Saturday, September 24, 2016

Vanuatu Home Life: Pastor Isaac’s Family

On Tanna, everywhere there was a body of water, seemed one or more women were doing laundry.
Lenakel, Vanuatu.
“You’re going to the volcano?  He lives very close to the volcano.  You should stay with him and his family,” Malachite suggested.  Isaac, whose home he was volunteering, nodded in acquiescence.
Vanuatu family, isle of Tanna (my hosts)
Isaac holding Isiah, Rosalie, Isaac’s second youngest son, and only daughter. 
We were all aboard the freighter ship m/v Lawilin, which was soon bound for Tanna, home of Vanuatu’s most famous live volcano, Mt. Yasur.  Malachite, as it happened, was just temporarily hanging with his fellow clergy friends aboard; he was officiating a football game in Port Vila, then flying back to Tanna.  Like his friend, Isaac Loughman, he was part of a contingency of pastors returning home to Tanna from a series of island-to-island church meetings.

In fact, my stowed backpack was stuffed with my camping gear… tent, drop cloth, sleeping bag, air mattress and some simple foods for easy camp prep.  I’d made reservations to camp at Yasur View Bungalows, but all along figured that as I wasn’t taking up bungalow space, and if I got a better offer, it wouldn’t be a big deal to break the reservation.

Isiah, the Loughman’s 3-month old son, was clearly
well loved by the community.  Here, he’s held
by his young cousin.  White Sands, Tanna, Vanuatu.
Given after Malachite left, the hospitality offer was repeated by Isaac several times, I decided to take him up on his offer.  While the volcano was my reason for the visit, our normally boat-bound habits discouraged getting a better, more personal sense of Ni-Van village life.  I was curious.  It wasn’t clear whether I’d still be camping in Isaac’s yard (my preference) or staying inside, though I suspected the latter.

“I’ll arrange a ride for us to my place, and go with you to the volcano tonight,” Isaac offered.

Mark Silverstein of Field Trip far preferred the Ambrym Mt. Marum volcano hike (click here to see their family’s awesome video of Mt. Marum’s volcano, it’s seething magma viewed fromMark’s drone), calling Tanna’s volcano experience “too Disneyland.” I figured staying at a local’s place and seeing the volcano with him, rather than going there with a pre-arranged group of tourists would help offset that potential sense of artificiality.  Besides, I loved playing tour guide to places I called home for visitors, and figured Isaac might feel the same way.

Admittedly, I did have a few reservations….

Panorama Lenakel’s shore.  Looks more inviting than it is; it’s coral, not sand.  Tanna. Vanuatu.

Isaac was making up for lost time with his
infant son, who was only two months old when
he left.  Rosalie was happy to encourage him.
Not only was I not Ni-Van nor conversant in Bislama (Vanuatu’s official language, a version of Pidgin English), I am Jewish and childless.  Isaac was a Presbyterian Pastor, father of four boys and one girl.  In our chats on the long boat ride to Tanna, he did learn about my religious and family status, and had but did not take the opportunity to rescind his offer.  His English was decent.  I was hoping his family’s might be as well, though the further you get from Port Vila, the more Bislama predominates over English*.

*Turns out, in Tanna, French predominated as much or more than English as the second language of choice among those I talked to.  This was especially the case if they were in their teens or early twenties, where they took French in school.

What I did not expect, after our 20 hour boat ride, preceded by a 4+ hour wait for the boat to leave Port Vila, was an additional two hours waiting for Isaac to gather his stuff from the boat*, co-ordinate a ride and go.  While waiting, I shared my cheese with a father and his son, under a shade tree.  They gave me two of their big fat juicy tomatoes; it struck me I got the better part of the bargain and hoped they felt as satisfied with the cheese as I was with the tomato.  Two young giggly teen girls played with my hair, teased and flirted with the local boys.  When I offered my remaining bread, they helped themselves to the whole loaf.  I figured if they took that much, they needed it more than I did.

