September 27, 2012

New Caledonia

We arrived in New Caledonia after a calm 2 day sail out of Tanna, Vanuatu . The Canal De La Havanna on the south end of the island is known for impressive tidal currents and we hit them as they were going out at over 4 knots creating crazy waves that stood up to greet our arrival. As we sailed around the south side of the island the currents subsided as we continued sailing through Canal Woodin. This narrow passage separates Ile Ouen from the mainland and a few hours later we arrived to our first anchorage in Baie Ngo on the west coast 15 miles south of Noumea.

We arrived on a Sunday and would not be able to clear in until the following morning and decided to drop the hook for the night. The bay we anchored in was surrounded with mountains that had been gouged by bull dozers in the search for Nickel and other metals that are abundant in the rich soil, a mining practice that we would see all too often in the next few weeks. The island is known to have has the richest concentrations of nickel in the world and with metal price at a high there is a big rush to get it mined at any cost.
New Caledonia is the third largest island in the pacific and like many of the island we have visited is surrounded with hundreds of miles of reefs. Tha main island is over 250 miles long and boasts one of the largest lagoon’s and the 3rd largest reef systems in the world.
The land had been settled by Melanesian’s over 1500 years ago. Then discovered by Capt. James Cook in 1774 and subsequently claimed by Napoleon III for France in 1853. France used the island as a penal colony for up to 20,000 prisoners between 1864 and 1894 on the Island of Pines where I am writing this story from.
In 1894 the Governor transformed the island into a voluntary immigration colony where under contract Malabar Indians, Vietnamese. And Javanese arrived to work the mines. Many of which provide the diverse ethnic diversity you see here today.

On Monday we sailed the last few miles to Port Moselle and cleared in and leased a dock for the week.  The clear in process was strait forward and after a short walk to the police station we were free to roam the country. I have to say the ladies in the marina office were some of the most helpfull people we have ever met.

After a few days of relaxing on the dock we rented a car to drive around the island in, this time driving on the “RIGHT” side of the road western style. I got to admit after driving on the left side for 6 month in NZ it took me a little bit to remember what side of the road I needed to be on….

We headed up the coast mid week thinking “How busy can it be?” Well….Pretty darn busy with all the new mining going on! The first and largest hotel we stopped at was no longer even a hotel, but converted office space for the new mine. The next few places were booked full and finally we started thinking we might be sleeping in the car. One last stop at La Nea Hotel and the manager Jean Leonelli was nice enough to get on the phone and call every available place within 50 miles and finally found a room at a mining camp 30 minutes up the road. We drove up to look at the room which turned out to be one of many bunk houses that had been built to house the workforce. It would do in a pinch but had no bathroom or shower, they were located in another building and would be shared with the rest of the crew. Daria was not thinking this was such a good idea…..
Jean the hotel manager that helped us out had mentioned he might have a cancellation but he would not know until 7, so we stopped at one of the few places to eat and wait it out over a crappy pizza and a cold beer. We borrowed a phone and were in luck the room was available so we drove back down and got a good nights rest.
The north west coast is cattle country and we drove buy acres and acres of grazing cattle. We even saw a few center pivot irrigation systems growing corn in several states of maturity. I guess in the land of endless spring you can plant corn any time of the year?

The west coast was for the most part uneventful, there were a few nice vistas and beaches to check out but that’s about it. The roads are in great shape and construction is going on every where you look, building infastrucure and housing for the 20,000 mine employee's who have money burning holes in their pockets. Along the shorline you could see the continuous reef from a few hundred yards and up to a mile off shore protecting the island, but this left vast shallow stretches of calm water right along the shore which is not all that pretty to look at but would have been great to kite surf in!

On the second day we headed for the east coast, a few hour drive over the mountains The drive was beautiful and on our way we stopped at many lookouts and marveled at the beauty of this county. New Caledonia is home to just over 200,000 people, and 80% live in Noumea and the Southern West coast. This leaves the rest of the country sparsely populated and the North-East coast is no more than a series of small villages that have at most a few hundred people each living in them.

