Tanna Island, Vanuatu - Unbelievable

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September 9th 2010
Published: September 16th 2010
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September 9 2010
Tanna Island, Vanuatu - Unbelievable
Hi guys, greetings from the nav station on Sunboy as we motor sail from the island of Tanna in Vanuatu bound for Noumea in New Caledonia. We made it into Tanna last Friday morning quite early and were helped into the anchorage from Norm who is sailing solo on a massive 80 foot sloop. We met Norm in Tahiti and he is just an amazing guy, 65 years of age, an Australian by birth but has lived and worked all over the world and sails
this huge boat so easily and so relaxed he makes even the most competent
cruiser look on with awe. Anyway, Norm guided us in through the pass and
we got the pick down on the volcanic sand bottom without a problem. The
anchorage is called Port Resolution and is on the eastern side of the
island and offers pretty good protection except anything from the due east
and north of that bearing up to north west.

There is a beautiful forest covered mountain to the west and you can see
the smoke rising from the incredibly active volcano, Mt Yasur just to the
north west. There are also a number of hot springs bubbling away near the
shore line which the local villages use to cook food in. That bay is
lined with a couple of beaches, one a beautiful white sand beach and the
other a bit darker, consisting of dark gray volvanic sand. The white sand
beach is alongside a beautiful coral reef with an abundance of great hard
and soft corals and the usual suspects of tropical fish varieties.

We had hoped to be able to catch the local truck over to the main harbour
of Lenekal on the western side of the island but were advised that the
truck leaves for Lenekal at 7.00am each Monday to Friday so we just had to
wait until Monday for our two and a half hour four wheel drive trek. We
got to meet Stanley, one of the local villagers who is the main
co-ordinator for the visiting yachts and the Tanna officialdom. Such a
great guy, like most of the Vanuatu people, continually smiling and only
too willing to help.

The Port Resolution Yacht Club sits high on the point but apart from
offering some comfortable chairs to sit on, nothing much ever seems to
happen there. I am quite sure that a group of yachties could make it a
happening place though if they wanted to get together for a few rums and

The Bay is basically surrounded by a number of villages. The main village
has the primary school, a new medical centre, a small market and two
incredibly basic churches and a couple of very basic restaurants. A
classic line we heard from one of the guests who was staying in one of the
bungalows was that the 'chef' was going to put chicken on the menu that
night but had to change the meal as he couldnt catch one!!!

We soon got into the trading with the locals and determined what was really
in demand, the main ones being petrol and DVD'S. Petrol is roughly about
$4.00 aussie a litre and not only is the price so high, the villagers
generally have no means of earning any income to pay for it. One of the
first guys we met was a guy called Thompson and he came out in his dugout
canoe, he was really happy to sit and talk to us and learn where we had
come from and what we had been doing. As hard as we tried, he would not
come aboard but preferred to stay in his canoe and chat with us. He gave
us some fruit and veg and the following morning he came back with four
beautiful lobsters for us. We expected to have to pay for them but he was
happy to give them to us to welcome us to his island which was just
amazing. The more we got to know him, we found out he owned a very small
portable generator which powered his DVD player and small T.V. This
formed the main enteraintment for his whole village. We soon struck up a
deal with him that we would provide him with whatever DVD's he wanted to
borrow from our collection and he was happy as a pig in mud and the
friendship continued to firm the longer we got to know him and soon got to
know his beautiful family.

By Saturday afternoon we had been invited to attend two Father's Day
Ceremonies, one in the main village and one in Thompson's village. We went
to Church on Sunday morning and as it was a special day, the Prespyterian
service was actually held outside amongst the trees with all the kids from
the village being in the Sunday School Choir and it was just magical to sit
back and listen to them sing for ages. After the service they lined up all
the adult males, myself and Luke included where the women sang to us and
then started to walk down the line, spraying us with deodorant, both room
and personal!! as well as covering the backs of our necks with talcum
powder and putting various forms of beautiful leis. The Dads were given
small gifts by their respective families and then the men responded by
forming into a group and singing very powerful songs to their families.
All in all, a pretty moving experience. So after that was all over, we
sat down to a huge feast of local foods and were able to sit and chat to
many of the villagers about their lives and lifestyles. The overiding
thing we came away with then and now is that whilst some of these people
have only their thatched huts, one or two sets of clothes and the food
they can grow and catch, they seem genuinely content with their life.

Later that afternoon, we then went to Thompsons village where the ceremony
was repeated and another feast was spread out for us and the group of
yachties we were with. It was quite obvious that Thompson's village were
far poorer than their kinsmen in the main village but the food they
prepared and served to us was just fanastic, especially the roasted pig.

Monday saw Debs and I up very early to catch the truck over to Lenekal and
we sat in the back of the four wheel drive and just loved the trip over,
driving past the volcanoe, through different villages and through beautiful
forests. Lenekal is just a town with a few shops selling so little but is
where the customs, immigration and quarrantine officers are. We did the
check in procedures and were fortunate to be able to also do our check out
without having to make a return visit so that was pretty handy. The crew
from African Innovations had arrived in Lenekal that day so we caught up
with them and made arrangements to go and see the volcano the following
evening. We bought a few loaves of bread, some great fresh carrots and
brocolli and a bunch of kava for Thompson which he was really appreciative
of. The trip back again was equally as enjoyable and just so different to
being on the boat.