*The last, long-awaited item was a long woven satchel of smoked yams from one of the islands Isaac visited.  It didn’t appear until after m/v Lawilin’s crew completed their long lunch “hour.”
For Tanna’s “port town,” Lenakel’s water, like Port Vila’s was amazingly clear.  Vanuatu.
Nor did I expect the ride to take over two hours due primarily to Isaac’s shopping stops – for a 25 pound bag of Australian rice, for bread, and for a variety of produce -- on the way from Tanna’s Lenkel to his family home in White Sands.

While Isaac arranged volcano transportation and settled back into home, his beautiful wife, Rosalie, chatted me up and gave me the tour.  Along the way, the decision was made to bring his nuclear family along (Isaac, his wife, their 3-month old son, their next youngest son and their only daughter, one other son was staying elsewhere in the village and Isaac’s oldest was in boarding school in Lenakel) as well as a few other villagers and relatives.

At this point, I confess, given the long waits already and growing contingency, I wondered if we’d make it to the volcano by dark!  It was obvious by the ride in, “close to the volcano” was far from walk-able to it, especially before dark.  Well, when with a pastor, I figured the right attitude was to have faith it would all work out.

Rosalie explained she the headed the local women’s group, and in addition to that and parenting, her responsibilities included managing their crops, cooking (Ni-Van food is fairly labor-intensive), sewing (she made many of the family’s clothes, though now by hand as her sewing machine died), and maintaining the home.  “Very busy,” Rosalie said, more than once.  It sounded like her mantra.

Isaac’s daughter adopts the universal “camera pose”
of kids in Vanuatu, pointer finger and middle finger
forming a “v.”  Banyan tree in background; Tanna, Vanuatu.
Their daughter was fascinated with my pale skin, strange language and hair.  Wide-eyed, she tagged along like a shadow.  She didn’t say much, but she didn’t miss much, either.  “She takes care of the hens,” her mom, told me proudly with a nod to her daughter.  “Feeds them only rice.”

Rosalie mentioned Isaac was returning after nearly a month’s absence.  A bit embarrassed to be there his first night back after all that time, I expressed my regret his return was saddled with (as I described myself) “some strange woman Isaac met on the ferry.”  Rosalie smiled politely but graciously, as I wondered how she felt about the novelty of my visit, and its likely far less than desirable timing.

The pastor’s home was built by New Zealand missionaries over 100 years prior.  Rosalie pointed out their gravestones, in between their yard and the church. There was an abandoned cistern, replaced by two large plastic catchment tanks collecting rainwater off the church roofline.  Their congregation supported 80 families, and school, providing kindergarten through middle school education.

Heading inside, I stepped carefully across their porch, where some of the floorboards were rotted away.  On the way, I passed two soak tubs of fresh-smelling laundry.  Overall the house appeared to hold up reasonable well given its age, though I noticed one dinner-plate sized interior wall hole.

The home consisted of a large covered porch entry, a main room, an alcove I didn’t see and assume served in some kitchen capacity, and two rooms off the back of the main room.  One of the rooms was Isaac and Rosalie’s; they insisted on sleeping in the main room while I stayed in their room, on a pad, freshly made up with sheets and a pillow.  The main room included a large table acting as a short-term pantry (for Isaac’s “grocery run”) and a place for some large pots, a bench, two white plastic lawn chairs, a long sleeping pad in the middle of the room and another table for educational material (children’s school work and church teachings) and household projects.  A sewing machine was tucked into a corner atop a small desk near the kitchen alcove.

The Chinese created this attractive Lenakel, Tanna bridge in exchange for Vanuatu fishing rights.
The road to the bridge has yet to be completed.  
The window frames had slats and simple curtains, but no screens or windows; the air flowed freely through the home.

Ceiling light fixtures showed snipped wires of disuse; the Loughman’s confirmed there used to be electricity, used by prior residents.  For night light, the Loughman family relied on a small solar light, ubiquitous throughout Ni-Van and some remote Fiji villages.  “We used to have two,” Rosalie explained, “but we gave one to our son to have [in boarding school].” I was glad I brought my flashlight, though gave up on doing much that required reasonable light until morning.

There was no bathroom. 