Most villagers were Milanese Natives and lived in simple homes along the coast. Life in a village appears much simpler than the hustle and bustle of the life back in the states. Few people have cars and most people have gardens in the back yard. As we drove along you would see the machete carrying workers heading to and from the fields. The fields were very organize and well kept growing the basic dietary staples and others growing tall grass with grazing cattle.
I would imagine knowing everyone in town was a given and life would be like having one huge family. The Methodist did an amazing job building churches and converting entire islands to Christianity back in the day.

Our second night we lucked out and had the last room available at a sister hotel of La Nea thanks to Jean the manager at the first hotel making a reservation for us. The room was a thatched hut bungalow on the beach and we slept to sound of the wind blowing though the roof and crashing waves on the beach. The lunch buffet was amazing and we found our selves eating way too much of a good thing, but both walked out with an ice cream cone just the same.

We drove most of the way to the north end of the island and along the way countless water falls and breath taking views enchanted us. The coast has steep mountains rising up from the sea and had fjords cut into the shoreline that must be crossed by bridge or in one case a small ferry. The ferry ran 24/7 and was free!

One village we drove through everyone was all dressed up and heading to church on a Friday afternoon. We stopped and asked a few ladies what occasion was and they said “Mariage” in French? It’s the same word as in English and after a few times Daria understood it was a wedding. ( My French is terrible)

In the morning we hit the breakfast buffet and were on our way south for another day of site seeing down the east coast. The vegetable stands along the road side were like sirens calling Daria’s name and we stopped at several buying pineapple, oranges, berries, bananas and passion fruits.
One nice thing about driving around an island is that it is hard to get lost, just keep the ocean on your left and you will be going the right way! That’s fine as long as you can see the ocean! But somehow we did manage to get lost a few times… Reading the French roads signs was another adventure in it self….But Daria would get us back on track on off we would go.

Half way down the east coast brings you back into mining country and the road goes right through the middle of one of the biggest mines on the island. The ore appears to be deposits in thin vanes along the hills and bull dozers cut switch backs in search of new deposits. Other areas are intensely strip mined and whole mountainsides are removed leaving behind jagged scars. The ore they seem to be looking for is the color of a new penny, brightly copper colored earth that contains the precious metals. The next mine had literally miles and miles of conveyors moving the ore down from the top of the mountain side to the refinery. Strangely the two mines we drove through were not operating and there was not a soul in site? The main mining commotion seemed to be on the west coast digging up a new found deposit of ore.

The road wound its way south and we stopped for lunch at the mountain paradise of The Evasion Hotel. This hotel was tucked into a mountain valley and offered horse back riding and hiking. From there it was a short two hour drive back to the marina for a good night sleep back in our own bed on Downtime. A little over 1000 Km and three days and this adventure was over….

Our next stop is Isle Des Pine!

September 12, 2012

Tanna, Vanuatu #AroundTheWorld #Downtime #Vanuatu

Tanna is the next island north is located a short 25 mile sail away. We set sail early and the winds filled in nicely by the time we cleared the north end of Anatom.

We were flying our new Code Zero sail that was repaired in Fiji and it was doing a nice job pulling us along on a beam reach topping 10 knots of boat speed at times in 15 to 20 knots of wind. This sail is huge! It is 73 feet tall and the foot (bottom) is 46 feet long giving it a total area of over 1500 sq. feet. I was confident we had all the bug worked out of this sail but…..I was wrong!

Bang! The top attachment point tore loose and the sail drifted down into the water alongside the boat. Daria! A little help here please…. We spent the next half hour pulling the soaked sail back aboard and roughly bundling it and playing dog pile to smash it down small enough to tie a rope around, we would attempt folding it another day.

Out came the jib sail and within an few hours we were anchored in Resolution Bay which was named by Capt Cook himself. Resolution Bay is the only protected anchorage on Tanna but is still a bit rolling from the sea swell. The locals came paddling up in their dugout outrigger canoes like they have for centuries and welcomed us to their island.

