Efate, Lelepa and Nguna – a small taste of Vanuatu

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Vanuatu for almost a month already. We’ve crammed in so much that time has simply disappeared as though swallowed by a black hole. It’s entirely possible that we’ve done and seen more of this country in the last month than we did in Marquesas over 6 months. I won’t write about it all in this post, I’ve got to leave something for Alex to write about after all, but here’s a small taste of our Vanuatuan adventures so far.

Efate

The tiring sail up to Vanuatu from New Zealand was well worth the effort, particularly because I knew my parents were waiting for me at the other end. They currently live in Thailand where my mum works as a teacher and my Dad is enjoying his retirement. They spent a good portion of the school summer holidays visiting Australia and decided to take the opportunity to fly from there to Vanuatu to visit us. It’s a long way for them to come and we’re honoured they decided to make the trip, particularly as my Dad hates flying with a deep passion! Moreover, he likes to feed his fear by watching documentaries about plane crashes in the weeks leading up to a flight. I have absolutely no idea how my Mum managed to convince him to, firstly, move to Thailand in the first place; and secondly, to spend the summer holidays globe trotting to distant corners of the planet to see his one and only daughter. Despite his impending doom he came along anyway. He must really love me! 🙂 All jokes aside, I think they both had a lot of fun and we thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. Even though I don’t see my parents as often since I started this voyage, the time we do spend together is of better quality and I appreciate it all the more because of that.

We spent many an afternoon and evening chilling out on Bob. The last time my Mum was on board was in a very rolly anchorage in Galapagos and she got quite ill. This time the anchorage was much more sheltered so it was much nicer for her.

This is the first time my Dad has seen Bob and it was great to be able to show him our home and way of life. He seemed to enjoy the experience and learning more about it.

We made the most of the good trade winds and took them for a day sail, which is a first for both of them I believe. They both took turns on helm which of course made mine and Alex’s job much easier.

We took advantage of the nice beach, snorkelling and paddle boarding offered by the resort where my parents were staying.

We had a lot of fun at the blue lagoon. It’s a pool of brackish water near the coast which is a beautiful vibrant blue colour, perhaps because of the mineral composition in the water.

 

We took a trip to The Summit gardens to see the famous view and enjoy the ornamental flora. We were disappointed to find the place was closed to the public due to damage from a Cyclone back in 2015. All was not lost however! After speaking to one of the local gardeners (a wonderful guy named Thompson) we ended up having our own private tour through the gardens with a very experienced and knowledgable local. This secret gem was definitely one of my highlights of Efate, here are some of the photos:

Lelepa

We bid my parents a heartfelt goodbye before heading to some of the smaller islands just north of Efate. First stop, Lelepa. Lelepa is part of an area with significant historical relevance. It was in a cave on this island where a famous chief died some 400 years ago. He was famous for bringing peace to the region after a long period of suffering and conflict. An entire island just west of Lelepa was dedicated as his burial site and around 40 of his friends and family were killed and buried with him. Whether they volunteered for this or not remains a mystery, but it is a sign of great respect for the paramount chief to be honoured with this type of ceremony and resting place.

This is a bat cave in the north of Lelepa. It may not be the death place of the famous chief but I’m sure there have been dead bodies in here at some point in the past. Bats were everywhere and unlike the U.K., you don’t need a special licence to go and see them. Whether or not the bats were happy about the disturbance we caused is another matter.

We had also heard there was a resident dugong mother and her pup hanging around in the waters just a short walk from the anchorage. We set off with snorkel fins in hand at the hope of seeing this unusual creature. We split up our search efforts and amazingly, I was the lucky one who came across the dugongs first. I say I ‘came across’ them but really they found me. I was swimming with them for a whole 10 minutes before the others arrived and quickly scared them away. At least they got a glimpse even if it was only for a few seconds. The snorkelling in this area is truly fantastic! We also saw turtles, a sting ray, a multitude of other fish and I even managed to get some good footage of an octopus, who surprisingly didn’t seem bothered about hiding himself away in the rocks.

This is the beautiful anchorage in Lelepa. It may look hazardous from anchoring perspective, but at least the coral heads are easy to see!