Washing was done over a bucket outside.  There was no running water.  Fortunately, hygiene appeared to be a far stronger priority in the Loughman household than for many Ni-Vans, among whom the strong scent of perspiration was common.

About 100 yards from the house, there was an outhouse, with an open cement rectangle to squat over and a black plastic tarp for privacy.  There was no toilet paper. Sigh… between the “bucket-and-chuck-it ‘express’ boat” from Port Vila to Tanna out and the long wait to get to the Loughman’s, I’d hoped for more.

Miraculously, we did make it to Mt. Yasur, family in tow, just as the sun set.  It was their first time there and they were not charged the $75 entry fee.  Yet only Isaac joined me at Mt. Yassur’s ridge, the rest of his family decided to remain in the parking lot.  More on Mt. Yasur volcano in a future post.

After we got back from the volcano, we supped on fat slices of buttered bread (and peanut butter and jelly, my contribution), and tea (Earl Grey, my contribution) with water heated over a propane cooker.

To our delight, the meal was supplemented with laplap, cooked that day and dropped off by an aunt.  Ni-Vans appreciate visitors who enjoy their native foods, and I find the smoky-gummy flavor of laplap to be a satisfying “comfort food.” It’s quite filling.  “Cassava, [the most common starch used in laplap]*” intoned Rosalie with great seriousness, “is a very important part of our diet.”  Not the first time I’d heard or observed that! 

*At a yachtie dinner at Lol Tong’s Yacht Club, on Pentacost, we also ate laplap made with yam (Wayne’s “favorite”), and laplap made with taro root.  “I am not exactly bowled over by Ni-Van cuisine,” Wayne confessed, privately.

 Classic Vanuatu outrigger canoe, near White’s Beach, Tanna.
Over tea, we discussed each other’s lives.  When I asked Rosalie how she and Isaac met, she recounted his seminary career…. School in Port Vila followed by parish work at several islands before ending up back “home” on Tanna.

Like most Ni-Vans, the Loughmans were surprised I had no “pickaninies*” (children), that I and my parents went through a divorce, though I explained nearly half of the marriages in the USA end in divorce.  They were amazed at my parent’s age – Dad at 92 and Mom at 88; older than most Ni-Vans live to.

*Any time I used a Bislama word, like pikanini, or showed any knowledge or  understanding of the the Ni-Van culture, I was rewarded with a warm smile.  This was not unique to the Loughmans.  They appreciated the little I’d learned, whilst I was embarrassed at how little I’d learned, wishing aloud that it was possible spend more time in Vanuatu, getting to know the country and meet more Ni-Vans. 

We agreed while our religions differed, we all believed in God, and embraced similar values, such as honesty, kindness, respect and generosity.  I asked how long it took Isaac to prepare his sermons, and was told it typically took two weeks.  While someone covered for him while he traveled, I wondered if he was preaching the coming Sunday, but didn’t ask.  I was grateful there was no attempt to challenge my religious beliefs or proselytize, when I explained, “In Judaism, we just weren’t sure Jesus was the prophet; we’re still waiting.” 

We planned the next morning for my departure after breakfast and taking a family portrait, per Rosalie’s request.  The Loughmans provided their mailing address for the portrait, as they had no email or even, unlike most Ni-Vans we encountered, mobile phone.  I promised to print and mail them their family photo before leaving Vanuatu.

Afterward, the family walked me to the edge of the village, where the morning transport came by for school and work commuters.  While we waited, their second oldest son stopped by, on his way to school.  I took the opportunity to include him in a family photo, too, though they were no longer wearing their “Sunday best.”

The Loughman’s second oldest son joined us on
his way to school.  White Sands, Tanna, Vanuatu.
There were hugs all around, and all too soon it was time to leave.  I felt touched and humbled by the Loughman’s warmth, acceptance and generosity, and hoped they got as much out of the experience as I did. It was a good lesson in how happy and healthy and relatively self sufficient a family can be without any of the modern conveniences… such electricity, running water, flush toilets, phones, wifi, or appliances like washing machines.

