Port Vila…Mascalyne…Espiritu Santos
Kia Orana Tatou!
Port Vila was alot of fun! It turned out that we had arrived exactly at the right time to catch an annual music festival (every 21st June) held on the waterfront and around the town area. It was organised really well, night markets in one area, food selling everywhere, and with a large variety of bands playing at different venues around the town, all within walking distance of each other, and all playing different genres! For instance, the two main areas consisted of a pavillion right on the waterfront that had bands alternating with reggae and rock music, then another stage a bit further down that was catering to the younger generation with pop and hip hop music spun by a DJ…along with dance competitions and performers! There were other smaller venues around the town area, and playing in bars and restaurants as well…with all sorts of groups ranging from blues & soul, to R&B, to heavier rock, to alternative…but most of the time the stages would end up back on reggae which seems to be the staple music diet of Vanuatu…and of course enjoyed by all Pacific Islanders like us! Later on we would see all the rasta colours and merchandise selling in the shops which confirmed our earlier suspicions of the reggae genre favouritism Everyone had an amazing first evening in town exploring Port-Vila-by-night and enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of this great festival that seemed to be custom made for us! Meitaki Maata Port Vila!
The next day in Vila was left free for the official reception into Vanuatu. This was held in a nice grassy area in front of a pavillion right on the waterfront area, with many dignitaries, church groups and cultural groups attending, speaking and performing. We were greeted and welcomed onto shore by the chief of this area and then treated to some unique cultural performances by a few different groups. As we got into the groove of their rhythmic music, a few of the voyagers couldn’t resist but to jump up and join in the Vanuatu dancing…especially our marumaru reps of Tua, Uirangi, Jah, Numa and James…they all had heaps of fun with everyone trying to imitate the movements of the local boys!
After the performances there was the customary kava ceremony…but this was no normal kava…this was the famed Vanuatu kava which is prepared in a much different way than most kava around the Pacific…and renowned for being extra strong! The announcer had been boasting about it and building us up to try the kava since the beginning of the function, so we were all raring to go once the mix master was ready to start dishing out the bowls. We’ve all tried Fijian kava and a few of us have tried kava in Tahiti and Hawaii…but nothing prepared us for this new taste experience! The difference with Vanuatu kava is that it isn’t dried and pounded before mixing…it is dug up and then pounded and squeezed almost straight away, giving a much fresher and potent effect! We only had one large bowl each (about the size of a large coffee mug), but that was enough! The taste was bitter and potent and numbed your mouth and tongue straight away…for the next few minutes you are focused on finding something to get rid of the lingering bad taste in your mouth, and luckily the locals had thought ahead and had plates of fresh fruit circulating for us to eat! By the time you’ve found the fruit, sat down to eat it and gotten rid of the taste, the real effect of the kava hits you and you end up with a slight unbalanced and lightheaded feeling…the effect of this first bowl also leaves you quite happy, energized and talkative! If continually consumed you’ll end up with the usual effects of kava which is a relaxed sleepy feeling, but for us on our first bowl we were content to stick with this initial ‘upper’ buzz that we had and chill while the singers continued to entertain us there…we are discovering how to relax in Vanuatu!
After this we had some beautiful lunch provided by the locals then some free time in which we topped up our vakas on the most precious resource…water! Afterwards we had a bit of time to roam the town and shop for a few items…some of us boys who were keen for a bit of shopping, but are not so adept at this ‘art’, latched onto the tailcoats of some of our Marumaru girls who turned out to be most effective navigators in ferreting out the best deals for us! Always good to have specialist retail skills around! Meitaki Maata girls!
A little later we all met up at the Anchorage Inn for a final practice of our presentations before the Solomons…it was also an opportunity for, Dieter, who flew in for the Vanuatu sails, to view our presentations and give his comments. As it turned out all the presentations went very smoothly and Dieter was very happy with what he saw! He only had a few comments about rearranging the order of the presentations but otherwise all was hunky-dory! Afterwards there was a bit of free time before departure for us to re-supply and do a little evening sightseeing. Most people used this time to jump on the internet to email family, others found their favourite foods and treated themselves, while others explored the kava bars for a new experience and a further taste of the famous Vanuatu mixes!
