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ThereAndBackAgain "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain


VANUATU | Thursday, 16 October 2008 | Views [831]

What can I say about these islands? My expectations were high for a number of reasons - my friend Tony and his wife Geraldine were joing me for the last two legs through these islands. I'd travelled with T through Central America but had yet to meet Gerry and hadn't seen him for 3 years, Vanuatu was always one of the island groups on my list of places to visit as I felt they would be more remote and less visited than many of the others.

The ship had 3 legs through these islands, the first from Fiji to Espiritu Santo, the second round the Banks islands, and the third back from Luganville on Espiritu Santo to Port Villa on Efate.

The Banks islands are to the north of the chain of islands known as Vanuatu, they are much less visited than the pthers islands and we went as for north as Irepurapura. As a consquence of less yatch traffic , the Banks are less prosperous then many fo the other islands. Port Villa looks positively a metropolis in comparision, with traffice, proper streets and street signs, advertising, shops selling perfume etc. In contrast the Banks communities are small island villages centered around community life, school, church, fishing, rearing pigs, outrigger cannoes. The various villages put on great shows when visitors arrive with much custom dancing, organised walks, music and feasts. There normal cash income comes from copra - hard work for a family gathering coconut shells, dehusking them, then either carting them of to someone with a smelter to extract the oil or doing it themselves. It takes about 1 1/2 days to colllect a ton of copra and 2 1/2 days to extract the oil. For this work the familes who work on the bigger plantations get about 1500 Vatu for the collection stage - that is about $ 15 US. There are Japenese owned platations on the biggers islands who employ families in this way. After processing the value is around 60,000 Vatu, $600 US - quite a mark up, so if you can do your own smelting down then your income can go up. The copra is then taken of the islands by boat. Unfortunately the last time the boat had visited the Banks islands was March, so the coconuts and copra are standing wrotting in sacks and the familes have no cash, and no point in collecting more are it will just rot away. The timings of the copra boats are under the control of others and I feel sure they use the timings to control the price. It is a commodity and fluctuates. In the past year it has been down as low as 36,000 Vatu. In other words life is hard. These communities can be self sufficient in food but not in manufactured goods. The boat was signalled from shore one day where we had nt planned to stop and out came an outrigger. What were they after? Guitar strings! Unfortunately we had just left all (24) spare strings on the last island. They also welcome you with music - string bands, with guitars and bass strings built on drums. I have to say I won't miss this music - the pitch is very high and sharp for my ears - but you can't fault their enthusiasm and desire to entertain with a genuine welcome

Trade is the name of the game and bananas, mangoes, papaya, cabbages, pak choi are all available now and in return we can give flour, sugar, help fix a fishing spear with our welding equipment, T shirts, childrens clothes or whatever. Because the ship returns to some villages reglarly we can also put together a box of small things they need, for example, sewing cotton and needles, watch and calculator batteries.

During our legs thorugh Vanuatu we had with us a local liason, Isiah Bon, from Ambrym. Isiah tried to teach us Bislama, the local pidgeon english, with with all the island groups communicate with each other as each island has its own language, actually some islands have several. "Nem blong me Sheila. What nem blong yu?" It is straightforward on paper, but when you hear it said at speed - wow - totally not understandable.

Isiah also arrnage for us to be gided up the Ambrym volcano, Benbow - only 1179 feet but it took 4 1/2 hours to climb. The weather was not conducive to any view into the crater and not to taking pictures but the landscape on the way up was terrific. Blisters and scraps abound and we are still limping about some 4 days later. It was a real scramble up over lava rock and loose lava sand and having to overcome my intrepidations about walking along ridges. But I made it - not everyone who set out did - I was the last one up but I did it!

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