Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Rich 10 Days, Tanna Island - PHOTOS - Wayback Machine

 A Rich 10 Days, Tanna Island

Port Resolution Bay
Tanna, Vanuatu

Late October, 2012

The passage from Anatom to Tanna took us two days instead of one due to light wind. We watched Mount Yasur vent huge clouds of ash and steam which drifted slowly across the island, out to sea and across our path. As we sailed closer, looking for our anchorage, we saw a magnificent white sandy beach that seemed to run the length of the Island. There were people on the beach playing in the water. I definitely wanted to go there. We sailed right up to the entrance of Port Resolution bay - 100 yards from where we dropped the anchor.

Captain Cook sailed into this bay in his vessel 'Resolution', thus the name of the bay. Apparently he wanted to see the volcano, but the locals wouldn't let him, it being their deity and all. Cook is lucky really - he may not have survived if he had gone up the mountain, into the bush - due the practice of cannibalism.

 The bay reminded me a little of the dramatic bays in the Marquesas. At the entrance to the bay, a 200 ft volcanic rock wall rose out of the water opposite an 80 foot cliff. These high walls framed a low wide beach with lush vegetation. With the exception of the few boats at anchor, there was little sign of life - a pristine bay. The bay appeared small but once you began to explore in the dinghy, it was huge. We had to make an S curve to get to shore to avoid rocks and reef. Our first trip back, it was high tide near dusk and we got stuck on a rock just under the surface - leaving a long gash in the bottom or our soft bottom dinghy. (Luckily it was not a part of the dinghy that inflated!)

On shore we found a small resort at the top of cliff from which we took this photo. The resort had sleeping huts with mosquito netting over a bed and a sink on the door step. There was a public shower on the grounds and you could order your meals at the yacht club building or down the road 1/4 of a mile in the village cafe.

 From the moment I stepped ashore in Tanna, I felt I was visiting an older landscape. I remember thinking the flora here is extraordinary, something I haven't seen before. It did feel a little like parts of Tonga, where the shore was made of colossal coral boulders held back by ancient overgrown mangroves - but there are no mountains in northern Tonga. It felt a little like Daniel's' Bay on Nuka Hiva (the Marquesas) yet even more primeval, more dense with much bigger trees.

 And the trees seemed to collude with one another - each trying to outdo the next - by looking more round or taller or greener or more droopy so that when you took in a wide view there was enormously diverse and picturesque vegetation, like there is in an old-growth forest. Owen and Dennis (SV Knotty Lady) were walking along and wondered over a mile out of their way before they realized that they were on the wrong road. There are foot paths through out the Island and few roads.

 The primeval essence I was absorbing as I walked ashore in Port Resolution bay, as I stared at those trees and was amazed at how they grew, as I walked the village and talked to the women, was the beginning of a new experience for us (the kids and I especially - Owen has spent time in Africa). The experience that began on Anatom (in Vanuatu), the 'difference' was the undeveloped world.

 The village near Port Resolution, Ikepuwo, is situated between Port Resolution and that big white sandy ocean beach. Walking along the dirt road from the yacht club to the village, we spied two life size figures, a female and a male. They were carved from palm tree trunks. There is a large open green as you enter the village, surrounded by grass huts. I loved the houses, how they were built. Each family erected several huts, one for sleeping, another for cooking, and sometimes a third for children to play in or guests to sleep in. There was no furniture just rough shelves with dirt floors. Some women covered the floor with woven mats. Everyone sat on mats, palms leaves or the grass outside their hut. Owen and Griffyn watched a hut being built over the days we traversed the village. A sleeping hut was being built for a some newlyweds. Extended families often shared the kitchen hut.

The people of Tanna are living much as their ancestors have for thousands of years, close to the earth. They make what they need from the trees and vegetation surrounding them. They eat what grows easily and survives the daily drift of ash from Mt. Yasur. Many villagers had cataracts, even young people, caused by the volcanic debris and ash always settling and resettling around them. And they maintain a village garden up in the hills about a kilometer from their homes.

