Sunday, August 17, 2008

Journal Entry - August 17 - 18, 2008 - What do we do with these pumpkins?

Author: Scott

Tonight we are enroute to Port Vila, the largest city in Vanuatu. It is a beautiful sailing night with gentle winds on our starboard beam. We have spent our last day and a half at Dillon's Bay on the island of Erromango.

Dillon's Bay was our only stop on Erromango Island as there are limited accessible bays on the island. The bay was open and very exposed to the west, but with a short exception where the winds blew from the north, southeast trade wind conditions soon settled in leaving Starship well protected in this somewhat rolly anchorage. At the head of Dillon's Bay is a river that runs inland, with a village meandering along the northern shore. The island is densely forested with tropical vegetation and looks green as far as the eye can see.

Our first night on Erromango was spent settling in to the anchorage. We did not deploy the dinghy but I did have my customary swim. Pam even got wet and we swam over to LL to say hello. The water was deep blue with a very clean white sand bottom below. We did not see a single fish. After the swim we treated ourselves to a shower. Graeme and Rebecca came over for a sunset chat and Pam and I had a quiet night onboard in anticipation of the next day's visit to the island.

This morning we woke up, did the morning coffee routine and awaited our lift on LL's dinghy to shore. Graeme zipped us into shore quickly with the need to lift the engine once as we glided with the tide over a reef at the mouth of the river. Once in the river we made our way upstream with the village on our left. Life seemed to be very peaceful on Erromango with traditional huts, mixed with corrugated iron dwellings. Children played and hollered from the banks, women washed laundry in the river, and many villagers were busy at work completing chores.

We tied the dinghy on the bank near a ladder that had been built to make the bank accessible and we all scampered onshore to have a look. Not really knowing where we were headed, we walked along the riverbank inland. As we walked we were soon greeted by Tona, a muscular local man who had been working on the project to build a primary school. He greeted us with a warm smile and said there was not much in the way of vegetables to offer us but that he had some pumpkins to give us. We graciously declined, not wanting to take any food that may be in short supply, but Tona would not hear of it. He told us to keep walking up the road to a swimming hole and that our pumpkins would be waiting on our return journey.

As we walked through the thick jungle bush we came across two cruisers from another yacht in the bay. They gave us more directions to the swimming hole. We also came across some women who were on their way to work in the village gardens.

When we found the swimming hole, the boys as in Graeme and I immediately surfaced. We shed our shirts, cameras, and splashed our way into the water. At first the water was shallow and I crawled through the water like the alligator I am at heart, however the rocks soon dropped away forming a cool deep swimming hole. Pam and Rebecca stayed ashore and basked on rocks in the sun, shooting photos and video of the boys at play.

We were told by the cruisers we met on shore that the swimming hole had rocks that you could jump off and this was our primary mission. Once we found the rocks we were out of the water and jumping before you could say "be careful". Neither of us were very careful but we survived unscathed after jumping and later diving into the deep water. We spent the next ten minutes completely entertained by the fact that our Crocs (shoes) float, and used them as mini boats, of course having Croc races. Our time in the swimming hole was one more example of how a simple, unexpected and yet wonderful adventure is always waiting around the corner.

We dried off and then headed back to the village to see our new friend Tona. As promised he was waiting on the road with big green pumpkins in hand. These were not the pumpkins that we are accustomed to in the states. These dudes were smaller, harder and as I said very green. Apparently these pumpkins are also common in Australia. Pam and I graciously accepted this gift and simultaneously and psychically communicated, 'what do we do with these things? Tona told us a little about the village life. Apparently the village men had mostly given up drinking kava as he explained that it made the men too lethargic. Since making this change, productivity in the village had increased. He also told us that life is very different for "people who are not white". He said, "we must all work hard every day or our families will not eat." We were a little surprised by the frankness in this racially loaded statement, but it was made with simple honesty and no malice whatsoever. At some point in Tona's experience he has simply come to the conclusion that people who visit Vanuatu do not have to work very hard, and these people are mostly light skinned. I couldn't help thinking back to the sometimes twenty hour days, spent in a workaholic stupor, while I toiled away building my business. We also observed that these hard working people were much more articulate than those we met on Tanna and seemed to be more prideful of their village.