The day we arrived there was a baby boy born in the village and we were invited for a celebration of his birth, well actually a lunch that we would donate a few dollars and get a local lunch. We took off with our bag full of gifts and made our way to the village. The first thing we noticed was that the kids were a little more wild on this island and dirty. The red clay soil was ground into their little hands, feet , and clothes and left me thinking that giving white tee shirts as gifts was not the best choice of colors on an island. I was also thinking what a difference where you are born makes in life…would this little boy spend his whole life in this little village growing up with out shoes orwould he be the one that made a difference in the way they lived?

Our main reason coming to Tanna was to see the active volcano located on Mount Yasur a hours drive away from the harbor. The next morning one of the locals came paddling up and asked if I could charge his portable DVD player and if we had any movies he could have. We gave him a few kids movies and the daily routine of charging the player began. In exchange for the charge he brought us a few bananas, green onion, and basil leaves. Another guy, Charlie came paddling up selling papaya, bananas and fresh eggs and we asked if he knew of someone to take us up the volcano. It turns out that Charlie has a brother, Robert who owns one of the few trucks on the island and for $40 US he would take us to the volcano. Luckily we were able to pay in US dollars since are Vauatu bucks had all been spent and the nearest ATM or bank was a 5 hour ride across the island.

The only road on the island is a one lane dirt road connecting the main villages and also goes to the summit of the volcano. The road is bumpy and washed out in places and most the time you are in first gear bouncing through the ruts, I can only imagine what it is like during the wet season….

It took a little over an hour to get to the base of Mount Yasur which looked like we had made a trip to the moon. The landscape was bare grey rocks and ash and you could hear the grumbling of the volcano from the parking lot at the base of the mountain. A 15 minute hike brought you to the rim of the caldera.

Standing on the edge you look a few hundred feet down into two giant cones that are spewing smoke and ash. The far cone would shoot up huge rumbling clouds of burning ash and the cone closest to us I could look right down into the bowels of the earth. The area surrounding the vent looked like a huge bar b q with glowing chunks of magma surrounding it. The air was bitter with the stench of sulfur that spewed out of cracks along the caldera walls. The vent would make raspy gurgling sounds, the sound of molten lava boiling way, way down in the earth and then the pressure would start building and things started rumbling under foot. And then BANG! Like a huge bomb went off !! The ground shook and chunks of molten lava the size of pickup trucks and washing machines blasted hundreds of feet in the air. Luckily they all seemed to be flying downwind and hitting the far side of the caldera. They landed with a eerie thud and started rolling back down the hill to the bottom of the vent cone and the process started all over again.

I got to tell you that this is one of the most amazing and powerful things I have ever seen in this great big beautiful world of ours and most the time I just stood there in awe knowing that in any moment it all could be over….

Our next adventure will be in New Caledonia!

Until then live your dreams! Pete and Daria

September 4, 2012

Anatom Island, Vanuatu

We had an easy three day 450 mile sail from Fiji and arrived at day break watching a beautiful island rising out of the ocean in front of  us.   Anatom Island is the southern most island in Vanuatu and one of over a dozen in a chain of Vanuatu Islands and home to around 600 people living in 3 separate villages.  We anchored in front of one small village on the S/W side of the island in a bay between the village and Mystery Island.

On our sail across we trolled lines during the day and landed  3 nice fish, two Mahi Mahi and one Walloo.  Strangely catching all of the fish within a 5 hour period on the second day out of Fiji ?

My first impression was  “Wow look at all the trees” .  The islands is thickly planted with pine forests and along with the native trees is luscious green.  In all of Fiji we had not seen any tree farming or many trees of any size at all for that matter.

There were 10 other boats anchored here, many of which we had met before.  The clearance process was  strait forward and pleasant.  The island police chief came out to the boat and we had the paperwork done in 30 minute with a minimum of hassle.

The village had a small bank open 3 days a week and in the morning we went ashore to exchange some US dollars to pay the $3000 Vanuatu clearance fee.  Luckily the exchange rate is 87 to one….After leaving the bank with 13,000 V dollars ($150 US) in my pocket we went for a walk around the village.
Located in  the middle of the village is the Bank, Police station, school, and a small store.  The store had the basic staples and not much more available other than a few sacks of concrete and building supplies.  The school is a two room building with just a few desks and most the teaching is done with the kids seated on the floor. Across the path was the lumber yard with about 100- 2x4’s stacked under a tin roof.