 These panels are not being used, no local knows how to fix the problem. Occasionally bits of new technology finds it's way into their lives - like water pumps and cell phones. We sold a solar charger (for cell phones) to the owner of the Port Resolution Yacht Club for vatu so that we would have enough cash to get into Mt. Yasur National Park. (One of the most expensive National Parks in the World.) The closest ATM was a two hour bus ride (one way) and we didn't have enough cash when we arrived for that. The vatu was much stronger than we expected. We hadn't brought enough from Fiji. And we kept hearing different prices for the ride up to the park and no one seemed to know the entrance fee for children. It took us a couple days of selling things to get enough cash to go up the mountain and get a few straight answers. And once we were able to pay the driver and entrance fees, we were again out of vatu. So I began to talk to the village women to find fresh food for trade.

Modern housing is making it's way to this village. Will this village look the same in 10 years? Cinder blocks and corrugated metal cost money, grass and trees are free. The only cash coming into the village was from the few tourists. We met a single mom. She had a table outside her hut full of the baskets she wove for sale. She told us that her husband had just left her and her 5 children. She couldn't have been more than 30 and already had cataracts. Owen gave her the monocle he was carrying. She gave Owen a basket.

 A couple days later as I stood in her kitchen hut one afternoon around 4 PM, I watched a two year old pull the cover off a large kettle of steaming rice (cooked over a low fire on the dirt floor). The two year old began eating the hot rice with his fingers. Her other kids were walking around the dark hut, making noise the way hungry kids do. I remember feeling her anxiety, it was such a dim place and soon it would be dark. She seemed so desperate. She kept offering me food for trade. She picked up an egg from a dark corner of the hut (where her chicken likes to lay.) She handed me her only egg, some island greens, a manioc root. I didn't want to take her food, but I knew she wouldn't offer it if she couldn't get more easily. In return I would bring her tinned meat, clothes and things for her children.

In the early afternoon you would see little solar lamps set out in the sun. Each hut seemed to have one little lamp. In the evening when all was dark, completely dark, the only lights we saw on the island (when we were coming back from our 45 minute drive to the edge of the crater) was the headlights of our vehicle, fires burning and occasionally a dim light from inside of a hut (a solar lamp?). There were no street lights along the main dirt road, yet there were crowds of people walking as we passed by. There had been a national election that day. 50 women ran for office for the 150 seats available. Not a single woman was elected. Our driver had the radio on loud listening for results. He kept stopping the car to talk to friends along the road. Black male faces pressed to our windows to see who was inside. Everyone was all abuzz about the election.

 There are tiny resorts all over Vanuatu. Sarah had a cafe where she sold a cup of coffee (grown and roasted on Tanna) and meals (if tourists from neighboring resorts called ahead to order a meal.) She had worked in a resort before she asked her husband to build her this building for her coffee shop.

We only met one other couple, staying at a resort during our week in the port. There is a small community shop tended by two young girls which sold a few items (baskets, bags, children's skirts, shells, feather sticks) made by the local women and bananas or papayas. There was another small store where one could purchase onions, instant noodles, canned tuna and a few other items - the store was less than 100 sq. ft. with about 3 shelves a foot deep with items for sale. It was slim pickin's.

Tamsyn, Griffyn and I spent a day with Karen (S/V Yolo - the hostess of Tamsyn's 9th birthday party at Minerva Reef in 2011) walking around the village. We watched a woman make lap lap. A flat bread made from grated manioc (tapioca root) and coconut cream, wrapped in banana leaves and baked over a bed of coals. I traded with her for a kilo of flour. (There was no flour for sale in the village.)

 Karen had met a family that was taking care of a baby fruit bat, so she showed Tamsyn and Griffyn where the bat was living.

 The pregnant woman in this picture is carrying her first child (and a little anxious about it). Each night as we ate dinner in the cockpit, huge fruit bats would come out and fly around the boat. We could hear Mt. Yasur booming and watch steam rise in patches from the hillside. Late late at night long after dusk, there would be a red glow on the underside of the clouds like deep red sunset. If the wind blew the ash cloud into the bay, it would leave a thin layer of black ash all over the boat. Rain would make it inky. A local told me that the water in the bay is too warm for sharks, they never enter.