Once back onboard we made preparations to depart, but before leaving we were visited by a bright yellow fishing skiff. Onboard the skiff were five young fishermen in search of some gasoline or petrol as apparently the regular supply boat was running late. They offered to pay us a fair price for any petrol we could spare and we gladly sold them five gallons of spare fuel. Graeme on LL did the same and now the boys would have the necessary fuel to take them fishing for a full day's catch.

We departed the anchorage around 14:00 and the ongoing race was on. Both boats hoisted their sail as the sun was setting. We had a bit of a glitch raising the main, that left us a little behind, but in the light wind we quickly kept pace. Both boats photographed each other and we settled into a nice sail as the sun set and the stars woke up for a beautiful night's show.

Tomorrow we will arrive in Port Vila, a small victory for Starship as we have heard so much about this small city in the south pacific making our next step along this awesome road to discovery.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Journal Entry - August 15, 2008 - The Mighty Yasur

Author: Scott

It seems that as I age there are fewer and fewer instances where my expectations are shattered in a positive way. So often reality presents a more monotonous result than the shiny and vibrant expectations my brain conjures. Today was one of the most underestimated adventures I can remember experiencing as an adult. Today we met Yasur, purported to be the world's most accessible active volcano!

Ever since we longed to sail in Vanuatu we have wanted to visit the island of Tanna, home of Yasur. Stories have circulated among the cruising community of the volcano that has claimed the lives of those who venture too close to the active crater. Even after hearing these tales, we really weren't prepared for what we would experience upon viewing the beast. These stories were actually confirmed on the wall of the Tanna Yacht Club, with the numerous government warnings and an account of three people who were killed one evening when a "bomb" flew directly at the viewers. Last year our friends Bob and Dianna on "White Swan" also visited Yasur and they had shared their experience with us, and even their vivid account of their time with Yasur did not prepare us for how profoundly this adventure would embed itself in our soul.

The day started out functional with chores on the boat, not to mention a bit of a sleep in, still trying to catch up on our rest from the passage from Lifou. Pam answered a knock on the boat in the late morning; it turned out it was our first visit from a dugout canoe in Vanuatu. It was Stanley (our guide from our trip to Lenakel) and four of his nephews visiting yachts in search of someone to make a birthday cake for his two year old daughter, Naomi. Pam apologized that we didn't have any cake making supplies on board. So, their next stop was Graeme and Rebecca on Listowel Lady (LL), Rebecca came through promising a chocolate brownie cake.

After our chores and sleep in, we dinghed over to LL and scooped up Graeme and Rebecca for an exploratory hike on the beach, where we hoped to find the steam vents and possibly a hot spring that we could see from the boats. We had a beautiful zip through the bay and landed the dinghy on a calm black sand beach. No sooner had we arrived than we were visited by many villagers and even more children. Pam became an instant celebrity when she broke out stickers for the kids. From a distance you couldn't even see Pam, as she was surrounded by the mass of children. We eventually got our hiking shoes on and extracted Pam from the horde. A woman named Mary offered to guide us to the vents and hot spring and we set off to have a squiz.

Walking through the palm jungle I had the feeling that a dinosaur could meet us at any turn of the path. There were millions of coconut palms, banyon trees, huge ferns and thousands of other species of flora and fauna. We only had time to visit the first vent, but it made a nice prelude to the upcoming volcano trip. The vent spewed up quite a quantity of sulfurous steam, and Mary said that the hot spring further up the trail served as a place for the villagers to wash laundry. The return trip was a little more parlous, as it was downhill, but the trip back gave Pam and me a chance to test out the walking sticks that we purchased in New Zealand.

We had to rush back to the boats to pickup the birthday cake, as we were invited to attend Naomi's party at 15:00. We were slightly delayed as a villager stopped us as we were preparing to depart the beach and asked Graeme to trade gasoline for some fruit and vegetables. Graeme agreed to provide the gasoline, but the man would have to paddle his canoe out to LL because there was not enough room for a fifth passenger in the dinghy. We had a short rest at LL while we waited for the villager to paddle his way out to the boat, but once the gas was provided we were off to land again.

