May 25, 2015

#Banks #Vanuatu April 2015

Pics from Oct, 2012
1-11th of April 2015
Our first stop in Bank islands was Ureparapara Island. This island like most of the islands in Vanuatu is a dormant volcano and its crater wall has blown out towards the NE to form the harbor. The scenery is spectacular with 300m high headlands of Ngeye Byo Point and Ngeye Vet Point opening into the heart of the 764m hight volcano. There are trails up the crater wall that lead to sacred sites. I wanted hike them (since our last visit in 2012), so I had to have permission from the village chief and had a guide to walk to the crater rim.
But Ureparapara was not as welcoming as during our visit 2 years ago... Nobody made for us floral leigh’s like the last time... I had a feeling something happened there, but what exactly I don't know. More likely it was the recent cyclone, which was few weeks before we came and destroyed some gardens and banana trees (important food resource for islanders) or maybe it is the system of the island, chief is changing every year, so maybe chief of this year is not as good as previous one... or it was just blurry weather? Regardless they did not want us on the island without clearing into immigration which was located 50 miles to the South. 

We were honest and told guys who paddled out and met us we did not clear-in yet and then they did not let us on shore even after we gave him a nice sized fish because of trouble they had in the past with the main immigration office with other boats.  The previous chief we had met the last time here paddled out several times trading fruits and veggies and finally invited us in afternoon of our second day and told us if we needed water or had to do repairs we could stay. He also told us that the guy we gave the nice fish was the new chief and if we would have waited to talk to him he would have just told everyone we had cleared in and let us ashore. It is all who you know in these island…. but it was too late to hike and the weather was still stormy, so my hike through the rain and wind to the top of the rim was canceled...
Maybe next time? with the better weather?

Here is the pics of new Chief.

After a day of waiting for the storm to pass we sail to Reef Islands (Rowa Islands), typical coral reef atoll islets with white sand beaches, coconut trees, and a good bird population  The lagoon is shallow and sandy, with depths ranging from 2 to 8ft low tide. It was a perfect place to kite and just 10 miles away. 

Pete was happy like a little kid! He kite surfed for 3 days straight. Wind was blowing, tide was right and sun was shining... 

We anchored the boat right on the edge of the reef and couple of times I snorkeled on the reef, it was nice with several large fish, but nothing really spectacular.

I went though what we had left on the boat and decided to try to make my first lasagna ever… Butternut squash lasagne with feta, sage and breadcrumbs for Lunch. Damn tasty!

We still had not cleared in, and it was bothering us and we decided to sail to Sola, Valua Lava Island on 7th of April.  Sola is the administrative center for Bank's and a Port of Entry. We spent the night rolling with the waves bouncing us around and the next morning found out that we could only do the customs part of the clearance, but not immigration, for that we need to sail to Luganville.  It was 40 miles out of our route and we decided keep going and wait until Port Villa.  I hoped to find some fresh vegetables and eggs at the market but the shelves were bare from the cyclones effects and I ended up with just few pamplemousses (big sweet grapefruit)...  On my way I did quick stop in local yacht club, very nice clean place with pretty garden and few simple bungalows.
Nothing more hold us there so we set sail to Santa Maria (Gaua Island), another place I wanted do hike.  It is not like I am a super-hike-lover-kind-of-person, I like to do it time to time, but the truth is I am always there with wrong conditions... but I keep trying... Gaua is the most feared Volcano in Vanuatu. Lake Letas, 7 km long, fills the old, but still very hot, crater and volcano experts believe that in the floor of the lake ruptures the water will mix explosively with hot magna. Gaua is reportedly the oldest settled island in Vanuatu and once had a very large population. There are old villages in the bush with stone circles covered with petroglyphs. Lake Letas is the largest fresh water lake in the SP islands outside of PNG and if you want to see it, you have to climb Mt. Garet's 800m peak and ogle Siri Falls, one of the biggest waterfall in SP.

The ocean was so rough, with strong wind on the nose, we were barely making 3 knots... after an hour of this hipity-dipity we decided to turn on the corner  of the SE part of Valua Lava and anchor in Veutumboso Bay for couple of days. Turning the boat downwind made a huge difference as the boat surfed down the waves.  We had nothing but time and were in no hurry. This is how some of our most interesting adventures develop, by taking that unexpected turn and finding that unplanned anchorage. 

This anchorage was one of those special places where we made many new friends. We were welcomed by the 75 year old chief who paddled out to greet us and welcome us ashore.  So different from just 30 miles away….  When people paddle a mile out to greet you they usually ask for something, this chief was looking for coffee and left with a pound of coffee, Downtime hat and tee shirt.  Later his son came out looking for fishing equipment and traded us fresh coconuts and bananas for them. He invited us to the village and couple hours later he was waiting us on shore to guide through the jungle to the mountain village.

The way to the village was a beautiful hike about 30-40 minutes one way. Lucky me I had to carry just Canon and Pete like a real man was caring bag, full of toys and supplies and on our way back the bag was full of fruits and veggies.
The village was home to over 500 people and we met lots of smiling faces. It was a shame we were late for the local market, but our friend said no worry he would find us what we needed in his garden.  
We still were lucky, because it was Wednesday afternoon (8th of April, 2015) and the village has Mother Market every week particular on this day. So all women of the village cooked or baked favorite dishes and sell by small portion. I think it is not about money, but more social event, everyone was selling and buying few plates for the same price, about 5 cents...

We went back to his house and watched the men prepare the afternoon cava while his wife picked us fresh greens from the garden. We were invited to stay for cava but one taste of this intoxicating mixture is enough for a life time. 

On our way back we met all kids heading back home from the school, about half hour walk one way, needless say there is none cars or bikes around or school buses.Everyone was happy and smiling, everyone has own machete too...

After three days we set sail for Gaua Is again, our next island to the south. And first what I did I caught baby octopus on our huge anchor! Go figure!
The seas had calmed down and the winds had turned more east so we were able to sail comfortably and also do some fishing.  But we decided skip hike plans, it is not much fun to hike through muddy rivers. Next time!
Pete had the lines out and within an hour one pole was screaming with a fish on! We saw it just for a moment and it looked like a nice marlin as it jumped in the air thrashing wildly dislodging the hook.  

Our disappointment did not last long because an hour later another even bigger marlin took the bait.  This one was well hooked and it steadily peeled the the 1500 yards of line off the reel while Pete struggled to hold onto the rod.  We had to put the boat into reverse and get line back on the reel before we lost another one and I backed the boat while Pete reeled.  It took just over an hour to get this monster on the boat and we had to lift him with the rope we use to load the dingy to get him aboard! With the fish aboard we continued on to Gaua Is and began processing this 150 pound fish.
So we anchored on Santa Maria island (Gaua Is) to butcher our monster and to give away some fish. Locals were very happy to have chunk of our fresh catch. Later whole family brought us a lot of fresh produce, a thank you for fish, flip-flops and other supplies we gave them.  There were a variety of cacao fruits, paw-paw (papaya), green onions, coconuts, pamplemousses (sweet grapefruit)  and unknown veggies (huge green beans).
It seemed they were less effected by the cyclone here like the previous island.  We did not see any actual damage on any of the islands we had been on and it seems the most vulnerable fruit when storms come though are banana trees with their soft trunks and heavy fruit toppling over in the high winds. There were a few old trees uprooted and older shelters with roofs blown off but for the most part people continued on with day to day activities. 

Santa Maria (Gaua Is) was our last stop in Bank's group.

live your dream,
Daria Friday
PS: check the rest of the pics in Album Bank's Vanuatu, Apr 2015