Fountaine Pajot Lavezzi 40 “SV Duet” check out the ancient tradition of land diving in Vanuatu

Posted 11 July 2011

Hi guys,

We arrived in Vanuatu about three weeks ago after a 3 day passage from Fiji. We had very heavy seas the first night out of Fiji, which made for a most uncomfortable night. It was much like an amusement park ride that wouldn’t stop… no fun at all! But it then settled down, so much so in fact that we ended up motoring for the last day or so as there was no wind.

The time here has been an amazing experience for us, although a bit rushed. The islands in Vanuatu are quite widely spaced and there is no outer reef for protection, it is like an ocean passage when sailing between them. So unlike the easy cruising in Fiji, we have done a fair bit of ocean sailing to visit different islands over the last few weeks.

On arriving in Port Vila we learned that the last Land Dive for the season was to happen on the Saturday week. Those who had witnessed it said it was an experience not to be missed. It takes place only on Pentecost Island (130 miles north of Vila) in April, May and June to help bring a good harvest of yams to the village. Young men jump from tall towers made from timber and saplings with vines tied to their ankles. They actually brush the ground with their heads as the vines pull tight to break their fall.

So with Pentecost Island in mind we sailed north. We gave ourselves a headstart by anchoring at Havannah Harbour only 2 or 3 hours away from Port Vila. From here we left at 4.30am heading for Epi Island and the anchorage of Lamon Bay. It is about a twelve hour passage but luckily we had good winds and arrived earlier than expected. Here we met up with Justin and Stephanie who have built a traditional woven and thatched hut on land owned by Chief Willy. Justin is the son of our friends Peter and Marianne Watson from Newhaven Yacht Squadron and they are spending three months this year at Lamon Bay. We enjoyed a few hours looking around the village and shared a drink of kava with Justin, Stephanie, Willy and others of Willy’s family. We were on a tight schedule to reach Pentecost Island so left early the next morning but promised to call in on our return.

At around lunch time we arrived at our next anchorage, Craig Cove on the island of Ambrym. Here there are two active volcanoes. Black magic is still practiced in the islands of Vanuatu and is strongest on islands with active volcanoes. Villagers on other islands are wary of people who come from Ambrym, believing them to be associated with bad spirits. The islanders fear bad spirits and often do not leave their own village at night because of the spirits that might be around. I must say on our approach it was rainy and the island looked grey and spooky with mist and volcano smoke rising creating an eerie effect.

The rain cleared and we went ashore and walked through the small settlement. It was more than a village as it had a store and a bank that looked reasonably modern. We walked along the shoreline and came across a group of schoolgirls fishing. They were standing on the black volcanic rock with hand lines trying to catch fish for dinner. They had a catch of a couple of tiny colorful reef fish none more than 4 inches in length. Without them there would be no fish for dinner. They giggled and followed us along chatting to each other and practicing their English on us.

Water is scarce on Ambrym with the volcano turning rain to acid. At dusk the villagers came down to bathe in the sea. Older ladies who usually wear ‘mother Hubbard’ dresses, wrapped a sarong around themselves and either sat or stood in the water even washing their hair with the seawater. A young boy used the water to wash cabbage for dinner and in the morning pots and pans were washed there. Even with this activity the water at this cove was so clear that we could see the coral below us at 30 ft.
The rising sun burnt orange through the volcano ash as we set off for Waterfall Village, our anchorage on Pentecost Island. We were not sure how we would find this village but Silas, our guide for the Land Diving, told us he had some bungalows near the waterfall and we would be able to see two white “sleeping chairs” on the beach. Sure enough we could see the waterfall from the boat and getting closer we spotted two white banana lounges which, we anchored opposite.

The following day our friends Debbie and Shane flew into Pentacost Island to join us on Duet. That night it rained heavily and by morning the sea was brown from the flooded rivers. The truck that was to take us to the Land Diving wasn’t able to get through the rivers so instead we sailed down the coast to the land diving site. Silas who was to be our guide had just received news of a death in the family so he was unable to come with us. Once again it was a bit strange not knowing exactly where we were going but it all worked out and we found some locals in a boat who guided us to a landing place for the dinghy. It was only a short walk to the land diving tower.

Here there was much dancing and singing. The women wore grass skirts and twirled and danced and whistled. The men wore only bright red nambas wrapped around their body part that the spam filter won’t let me mention (it has taken me three days to figure out why I couldn’t send this email). The young men climbed the tower and as each dived the next moved up a level on the tower. The final jump was from the very top and there was a big build up from the dancers. The dancers all crowded around the base of the tower to celebrate the final diver who was met by much noise and excitement when he reached the ground. It was definitely an experience not to be forgotten.