This next visit to land would be our final trip to land for the day. We came equipped with all our cameras and gear necessary for the volcano trip at 16:00. When we arrived to the village we were immediately offered palm frons and woven mats allowing us to sit in the center of the village on the hard pack of dirt. At first we sat with villagers staring from a distance but with little contact, then slowly we were visited by many children, dogs, pigs, and eventually the adults came over to interact. We soon realized that all this attention was due in part to the fact that the truck would be late from town and so therefore our trip to the volcano would be delayed. To further put us at ease and maybe sooth and butter us up a little, we were offered heaping plates of rice, grated papaya cooked in coconut milk, a green gelatinous material cut into squares, and some form of cooked animal that we all secretly hoped was pork. Pam and I had wrapped up a green hat for Naomi and she seemed to like it, at least we think she liked it as her English two year old vocabulary was limited to "hello, hello, HEllO, hello". Graeme and I also took the time to introduce ourselves to Ron the village Chief. Ron is 78, suffers from asthma, and has a very good use of the Queens English. We chitchatted about life in the village and finally it was time to pay for the tour and meet the truck. Although we did eat in the village we never did really participate in the birthday festivities.

When the truck arrived we learned that the vehicle would be different from the truck we rode to town in the previous day. This truck was a little more rickety looking with a metal cage of bars over the back to hold on to. The four of us were joined by Jim and Martha from the day before and another American couple. This made eight in the back of the truck, a squishy fit. The ride to the volcano was as jarring and abusive on the backside as the trip the day before. We also soon discovered that though the cage of bars around us gave us something to hold on to, they turned out to be a brain bashing addition to our experience riding in the rolling torture chamber. The ride out to the volcano took nearly an hour and we were in near darkness upon our arrival.

The parking lot for the vehicles is about a quarter mile from the crest of the crater. The entire terrain has a mars like quality, amplified under the bright moonlight of a nearly full moon. I would have felt right at home if were wearing space helmets, talking on radios, with our ray guns strapped to our sides. Instead we were equipped with hiking shoes, flashlights, camera gear, and our trusty walking sticks. Our young driver, suspiciously called our "guide", gave us about two sentences of a warning: "If a bomb flies in the air don't turn your back and run, just stand and watch it like a cricket ball, and then move out of the way". Oh great I thought, this visually impaired guy has been hit by just about every kind of ball imaginable and now I would be dodging hot lava with my incredible low-vision ball tracking prowess. I was in trouble!

The climb to the crater is steep with the path strewn with rocks from prior explosions. I kept thinking that I could be standing where each of the rocks came to earth, this experience was definitely a flirt with the odds, but unlike winning the lotto, when you get hit by the unlikely molten bolder you don't become a millionaire, you just become squished and dead.

As we climbed the hill an eerie silence fell over us all, and our exuberance from earlier turned to solemn whispers. There is something about potential danger that makes people quiet. From our vantage point, down the hill from the mouth of the crater we could see huge puffs of smoke with a red glow at the base of the crater. As we drew nearer we could hear the rumble of the volcano and with each stop closer we could hear the thud of projectile rocks striking the ashy surface of the crater, and those thuds didn't sound all that far away. I was walking with Graeme and Pam was walking further down the hill with Rebecca and as we made each stop to wait for the others to catch up I could hear more and more lava "bombs" landing closer.

When we finally reached the vantage point where the other viewers were gazing fixedly down the mouth of Yasur, I had the briefest of seconds to think 'now that red pit of lava doesn't look so bad', when to my complete terror the ground beneath my feet shook with a tremendous roar. The red semi-safe looking lava exploded before my eyes. It was like someone turned on a sun-strength blow torch and we were going to be barbecue. I remember thinking "holly s---" and unconsciously stepping back. The torrent of fire shot straight up hundreds of feet in the air, and lava bombs fell all around us, somehow just falling short of our vantage point. Someone in the crowd eeked out a shaky "that was the best so far tonight". I actually thought "this isn't safe maybe we should go". Just then, the column of fire died down, I caught my breath, and as if to underscore my concern for safety and survival, Yasur erupted again with an equal furry. This next blast seemed to freeze my brain in time, because in the few seconds of the fury, I had time to think with complete clarity. 'How can it be that people are allowed to do this? In the states with hyperactive litigation rampant there is no way this would be allowed. I know that people have died doing the very same thing I am standing here doing, and yet each night people come to witness this incredible spectacle. There is no fence, no net, no return from a step too far forward. Not to mention that at any time a molten blob of lava rock could shoot into the sky and erase any of us from existence. FAR OUT! How can I ever forget this experience? It is the force of nature caught in an instant, the spark that builds worlds, the roots of our existence, unbelievable!' In that instant I knew I was changed somehow.

