June 2015 - Vanuatu

1 June 2015 Lammen Bay to Melip Bay, Malekula
The alarm went off at quarter to six and we were soon underway motoring west. There wasn’t much wind for the first two hours until we cleared the wind shadow from Epi, then we had a beautiful sail with 15 knots off the port quarter. I went to bed for an hour before lunch and Glenys managed to haul in nice Rainbow Runner - fish for dinner tonight.

We were heading for a bay opposite Tomman Island, where we were hoping to deliver some school books to a lady called Priscilla Jimmy, the mother-in-law of Harry Fox. Unfortunately, we had very little information about the bay. The charts had very sparse detail and none of the cruising guides mention the place, so we were relying on a few comments made by Harry that it was “ok”. We eyeballed our way in and found that there was lots of depth all the way into the lovely bay with no hazards.

Melim and daughter outside their home

The sandy sea bed shallows very slowly and we anchored in 5 metres with a small amount of swell gently rolling us. The Navionics charts only have a little detail - the mainland is correctly positioned, but there’s a small island shown in the middle of the bay, which is actually further south at the edge of the bay. We had very good visibility, so we hugged the reef to starboard, but in less perfect conditions, I suggest the following waypoints 16:35.45S 167:29.26E and 16:34.81S 167:29.12E. We anchored at 16:34.71S 167:29.48E.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we were settled and Tomman Island is ¾ mile from the anchorage, so we decided to go there tomorrow. Instead we went ashore to the nearby village, which we discovered is called Melip Bay.

A small crowd of kids and adults soon gathered and, when we asked for the chief, pointed us towards a clearing were we met a few people sitting on a log. We’re not sure if one of them was the chief or not, but after chatting for ten minutes, a nice lady called Melin offered to show us around the village. They don’t get many boats here (we were the first ones this year) and were not quite sure what to do with us.

Melin only spoke French, so our conversations were a little stilted, but she explained that there were 200 people in the village. The houses are mostly traditional wooden frames, with thatched roofs and woven bamboo panels for walls. Cyclone Pan didn’t affect them very much and they still have fruit and coconuts on the trees. As we walked around, I took a few pictures of the kids following us around, who love seeing themselves in the LCD display - howling with laughter at each other’s pictures.

Priscilla, Angela and kids with their new school books

After an hour, we retired back to the boat, promising to drop off some vegetable seeds tomorrow.

2 June 2015 Melip Bay, Malekula
I was woken just after dawn by the sound of voices nearby and looked out to find twenty or so villagers paddling back and forth in their dugout canoes, trolling for fish. One guy spotted me on deck and came over for a quick chat. He’d only caught four little sardines and said that it was a poor day. I told him that the people in Tanna catch the same fish with nets, but he told me that the chief doesn’t allow them to use nets, so they troll small lures made from a piece of clear plastic tubing and two small hooks.

After breakfast, we loaded the two boxes of school books and some other things into the dinghy and whizzed over to Tomman Island. There’s a fringing reef around the island, but the villagers have dug out a narrow channel through the coral, so that small boats can get access to the beach (approach starts at 16:34.89S 167:28.42E, then head 195 degrees towards the beach at an angle of 60 degrees). By the time that we’d landed, we had a small crowd and were met by Angela, who is the primary school teacher. We explained that we’d come to see Priscilla and some kids were dispatched to go and get her.

After the introductions had been made, we walked to the school with the two heavy boxes of books, followed by Priscilla, a gaggle of kids and a few curious adults. Angela told us that they hardly ever get white people on the island, so we were a real curiosity (apparently the kids were calling us "Ambat" which means “white skin” in the local language). The primary school was charming - a traditional wooden hut, but inside were lots of posters on the walls. It’s funded by the community with no government money and there are only eight kids. We dropped the boxes down on a table and the kids were straight in looking through them.

One of the posters about hygiene

Angela then volunteered to show us around the island and we had a lovely two hour walk, wandering about, being introduced to people and chatting. The kindergarten school has about fifteen children with a couple of ladies looking after them. All the kids were fascinated by us and I had a fun time photographing them and just messing about. The village has built a nice playground with swings and even a slide all made from local wood.

In the Kindergarten, I was intrigued by a set of small hand written posters instructing the kids in ten steps to basic health and hygiene. It was all written in Bislama, which is a kind of pigeon English and makes sense when you say it out loud.

1. Wasem Hans - Wash your hands
2. Klinim Nus - Clean your nose (with a leaf)
3. No Spet - Don’t spit (a habit that the adults have after drinking kava)
4. Bloken maot taem yu kof - Cover your mouth when you cough
5. Brasem tut o kaekae drae kokonas - Brush your teeth (or chew dry coconut)
6. Kavremap ol so - Cover up all sores (if no plasters available, use a leaf)
7. Katem ol nel - Cut your nails
8. Katem hea i sot - Cut your hair short
9. Werem kiln klos - Wear clean clothes
10. Gudfala kaekae - eat good food (they are taught to eat fruit, vegetable and meat in each meal)

After leaving the Kindergarten, we were taken to Priscilla’s house, where she was very proud to show us her husband’s grave which is next to her house. It’s a very splendid white concrete slab with a lovely headstone showing a picture of her husband - he only passed away 18 months ago and it’s obvious that Priscilla misses him.

