Published: September 15th 2006August 22nd 2006
First some observations on the physical qualities of sailors. Looking around at the Ambrym festival I noticed that most sailors appear in pretty good shape. Very few are really overweight. Many are quite svelte. But deep down, they are really out of shape. I'm no different actually. On this trip I've lost some weight, despite all the good eating. Being on the boat you are constantly moving and burning calories. But you aren't really working any major muscle groups or get any cardiovascular exercise.
So combine this amount of inactivity for the last 4 months with the fact that I haven't had shoes on since March (remember the Achilles). I decided the smartest thing for me to do was to strap on a 20+ kg backpack and go for a two-day trip up to see Mt. Marum, another active volcano. The trip can be done as a single 8-12 hour day or break it into two days and camp on the ash plain. We took option two.
The group consisted of Paul, Alex (English kid we met), Wilson, Moses, and myself. Wilson and Moses are two Ni-Vans that Alex met who had never been up and wanted
to go up. Our guide was Edwin. We had gotten some insider advice. Most people who overnight, hike up to the "ash plain" drop their packs, and then hike up to Marum and back to camp. The next day they march out and are back by 10AM the next day. But if you are up for it you can carry the packs up past Marum and camp on the real ash plain, with no trees in sight. The route back is around Mt. Benbow. Both days are long and you don't get back until late the next day. This was the trip we wanted.
The trek starts with about a 2-3 hour climb up through the rain forest. You don't realize it until later but you are actually climbing over the rim of a large caldera. Inside of this caldera is the ash plain, Mt. Marum, Mt. Benbow, and several other old Mt. Marums that are now dormant. Once inside the caldera, the route goes over ash plain. Not sure the formation but it is like walking a dry riverbed. The going is pretty easy for the next hour or so.
On this leg of the trip we
were greeted by one of the plagues of Egypt. At one point we were completely surrounded by grasshoppers. They were everywhere in thick clouds. As we walked you could see them rise from the ash and just fly around filling the sky. I have never seen anything like this before. It was very biblical.
At one point the guide says, "we camp here and come back." There is wood here, etc. We argue that we want to camp on the other side and finally he relents. So we start schlepping our gear up the steep part of the trail to the crater rim. Suddenly after one particularly steep climb we find ourselves almost on top. There is nothing but ash and smoke above. Up we go, to the top. Then it's welcome to Mordor or Hell boys, whichever you want to call it.
The crater that is Mt. Marum was huge. It was filled with smoke, steam, or clouds. I'm not really sure which. Down below you can hear the lava. It sounds like a very violent ocean crashing on the shore or the demolition of tall buildings. When the smoke clears we get a partial few of
the bottom of the crater. A long way down below you can see the inner crater. And, what we came for, a small bit of red. This red is the lava lake that Mt. Marum is famous for. I would say that the lake was by far not the most impressive part of this trip. The vastness, emptiness, and total awe you feel are the impressive parts of this volcano.
Looking back away from the rim. The first thing you see is the remnants of a dormant cone. This cone is completely separate from the cone we are now standing on. To get to it we would have to hike back down to the ash plain, and up again. Father off in the distance is the rim of the caldera. Every so often there is a break in the rim. You can only attempt to imagine the force that would create this huge caldera (probably 10-15kms across - just my guess), and then break holes in it.
Our guide has determined that we can't do the trek we wanted to do. He tells me that the other route out is too strenuous for us. So even if we
camp up here we must come back the way we came. He really wants to camp down below. But he is willing to take us over to the backside so we can see the other side of the ash plain and Mt. Benbow. At this point the weather is starting to get worse. Not bad worse, just annoying. The clouds are coming in and it is starting to mist.
We hike continue around the rim trail. On the other side of the volcano, the rim flattens out and there is actually a spot protected from the wind. So we pitch camp. After lunch and some rest we explore some more. Edwin shows us where Benbow would be if the sky was clear and we could see it. Because the weather is continuing to just be the really annoying, miserable mist, we let Edwin talk us into breaking camp and hiking back down to the plain. Down there we can build a fire and set up a tarp.
Turns out to not be such a bad decision. It rains, off and on all night. Not sure we would have gained much by going on or staying up.
it was quite the trip, a very different volcano from Yasur. Yasur is more spectacular and impressive in itself. This one seems much more desolate and mean. The edge of the rim was always covered in smoke, with the roar of the lava below. Wilson is a preacher. He kept saying that he has now seen Hell. On the way back I told Wilson, "Well now you've been to Hell and back." You really do feel like you are in another world when you step on the ash plain and look around. The desolation and full impact of the destruction from the volcano is immense.
Oh yeah, other than blisters, a sore back, and other sore muscles I survived physically ok.
Attending the "Back to Your Roots" Festival in Northern Ambrym was one of the main attractions that Paul and I wanted to see in Vanuatu. It was advertised as a festival featuring native dancing, arts, crafts, and other things. Sorry I don't really remember the advertisement. I just knew it was supposed to be a festival featuring lots of traditional things. So we went. Along with maybe 20 other boats.
