Muffins for Fish

Sun 6 Sep 2009 02:20
Position,  15.22S 168.07E
It's  a wet Sunday morning at Asanvari, a lovely village at the southern end of the mountainous island of Maewo in Vanuatu. A beautiful waterfall  tumbles noisily down through the jungle to the shore. As I listened to Radio Australia early this morning to find out if Australia had lost the rugby once again (they beat South Africa!) I watched the people from the next village paddling in their outrigger canoes to attend church. Some of the women were holding large leaves over their heads to protect them from the rain.  I also saw a large turtle bobbing its head from time to time. We're tied to  mooring put in by visiting yachties, and the water is so clear that every time I toss something overboard, several large parrot fish swirl to the surface to grab it.They particularly seem to like aging hummous.
Most of the boats have travelled further south now, leaving only us, Harmonie and another American yacht in this beautiful bay.There are huge bommies and an unusual underwater ravine, all perfect for snorkelling. We are assured that this is a shark-free bay--probably the last for a while, unfortunately. Three years ago a young NZ girl staying on her grandparents' yacht was taken by a shark, so we are all being very careful to check with the locals before venturing in.
We've met some great Americans while we've been here, all of them ardent fishers, so we've been able to repay their donations of delicious mahimahi with good old Kiwi style muffins.One of the American boats was a smallish Nordhaven ocean trawler,so it has been fun swapping notes with them. They assured us that they had actually hooked into a marlin while trolling in their dinghy not far from our mooring, so yesterday we collected Nixon, the chief's son and some of his friends at 7 am and headed off with every rod and line out--but no luck. the NiVans,as the indigenous people are called, seem to believe in the NZ superstition that you never catch fish when you have bananas on board . So perhaps that was the problem. 
 Thanks to an enterprising chief and plenty of visiting yachts, Asanvari is a much more prosperous village than most that we have visited in Vanuatu. They actually have a 'shop' where you can buy beautifully woven baskets and carved model outrigger canoes for absurdly low prices. They are just as happy to trade as to take cash. At 6 30 in the morning a chap from a nearby village paddles across with the bread he has made in his wood stove at 3am. He'd run out of flour the other day, so I was happy to donate him bread flour and yeast.
Sometimes we become a bit blase about the villages we are lucky enough to spend time in, but then we are reminded that this is a world very different from the one we live in. When we arrived here a few days ago, we learnt that one of Chief Nixon's sons had died the previous week--from black magic. According to Lonely Planet, this island is one of the strongholds of witchcraft. I haven't dared ask what he had done to offend the local sorcerer.
The young man had a wife and 4 children, one of whom we met yesterday as she was playing with her cousins. Obviously the family are looked after by the extended family in the village, so it's not quite the disaster it would be in our society.
This has been our first week for a while without visitors. We spent the first three weeks after arriving from Fiji in the Santo area, where all the wonderful World War 2 relics are everywhere--sunken planes, shipwrecks, Nissan huts, huge aircraft runways, now overgrown with jungle. A delightful addition to the 'wild west' town of Luganville ths year has been a really good French restaurant, where we met many of the local French community. We had a lovely evening there with Anna and Dominique, an Australian/French couple who had just arrived from Melbourne to do a 2-year stint on Santo, running an Ausaid program.
Another highlight was discovering the circus school run by Matt, an ex-Circus OZ performer. We took Hunter, Brigid's 5 year-old, who had a wonderful time with the local picanninis and expat kids learning some pretty impressive tricks. It ws fascinating watching Matt coach the older Ni Van kids in the afternoon. For Brigid the highlight was probably a horse ride without the children, while Pete was able to remember enough of his dive certificate to dive on both the wreck of the President Coolidge and the American equipment dumped at Million Dollar Point.
For anyone wanting a holiday with a difference--adventure in comfort--we'd strongly recommend Santo as a destination, especially since there is a direct flight up here from Brisbane once a week. You'll see travel warnings about malaria, but we haven't seen a single mosquito since we arrived in Vanuatu. There is a particularly nice resort at Aore Island, opposite Luganville, with wonderful coral and tropical fish a stone's throw from the beach. Brigid and her family really enjoyed staying there while Storyteller was on a mooring just off the resort. When we arrived at Aore we saw a couple of visitors celebrating some occasion by drinking a bottle of Moet as they were being paddled along on a very rustic outrigger canoe. It wan't quite the same, but Brigid, Pete, John and I consumed a bottle on the ferry to celebrate my birthday at the French restaurant, Le Jardin des Saveurs.