At some point my own self preservation instinct was lost in the glory of the experience. The eruptions became something that my fear could grasp and I stood transfixed with the others wanting more and staring almost catatonic into the abyss of Yasur. More fire, more thumps, more noise, we want more! At that moment I probably would have stood there fixed in my shoes and been evaporated by a bigger and grander display if it were an option. I have simply never seen something so raw and awe inspiring. So, I stood there as Yasur built up energy and breathed fury into the sky.

I don't remember any of the individual eruptions now, just a stream of waiting, explosion, fire, lava, noise, waiting, glowing, heat, fire. We were all communicating but if there were a tape recorder it would probably sound something like this: "Wow! That is so… Did you see… I wonder… WwwwooooooW! Did you get that? Oh my god… I'm scared!"

The spell for me was finally broken and I came out of my stupor as I heard our driver telling us it was time to go. I think we would have just all stood there glassy eyed through the night if we weren't pried from the spot. We each slowly and begrudgingly turned away from the mighty Yasur and started our trek back towards the truck. With each new fit from Yasur we were stopped in our tracks to whirl around and get a final glimpse at Yasur's wrath. Finally, I was standing by the truck with my memory on rewind and replay.

The trip back was just as bumpy but we were now volcano viewing veterans. The shrieks and protests were cut in half with our minds as numb as our backsides from the potholes. At some point the truck stopped so a young man could jump on the rear bumper hanging on to the cage and Pam quietly pointed out that he was holding on to the metal bars above me with a huge bush knife teetering over my head. 'No problem' I thought, I have faced Yasur tonight, I am invincible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Journal Entry - August 13 & 14, 2008 - Tanna, Vanuatu

Author: Pam

Since leaving New Zealand more than a year ago visiting Tanna and the renowned Yasur volcano has been very high on our list of places we were hoping to visit. However, only after hearing about Yasur from other cruisers did seeing an active volcano find its way to my list of things I might like to do in this lifetime. I can't say I had really thought much about standing on the edge of a volcano while it spews molten rock and ash (possibly in my direction) before adding it to our list of places we intended to sail to.

We arrived in Port Resolution at 0900 and dropped the anchor in what is now our ninth country we will have the privilege of visiting. We are flying our Vanuatu courtesy flag and the yellow Q (quarantine) flag. However, we know that we have to go to shore to organize a trip across the island to Lenakel to check in with the authorities. Once we were comfortable that the hook was set, we deployed our dinghy and went over to pick up Graeme and Rebecca for a trip to shore. From the anchorage there was no sign of Yasur, but there were at least two visible vents on the hillside overlooking the anchorage exhaling white smoke.

We landed the dinghy on the beach next to a path that we decided not to take and headed along the beach towards where we all thought the yacht club might be located. We found a path that took us into a small village where a few men were seemingly "hanging" around. We asked for information on where we would find the person who organizes the trips across the island for yachties. They explained the truck had gone across the island for the day, but they would let the driver know we needed a lift and that we should be at the yacht club at 0800. They then directed us to the yacht club, which incidentally was at the top of the path where we had parked the dinghy.

As we wound our way through the very lush center of the island we encountered children probably walking home for lunch and lots of dogs, pigs, cows, chickens and other animals just meandering around. Along the way we met Mariam who is a primary school teacher, one of the Chief's daughters and Stanley's sister. Stanley was apparently the man we were looking for. According to Mariam he is next in line to be chief, but he is also the man who organizes trips to Lenakel to check in and up to see the mighty volcano. She assured us she would let Stanley know we needed a ride the next day. At this point though we had not talked to him ourselves, we figured we had our bases covered by the multiple people who were now going to let him know of our arrival. We continued walking as a light mist was falling until we came upon the yacht club.

Come to find out and as these things seem to go, we were not surprised to find out The Port Resolution Yacht Club and Cabin was also run by no other than Stanley. The yacht club is a building has a dirt floor, a long table and chairs, a toilet sitting by the door waiting to be installed, two friendly kittens, flags and burgees that yachties have contributed hanging from the rafters all under one thatched roof. You can apparently eat there and buy a cold beer, but that must be only during certain unpublished hours, there was no one about. The cabins overlook the beautiful turquoise water. They are very rustic and the furniture consisted of two cots. There was a separate building with a toilet and shower, with a space for a second toilet, presumably the one hanging about in the yacht club. Satisfied we had accomplished organizing our trip across the island we headed back to the boats to do a few chores and catch a few zzzz's. We have been finding overnight passages quite exhausting, it is not enough time to get into any kind of routine and neither one of us slept well. While we were napping two women off of one of the yachts dropped by Listowell Lady and let them know that Stanley was expecting us at 0700 at the yacht club for our adventure across the island.