Little Girl, BIG Knife

As we walked around we were accompanied by a crowd of kids and a few adults, who came and went. Most of the adults seem to walk around with a machete or at least a long knife, which seems to be an extension of their arm. The thing that intrigues me is the way that kids are constantly handling knives - we see toddlers of 2 years old handling a knife as long as their leg. I took a picture of one little girl who I was sure was going to slit her throat with the knife that she was carrying.

Angela was really on our wavelength, understanding that we were interested in the everyday side of their lives and so she took us to her house, showing us around. Her main house is concrete, with a living room and three bedrooms. She also has two traditionally built huts, which are her kitchen and dining room. It was interesting to see her kitchen with a stone fire for making Laplap and open fire for normal cooking.

Tomman Island is owned by two families (hence “To - Mann”) and the land is split in two. Priscilla belongs to one family called Jimmy and Angela married into the other family called Aisoh. As Angela showed us around, she told us which family owned which land. The ground is obviously very fertile and we were shown through coconut groves and gardens containing banana, taro, papaya, etc

We were shown a nut called the Poison Naval, which is used to paralyse fish. The tough, fibrous outer shell is opened up with a machete, then the nut inside is scraped down to the white part and grated. The grated nut is sprinkled on the surface of a rock pool and five minutes later the paralysed fish float to the surface. With these traditional techniques, I always wonder how they first thought of using things in this way?

One of the main sources of income for the island is copra. Here they use a slightly different method to what we saw in Polynesia. They gather the fallen coconuts from the ground; chop them in half with an axe; flip out the coconut flesh using a special tool; then dry the copra on a platform above an oven fuelled by the coconut husks - much quicker than drying in the sun. They get 300 vatu ($3US) for a bag of dried copra, which is picked up by a cargo boat and taken to Santo to be processed into coconut oil.

Another way of generating hard cash is by harvesting a nut called "Nam Bangura". The hard shells are the size of a walnut and the people gather them from the ground, clean the shell and pack them away in sacks. The nuts get taken away to the USA where they are processed into Tamanu oil, which is supposed to be a natural healing oil . The locals get 200 vatu ($2US) per sack.

One of the wells in Tomman

Before we left, Angela gave us a Lava Lava, which is a gaily coloured map of Vanuatu and we promised to return tomorrow with a few things that they need.

We made it back to the boat by lunchtime and then went for a snorkel on the headland to the south of the bay. The reef drops vertically down to 15 metres very close to the shallow drying reef, so we put our anchor on top of a pinnacle. It was a fabulous spot with lots of large fish and bright coral in clear water.

After returning to the boat, we nipped into Melipe village and handed out prints of photographs that I took yesterday, which were a great hit. We found Melin at her house and gave her a few little things as well as a photograph of her and her daughter. She insisted that we have some Pamplemousse and a huge bundle of Island Cabbage. We retired back to the boat and collapsed.

3 June 2015 Milipe Bay, Malekula
After our breakfast of Pamplemousse, we went over to Tomman Island again with a big bag of things. Priscilla met us on the beach and gave us a few crabs and a fish that she’d cooked, which was nice of her (a bit later she caught us up and gave us a couple of freshly baked bread buns.)

We found Angela teaching at the school and gave her some printed photographs that I’d taken yesterday - the kids loved them. Glenys handed out some things that she’d rustled together for the school and I showed the kids some of the animals that we’ve seen on our travels using our iPad.

Angela again volunteered to accompany us around the village. I handed out photographs to a few of the villagers as we walked around, which is not only fun, but gives us an excuse to go and see people again. We called in at the Kindergarten and gave them some small things like crayons and writing paper. Glenys whipped out a glove puppet which was an instant success (even though it was an "Ambat") and they insisted on singing us a long song about the alphabet.

Ambat (White Skin) Glove Puppet

Yesterday, I’d seen a wind generator, which Angela said didn’t work, so I’d brought in some tools to have a look at it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much wind, so I couldn’t really test it although it was producing some voltage even in the odd breeze. The guy seemed to have it set up correctly, alongside his solar panel, so all I could do was to suggest that he connect it up to a single battery next time that it was windy and try to isolate any problems. It’s very frustrating not being able to help because we are so transient.

Before we left, some of the villagers appeared and gave us drinking coconuts; more pamplemousse; spring onions; a strange, two foot long bean pod called Snake Beans; and a writhing bag of twenty Land Crabs.

Back on the boat, we tackled the crabs, which were very dirty and very feisty. I ended up using a pair of pipe grips to grab each one to dunk it in a bucket of sea water to try to wash it - the crabs went bonkers, but were a little cleaner. Meanwhile, Glenys boiled up some water in a big pan with a trivet and using the pipe grips, I dropped each one into the steam. After seven minutes, we had cooked crabs.

I opened up a couple of the crabs, but the insides were a grim brown colour and there didn’t seem to be much meat in the carapace, so we decided to only eat the claws. Glenys spent a tedious 30 minutes, scrubbing each of the forty claws to remove dirt and we ended up with a nice bowl of clean, red claws. Glenys then spent a further 30 minutes cracking the claws and extracting the meat from which she made a Spicy Chili Crab Pate. The remains of the claws were boiled up in a pan to make a Crab Bisque for lunch tomorrow. Crabs are a lot of work.

Other than labouring with the crabs, we had a quiet afternoon, reading and napping.