Despite leaving them with a boat card, given my lack of permanent address and their lack of email, I doubt I will hear from them again.  But you never know.
This time, the trip back to Lenakel, in an extended cab truck, took less than an hour!  That despite the driver’s several stops to point out to some of the locals his strange passenger.  At least, given his body language and the disapproving reaction of the professional-looking gal in the front passenger seat, struck me as the reason for the stops.

Once again, I found myself with many hours to kill before leaving, yet too cautious to travel very far afield from my ride back, on m/v Lawilin.

I chatted with others awaiting Lawilin’s departure. Left my bags with one of the shopkeepers so I could wanted around unencumbered.  Accompanied a young French guy to the hospital; he was there working on sanitation projects via Australian Aid, and getting a swollen infection taken care of. Watched women doing their washing by hand in the ocean, laying the clothes out to dry over the dead coral shoreline.  Wandered the seashore, where a nice family introduced me to their two young sons who relished saying “Hello!” and “Bye-Bye!” in English.  Ate a fantastic curried chicken and rice lunch for $3.50, meeting the folks from two other cruising boats I’d seen bobbing in Lenakel’s rolly harbor. 

Lenakel, Tanna, where I unitentionally overshot the entrance to White's Beach.
In search of White Beach (the French guy’s recommendation as a place to walk to), Samuel spotted my lost look and spent 15 minutes walking me to White Beach and back to the main road.  He was the only Ni-Van who told me he’d chosen to have only one child, as “kids are expensive!”

Unused to rides from anyone other than paid bus or taxi drivers in Vanuatu, it took me a while to realize the truck driver who stopped to offer me a ride back to the docks was simply being nice. 

After so many weeks stuck in cruise-shippy Efate, and confined mostly to anchorages by inclement weather, this was the Vanuatu I’d hoped to see.  Yes, I came to Tanna for the volcano, but left as much or more with a great sense of warmth for the people of Vanuatu, just being themselves.

White Sands is the closest town to Mt. Yasur, but it’s still a ways from the volcano.
The black arrow shows Tanna’s place within the Vanuatu Island chain.
Location Location
While I went to Tanna Sunday, September 13, returning Wednesday the16, 2016.  Wayne and Journey remained at Yachting World mooring S17.44.750 E168.18.729) in Vanuatu’s Port Vila.   This post was written while anchored off New Caledonia's Port Moselle Marina (S22.16.695 E166.25.688).  We arrived in Noumea, New Caledonia September 21, 2016, a 300+ mile trip from Vanuatu.  

Our Predict Wind map from Vanuatu to New Caledonia, zoomed out to give a you a sense for where in the world we are now.
Cruising by the Numbers
  • Our September 2016 sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia was 305 miles.
  • Our August 2016 sail from Fiji to Vanuatu was 525 miles.
  • We cruised just under 440 miles in Fiji, between late May and early August.  
  • Our May 2016 sail from New Zealand to Fiji was 1090 miles.
  • December 2015 - May 2016 if we weren't cruising New Zealand or hunkering, we were making massive road trips from New Zealand's tip to its tail.
  • From December 2014 - November 2015 we sailed from Northern Florida's Atlantic side to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles, with more than a few stops in between.
  • Prior to that we sailed from St. Lucia to Florida and also spent a season cruising the Bahamas.

Up Next
We're planning on cruising in New Caledonia until November.  After New Caledonia, we head to Australia, by December 2016 (but probably earlier).  There, we plan to sell our boat, and go back to work, somewhere.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Vanuatu: Volcano Hike Lessons

Ambrym, Vanuatu.  Surreal looking, but real.  Mt. Marum’s volcanic activity colors the night sky. 
How often do you get to hike up to a ridge overlooking a live volcanic caldera?

Ambrym, Vanuatu’s Mt. Marum is one of few places in the world it’s possible (as is Vanuatu’s Mt. Yassur volcano on Tanna – more on that in an upcoming post). 

We were at Ambrym, ready to hike to the caldera rim, on a sunny, crystal-clear day, blue skies scrubbed clean from recent rains.

We were excited!