The path continued inland through jungle and past gardens into a valley.  Small houses were built along the way that somewhat resembled log cabins with the exception of thatched palm roofs.  The side bark slabs of the logs were used for exterior sheeting having been cut using a small mill was that was set up in the forest that also cut the 2x4 structural parts of the home.  Other homes were made entirely of woven bamboo exteriors and long strait trees for supports and thatched roofs.  Most homes would have separate cooking huts and eating areas that I would imagine confine the smoke of open cooking fires to one area.  The way of life here has changed little in the last centuries and few homes even have running water. The exception is a few that have access to a single faucet that has been installed between several homes.   The water must originate from a spring up on the hills and flow by gravity through the pipes since there is no electricity on the island.

The path continued on, and I mean “path” since there are no cars or roads on this island, and we came up to a plot of land where several people were turning soil with heavy forked spades getting the ground ready to plant cassava. Other plots along the way were growing corn, taro, and cava the local anesthetic drink.

The people in the village are all very friendly and welcoming and spoke perfect English.  The kids are polite and have beautiful smiles with perfectly strait white teeth, and many have blonde hair.

Kids here most likely never even seen a color TV, car, bicycle, glass window or a flushing toilet for that matter but are as happy as any kids we have met.  When Daria and I walked around with the bag of toys and candy they waited patiently for their turn with outstretched hands for their gifts.  The simplest things would amaze them, a blow up ball, a toy car or airplane, and best of all a bottle of bubbles.  I would blow bubbles and they would dance around popping them in the air laughing and giggling.  We gave away small water filled push button game that when you pushed the button the water pushed little floating rings and you had to get them on the dolphins nose.  Kids would play these like it was the latest thing from play station!   We also brought crayons, markers and coloring books and  a soccer ball to the school and gave the teachers Downtime tee shirts which they were thankful for.

Island like these are very isolated but even here there are cell phones in a place where you can literally yell out the window with the same effect “can you hear me now?” since the village is only a mile across.

Mystery Island is less than a mile west from the village and has a small airport with a grass runway that accommodates two flights per week from Tanna the next island to the north.  The island was originally purchased by a sea captain and was a whaling station in the 1800’s.  There were remains of the station until a few years ago when a typhoon wiped them off the island.  No one has lived on the island since and the natives believe it is haunted with ghosts and bad spirits.

Today’s Mystery Island is a tourist destination with a mocked up village and a walking  trail nicely groomed around the island.  The only Mystery to me was why have they put so many restrooms along the path? There has to be at least 20 of them located every 200 feet around this small island?  Then there is the market center for the tourists with 30 covered booths….what exactly can they all be selling in all those booths?   We will never find out since the cruise ship bring the tourist only come around once a month.

We were anchored here just under a week and one night the locals invited us to a party in the village. The promise of local food, a culture show, dancing and a demonstrations of other skills they have had passed down to them sounded fun.

The show started with a basket weaving demonstration and then a demonstration on how they make the traditional grass skirts and headwear.  The most interesting to me was the man that started a fire with two sticks in less time than I would be able to with a bic lighter!  Then came the traditional dancing and singing which was a lot of fun to watch since the kids and everyone else joined in.

While the women were preparing the meal the men were busy chopping Cava roots into small pieces getting them ready to grind them into a pulp to extract the lethal juice.  The meal was boiled taro, cassava with broiled and fried fish and chicken, the basic island fare.  To wash it down they had green coconuts to drink and pamplemuse (grapefruit)   for dessert.   I’m sorry but this is one of those kind of meals that if I ate in the states I would have to stop at McDonalds on the way home to satisfy my hunger…But the experience was wonderful!. And drinking a few cups of cava was an experience in itself…

Our first look at Vanuatu was amazing and we can not  wait to see what the other islands have to offer.

In our next adventure we will be sailing north to Tanna the island known for having one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world!

                                                          Until then Live your dreams!!
                                                          Peace! Pete and Daria