, boys and girls. It was clearly a traditional part of their lives and not a learned tourist thing like the dance we saw in the Maskeylines. The women did a taro root smashing song, and the men did a traditional dance, a rowing dance, a bird dance, and a dance involving feathered hats that were much larger than the fascinators we saw at the horse track in Auckland. For the bird dance, there was a teenaged boy painted like a bird, with black wings painted on his arms and chest, all covered with stars. The villagers also showed us how they make fire by rubbing wood, and how they use magic to carry someone who gets injured in the bush back to the village. (Hint: the leaves are sticky). Afterwards they posed for photos and even let us try on their hats.
We spent the afternoon doing Sophie School (Jenna and the kids) and taking naps (me) before returning to George’s village at 5:00 PM. Jenna went off with the kids to see how George’s daughter Ley does sand drawing, a traditional art form in Vanuatu. Wait until you see the pictures. I went off with the guy named David to help him fix things. Our first stop was his buddy’s fiberglass fishing boat, which had 2 small dings on the gelcoat. I said they were above the water line and too small to be worth fixing, but he insisted and claimed that one of the holes caused a leak. So I went back to Sophie, got some 3M sealing compound, and put a dab on each hole. For this, David’s buddy later gave us 8 large grapefruits and 6 drinking coconuts! Nice guy. I then went to David’s house to help with his electronics. We started with a small generator, which he said wouldn’t start because of a bad spark plug. He flooded it (which I now realize he did deliberately) and said it wouldn’t start. I played with the gas and it started and ran just fine. I had brought an extra Honda outboard sparkplug, but it was the wrong size. There was nothing wrong with his generator. We then went into his hut to look at his broken inverter. It was a little 500 watt box connected on one end to a both a solar panel and a car battery. The other end was connected to a multi component stereo system with a wall of speakers that belonged on stage at a Cheap Trick concert. We opened up the inverter, and on the circuit board where there was supposed to be a fuse was a bridge wire. There was no AC load on the box. I put in a 10 amp fuse I had brought with me, and it immediately blew. The same with a 15 amp fuse. It was clear that he had fried his circuit board. George told me later that David (his uncle) would disrespect the Sabbath by playing his stereo loud during church services and was not liked in the village because of it. God invented fuses for a reason, people!
After David, I walked over to George’s house for dinner. Ley and George’s wife had cooked dinner for us. But first I mentioned something about kava, and they insisted that George and I go to the kava bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. It was my first time at a kava bar, which in this case was a small hut and some benches on the beach. They poured kava from the bucket into beer bottles and sold it to you for $1. David was there, but George wouldn’t let me buy him a drink. Jenna has been told that kava in Vanuatu is 10 times stronger than kava in Fiji. George chugged his bottle, but I paced myself with just one but was definitely feeling its narcotic affect as we joined the ladies back in George’s hut.
Dinner consisted of grapefruit, rice, pumpkin, island cabbage in coconut milk, tuna, yams, and local fish cooked with bananas. We sat on woven mats on the floor. 2 children also joined us. We have heard from multiple people throughout Vanuatu that they preferred to live in their village over living in Port Vila because village food was so much better than food in the city. You also didn’t have to pay money for it. You just walked out into the bush and collected what you needed. That night we understood why.
The next morning the rain had cleared and George joined us on Sophie for the 20 mile trip around the top of Malakula to Benenaveth village to explore some historic caves with ancient drawing on their walls. We anchored off the beach, and immediately 5 young men paddled out and climbed on to Sophie. They wanted to check out the boat and were not in school because they were all playing in a soccer tournament that afternoon. The couldn’t speak much english, but they knew their positions: striker, right stopper, center midfield, and right midfield. The keeper was out in the bush.
We dinghied into shore and waited for the chief at his house, but he was up at the soccer field for the tournament. His son Aime had seen us anchor and had come down to show us the nearby caves. One was nearly 50 meters long, and the local belief was that they were the first places inhabited by people in Vanuatu over 2,000 years ago. There were carvings and handprints on the wall, and scientists had apparently come and carbon dated them to help prove their authenticity. Jenna has the photos.
After the caves, we returned to Sophie and motored George 10 miles up the to the top of Malakula where he would spend the night at his uncle’s house. He left Sophie with some frozen marlin for his uncle, 50 feet of old rope for his cousin’s cows, one of my sunhats to shelter his bald head, and some memories of new friends he had made. He kept inviting us to come back and build a vacation house on his family’s land. It’s a tempting idea.
Sophie then turned north to cover the remaining 20 miles to Santo. There was supposed to be lots of tuna in the area, and we had 4 lines in he water. Soon the reel started whizzing with a hit, and I stopped the boat, pointed into the wind, and started to bring the fish in. A lot of line had run out, and the fish never surfaced so I didn’t think it was mahi mahi. While it was still 100 meters away, I saw something move under the boat and thought there may have been another fish on a meat line down there. But we ignored that and reeled in the smiling head of a wahoo (and nothing else.) Its body had been bitten off by a shark, marlin, or another wahoo. I never felt a change on the line and assume it happened close to the boat, probably by the fish I saw lurking beneath us.
We threw the lines back in and enjoyed a quiet afternoon sail into Luganville Harbor. We had dinner at the resort (Cold beer! Coconut Prawns in Curry!), and then later in the evening Jenna and Leo went on shore with the big gun camera and tripod and took photos of the moon.
It was a good couple of days.