Nguna

We then set sail a little further north to an island called Nguna. This island is home to a large inactive volcano and we chose to anchor Bob outside a small village at the foot of its cone. This was our first proper exposure to rural Vanuatuan culture – where you must visit the village chief and offer him gifts in return for his permission to anchor outside the village. As soon as the anchor dropped we headed to shore armed with a large bag of children’s clothes and ladies underwear (which we’d acquired from a charity shop in New Zealand) as we’d heard they were sought after in these islands. The locals seemed very grateful and the chief spent many hours that day speaking and drinking kava with us and showing us round his village. This was a huge privilege for us as we’d unwittingly arrived on on their Independence Day and many villages from all over the island were gathered here for the celebrations. The chief had a very busy day and yet he took the time to proudly show us his home, the local school, church and all the food and drink stalls set up for the Independence Day celebrations. We were even invited to watch the local football tournament. My dad would have loved it! We we’re also given lots of interesting food by the locals, many of which I have no idea how to eat and some of which I’ve never seen before in my life. It’s always fun to try the local cuisine.

This is Alex with the chief in the village nursery.

This is probably the most spectacular backdrop for a football match I have ever seen with the extinct volcano towering over the pitch.

This is a coco pod. I was aware that you can grind the seeds to make coco powder but the locals use them in a different way. They open the pod and suck the white flesh from the seeds and discard them afterwards. They taste beautifully sweet, like sherbert. We decided to keep the seeds and have a go at making our own coco powder. Watch this space.

This is the aptly named ‘snake bean’. Some beans are even more curly and look even more snake-like than this one. You remove the inside pith and scrape off the outer white skin. What’s left is something that is a little bit like bell pepper – a mild sweet flavoured food that you can fry or boil.

We got to see a lot of Efate with my parents and it was amazing to spend time with them. When it comes to visiting the country itself, it’s the rural lifestyle and unique landscapes that really appeal to Alex and I and in that sense, the best is yet to come…

Vanuatu!

We have arrived in Vanuatu!

The passage ended up being a very tiring one. After the frontal passage that we were going through in my last post the wind never really settled as it was expected to. We officially entered the tropics the next day when we passed 25 degrees latitude. To mark this occasion the skies clouded over and we entered a period of squalls and rain that lasted for the next five days. It’s a good thing we are using GPS for navigation; if we had to rely on celestial sights we’d have been pretty unsure of our position! Bob is a temperamental old lady and does not tolerate either too little or too much sail for the conditions, so we were tired out with reefing, unreefing, rolling in and rolling out sails. The wind direction was never steady for more than 5 minutes either so we were constantly adjusting David, the wind vane, and trimming the sails to match. Often we found ourselves with no wind at all in the lulls, or light tail-winds accompanied by a lumpy cross-sea, in which case our only option to keep moving and try to settle things down a bit was to start the engine and motor for a bit. In fact, we went through almost our entire 40-gallon tank of diesel, which I think is more than we used in the whole of last year!

The weather broke on the morning of our final full day at sea. The seas calmed considerably and we were given a light breeze on the beam, so we set the spinnaker and spent a very enjoyable day gliding along in fine conditions, making miles while working on re-developing something resembling a sun tan to protect us from the tropical sun.

We arrived in Port Vila at 0330 the following morning and cleared customs just before mid-day. Sarah’s parents are here to visit so we had a lovely lunch with them and went to bed very early for a much-needed rest.

On first impressions Port Vila is much busier than I expected. Tourism is big here and all day there were people whizzing around on jet-ski tours, taking sight-seeing helicopter rides from the air pad next to where we were anchored or lounging in bars and restaurants. It has a very Caribbean feeling about it, except that the people are much friendlier and the atmosphere is somehow lighter and nicer. Apparently one doesn’t have to go far to get beyond the commercialism and into the real heart of Vanuatuan culture, where Prince Philip is a deity, bungy-jumping is done using jungle vines to ensure a good harvest and cannibalistic ceremonies are performed by shamans (using pigs these days…….. or so they say!). We don’t have long here before we must be moving on, but I think we’ll get a chance to see some of that side of things too.

The view of the bay in Port Vila, Efate