And yet, our Ambrym volcano experience was a mixed deal. 

Banana flower on one of Ambrym’s plantations; passed on the way to active volcano, Mt. Marum, Vanuatu.
The good news was the volcano hike was much more affordable than the ~$200-300 fee our prior online research indicated.  Thanks to our ability to ride the cruiser coat-tails of Mark and Sarah Silverstein’s (of s/v Field Trip) prior arrangements with George in the Ambrym village of Ranveltan, the hike was within reach of even our paltry budget.  Our total cost was >$100 USD for the two of us, including a local guide, the porter up of our camping equipment to base camp, and an overnight stay in the base camp.

Jonas (pronounced “choh-ness”), our guide, was pleasant, but unfortunately, his English was almost as limited as our Bislama (Vanuatu’s primary language, a form of Pidgin English).  The answer to nearly any question we asked was "Yes."  “How long is the hike?”  “Yes.”  “Is it one or two hours left to hike?” “Yes.”  (You get the idea).  The other guides we bumped into on our way back, who eagerly struck up conversation with us, spoke excellent English. 

This butterfly looked like its wings were stolen
from the blue skies of Ambym, Vanuatu.
We hiked several hours uphill, crossing a stream (nothing was potable – anywhere), passing Vanuatu’s internationally famed cattle, alongside bamboo thickets, through plantations of coconut, banana, sugar cane, papaya (called “paw paw” in the South Pacific), yams, cassava, taro, mangos…. Birds twittered and cooed.  Periodically the jungle offered up spectacular albeit partial territorial views of Ambrym’s rugged coastline, verdant mountains and deep valleys.

 Jonas leads the way past a bamboo
thicket on the trail to Ambym’s
Mt. Marum volcano, Vanuatu.

Our bush trek took us under – and, in one case, between -- the roots of massive banyan trees, eventually giving way to a diverse forest of lush ferns, from creepers, to waist high to towering palm-tree size.  Red-violet orchids flourished, dramatically thrusting up through the charcoal-colored volcanic ash plains.

Ambrym, Vanuatu volcano base camp hut; we tent camped nearby.
By early afternoon, we reached the overnight base camp, a thatched-roof hut, complete with wooden floors, and a Georgia-O’Keafe touch, a decorative cow skull.  We set up our tent nearby, to privacy and to better screen out prospective malaria or dengue-fever-infected mosquitoes, as the hut, like most structures here, was relatively open.

There, we waited several hours, leaving at 4:30 pm, near dusk, to see the caldera.  We didn't know how far that additional bit was, but after about 1/2 hour of easy hiking on flat ash plains, we spent the next 45 minutes negotiating a rocky, twisty ravine, then up onto and to the end of a narrow ridge. “Are we coming back this way?,” I asked, sure the answer this time would be “No,” as part of the walk included the only water collection* spot on the entire trek. 

*This water was still non-potable, and required boiling before being considered safe to drink.

 Base camp kettle for making water potable, as well for the requisite camp coffee or tea.
The sun had set at this point, but we figured we had another 30-45 minutes until dark.  When we asked how much further, as what was ahead looked even dicier, we were told "about an hour." 

These weird sausage-like protrusion from this palm’s trunk
are actually new roots, slowly seeking their way
down to the ground.
What we just finished in the last 45 minutes looked far more technical than we wanted to return though darkness. What was ahead looked worse.  We’d just reached the end of a knife-edge ridge, not wider than 2 feet, with sphincter-tightening steep drop-offs on each side. 

We brought our handheld flashlights, but they weren't the greatest, Jonas was even worse, and my night vision is pretty crappy.  If the trail had been more like what we'd hiked up to the hut, or the first half hour from base camp, we'd be fine with taking it back in the darkness to the base camp.  Alas, ahead was at least an additional hour there and back, first down then, up, clambering over and through rocky outcrops.

Wayne and I share an agreement that if something looks like too much of a safety stretch, we stop, reassess and generally retreat.  "No health insurance," is our mantra when we figure it's time to deploy some common sense over maybe foolish fortitude.  Plus, we'd already hiked quite a few hours that day and to continue was a minimum of 2-3 hours more round-trip if we continued.