This "festival" wasn't really
a festival in the sense that I was thinking. It seemed more like a show or a performance to me. It did have arts and crafts for sale, food vendors, and live music. I guess it was a "festival." The first 2 days were attended mostly by yachties and very few Ni-Vanuatu (locals). There was a TV crew there from Noumea, New Caledonia. The last day of the festival saw many more locals show up. Of course the last day was the climax.
So what did we see in 3 days of traditional dancing and music? Well I saw lots of things I didn't understand and probably never will. There was lots of dancing, chanting, and of course Nambas. A namba is a "penis-wrapper or sheath made from dried pandanus or banana leaves." The namba is tucked into a belt worn around the waist. Leaves are then usually tucked into the back of the belt. And this is all that was worn by the men. Oh wait I take that back. They would wear flowers in their hair, and pig's tusks around their necks or wrists. The ladies were dressed much more simply. They just wore grass skirts and
nothing else. It was like an old National Geographic magazine.
For me many of the dances blended together. I'm sure they were very different, but I couldn't really tell. Generally the men would dance in a circle/group. The group was usually all facing inward, so you saw lots of bare bottoms. There were usually 1 or 2 men around the outside that seemed to break stride and just "get down." The beat and time was usually kept with the feet or a tamtam drum. One of the impressive thing was that these guys could make the whole ground shake with their stamping feet. The ladies often joined in the background. They were like the bass, providing a steady beat with their feet. They usually would line up away from the circle and lean on their staffs and keep time with their feet. The dancers looked like they were having fun, so we were having fun as well, even though we had no idea what was going on.
But there was more than dancing at the festival. We also had a sand drawing exhibition. Sand drawings are big in Ambrym. I don't know much about them. On the surface
you think, "big deal, I can draw in sand." Not like this. These guys took a blank spot of sand and made some very intricate designs. There are several hundred known designs. They might be bats, or coconut palms, or 2 people, or who knows. The designs are always symmetric, and very intricate. However, deciphering them, for me, was a lot like looking at shapes in the clouds.
There was also a traditional magic demonstration. I wasn't too sold by this. This wasn't David Copperfield magic. It was old, traditional spirit magic. It was traditional things that were supposedly controlled and helped by spirits. The "magic" man was traditionally given much respect.
As I mentioned the last day was the climax day. It started with a "Grade Ceremony." Once again I don't fully understand the dance. But it is essentially an initiation ceremony for the man who has presented himself as ready to achieve the next grade. He is placed high up on a platform. The rest of the men then dance below. The men below who have already achieved the grade then throw stuff at the candidate. We aren't talking tomatoes and watermelons either. We are talking
about sticks, rocks, and coconuts. Luckily the man was never hit.
This ceremony required the killing of a pig. They simply carried the big out into the center of the festival grounds and clubbed it in the head with a special pig-killing club. Apparently, nothing important happens in Vanuatu that doesn't involve the killing of a pig. Traditionally they kill pigs for Rom dancing as well, but not for today's Rom dance.
Which brings me to the biggest dance and attraction of the festival, the Rom Dance. This is a very special dance to Ni-Van's. The dancers are all in costume. The have big brightly colored masks and cloaks made from banana leaves. The dance involves dealing with the spirit world. Because of this, they believe that the cloaks must be destroyed after the dance so that the spirits won't inhabit the dancer. According to Lonely Planet, it is also Tabu to see a Rom costume made. If you do witness this, you owe the chief a big.
By far the Rom Dance was the most impressive and energetic. I really don't know how to explain and do this dance justice. The men not in costume were
the most animated I have seen them yet. They were hooting, hollering, and really moving around. I believe there is some choreographed story that the Rom dancers tell, but I don't know it. I'm sorry, I really can't do this justice. It was worth the price of admission.
Some other facts or things about the festival. It was a good 40-minute or so walk into the woods from the anchorage to the festival ground. We were resting on the way back on the 2nd day when a man walked by with a cow's head. No cow, just the head. He had just come back from a wedding. Not sure the exact details but my understanding is that the head was given to him at the wedding. Later that day I saw people carrying other cow parts (legs, and such). They were all coming back from the wedding as well.
The MC of the festival was the headmaster of one of the primary schools. What would you do on Monday if you went to a festival over the weekend and saw your principal dressed in only a namba dancing around? Just a thought. The kids themselves did a small
dance presentation. The men helping the kids obviously enjoyed it. They knew what was going on. The kids and onlookers really didn't. But it was cute to see the pikininis in their costumes.
My final thoughts on the festival. I was disappointed that it was a show for tourists and not something they did for themselves. Despite that it was very well done. Unfortunately I don't have the words to fully describe the experience. Hopefully the pictures will help. What I can say is that I was inspired to go all 3 days, when I was originally planning to go only 1 or 2 days. I think that says more than my words of description can say about the festival.
This is really just me trying to get credit. Yesterday, after a beautiful sail from Tangoa to Ambrym, we arrived at Olal anchorage on the north side of Ambrym. This is the anchorage listed in the guidebook and the one probably closest to the festival. It is a very small anchorage though, and surrounded by coral. But we go in to take a look. It is crowded. There are probably already 4-5 boats here, but at
least it is shallow. We are told by one of the boats here that the anchorage is great, he had no trouble getting his hook to set.