Volcano day we had been told was going to be a pretty incredible experience
and we were all incredibly excited about being able to walk right up to
what is described as one of the most active and most dangerous volcanoes
in the world. We headed up in the truck about 4.00pm and sure enough got
to walk right up to the edge. It was puffing out lots of smoke and ash
and then all of a sudden this almight boom shattered the area and huge
pieces of molten rock were thrown so far up into the sky. It scared the
crap out of everyone who had not been there before and then this set the
scene for the rest of the evening with these mini eruptions taking place
every few minutes or so.

As the sun went down, the vista became an explosion of red as the eruptions
became so much more visible. We got off the main area and had a few beers
and I think all of us agreed it really was one of the most amazing things
we had ever seen or ever done.

So for the next few days we snorkelled, tried, very unsuccessfully to spear
some fish, spent time with the villages, going up and seeing them, going to
their gardens where they grow corn, spring onions, taro, yam, pawpaw,
avocadoes, mangoes, cabbage, sugar cane and various forms of beans in the
incredibly fertile soil. The community works hand in hand with each other,
generally working their butts off from Monday to Thursday and then having
three days off. Everyone lends a hand and the sense of community spirit
and bonding is that strong you can almost feel it.

We were also fortunate to meet a husband and wife from Port Macquarie who
are registered nurses who have spent the last few weeks in Vanuatu
assisting with setting up some new medical clinics, the funds of which
were provided by an Australian guy, also from Port Macquarie. One of the
new clinics is in Port Resolution and after speaking with the nurses, we
went through our medical supplies on board the boat and donated the spares
of what we had which was really appreciated. The clinics will soon be
able to provide very basic medical care, dispense some medicines and
assist pregnant mums with their first born rather than have to try and
work out some way of catching the truck over to Lenekal to the hospital,
neither of which most, if any of them can afford.

It appeared our interaction with the villagers was looked upon as a
positive thing and we were invited to a very special ceremony that
obviously means a whole lot to these people. Young boys are circumsised
when they are about 10 or 12 years old and this means being taken from
their Mums for a period of about 5 weeks where they undergo the
circumcision by means of being cut with a piece of bamboo and taught
traditional ways by the menfolk of the village. Once it comes time to
rejoin their families, they have a huge ceremony where the women and girls
of the family dress in traditional costume to welcome the lads back. The
men fold prepare an area with decorations and each boy's family has gifts
laid out for them. The gifts usually consist of a pig each, which are
killed during the ceremony, along with a couple of live ones which are
trussed up on a bamboo pole, vast amounts of cooked meat, fresh and cooked
root vegetables, straw mats, sarongs, woven baskets and other necessary
household items. The men then kill a bullock which is dragged into the
ceremonial ground where it is butchered and that and other pigs and then
prepared for a night full of feasting and dancing.

The boys are brought into the arena, shielded by groups of men, elders and
other villages and about that time, the Mum's and grandmothers start to sob
and wail for their boys. The little boys who are painted up and dressed in
traditional costume are 'unveiled' to the crowd and the women rush them and
bring them back to their particular section where they are swamped with
tears, hugs and kisses. They are then provided with cooked foods and small
gifts from their familes. The men then gather in the middle and start to
sing their traditional songs accompanied by intense foot stomping which
literally makes the earth shudder. The women, in all their incredibly
colourfull costumes and painted faces and decorations then join in, singing
in harmony with the men and dancing and jumping into the air. The sights
and sounds and the emotions were just gobsmacking and to be able to sit
there and witness this event will live with us forever I think.

Our friendships and trading continued and we were able to give them spare
clothes, quite a bit of petrol and other odds and sodds which were so
greatly appreciated by one and all. It was quite a sight to see one of the
thatched huts filled to the brim of young and old alike sitting down
watching a DVD on the small screen and I think from the amount of petrol we
gave them, they will be able to have their 'movie nights' for some time to

Lukey and Thompson got on really well and he was able to have a kava night
with the men folk one night but unfortunately I was laid up with a bit of a
fever and couldnt make it. Thompson was pretty keen to show Luke how they
caught lobsters and hunted for fish but I think Thompson didnt realise just
how much keener Luke was to be involved in this. Off they trotted one
night with Thompson taking Luke over to the village in his dugout canoe
and then they walked to another village and set about waiting for the tide
to enable them to go to the reef and hunt for lobsters and spear some
fish. He came back with nice bag full of lobsters and a memory that I
dont think will ever diminish. The following morning, Thompson and his
mate who they went lobstering with, Bruno, came back to the boat and gave
Luke a beautiful bow and arrow set that Bruno had made for him, made from
Bunyan tree roots and a hand carved walking stick for me, which he had
made out of rosewood. I am not quite sure what the significance of the
walking stick is but hopefully I wont be needing that for few more years
to come.

Saying goodbye to these people has been very hard but it has inspired us to
make plans and get ready to come back as soon as we can, bringing a
boatload of assistance with us. These guys dont put their hand out but
are happy to share what they have in return for things they really need.
We are going to miss them and will be working very hard to come back and
visit this magical place once again.


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