We’re in Port Vila, Vanuatu! Celebrations.
It was not an easy crossing: one day of really heavy seas, one day of wind blowing from directly behind us*, and one day when (CRISIS!) our auto-pilot was on the blink** so we had to hand-steer. But we stayed cheerful – thanks in the main to some awesome playlists supplied by my scissor – and generally enjoyed the last passage that Stof and I will complete as a couple… at least for this year. Our friend Dr Dave arrives in Port Vila on Sunday and we are really excited to explore Vanuatu with him for a couple of weeks before we all set off for the last big passage to Bundaberg in Australia.
Vanuatu! From the days of that first Survivor, I’ve been vaguely aware of Vanuatu as a country of awesome beaches, culture and a rather impressive shipping registry. While I never imagined doing this trip across the Pacific – and therefore many of the locations come as surprises to me – some places are particularly incredible to be in just because I am there. For my parents, the place they would visit us was a no-brainer: Madala never imagined he would ever get to visit Tahiti, so when we were going to be there with a comfy free cabin, he literally couldn’t imagine visiting any other place. I really never imagined I would go to Vanuatu! But here I am! I am truly amazed by the path my life has led.
In some ways Vanuatu is a little disorientating. Their flag looks like the love child of the South African and Mozambican flags (minus the automatic weapons, plus the ferns). Add to this the remarkable similarity between the Melanesians and African people – I feel like I’m with “my” people. Even the beer is suspiciously similar in name to the national beer of Kenya (Tusker). Of course the language is a little bit confusing (in an awesome way): Bislama is the common language – the Vanuatan Pidgin.*** I’ll collect my favourite examples of Bislama and include these in a later post. The politics are also rather “interesting”. Yesterday’s papers were all abuzz because the Vanuatan Christians were on hunger strike (they call it a fast) because the president of Vanuatu went to a WTO meeting without consulting them.
There are both distinct English and French influences: for many years both countries shared the administration of Vanuatu so that an odd dual-system of schools, courts and administration existed. One of my favourite stories relates to how it came to be that people in Vanuatu drive on the right hand side. Until the 1920′s, there was road chaos because the French drove their carts on the right and the English on the left: neither nation agreeing to cross over to the other side. Eventually, the resident commissioners struck a deal: the next vehicle that arrived in Vanuatu would decide the side that all people would henceforth drive. A sneaky French priest shot off an order for a buggy to New Caledonia and the matter was resolved.
There is magic here! As we sailed into the bay outside Port Vila an enormous pod of dolphins came jumping and frolicking around our bow. The sea in the port itself is by far the cleanest city water we have yet encountered: we can easily see the bottom some 40 feet below us. There is reported to be excellent diving in the bay. Last night as we had our “shower” (wash in the sea, followed by spray down with fresh water), we swam in the most brilliant phosphorescence we have yet seen in the Pacific.**** We felt like super-luminal beings floating across the universe.
* When the wind blows from directly astern, we can’t go directly where we want to go, we need the wind a little bit on one side or the other of the sail, so wind from right behind means that we have to zig-zag our way to our destination… which adds on a whole lot of distance and gybing-stress.
** It would appear that Stof has now fixed “Ray” (our Most Important Crew Member). Flip.
*** Hence: nambawan = number 1.
**** Except, maybe, for the sparkles in the sea in the last PV we visited: Puerta Vallarta in Mexico with Nix and A.