This of course happens, as we are drifting, because our hook isn't set. We need to pick it up. OH SHIT. The windlass isn't on. I go running back and switch on the windlass, and back to the bow. OH SHIT #2, the windlass isn't working. I can here the solenoid click as I step on the switch but the chain isn't coming up. What now? What is the back up? Not a good question. The backup is to pull it up by hand. Yes literally by hand. Not so bad, I only had about 7m of chain out.
In all this confusion though we had to motor back out the pass, and come back in. But this time we have a plan. We know where we are going and we need about 15m of chain. So we go back in and drop the hook, and it sticks. However, we aren't happy about our position in relation to other boats. Back to the bow and hand over hand the anchor back
up. We move a little bit and try again. Ooops, anchor is dragging again. Pick it up. Try again. Nope, up again. Try another spot. This one it turns out is deeper, but I didn't know that and still only put out 15m of chain. I found out it was deeper though when I realized the anchor was off the bottom with 10m of chain still out. How do I know this? Well, when I'm just pulling in the chain it is much lighter. The anchor weighs 30kgs. You know when you are pulling it straight up to the boat.
I'm not 100% sure how many times we tried this. I think 4-5. I know that on the last one with the 10m depth, I wasn't sure I would get the anchor back on the boat. I would grab it with both hands and then using my legs, back and arms like a rowing machining; I would pull in about .5m. Then because I was wasted I would try and hold it in place with my knees while I rested.
Luckily after this, Paul decided to go to another anchorage. I think as I went back and flopped
into the cockpit, that the next drop was going to have to work because I didn't think I could pull the anchor up again. Luckily, the next anchorage was much better and we had no problems getting hooked up.
This adventure was just that, a little adventure. It is the only time so far on this trip that the anchor hasn't hooked up on the first try. The windlass is fixed now. It actually got fixed that night. We replaced the solenoid.
No Dive for you
Remember that our dive tanks were empty at Cape Washington in Fiji. Well Paul had gotten them "filled" in Lautoka. The guy was having trouble with his compressor so Paul wasn't shocked when he went to use the tank at Musket Cove and it was empty. He of course got it filled again.
Which brings us to today. We are at Panita village on Tongoa Island. We stopped here to get some locals to help us dive the Tongoa wall. We will leave the big boat here and take the dinghy with one of the local boys up to the wall. He will watch the dinghy while we dive.
all ready to go and guess what. The tanks are empty again. How can this be? Oh well, our compressor is working. We will just fill the tanks. Don't think we can dive today, but tomorrow morning we'll do an early dive and then head to Ambrym.
Next morning, one tank is at 900psi (down from 3000psi) and the other is at 2600. What the? Well it turns out the tanks are leaking around the collar. No diving for us. Now that we are in Luganville, we will try and get the tanks fixed and hopefully still get a dive in.
Paul and I have been joking though. This was supposed to be a big diving season. So far I think Paul has dove 2 or 3 times and I haven't had a regulator in my mouth yet. Oh well, what you going to do.
(Make hay while the sun shines, I think).
Port Vila is the capital and largest city in Vanuatu. By largest I mean about 37000 people. It is a strange little town as well. There is a decidedly French influence. There are French restaurants with great pastries throughout the town. The main
grocery in town is the Bon Marché, which had much more western food than anything I saw in Fiji. But there is still a decidedly Vanuatu influence. Just look at the market, which has all kinds of amazing fresh produce. There are also a large number of westerners in town. I don't know if they are yachties, tourists, or expats... all of the above is my guess.
Speaking of yachties. Our time in Port Vila turned into a reunion of sorts for me. First off there were more boats here than I had seen since Opua, maybe more. Paul was commenting how few of the boats he recognized. I on the other hand, was amazed at how many I knew. Billabong, and Melinda were both here. I had met both of them briefly before. Of course Ladymink was here. We had another amazing Ladymink/Dreamweaver adventure to a set of waterfalls. There was swimming, and gazing, and sliding down rocks and panoramic views. Like I set another amazing day. Alvei was here as well. They were the tri-mast ship whose crew I had met and hung out with in Suva. Once again we had movie night and just told sailing
Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the arrival of Yonita (with Jill, Mike, and Nily (If Jill's mom reads this I wonder if she will tell Jill about it)). If you recall they helped celebrate Paul's 60th birthday with us in Suva. They finally arrived after weeks of the two of us playing radio tag trying to catch up to each other. So there was much story telling again over a couple of nights of dinner. Good times, good times.
It is funny to me to be catching up with friends that I've made halfway around the world, in the next country. I don't think I'll see any of these boats in Oz when we get there. The schedules all seem to be different at this point. But it was still loads of fun to see so many familiar and friendly faces in Port Vila.
And a big Yay! I've finally got the yogurt making down. Thanks to Jill's help. Here is the full set of pictures
There are more photos below