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