Saturday, October 25, 2008


Hey hey everybody! Well despite what you might think, I’m alive and lazy….I know I haven’t written anything for a while so I’m gonna give it my best to re-inspire myself and write a bit about what I’ve been up to for the last few weeks (…or is it months!).
After roughing it somewhat in PNG for three weeks or so I decided to follow my buddy John to Bali for a much needed break from the real world. Time to get back to the tourist trail to cut loose and meet some more backpackers for a change! The logistics of getting out of PNG are a bit of a nightmare with no flights directly to Indonesia, so I had to take an internal flight north and cross the border over land into Jayapura, the Indonesian side of Papua. Here I met some really friendly locals who put me up in their home for 4 days while I waited for my flight to Bali and showed me all the best sights and karaoke bars in town. I think the highlight here would have to be the food… best chili I’ve ever had, and cheep as chips!
Anyway I finally made it to Bali, grossly overweight with all my kite-surfing kit and promptly got ripped off by the first taxi I took into Kuta. Apparently dude had never heard of poppies lane where all the cheap accommodation is….. yeah right! Luckily, when you get ripped off in Bali it’s usually only over a few thousand rupiah, so paying off the cops every time you get busted for not having a license for your scooter, or not wearing a helmet, or running a red light or….. whatever, should never cost you more than about 10 bucks. Anyway, Kuta as expected, is an incredibly touristy place with cheap counterfeit shopping everywhere. You also get pretty good at bartering, hardcore! Scooters only cost a couple of dollars a day to rent so it wasn’t long before me and John saddled up with all our kite gear for a road trip around Bali and neighboring island of Lombok in search of the ultimate kite surfing spots. To cut a long story short, I nearly killed myself landing my kite in Sanur, (which prompted me to double check my travel insurance policy and bank balance after paying off the locals whose beach stalls I wrecked on my terrestrial kite looping session) and John did his best to kill himself with a triple dose of Malaria, Dengue Fever, and Bronchitis. Luckily for him his insurance picked up his 5 star hospital bill until he decided to head home to recover. I hear he’s back kite-surfing again so he must be doing fine!
Well, that just about covers Bali and Indonesia. After many great kite sessions in Bali (no really, we did have some great kite sufing!) I managed to sell my gear for a good price before I hit Malaysia and Thailand, where I knew the kiting would be average at best. From here on I was hoping to hit Borneo for some jungle fun…. More soon!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Travel conscience kicks in....

Yikes! Cant believe its been over a month since my last post…. sorry if I’ve been a bit of a dark-horse, same old excuses…. developing nations having shite internet access and all that!

Gizo turned out to be a rad little island town with really friendly locals and a bunch of cool
intrepid travellers to hang out with. When we arrived I got an email from my buddy John, who was also travelling the south pacific by boat. Apparently (as of a couple of weeks before I got the email) the yacht he was on, Roam Free, was somewhere in the Western provinces, not far from Gizo. We had both talked of meeting up some place along the way so this was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss. The only problem was my boat Sora, was leaving for Darwin in two days and I had no way of contacting Roam Free. Hmmmm…… I didn’t even know if Roam Free was still even in the Solomons….oh well, what ever happens, happens!

So I said my goodbyes to the good crew on Sora, and settled into a nice little guesthouse with a gorgeous view and some really cool kids from the UK and the Netherlands. There isn’t a lot of tourism in the Solomon’s, but it’s a world renowned spot for diving so I spent the next week surveying some amazing wrecks and reefs with my new buddies, and constantly keeping an eye on the harbour entrance for my ride out! I figured if Roam Free was still in the Western Solomon’s, they would probably reprovision in
Gizo before heading to PNG. As luck would have it, just as I was starting to contemplate the grim prospect of a ride on a cargo vessel to Australia, a large cat was spotted off the reef, which soon turned out to be Roam Free. After nearly two weeks, Gizo was starting to get a little bit small and I was getting sick of Power/Water/Phone/internet outages so I was pretty stoaked to see the 55ft Catamaran with John on board. It was also a bonus to see the look on Jonno’s face when I swum out to the boat to meet him. We hadn’t had any real communication and he thought there might only be a slight chance of meeting up in PNG so he was also buzzing to finally meet up with someone on the same wavelength (kiting, kiting, kiting!).

