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From Laman Bay we set off for our next destination - the Maskelyne Islands near the big island of Malekula where there were more bungalows awaiting photographing. It was an easy three hour sail and we arrived safely in the anchorage after finding our way through a narrow and tricky entrance. We went ashore to the local village of Peskarus to find Kalo, the chief of the village and manager of the bungalows. He was expecting us as our friends at Lamen Bay had phoned ahead. He showed us the bungalows which were very basic - it is one building with three small rooms with only a curtain for privacy. They were just installing a shower - a large tank with a hose connected, but did not have a shut off valve for it. We were able to find one on the boat and Ron helped to get the shower installation finished! These bungalows are definitely only for the serious adventure traveler!
Afterwards we took a short walking tour around the village where we were closely followed by an ever increasing group of children. All the villagers, and especially the children, love to have their photos taken and then to be able to see themselves on the digital camera screen. I took photos of lots of people and we arranged to show the photos the following evening after dinner at the "restaurant". When we returned, the women of the village agreed to do a short dance for us that afternoon. It was great and they really seemed to enjoy it!
One of the highlights of the island is a giant clam sanctuary where more than 1000 giant clams live in a protected area. We arranged to visit it and photograph some of the happy fellows. The clam sanctuary is run by Jack Enril, a local who is also the headmaster of the island's school. He is a very highly educated man who has traveled extensively. His clam sanctuary has won accolades from all over the world and is pretty unusual for a country like Vanuatu. Jack's daughter escorted us to the sanctuary and we indeed saw hundreds of giant clams, though none as big as those we had seen in Australia.
The following day we went on an "Around the Island" tour, a two hour walk around the entire island. Kalo was our guide and pointed out many fascinating facts about village life and various plants. The island is also home to the "fiberglass canoe project", started by a group of Australians to construct the popular outrigger canoes out of fiberglass. At first we thought this was a dumb idea but it turns out that many of the islands are running out of trees and a lot of wood is wasted in making a canoe. Wood canoes typically last 4-6 years whereas ones made of fiberglass would last a lifetime and save the trees. So maybe it is a good idea.
That night we had dinner in the restaurant. Now this is not a restaurant as you may think of one. It is a bamboo hut, open sided, with a dirt floor and thatched roof. No menu, no waiters, no electricity, no stove. All the cooking is done over an open fire. Kalo is a trained chef who spent many years in the hospitality industry in Port Vila before returning home to build these bungalows. We didn't know what to expect but were very pleasantly surprised to be served a wonderful seafood appetizer followed by three magnificent mud crabs. It was a fabulous dinner which we greatly enjoyed.
Following dinner I set up my laptop to show photos. It was after dark and the only light was a hurricane lamp. But soon the word spread and soon the restaurant was packed to overflowing with villagers wanting to see the photos. There were well over a hundred people all jockeying for a view. I took more photos of them watching themselves, then would upload them right away so they could see. This went on and on with everyone having a great time and even the most shy villagers asking to have their photo taken. Finally my batteries ran low and we had to call it a night. But the laughter and fun of that night was something we will never forget.
The next morning a local delivered us three beautiful lobsters ensuring us yet another great dinner. Then it was time to raise the anchor and set off for our next destination, Banan Bay, just a short sail north. Upon our arrival we went ashore to check out the bungalows and found that they had been destroyed in a cyclone in 2000 and had not been rebuilt! Yet they were still on the list of places for travel agents to send people! So there were no bungalows to photograph and no restaurant to sample, but the local village was planning to put on a custom dance for any of the yachties that wanted to attend the next day.
We went for a nice snorkel around the bay and enjoyed our lobster dinner. The next day we visited the village and met many children. Most of the young boys wear no clothes at all here. The dance was a wonderful experience. There was a large troupe of men, numbering close to 50. They are called "small nambas" and wear only a namba, which is a penis sheath. "Small nambas" differ from "big nambas" by the size of this sheath they wear (not by the size of what goes in it). They did a series of traditional dances which were quite good. There was also a troupe of women, equal in size who did some dances too. They wore traditional grass skirts. Following the dance, the chief gave a speech and all the visitors had to introduce themselves. Then we had to line up and shake hands with all then dancers before being invited to eat some laplap.
Next it was off to Wala Island, further north up the coast of Malekula. There were supposed to be two sets of bungalows, one on Wala Island and one on the mainland of Malekula, but the ones on the island were also damaged by a cyclone and are now closed down. As we anchored we were visited by several locals in their outrigger canoes. Mostly, they just want to come by and say hello. They will also offer to bring local fruit and vegetables. I must say we have become very spoiled with the Pacific fruits - fresh paw-paw (papaya), bananas, coconuts, and grapefruits right off the trees and beautiful sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes fresh from the gardens, all delivered to your boat for next to nothing! We were able to get six large crabs, two small lobsters, and half a dozen fresh tomatoes in exchange for two pieces of used rope which the guy needed to keep his cow tied up.
Bradley and Ron went ashore and met Peter, the bungalow manager. He said the next day we would be able to attend a custom dance at the nearby small namba village. We had heard that this is one of the best dances in Vanuatu so we were glad to have a chance to see it. Bradley and I went for a snorkeling and spearfishing trip. Lovely snorkeling but again no luck with the fish. We have caught only one fish since we arrived in Vanuatu! There are plenty of little fish on the reefs, but none of the kind that we would normally spear. Seems like most areas in this country are just plain fished out.
The next day we set off for the dance. It was a short walk to a nearby village where we met Chief Amel who made us feel very welcome. The dancing began and it was again wonderful. It was very different than the dance at Banan Bay - the costumes, music, and dance were all quite different. Again, there were separate dances by the men and the women. Following the dancing, Chief Amel gave us a demonstration of firemaking, then invited us inside the nakamal for some kava and a history lesson about his village and the neighboring tribes. We have also begun another project. "Sail" magazine is having a contest, asking people to send in photos of the magazine being shown in exotic locations. We are starting a collection of such photos.
Next, we proceeded back to photograph the bungalows. These were by far the most spacious and civilized we have seen. There is one building with several rooms and a shared bathroom as well as several private, one room bungalows with private bathrooms. There is a nice restaurant and we were treated to a nice lunch. I am beginning to see why someone would enjoy a job as a travel writer! We were certainly treated like royalty everywhere we went.
At Wala, like at Lamen Bay, there is a village on the island but there is not enough land there for gardens so people have their gardens on the mainland and commute every day across a short stretch of water to go work in their gardens. Every morning and every evening it is like rush hour as there are literally dozens of outrigger canoes making their way across the bay. It is amazing how fast and efficient these canoes are. They are propelled along with very little effort (at least it looks that way!). Many of them stop to say hello on their way to or from the island. Wala Island was yet another fun and friendly place.