Super yachts and village life

Sat 23 Aug 2008 04:43
Port Vila  17.44S 168.18E
One of the highlights of our time in Vanuatu has been the couple of days we spent at Asanvari, a village on the island of Maewo. On the way south from Santo we spent a night anchored off the island of Ambae, the fabled Bali Hai of James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific.
As we sailed into Asanvari, we saw at anchor Squall one of the biggest super yachts we have seen anywhere. To start with we were annoyed by the noise of all their toys--jet ski, water skiing, the lot. However our view changed when the english skipper came over in their very glamorous tender to donate us some beautiful yellow fin tuna. Surrounded by coral reefs and with a glorious waterfall, grass huts and lovely gardens is an idyllic spot. There are no roads, no cars and people live in grass huts eating pretty much what they grow--taro, yams, bannas and papayas.Being such a lovely anchorage and with a rather entrepreneurial chief, Nelson and his son, Nixon,  Asanvari has been 'adopted' by cruising yachties who have helped install a simple hydroelectric scheme and some moorings and navigation marks. They even have a simple shop selling the lovely bags woven by the local women. The villages with anchorages are so much better off than most villages, as yachties are pretty generous in donating rice, flour and other basics. We also trade clothes for fruit and vegetables. Along with the super yacht owners, guests and crew, we were invited ashore to watch the men and boys kastom dancing, followed by a roast pig feast. We were amused to see chief Nelson leading the dancing in full traditional dress plus a cap from some yacht. The preferred footwear for the dancers was Crocs, most off them very well worn. We had to take our own cutlery,glasses and 'white man kava'. There was plenty of real kava available, and the next day Nelson, the chief, was seen being transported out to Squall in great style to conduct a private kava ceremony. The village picaninnies spend all their free time in the sea using anything available as a vessel, including polystyrene boxes and lids. Irene from Southern Princess took some plastic toy trucks ashore, probably the first the kids had ever seen. We were quite impressed to see the rather austere owners of Squall joining in the dancing and offering chocolate mousse to the locals. The chef was a very nice young Kiwi, and we plan to have a big night out in Vila with the crew when the Swiss owners have departed after their four weeks on board. They told us that their night on shore with us  was their first time off the yacht in weeks and that they work a 17-hour day, 7days a week.
 Next morning, with Bob Colbert and an 11 year old village boy as our guide, we trekked up to a village at a much higher level. We visited the local school and were thrilled to see in a classroom some of the materials we had published. The level of school work on the blackboard was quite impressive. I'd been talking with some of the local women and hadn't quite realised that our tour included an incredibly steep jungle trek to the waterfall. Unfortunately it had rained during the night, and all I can compare it to was a couple of hours on the Kokoda Track. We also discovered that Crocs are not suitable footwear for jungle trekking. We slipped and slid down the narrow, muddy track, desperately clinging to any roots or branches, dreading what the consequences would be if we went over the side of the hill.  After crossing mountain streams,  we finally clambered over some slippery boulders down to the base of the waterfall. Have taken a tumble and bleeding from grazed elbows and knees,I found that the beauty of the scene somewhat escaped me. Next time I'll ask a few more questions before going with Bob on a mountain trek!  Fortunately we were able to take a much easier track along the shore back to the dinghy. That night we ate ashore again, this time on coconut crab, served with a delicious green papaya curry. It was very hard to avoid comparing the opulence of Squall with the subsistence lifestyle of the villagers. The villagers would ask us if we were from the big yacht, but we would say 'No, from the small ones'. It's all relative.
We'd planned to spend several days on the trip south to Port Vila, including a couple of days on Epi, which we had flown out to on our last visit to Vanuatu. What should have been a lovely protected anchorage became more and more rolly, and as the surf started to build on the shore and all the other yachts pulled up their anchors, we decided that we too should head south before the forecast 30 plus knot winds built up a very big sea. After a couple of very day rough trips back to Port Vila  it was rather a relief to be tied up on the sea wall again, close to the great music in the local Waterfront Grill and Bar and the brioches and croissants of the nearby patisserie.
For more about our time at Asanvari, see the Southern Princess blog as John Hunt took some wonderful photos of the children, the feast and the dancing. With any luck he has not included any of me covered in mud and blood.