We arrived at 0700 to find another couple, Jim and Martha waiting in the yacht club for Stanley as well. Jim and Martha are on a motor launch and they are from Florida. We all hung out and chatted and waited for Stanley who was apparently on island time. He and our chariot arrived at 0800. Now, when I was a kid I loved the rare opportunities we got to ride in the back of my Dad's truck (or anyone else's for that matter). But, nothing could have prepared me and my tail/sit bones for four hours of sitting on a narrow plank with a very thin cushion (that would not stay under my butt) on an almost entirely unpaved and pothole laden road. We headed out giggling at the sight of six yachties and two local guys bouncing and hanging on for dear life in the back of the red pick-up truck that would take two hours one way to reach Lenakel. There was one paved section that may have been two miles long, talk about a short lived relief.

As we reached the center of the island we came around a corner and there was Yasur in all its glory. The foliage abruptly ended as we drove across barren earth of volcanic ash and rocks. We had to shelter our faces as we looked in awe at the smoke and ash spewing out of the top of this mighty dragon and sprinkling down on our heads as we passed by. Wow, we are going to get up close and friendly to that, the concept became real instantly. Tomorrow was going to be one of the most exciting days of my life.

We arrived in Lenakel and the first stop was the bank where we were hoping to use an ATM to get the Vatu (Vanuatu currency) to pay the eminent arrival fees. We all climbed out of the back of the truck with some groans and relief to be on solid ground. That ride was more difficult than most of our ocean passages and we still have to go back, ouch. Ah well, there was not an ATM in Lenakel. We converted the Australian dollars we had and lucky for us Rebecca and Graeme had enough money to make up for what we were lacking. Incidentally, we had tried to get Vatu before leaving New Caledonia and there was none to be had. Once we had the cash needed, we all piled back into the truck and it was reminiscent to climbing back on a horse, at least my tail bone told me so.

We drove a couple more miles to the Immigration office. Stanley apparently rounded up the Quarantine Officer or at least he introduced himself as representing the Quarantine department. As we sat on the front porch of the Immigration Office we were handed forms to fill out for Quarantine and Immigration and we then met with each officer one by one. The Quarantine Officer was very casual and did not seem at all worried about what we had on board. He gave us a form back, which Stanley later said was not valid because he did not stamp it. He didn't have any problem taking our 3000 VT (approx, $30.00 USD). Stanley said he would call ahead to Port Vila and inform them we had all gone through the proper channels. As an aside, this did not happen. Stanley turned out to be basically a kava stoned player, who was not a man of his word and focused mostly on how he could take advantage of his position of power. I was not impressed and I felt badly for the rest of the people in his village who clearly did not benefit from the money he brought into the island. Anyway, I digressed. We paid the Immigration Officer 2000 VT each and were granted a 30 day visa for Vanuatu, with the provision we could extend it if we would like to stay longer. It was approaching 11:30 (most offices and businesses close between 11:30 and 1:00) so we needed to dash off to the Customs office. Actually, the Customs Officer was attending the celebration for the new Education Center that was under way next to the Immigration office, so Stanley rounded him up and he met us at his office. We paid him another 2000 VT and received a sealed envelope from him that we are supposed to deliver to the Customs office in Port Vila.

With our official business completed lunch was our next order of business. We walked down the road a short way to a restaurant overlooking the water. The menu for the day was printed on a chalkboard outside the door, fish, rice and veg for 500 VT ($5.00). We sat down with several locals on a bench at a long table. The restaurant had a dirt floor, open sides and a cat that was winding its way under the table. Plates of food were brought out one or two at a time, there was no need to place your order, just sitting down indicated you wanted lunch. The fish was Lolo, it was nice and had a texture a bit like chicken. A pitcher of watery pink drink arrived and several glasses. It was truly a local food experience. Scott and Graeme cleaned their plates and once again I was not quite as adventurous as I constantly waved the flies off of my food.