With the hard part of finding the boat over, I had only to convince the captain that he actually needed another crew member on board….. luckily wasn’t too much of a challenge! This time round I would be paying my own way, covering my own living expenses and chipping in for diesel. Joining a new boat was a nice change, and being the same length as Sora, but with two hulls and a 24ft beam, there was loads more
room. The crew on board were also good fun, Randy (captain), Tye (cap’s son), and Robin (cap’s cousin) were all from the US, and with Jonno and myself, we made a crew of 5. With 4 double cabins someone had to draw the short straw so me and John either took turns in the cabin, or slept on deck. Cats are an interesting breed of yacht, and although they tend to be a lot more stable at sea, they have an awkward crabbing movement in rough seas which takes some getting used to. Needless to say, we did have some slightly rough weather along the way, and I’m sure we all felt a bit queasy at some time or another!

The trip from Gizo to PNG was a nice lazy relief from the schedule we were forced to keep on
Sora. We made the northern end of the Louisiade archipelago (PNG) just a couple of days out of port and followed this remote chain of islands and reefs all the way to the mainland of Papua. We stoped every so often for a kite-surf, snorkel/dive (compressor & gear all on board), or even just to trade with the natives. The fish were also coming thick and fast with a few tuna and mahi-mahi and lots of Spanish mackerel. It was just as well we had Robin on board, as although was a bit of a nutcase at times, she was still a good laugh and a trained chef to boot! We enjoyed some amazing feeds but my personal favourite would still have to be the classic beer battered fresh fish with special dipping sauce…mmmmm!

All up I think it must have taken us about 10 days and about 700 miles to reach Samurai, the first place in PNG where we could legally check into the country. From there on we followed the coast another three or four days, stopping just a couple of times. The first stop was to trade a massive Spanish mackerel we caught for some bananas. This turned out to be a hilarious undertaking, facilitated on the tribal side by a 90yr old woman with only one giant (betlenut-red) tooth and a massive grotesque looking growth on one lip. Surprisingly, like most of the islands we had visited, their English was r
elatively good which made things easier. Our last stop before PNG was initially just going to be to collect our thoughts, and prepare ourselves for the big bad city that is Port Moresby. However, it wasn’t long before we had made friends with the local villagers and discovered the price of pig….mmmm….free range pig!!

The best little piggie by far…..
For 30 kinna (around NZ$15) me and John got to wrangle a little piggy from the villages heard for our supper. This was easier said
than done, but to honour the memory of our little piggy, I will not make light of the fun and games that ensued. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and this was a very sad and sombre event. As with any animal, the death of a piggy is no pleasant or pretty event, but staying true to my vegetarian beliefs back home, I wasn’t shy to stick an extra knife in to make sure piggy didn’t suffer. After the slaying, little piggy was then singed on a roaring fire of coconut palms to burn his hair off. What came next was also quite a spectacle. After piggy was taken off the fire and laid on the beach, about four locals attacked our poor crispy little piggy with knives, disembowelling him and tearing his little body limb from limb. Even in the most sophisticated abattoirs we are afforded today by our highly evolved society, I could not imagine a little piggy such as ours to be so swiftly prepared for the fridge or freezer. Naturally, for all their troubles, we left the villagers with all the best parts like the kidneys, liver, spleen, lips, tongues and arseholes (you get the picture!) and made for the barbeque on the boat. Hmmm…. That little piggy tasted goood!

When we finally got to Port Moresby we didn’t know quite what to expect. All the cruising guides told us to avoid the city at all costs, WARNING: they stated. DO NOT LEVE THE SECURITY OF THE (wonderful) YACHT CLUB COMPOUND AT ALL COSTS! Hmmm….something to look forward to obviously. Yet Port Moresby was a necessary evil, as Randy had hopeful plans to haul Roam Free out of the water, do some much needed repairs, and store her on the hard for ten months while he tended business back home. Upon arrival it seemed the warnings were not unfounded as a kiwi businessman seemed to take great pride in the capitals n
otoriety. He boasted that Port Moresby was the second most dangerous place in the world after Iraq. Wow. What about Jo-Burg? Quipped our saffa, John. Oh, actually maybe the third. Afghanistan? Well…urrrr… this guy was full of it. He also told us there was a 92% unemployment rate (in all of PNG), despite having staggering GDP growth of 7.6%. However these stats I can confirm. Despite the shockingly high crime and unemployment rate, this ‘Asian Tiger’ has vast untapped oil, gas and mineral resources which are only now just starting to be exploited. Ever since P.N.G gained its independence from Australia in 1973, its public services, including health, education, transport and utilities, have become seriously degraded. This has been largely due to an unstable and corrupt political system which is only now regaining some sort of stability and leadership. However, as you can imagine, 90% of the investment into the development of this country comes from offshore, and with ridiculously low wage rates and a flat income-tax rate of just 10%, its no surprise that so little of this revenue ever benefits the people who actually live here. Inflation is also running at a massive 10%, and with food and gas prices soaring, I can see a dangerous rift widening between the local ‘politicly connected’ businessmen, and the struggling masses who can no longer afford to live in a country that is developing to fast for them to keep up with. This notoriously corrupt government certainly has some issues to deal with, but there is also a lot of promise if it gets it right.