Karen had skinned her shin coming off her dinghy the morning we met the baby fruit bat. She didn't have a band aid, the flies landed continuously on her wound all day, despite her constant swishing them away. Two days later when she came to visit us on Madrona, I noticed that her leg had developed a huge swelling and the area where she had skinned herself was much larger. She had bandaged it when she got back to Yolo, she told me, and doused it with peroxide. I told her that wasn't going to be enough and she might end up in the hospital if she didn't treat it more aggressively. Owen (the real doctor aboard) suggested she use her silver burn ointment and a strong anti-biotic. She had a tropical ulcer growing. We had heard nasty stories about tropical ulcers and been warned about the flies in Vanuatu. There are so many beef cattle here that the fly population is much higher than other countries in the tropics. Beef is a major export of Vanuatu. And the beef is very high quality - but the cow pies are everywhere and they are all swarming with flies. The flies here carry staphylococcus - so tropical ulcers are common and often serious. Wounds here fester very quickly and need to be treated with both an anti-biotic as well as an anti-fungal (gentian violet is an incredibly cheap anti-fungal).

 We watched another woman wearing a Mother Hubbard dress sew with her manual Singer sewing machine. She told me there are 8 of these sewing machines in this village. They can be purchased in the closest city - a two hour bus ride one way - for a couple hundred US $ (.86 cents US = 100 vatu). I traded sewing machine needles, elastic, thread, fabric and clothes with her for a large basket of fresh fruit and vegetables.

 We met Nicky and Dennis, S/V Knotty Lady, who were bringing their new 40' Hunter, purchased in the California, home to Australia. [It was christened in Niue by a whale tangled in their mooring lines. The whale almost totally destroyed their bow trying to escape.]  October 30th, we went up Mt. Yasur with Nicky and Dennis to watch it erupt. Bumping along in the back of a pick up truck driving past steaming black volcanic dirt through jungle vegetation and huge tree ferns was an experience we will never forget. The top of the mountain looked like a moonscape - zero vegetation, flatten and burned from hot lava.

Tamsyn cut her finger picking up a black lacy rock of pure glass (melted black sand). Standing at the edge of the crater we saw awesome fireworks, breathed choking toxic fumes (when the wind blew toward us), heard flying magma the size of boulders hit the ground, froze in the wind at the top as the temperature dropped, and had spectacularly deep views of both the caldera and the lush green landscape 100s of feet below us on the slopes of this magnificent mountain.

October 31st we celebrated Halloween at Knotty Lady - Tamsyn as a ballet dancer, Griffyn as Spider-man. I brought Boston baked beans and rice and they served marinated Mahi Mahi (caught on the way to Tanna). We all watched a scary movie and ate candy. We spent three days walking the village, and going to the beach with Nicky and Dennis.

Tanna is one of the islands in Vanuatu where white people are considered suspicious, untrustworthy. The black-birding (slavers), the missionaries, and the white colonizers were often eaten by the locals. Thus whites had less influence here than other parts of Vanuatu. And as a result of it, this island has kept it's cultural identity more firmly than many of the other islands and villages in Vanuatu. The chiefs, the clans, still rule the villages on Tanna. The 'nasara', an open area surrounded by giant banyan trees, is a place where men gather nightly to drink kava.

Nicki, Tamsyn and I were ushered along a path that goes around the nasara (rather than the usual path which crosses through it) one evening near 5PM as the men were gathering. Women in this village are still forbidden to enter the nasara or drink kava with men. Nicki mentioned that she had read about a place where menstruating women were expected to live separately from the rest of the village. I told I had read about that too long long ago. Then she told me that it was written about the villages on Tanna. I thought it was amazing we had both read about it long before we came here. Women in Vanuatu have little value in the family - except as bride money (often called the 'bride price'). Because women do most of the labor, when one is married the family receiving the bride has to pay the family she leaves. The Moon Guide to the South Pacific has a section on women which mentions that very recently women were typically worth less than a good pig. As a result of their low status, domestic violence against women is still very common and police rarely get involved.

The local school here, taught in Bislama also offers French. Literacy in Vanuatu is 50%, children are needed to help with chores and often do not attend beyond the primary school. Bislama is the language we heard as children in cartoons, "me no savvy" says the 'Indian' to the paleface who attempts communication. How did it end up back home in cartoons? I suppose the same way "la la land" did (which is from Swahili spoken in Africa). Many schools in Vanuatu offer either French or English as a secondary language because both the French and the British claimed Vanuatu as a colony. When the British and French officials were trying to decide what side of the road to drive on, they decided to settle the issue by waiting for a car to be delivered to Port Villa. If the car came from Britain, they would drive on the left, if the car delivered was from France - the national standard would be to drive on the right. We sailed out of Tanna, on a dark and windy day heading north to the capital, Port Villa.


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