After lunch we walked back to the bank so Rebecca could exchange more money, again for the benefit of all of us. We checked out the grocery store and Beck bought ten eggs and some tinned tomatoes. Scott and Graeme bought a couple of Tuskers, Vanuatu beer. The store was probably the only one in town and just had a smattering of tinned food, eggs, potatoes and onions. All of the prices were hand written on scraps of paper on the edges of the shelves. There were also a few house wares and other items, though it was in the same building it may have actually been a separate store, I wasn't quite sure. After lunch Stanley disappeared with the truck, so we waited outside of the store on a rock wall until he and the rest of the gang showed up. We all climbed back into the truck and I must say the thin wooden plank and cushion felt even thinner. On the way back it became an exercise of testing my upper body strength as I tried not to actually sit. We had collected a few more passengers, one guy from Canada who was on holiday for three months in Vanuatu and was headed to one of the cabins at the Port Resolution Yacht Club and several local guys. I think we got up to ten people in the back of the truck, bunches of bananas, kava and other items that were collected along the way, foot room became a commodity.

We stopped at a market on the way back, where Rebecca and Jim bought bunches of corn. Which Rebecca shared, but it turned out to be inedible no matter how long I cooked it. We arrived back at the Yacht Club at 1600 sore, tired, filthy (from Yasur) and totally excited about the plans we made with Stanley to visit Yasur in 24 hours. We paid Stanley our 2000 VT each for the truck ride of our lives and headed back out to our respective boats. Though we were filthy, we cleaned up a bit, but decided we would wait and use our precious water for a shower after we visit Yasur. What a day and we are definitely not in Kansas.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Journal Entry - August 12, 2008 - Lifou, A Special Place!

Author: Scott

Our departure from New Caledonia was made extra sweet after spending one wonderful day and night on Lifou Island, one of the three islands making up the Loyalty islands, a Provence of New Caledonia. After spending a night at sea we arrived at the town of We (way), the capital of the Island Provence, approximately 80 miles northeast from the Havana Pass exit from the barrier reef.

Upon arriving in the bay we learned that there was absolutely no anchoring and the only option was a stay at the small marina or to keep sailing to Vanuatu. We have continued to sail with Listowel Lady, and I am bound to report that after our first day at sea, Listowel Lady is winning the ongoing race, as she reached the bay first. Graeme and Rebecca braved the entrance to the very small marina, and arranged for Lulu the manager of the marina to pilot Starship safely to a berth. The entrance is narrow, curvy and surrounded by hull crunching rocks. As we successfully and independently reached our destination, we welcomed Lulu's assistance parking in this foreboding marina.
Inside the confines of the marina breakwater, we were treated to the bluest water we have seen since the Society Islands. The water was baby blue with a turtle paddling by the stern of our yacht. The fingers were thin and small so Graeme and I attached a stern line to keep our sterns pinned against the fingers of the dock.

Once each boat was settled we decided to nap and have lunch then visit the town to find a bank to get money for our marina bills, and a post office to mail post cards. We rode the local mini bus to town, costing 100 CFP. We found the bank and an automatic teller, but when we finally found the OPT (post office), they were closed for the day. We would just have to send our New Caledonia post cards from Vanuatu, par for the course for the crew of Starship.

We walked back to the boats and were treated to views of traditional huts, a pretty church and graveyard, and best of all a flawless white sandy beach with lovely water of every hue of blue and green. I could not resist the temptation to have a splash in the water that was as warm as most swimming pools. When we finally returned to the boats, Graeme and I had just enough time to dive on our respective boats to give the props and our hulls a good scrub down. We are racing after all and we each wanted to have our boats in prime racing condition. I was down one leg (and a beer) so I was extra keen for a good prop scrubbing.

Our plan for tomorrow is a daylight departure. We will sail all day and night to Tanna Island, Vanuatu, the home of the long awaited Yasur Volcano. Tomorrow we will step out into some of the most remote destinations we will visit on our entire journey. I am so excited that it will be hard to sleep tonight.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Journal Entry - August 10, 2008 - Country Details & Impressions of Nouvelle Caledonie

Author: Pam & Scott

After two months in New Caledonia here are some of our impressions and observations:

We are back in a land of cars driving on the right hand side of the road after being in New Zealand and Australia and trying to adjust to the cars driving on the left. The drivers here in Noumea are not good about stopping for pedestrians and it definitely feels like you take your life in your hands every time you cross the street. It has also been interesting being back in a country where you also pass on the right as you are walking after passing on the left for the past couple of years. It's good for Scott, he never got very good at passing on the left.

