Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A small Vanuatu loop: Malekula, Ambrym, & Epi

Current Location: Revolieu Bay, Epi Island, Vanuatu
Current Position: 16°43.68' S 168°08.68' E
Next Destination: Port Vila, Efate Island, Vanuatu

Over the last eleven days we've completed a small loop, visiting three anchorages on the South-Eastern side of Malekula (Maskelyne Islands, Port Sandwich, and Banam Bay) and one anchorage on the Northern side of Ambrym (Ranon Bay).

We enjoyed our time in the beautiful and calm anchorage of the Maskelyne Islands, but after three days of on and off sun, the clouds rolled in and have hovered over us ever since. We've been desperately praying to the sun gods to part the clouds and clear the rain, but as of yet they are ignoring us.

From the Maskelyne's we moved up the coast about 12 n.m. to Port Sandwich, a very calm spot to be anchored during some shifty winds. In Port Sandwich we enjoyed some time with a very funny local couple, Ezekiel and Serah. Ezekiel was quite the character, talking non-stop in his heavily accented English, of which we understand about one out of every ten words! They were an extremely giving couple, loading us up with fresh eggs, fruits and veggies after only knowing us less than a day!

Banam bay was terrific, but crowded .... the most boats we've been at anchor with in a long time (about 15)! The village caters to tourist by offering crafts and custom dancing (at a cost of course). The dancing was terrific and energetic, but couldn't compare to the thousands dancing at the Nekowiar festival in Tanna. Still it was great fun, and as always the locals were more than welcoming. The following evening we enjoyed dancing to the tunes of a local string band. We continue to be impressed with the creativity of their musical instruments (a 5-gallon barrel for the drum and a box-stick-string contraption for bass). The fishing just off the nearby reef was outstanding. One afternoon Chris went out in the dinghy and in under ten minutes had caught a dog-toothed tuna! Chris seems to be becoming more and more well known amongst the cruisers for his love and knowledge of fishing, and creative home-made lures. He has now hosted over five
lure-making sessions aboard Billabong!

We motor-sailed to Ranon Bay specifically to hike the ash planes of Ambrym's active volcano, only to learn they had "closed" the volcano for the planting of yams (for spiritual beliefs). So instead we spent the afternoon viewing various wood-carvings by
the locals. Unfortunately Ranon Bay is extremely keen on tourist, so much so that they charge for EVERYTHING (cruise ships visit this bay, so they are used to getting money for everything/anything). To walk through the village and view the various carvings we had to pay for a "tour" .... granted it was only $4 each, but it seemed weird to be paying to go 'shopping'! Ranon Bay has a beautiful long black-sand beach, which Chris was
quite excited about, as it was his first [black sand beach]!

With our visas close to expiring and still having to beat our way back south to Port Vila, we departed Ambrym for a hard on the wind sail back to Revolieu Bay on Epi. We had stopped briefly in Revolieu on our way north, but hadn't had a chance to explore, so yesterday we went on a great walk to a nearby village. There we met a local Peace Corps worker from Idaho. Kevin joined us on Island Sonata for Mexican night and music (he
is an outstanding guitarist/singer).

Now we are just hoping for a half-way decent weather window for the remaining trek south to Port Vila. We figure it's going to be a hell-ish trip, but luckily is under 70 n.m., so we'll just have to tough it out! Once back in Port Vila, we'll prepare to check-out and move on to New Cal. As usual we feel our time has been cut short .... but we must keep moving if we are to have any time in New Cal before departing for cyclone season. Oh woe is us ... having too many wonderful places to visit!!!

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