Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Fish & Festivals

Current Location: Port Vila, Vanuatu
Current Position: 17°44.72' S 168°18.67' E
Next Destination: Undecided, Vanuatu

I can honestly say there are very few larger “cities” across the Pacific that I’ve liked as much as Port Vila. Dodging the rushing traffic, which cares not about pedestrians, can increase your heart rate, but it’s a hazard we are willing to put up with in exchange for all Vila has to offer. At first it may seem as though the locals aren’t as friendly as the Fijians, but it only takes a few “Halo’s” (hello) to realize that they are extremely friendly, just a bit more reserved and mellow. I love shopping here because there is no pressure at all; they give you a warm Halo, huge smile and then let you be. They are also very willing to talk about their culture and the significance/meaning of various carvings/art works. I never feel guilty not buying, they seem happy enough just that you are admiring and complementing the work. Of course not even here a week and we’ve already accumulated a number of souvenirs!

We have spent a good amount of time trying to track down the date of Tanna’s Nekowiar. A three-day festival filled with nearly non-stop traditional dances. Its purpose is to renew alliances between neighboring villages; done so with gift giving and arranged marriages (apparently during these three days sex between willing non-married individuals is accepted and encouraged). The problem (for tourist) is that they typically do not announce the date of the festival until just 2-4 days beforehand. Not good for people trying to find a weather window! Originally we heard it was scheduled to begin the 9th or 10th, but just yesterday were updated that it is now not until either the 15th or 19th! Tanna is only about 130nm S-SE from here, however it is directly into the trade-winds, which have been blowing over 20kts since we arrived. On Sunday we (along with Island Sonata) made an attempt to sail there, hoping to catch some SW winds on the backside of a low that was passing through. Unfortunately, the low and a trough passed more quickly then predicted and the winds were already starting to clock more South. About one hour out of the bay of Vila we were debating turning back when Chris (with my help of course!) caught a huge Wahoo (5.1 feet to be exact!). So big we had no choice but to just drag him directly into the cockpit, throwing him, along with lots of blood and gooey skin remains, onto the cockpit floor – which he filled! We were thrilled, what a catch! But how the heck we were going to clean this monstrosity? Finally we all (Billabong & Island Sonata) agreed that the weather and swell sucked, so we’d turn back. Once safely back on our calm mooring ball, John (IS) and Chris attacked the giant Wahoo. We ended up with over 15 Ziploc’s bursting with fish. Some of it we were able to squeeze into Island Sonata’s small freezer, some we gave away to neighboring boats, and the rest we have been gorging ourselves on ever since (fish steaks, fish burgers, fish tacos, miso fish, fish cakes, kokoda, and more). I suggested we could probably do fish omelets, but Chris said three times a day might be just too much even for him!

Since Sunday we’ve been exploring the many stores and stalls of Vila, and hoping for sunshine. It has been 100% overcast with lots of rain and drizzle. When we aren’t shopping or eating we’ve been reading and card playing. We are still hoping to make it to Tanna for the festival, but if it begins to look impossible (due to weather or not confirming a date) we might opt to head North instead to Ambrym for their Arts Festival.

The only downside we are discovering about Vanuatu is that it appears the entire island chain has discovered tourism, and perhaps taken it a bit overboard. Apparently EVERYTHING in Vanuatu costs money. Hiking, waterfalls, snorkeling, village tours, dancing; all available for a cost. I’m fully supportive of the natives/country making money off of visitors and willing to pay for a number of activities. Want to see some dancing, sure I’ll pay for that (it is after all a performance of sorts). Tour guides for longer hikes, you betcha! But to pay to “tour” (which in this case is equivalent of walking around) a village and/or to join the children in ‘traditional’ games … this just seems a bit off. I want to join the children in games for bonding, learning and friendship. As with Naviqiri village in Fiji, I would hope that the kids would enjoy our company as much as we would enjoy there’s … and if they didn’t I would hope they would just choose to not hang out with us. The same with hanging or walking around the village, I don’t want a ‘tour’, I want to exchange stories and skills and maybe just bond a wee-bit. Wouldn’t it be just as odd if we charged locals to visit us aboard Billabong? Island Sonata told us that in one village they even wanted money for them to go to the “craft store” to view various artifacts (which were for sale and IS might have purchased)!!! Well, I suppose it is how it is, but I fear some of the villages getting a bit carried away with the charging, especially those on outer islands that receive the majority of tourists via yachts, will find less and less yachts arriving as word gets around … completely killing off a pretty good money source. Anyway, Vanuatu still feels like a great place, full of tradition and culture, and we are sure we’ll enjoy our time here … even if is costs us a few 1000 Vatu !!!

1 comment:

  1. You guys are awesome. Your photographs are super. Really have to admire folks who take to the ocean as you have. We sail a 47' Beneteau 473 but only coastal cruising for now. Wish you the best and safe seas as you travel.