Many lights in public building's common areas i.e. hallways and restrooms are on timers, leaving you to often walk into semi darkness looking for the light switch.

On the surface New Cal looks like a dirty town, but as you explore you discover "galleries" which lead from the street to hidden mazes of "up market" (as they would say in Australia) boutiques and shops such as Hermes… The city has a distinct temporary feel to it, almost as if they are preparing in advance for the day that the nickel resources diminish and Noumea fades into a ghost town.

The showers at the marina have buttons you push to turn on the water, and push you must about every ten seconds. This is apparently very French and I suppose a way of conserving water, though I have not figured out how yet. It doesn't seem to change the length of the shower time, it just keeps you busy trying to keep the button pushed before the water actually turns off. It is also not unusual to walk into the "women's or men's toilet" to take a shower and find you are sharing the space with one or more couples sharing a shower and speaking French. The TP holders also have small padlocks; cruisers are apparently notorious for stealing toilet paper, go figure.

When you are out and about in Noumea you encounter many Melanesian woman wearing unflattering but bright colored moo moos. As well as, shops where you can purchase your very own moo moo, or the fabric to make one for yourself.

The internet service throughout the country is very slow and very expensive. We feel like spoiled Americans, but on the other hand we have experienced some incredible internet connections in the middle of nowhere, like Niue island. On Niue you could sit under a palm tree and access a free, fairly fast wifi connection.

The air quality in Noumea is very poor due to the dust from the nickel factory and the smell from the sewage that they don't have a good management system for. It is especially bad at times at the Port Moselle Marina. The running joke on the bad days is that we are all berthed in a dirty toilet.

There is a growing homeless population in Noumea, but we have not gotten to the bottom of why it is growing. We experienced blatant pan handling unlike anything we ever experienced in San Francisco (which is amazing to us). Two times while we were making a withdrawal from an ATM there was someone standing right next to the machine asking for money before we even started to make the transaction. We said "no" and they continue to stand there and ask. We encountered some pretty bold people in SF, but I have never experienced that at an ATM.

The people are very friendly and helpful. When you walk along the marina or any of the docks everyone says "bonjour". It is not the same when you are walking the city streets, but near the water it seems that is what you do. I have also been told that there is much more interest in learning English in the past few years then in the past. The other day we were in line at the grocery store and I had a very memorable and special experience. In front of us was a Dad with his approximately eight year old daughter. She wanted to step between Scott and I to choose the sweets her Dad had finally given in to (kids are kids all over the world) and she said, "excuse me" and "thank you" when Scott moved out of her way. I said "your welcome" and her Dad said to me she is practicing her English. He then asked her if she knew "your welcome", she said "yes". He then asked if we were Australian and was quite surprised when we responded American and that we had sailed from San Francisco. He translated this to his daughter, who then looked at us with wide eyes and a huge smile. She then asked her Dad in French how to say "have a nice day", (which I was amazed that I understood) and we ended our little "practice" session with warm wishes and smiles. It was truly lovely.

The school years are defined and delineated in New Cal differently than in the US. The first six years are primary school (5 - 10 years old), the next four years are college (10 - 15 years old) and the final three years are high school. Many teachers work a maximum of three hours a day.

I had to get a prescription filled here and the language barrier was an example of how you have to be very careful and pay attention to what you think is right. The medication in the US is one pill. Here to meet the dosage it is three that you take all at once. So, when I got back to the boat and opened the box I was expecting three pills (and I was told I should take them all at once, which I knew was right). Well, much to my surprise there were seven pills. So, we went back to the pharmacy to confirm whether I was suppose to take three pills or seven, which seemed wrong. Long story short, yes I was supposed to take three, which is all the Dr. prescribed. But, the pharmacy sells it in lots of seven. I was ok with getting a second dose of three, but what am I supposed to do with the ONE pill left over? "Well, that is how they do it here", was the response.

Food doesn't seem as expensive in New Caledonia as it was in French Polynesia, but it is still quite spendy. We have decided it is comparable to Australia, which we found to be an expensive country. However, fruit and vegetables are very expensive here and the options are definitely limited. I have yet to see a fresh mushroom, though I am sure there are some here somewhere and we saw a small container of strawberries for $15.00 US dollars the other day. I didn't need to have strawberries that badly.

