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When we arrived back i n Port Vila, we were recruited for a project from the Vanuatu Office of Tourism. They have asked a friend of ours to design a CD for use by travel agents. He needed to get photos of all the guest houses on remote islands and wondered if we might be able to help as we were planning to head to some of those islands. So I now have a job! I am an official emissary of the Office of Tourism complete with a letter we can show the local guest house managers to get their cooperation.
We left Port Vila and spent several days at nearby Hideaway Island and Havannah Harbor, snorkeling, fishing (with no luck), taking in some local sites, and waiting for some wind to develop. Finally we set sail for our first destination, Lamen Bay on the island of Epi. After a perfect sail, we arrived in Lamen Bay and went ashore to find Tasso, the guest house manager. We showed him the letter and he was very happy to see us as he is interested in having accurate information about his guest house published. It turns out his daughter was getting married the next day on nearby Lamen Island and he invited us to the wedding. What an event! It started with the entire village working to prepare a feast including lap-lap, a glue-like food made from various vegetables, a freshly killed bull and pig, huge pots of soup, and tons of rice - all this on the bride's side of the village while similar preparation was going on on the groom's side. Next we proceeded to the groom's side of the island to meet the wedding party. It turned out it was a double wedding, with two brothers getting married. A string band played music and led a large procession to the Presbyterian Church (the missionaries have been very successful in Vanuatu) where the ceremony took place. Both brides and grooms looked very uncomfortable. This was mainly due to the fact that the Ni-Vanuatu (as natives of the country are called) do not like to have attention focused on them - unlike most of us they hate to be in the spotlight. One of the brides smiled a couple times - the others were all very stoic. But it was a very nice ceremony, conducted in the local language of Bislama.
There was then a procession back to the grooms side of the village for the cake cutting ceremony. This occurs before food is served as the bride is then left with her new family while the rest of her former family goes back to their side to eat. Lunch is rice and some wonderful soups eaten in a large hut with everyone sitting on the floor in family groups. Next it's back to the other side to open presents (mostly hand made mats and some clothes) followed by singing, dancing, and partying. just after sundown, it's back to open up the laplap pits. Everyone takes a bunch of food home to share with their family and the day is over!
We had heard there is a waterfall nearby that's worth a visit. Part of my job is to take photos of local attractions so we thought we should go to see it. However, it's very difficult to get accurate information. Ni-Vanuatus have very little sense of time or distance. After asking several people how far it was and how long it would take to see, we knew it was somewhere between 5 and 20 kilometers and would take somewhere between 3 and 8 hours. There were several other yachties interested in going so we arranged a taxi (pick-up truck) to take us. It was a 25 minute drive to the start of the trail. When we reached the adjoining village, the driver pulled up outside a house and honked his horn until he found someone willing to be our guide. We had nine people so we had two guides. We separated into a fast group and a slow group, with the first reaching the waterfall in 2 1/2 hours and the second taking 3 hours! It was well worth the walk - the trail went through beautiful rainforest terrain and wasn't too demanding. And the falls were spectacular, rising more than 200 feet above us and cascading down into a beautiful pool at the base. After a swim and a rest we set off for the return. All told, it was a 7 hour trip and we walked about 10 miles. (Later some of the yachties who accompanied us referred to the hike as the "Shear Madness Death March).
Upon our return we had a beer at the bar/restaurant located next to the guest It is a nice, clean building that even has a concrete floor and a telephone. They have electric lighting powered by solar and a generator. The beer was cold and tasted great (Tusker is the local beer in Vanuatu). We had also arranged to have dinner at the restaurant that night and it was wonderful - fresh local lobster, beef, and various local fruits and vegetables.
We also had a chance to sample the local kava - a drink made from the root of a plant. Most people describe it as tasting like old dishwater and that seems accurate to me. It makes your mouth feel like you've had novocain and has a mild intoxicating effect (though it is not alcoholic). A new friend of ours, Atis, runs a local nakamal - a place where people go to drink kava. We watched him make the kava - chopping the root, rinsing it thoroughly, then running it through a meat grinder before adding water and straining it to make the drink. His kava certainly tasted better than any other we have had. Maybe that's because in some places they chew it rather than using a meat grinder!
Atis had invited us to attend the local church on Sunday so Ron and I accepted his invitation. We were warmly welcomed and enjoyed a nice service. Again, it was all in Bislama but included some very nice singing. Our final highlight was an opportunity to swim with the local dugong. Dugongs, often called sea cows, are closely related to the manatees of Florida. They are native to Vanuatu and Lamen Bay has a large male that is very tame, allowing people to swim with him while he feeds on the sea grass. He made his appearance and patiently waited around while all the yachties donned their snorkeling gear, jumped in the water and made their way over to him. We swam around with him for awhile, touching him when he surfaced for air every few minutes. He seemed happy to be the center of attention and we enjoyed the chance to play with him.
Finally it was time to say goodbye to all our new friends in Epi and head to our next destination, the Maskelyne Islands near the island of Melakula.