We turned around.

“You don’t want to see the volcano at night?” Jonas asked, puzzled.  Yes, but no, we replied.  Our actions more clearly than our words signaled our intent.  Jonas complied.

Afterward, we heard from other guides they recommend for most folks that they guide to hike to the caldera ridge in the daytime.  They recommended the night-time trek in only for the very fit, with good flashlights and who are comfortable navigating those dicey conditions in darkness. 

If had a do-over, we'd
  • Pack the night before to make the village start point at 7 am, rather than 8 am-something
  • Take the truck as far as we could (we walked about 1/2 hour from the beach to the village (mostly up), then four and a half hours up from the village to the hut; we could've cut that in half or more. 
  • Again use the porter for camping gear and maybe more water
  • Either take only a brief rest before continuing us to the caldera -or -
  • Spend the next day hiking the caldera back to the hut, then the following day, back.
  • Bring better flashlights, in an ideal world, good headlamps (ours weren’t working, or we’d have brought them)

Ambym’s active volcano, Mt. Marum looked deceptively calm the morning we headed back to our boat.  Vanuatu.
With some effort, I probably could've made the hike in two days, even without the truck lift, but these days I’m in better hiking condition than Wayne.  I had no intention of leaving him behind, especially after worrying him on Waya Sewa.

Still, even without making it up to Ambrym’s caldera, we were treated to the most magnificent, surreal night sky we've ever seen!  Imagine palm fronds silhouetted against a bright pink sky, then, off to the side of that, a brilliantly dense array of stars, Milky Way, and all glittering against blackness. Low on the horizon, yellow-orange Venus and Mars looked so close, they appeared to nearly touch each other.

I did manage to snap a nice image of the palm fronds against a bright pink sky, but the stars were more than I could capture with my cameras.  Word is the new cameras are much better at capturing good images in darkness, but I'm grateful for what I was able to capture, and, more importantly for what I was able to see and experience.  If I saw that sky in a movie, and hadn’t actually been there, I’d swear it was CGI (computer-generated images).

Really, truly, simply unforgettable.

Jonas scaled the coconut tree and is now
harvesting its bounty. Ambrym, Vanuatu.

 One of the several methods Jonas used to access
the coconut water. Ambrym, Vanuatu.

A piece of the coconut’s husk doubles as a spoon to enjoy this young coconut meat. Ambrym, Vanuatu.

The next day, on the way back, Wayne finally firsthand discovered the restorative powers of coconut water. Jonas scampered up one of the plantation trees, knocking down a dozen or so, about half of which the three of us greedily sucked down.  “Numbah One!” exclaimed Jonas, with beaming satisfaction, indicating the coconuts.  We agreed.  I mulled over the irony that the food we brought for trail munchies and beverages were processed versions, pale in comparison to what grows naturally in Vanuatu … coconut, chocolate, coffee and vanilla, as well as a plethora of sumptuous fruit.  Jonas brought back the remaining coconuts, along with a large soursop.  Grocery shopping, Ni-Van style.

Amazingly, we returned to our breached dinghy the next afternoon without a scratch, bruise, or even mosquito bite -- far better than we expected.  Thanks to some strategically-timed ibuprofen doses, we weren’t even sore.

Our dinghy, still there, right where we left it the morning before, where we first began our hike to Ambrym’s volcano.   Whew!

A few nights later, thanks again to Sarah and Mark of Field Trip, we got to see what we missed (click here to see their excellent Ambrym volcano video, including footage of the molten caldera shot from their drone).  Wisely, they learned from our mistake, and on their hike one day later, they were well on their way back from the caldera by about the time we were starting off from base camp, plus they cut a few hours off their hike via truck.

Ambrym’s active volcano rises 4375 feet (1334 meters) above sea level.  If in your research, you encounter photos of overweight hikers with ankles the size of footballs, don’t believe it when they claim they completed the hike in 4 hours.  But it’s still well worth doing, even if you don’t make it to the caldera, though we surely wish we had.  Nonetheless, we have no regrets about making the hike we did; it was gorgeous! 