Country Details (from the internet):
New Caledonia was settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island was made a French possession in 1853. New Caledonia became an Overseas Territory of France in 1956.
In 1864 France set up a penal colony in New Caledonia. The prison closed in 1897. Agitation for independence during the 1980s and early 1990s has dissipated. The 1998 Noumea Accord allowed for increased autonomy for New Caledonia over a fifteen to twenty year period. Up to three referenda, carried out between 2013 and 2015, will determine independence from France.
Location: Oceania, islands in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Australia. Geographic coordinates: 21 30 S, 165 30 E. Area: Total: 19,060 sq km, land: 18,575 sq km (7,174 sq miles), water: 485 sq km. Coastline: 2,254 km Area - comparative: Slightly smaller than New Jersey.
New Caledonia consists of the main island, known as Grande Terre, the Isle of Pines, the Loyalty Islands and a number of small islands. Grande Terre was part of the giant continent of Gondwana which started to break apart over one hundred million years ago. The Loyalty Islands - Lifou, Mare and Ouvea are atolls.

Climate and Terrain: Tropical; modified by southeast trade winds; hot, humid. Coastal plains with interior mountains. Elevation extremes: Lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m, highest point: Mont Panie 1,628 m
People Population: 207,858 (July 2002 est.)
The indigenous population of New Caledonia are the Kanaks who arrived in the archipelago around three thousand years ago. New Caledonia is called Kanaky by the Kanak people.

Languages: French (official), 33 Melanesian-Polynesian dialects.
Government: Overseas territory of France since 1956. Capital: Noumea.
Economy overview: New Caledonia has more than 20% of the world's known nickel resources. In recent years, the economy has suffered because of depressed international demand for nickel, the principal source of export earnings. Only a negligible amount of the land is suitable for cultivation, and food accounts for about 20% of imports. In addition to nickel, the substantial financial support from France and tourism are keys to the health of the economy. The situation in 1998 was clouded by the spillover of financial problems in East Asia and by lower prices for nickel. Nickel prices jumped in 1999-2000, and large additions were made to capacity.
Statistics: Telephones - main lines in use: 47,000. Telephones - mobile cellular: 13,040. Radio broadcast stations: AM 1, FM 5. Radios: 107,000 (1997) Television broadcast stations: 6 (plus 25 low-power repeaters). Televisions: 52,000. Internet country code: .nc Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 1. Internet users: 5,000. Railways: 0 km Highways: total: 4,825 km, paved: 2,287 km, unpaved: 2,538 km. Airports: 29.) Heliports: 6. (these statistics were not dated, but it gives a reasonable example of the size of the population, country and advancements in technology).

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Journal Entry - August 9, 2008 - New Caledonia Astern - Vanuatu Here we come!

Author: Scott

This morning we threw off the mooring lines after spending just over two months in New Caledonia, where we were originally only spending about a week on our way to Vanuatu.
Like so many times on this voyage, the unexpected has become the reality and with the experience has come a wide mixture of emotions. On one hand, we certainly were not expecting the damage and expense that came with our Coral Sea crossing and the amount of time and frustration that came with making the necessary repairs. On the other hand, we have met such an array of wonderful and kind people in New Caledonia. Thoughts of our new and special friends have been drifting through my mind all day. I have often said that the voyage determines the destinations and this has been so true for our time in New Caledonia. We will treasure the memories we have from spending time with Nathaniel and Malia, our visit to the Blind Association, our tour of the island with Michel and Viviane, and the warm and hospitable lunch with Michelle and Gerard and their family, just to mention a few of the fantastic memories.

There always seems to be a group of smiling well wishers on the dock when we depart, and today was no exception. Thanks to Brett and Sandy for their help and friendship and goodbye to all of those friends we left waving goodbye on the "Visitors Pontoon". Our first day away from the marina was spent in the rainy New Caledonia lagoon as we followed Listowel Lady south to Port Boise anchorage, a large and calm anchorage positioned at the entry to the Havana Pass, our exit from the barrier reef surrounding New Caledonia.

Tonight we had a delicious barbequed steak dinner. The boat gently swayed on anchor as we were each content with our thoughts of what the next leg of this incredible journey will bring.