The weather was fine for the land diving but then rained more and the wind was predicted to build up.  As Waterfall Village anchorage isn’t protected we decided to leave the following day and head west to the island of Malakula. The trip was awful, I still have a big bruise as proof! The sea was very rough and the wind 30+kts. We were so thankful when after 6 ½ hours we arrived at a lovely protected anchorage called Banam Bay.

Our time in Banam Bay was magical. We didn’t leave Duet the following day, as we recuperated from the rough trip across. But the second day we took the dinghy ashore at the south end of the bay and met Massing. He introduced us to Sinob his cousin who took us on a walk to his village through the “edible” jungle. There were coconuts, bananas, papaya, lemons, limes, pamplemousse (like grapefruit), yams, spinach and also cocoa beans. There were also many kava trees, whose roots are ground and mixed with water to make an intoxicating drink.

We followed Sinob until we came out of the dense vegetation into a clearing and there were six or seven huts. The huts had bamboo woven walls and thatched roofs, there was no tin at all. The surrounding area was all swept and very tidy. Washing was hanging on a tree like Christmas decorations. We walked through this village being greeted with smiles and shy hellos, to another village a couple of minutes further on. As I was walking along following Sinob I noticed a big hole beside the path. It was a well about 500mm round with a stick and bucket next to it. That was the water for the village.

We met two sisters who had just had babies, one in May and one in July. We took their photos and they were so excited to see them on the camera screen. Later we printed them on the boat and brought them back and gave them to the girls who were thrilled and told us that the babies would each have our names, Valerie and Debbie as their second names. Peter helped a few of the men with a couple of odd jobs and took a battery away to charge. Peter returned the next day with the charged battery and some other items they could use such as rope, which was very precious to tie up their cows.

While we had been walking through the jungle Sinob had been collecting fruit for us and leaving it beside the path for us to pickup on our way back to the boat. So we took back to the boat two big bunches of bananas, papaya, limes, lemons and pamplemousse.

The next day we had a visit from two young brothers in a dugout canoe they were from a village to the north. Pattison and Arword were their names. We offered them a drink and they were suprised that it was cold. I showed them an ice cube… they had never seen ice before. They ate one in amazement and watched another melt in the sun.

We visited the local primary school and spent time with the children and gave them some books and pencils. The next day was a holiday and we were invited to a big celebration in the next village. Seven local villages were all gathering there. We were asked to sit with the important guests on a raised dias and share in their meal. A bullock had been killed and the men were sitting in a circle dicing up the meat on large taro leaves.  The meat was cooked in huge pots with vegetables and other gigantic pots were used to cook rice. There was food for everyone and there would have been a couple of hundred people there.  What a day!

After nearly a week of hiding from bad weather we left Banam Bay. It was a very calm anchorage and if it wasn’t for the bad weather we probably wouldn’t have stayed for that long. But it meant that we got to know the local people and had a wonderful experience with them.

We headed on south back to Lamon Bay and Chief Willy, stopping one night in a group of islands called the Maskelyne. Local islanders paddle their canoes to their farms to work during the day and bring food home in the evening. We met Morris and Marina paddling their dugout canoe and they stopped to have a cup of tea with us as they were heading to work their land. The island they live on it too steep and rocky so they go to another island to farm the land for their crops.

We stayed two nights at Lamon Bay and on the second night Melanie, Willy’s wife put on a wonderful farewell dinner for us. All cooking is done over a fire. There is a thatched hut that is used solely for the kitchen and also a fire outside was used and hot rocks put to one side to bake on. Willy and Justin chased a rooster and he was cooked for dinner. We had sweet potato and pumpkin with coconut cream drizzled over it and crisp yam fritters. Melanie cooked a banana pie in the hot rocks similar to using a camp oven.  The food was delicious and Willy gave a lovely speech inviting us to come back anytime and stay with him. He is a very generous chief.

We left very early in the morning to do the long passage back to Port Vila so Debbie and Shane could catch their plane home. The local supply boat “Big Sista” arrived in Lamon Bay from Vila at 3am near where we were anchored. It cannot get to shore so all the little dugout canoes from the village paddle backwards and forwards taking supplies to shore. Since we were awake we decided to head off. As we sailed out of the bay we could see the volcano on Ambrym glowing red in the distance.

Our short time in Vanuatu has been an amazing cultural experience, with people who have so little, but are so happy and prepared to give so much.

Bye for now

PS: If you want to follow Duets position – visit this link –

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