Ambrym volcano hike map; pilfered from Malampa Travel and marked up with our Mt. Marum observations.  
Learn from our mistakes, and plan the perfect hike to the rim overlooking Ambrym’s incredible caldera.

If I could waive my magic wand and make the hike even more perfect, I would
  • Put catchment tanks to collect rainwater for drinking, at least one small one on the track and a larger one at the base camp, reducing the amount of water that needs to be carried
  • Create and maintain at least one un-occluded viewpoint, either via pruning, a tree house platform or simple tower
  • Hire guides with a better command of English (the most common language we find spoken among international cruisers and Kiwis and Ozzies make up the bulk of Vanuatu’s tourists)
  • Or, better yet, provide an info sheet with hike, volcano, flora and fauna info
  • Include a brief stop both ways at the plantation for coconut and ripe fruit for trail consumption, and plant some harvestable crops near the base camp

About the only relatively un-occluded territorial viewpoint on the trail to Mt. Marum. Ambrym, Vanuatu.
Yet, at the same time, much of what makes the Ambrym hike so awesome is its remoteness and simplicity.  There are no signs.  No souvenir shops.  No bloated entry fees.  No hordes of tourists too busy taking selfies to appreciate the magnitude of this truly natural wonder.

As Sir Archibald Geikie lyrically observed, all the way back in 1879… “Looking back across those long cycles of change through which the land has been shaped into its present form, let us realize that these geographical revolutions are not events wholly of the dim past, but that they are still in progress.  So slow and measured has been their march, that even from the earliest times of human history they seem hardly to have advanced at all.  But none the less are they surely and steadily transpiring around us.  In the fall of rain and the flow of rivers, in the bubble of springs and the silence of frost, in the quiet creep of glaciers and the tumultuous rush of ocean waves, in the tremor of the earth quake and the outburst of the volcano, we may recognize the same play of terrestrial forces by which the framework of continents has been step by step evolved.”

Evolution of our planet, in the form of fiery, molten magma, here and now, right before our very eyes.  Wow.

That kind of reality sure beats the stuff out of a trip to Disneyworld in my books!  “All” you have to do is get to the tiny, remote South Pacific country of Vanuatu (about the size the USA state of Connecticut -- only Rhode Island is a smaller state), then to the even more remote island of Ambrym, hit the weather and volcanic activity right and put in a good day of hiking.

Location Location
This is a recent retrospective of our time on Ambrym, Vanuatu, which we sailed to for a cultural festival in Nopul, and missed because they held it earlier!  We then re-anchored off black lava beach (S19.09.072 E168.06.433)  our hike up Ambrym’s volcano, September 2-3, 2016.  This is the first post written since we’ve left Vanuatu.  We are now in Noumea, New Caledonia (S22.16.695 E166.25.688).  We arrived yesterday, September 21, 2016, after a little over a 3-day 305 mile passage,  an overnighter, then another 38.5 miles.  
Predict Wind forecast for our passage from Vanuatu to New Caledonia.  We arrived September 20,2016.

Cruising by the Numbers
  • Our September 2016 sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia was 305 miles.
  • Our August 2016 sail from Fiji to Vanuatu was 525 miles.
  • We cruised just under 440 miles in Fiji, between late May and early August.  
  • Our May 2016 sail from New Zealand to Fiji was 1090 miles.
  • December 2015 - May 2016 if we weren't cruising New Zealand or hunkering, we were making massive road trips from New Zealand's tip to its tail.
  • From December 2014 - November 2015 we sailed from Northern Florida's Atlantic side to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles, with more than a few stops in between.
  • Prior to that we sailed from St. Lucia to Florida and also spent a season cruising the Bahamas.
World view of our just completed passage from Vanuatu to New Caledonia, from Predict Wind.

Up Next
We're planning on cruising in New Caledonia until November.  After New Caledonia, we head to Australia, by December 2016 (but probably earlier).  There, we plan to sell our boat, and go back to work, somewhere.