That evening after slipping lines, amidst church choir groups awesome singing in the pavillion once again, we headed towards our second destination in the Vanuatu group…Mascalyne island! The reason for this stop is that 4 of the crew members of Hine Moana are from Vanuatu, and all from this particular island, so it was fitting that we all went to their homeland to allow them time to see their families, but also to honour the island with the return of some of their favourite sons! It was a great stop with us being hosted by Kalo (one of the Vanuatu crew) and his family on the first night and then a presentation and reception by the whole village the next day at the local school grounds. The sun came out for us and it was a fantastic day where we were able to present to the people and mix, mingle and share with the children…one of our favourite activities on the voyage! The people even made a monument out of concrete in honour of our visit with a short description of our voyage and the Vaka names on it! This was a really cool thing they did for us and we had a short ceremony there to dedicate it, and then for a few vakas to lay stones on top of it as a mark of respect. Afterwards we were treated to a beautiful lunch served under a shady tree before beginning the ‘entertainment; part of the afternoon. One of the standout groups we saw there was a local stringband that harmonized really well and even tweaked their welcome song to include a part about Te Mana o te Moana voyage! Thank you guys! The children then all sang the Vanuatu national anthem for us which was beautiful! We performed various hakas for them in return to the absolute delight of the local people, especially the children! I noticed groups of kids afterwards doing their best to imitate the hakas and having a great time trying to piece them together again…seemed like they were having great fun! We spent a really cool relaxing day with these people on the school grounds and roamig around their village before returning to our Vakas in the late afternoon. That night we pulled anchor and departed Mascalyne and set our bows towards our 3rd and final destination in Vanuatu….Espiritu Santos!
Early this morning we arrived in Luganville Bay on Espiritu Santos and tied up to Melkove Wharf, a small fishing wharf about 5 minutes drive out of town. The captains set off straight away into town on the tiny local taxis to see customs and get us cleared to roam around the island. We were cleared about 2 hours later so we piled into the very next taxi van and set off to Luganville town to check it out. Mostly we were just keen to stretch our legs and see the sights, so we spent the next 5 hours roaming around doing different things like shopping, getting phone cards to ring home, and waiting to check internet at the one internet place in town! Later on in the afternoon, mostly everyone ended up congregating at a local cafe with a broad deck where we could all sit, chat and eat, to have one last meal on dry land before we set off to sea once again!
After that everyone could be seen ducking into various supermarkets to stock up on snacks, chocolates, fizzy drinks, and any other goodies that people might want to take on board for their private stashes!…and of course it served the dual purpose of getting rid of any last bits of the local ‘vatu’ currency we might be holding.
We returned to the Vaka by about 4pm and began to prepare her for our scheduled departure at 5pm….however the supplies we needed were delayed so we had to wait….after it got dark and we still hadn’t received them the captains made the call to stay overnight to stock up properly then leave at first light. Not wanting to waste any time, Uirangi promptly called a song and dance practise for us to polish up on anything we might need to before the Solomons….so we spent the next hour and a half singing, dancing, laughing, and just enjoying ourselves and our Cook Islands culture on our small Vaka, far across the ocean, far from home…
This morning we were up just after dawn to have last minute showers and then prepare a good breakfast of french toast, fried eggs, cereals, and hot drinks for everyone! Afterwards we cleaned up our Mama Vaka and topped up on water supplies. We are now just waiting for our last supplies to arrive which are bags of ice to put in the coolers to help maintain our fresh goods over the next few days at sea. So we’re just lounging around now, talking and preparing ourselves mentally for this upcoming sail. Captain has advised us that it should be a fast sail with an average of 20knot winds all the way…so we’re expecting medium to rough conditions and preparing to be wet again for most of this leg…we’re anticipating 4-5 days to get there and we’re looking forward to sailing well and arriving in Solomons with plenty of time to spare so we can practise a few times more to prepare ourselves for the Arts festival.
We’re all starting to feel the finale approaching…the culmination of all these months of voyaging to get to our target, our destination, our purpose, in the Solomons for the Pacific Arts Festival…to bring our cultural message combined with our environmental one to this gathering of the entire Pacific Peoples! As always, we look forward to this last major challenge for us! Ka Aere Tatou! Let’s go!
Alexander Teariki Olah
Luganville Bay, Espiritu Santos