While storage arrangements for Roam Free were being made back at the yacht club, John and I were making plans to do a short foray into the highlands along the famous Kokoda trail before flying north to the Indonesian border town of Vanimo. There are about five central provinces on the mainland of PNG, none of which are connected by road so the only practical way to get around is fly. Unfortunately, you cant even fly direct to Indonesia from PNG, so after doing the trail, we had planned to cross into Indo at the only mainland crossing up north, then travel by ferry or local flights from Jayapura through the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Anyway, just when we were getting fed up with the painful logistics and probable expense of
hiking the Kokoda trail, we decided to take a break and go for a kite-surf on a nearby beach. The yacht club where we were staying was relatively sheltered so we were stoaked to discover a good breeze blowing over the hill, and a nice sandy beach to launch from. The people here have never seen anything like kite surfing before, so just by pumping up your kite you become an instant rock-star with the kids. Unfortunately the session turned to poose as the tide went out and the reef became more exposed. John put a sizable hole in his board showing off to the kids and we were both looking forward to gnarley infections after standing on the numerous sea-urchins that were hiding in the sand. As we struggled to land our kites amongst the throng of screaming kids one captivated local approached us and insisted on taking us back to his village up the coast where he promised us consistent 20kt winds and as much flat water as we wanted on the longest beach in mainland PNG. Kula didn’t exactly fit the profile of one of the local rascals, (general thief’s, thugs, and baby killers) and his offer of wind was too good to refuse, so we made arrangements to meet him the next day to make the four hour trip east by PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) to his village on the Aroma coast.

We met Kula the next day with a couple more of our friends (John and Emma) who had also sailed from NZ. They were gagging to get out of the yacht club compound and see some of the
real PNG, so we made arrangements for them to tag along. When the PMV turned up we all had a bit of a giggle (being hardy adventurous types....little did we know how crowded it would get!) as it was nothing more than a flat deck cargo truck with a couple of wooden benches down the side. After some quick shopping for supplies, we piled in and hit the road. Unfortunately we missed out on most of the scenery due to our late departure, but Kula and the other locals on the truck kept us entertained with information about the villagers and local traditions along the way. About and hour out of Moresby along the sealed road, the power service ceased and the villages we passed through we lit by just a few solar-powered lights and kerosene lamps. Kula turned out to be the youngest son of the village chief and very concerned about the welfare and development of his own people. Apparently the local government were more corrupt than the national government, and when I saw the state of their main access road when we turned off the highway, it wasn’t hard to believe. After an hour busting my butt on the wooden seats as we slammed through numerous pot holes, I was told that when it rains, this section takes four hours instead of two, and its probably only about 80kms!

When we finally arrived at the village around midnight, everyone was a bit saddle-sore and knackered. We would be staying with Kula’s parents (the Chief of the village) in their spare house (not as flash as it sounds!), which was perfect for what we needed. The houses here are all built on stilts and are very basic, with open air windows, no plumbing, and virtually no furniture.

The house was just a short walk to the beach, and as the full moon was shining bright, we decided we’d have to go and check it out. When John and I e
merged from the bush onto the beach, I’m sure there was an audible gasp between us. In front of us we saw a beautiful wide open beach leading to a great little reef-protected surf break. But better still, beyond the sand and out past the breakers, we saw millions of beautiful little white horses, dancing in the moonlight. John and I took one look at each other…. ‘FARK YEAH, WE”RE GOING KITESURFING!’ I can’t say we’d ever done night kiting before and everyone else thought we were nuts but sometimes we are just nuts so we did it anyway and it was farking mint. We had both been craving a decent session for weeks so when we were done, at least we could think a little clearer… I just hoped there were some hot girls around to take care of the rest, or we might do something really stupid!

We ended up spending about five days at Aroma village, and every day there were perfect kiting conditions with loads of wind and flat water or surf to play in. We even had a couple of sessions teaching Kula, Emma and John the basics, and now I think they might all be hooked too! The funniest thing was that most of the kids at Aroma hand never seen a white
person, let alone a kite-surfer, so there were always massive crowds watching us anytime we went out. News also spread fast to the villages up the coast, so pretty soon people were coming from all over to see us. Kula also turned out to be a bit of an entrepreneur and surprised us all with grand schemes to help develop tourism in the area….mainly in the form of a kite-surfing retreat, something we all highly encouraged!

(ranting on SD PNG)
It was interesting how after just a few informal discussions with Kula and some of the locals how keen they were to bring tourism to Aroma, and even in Moresby for that matter. Not just as an income earner, but more as a way of developing their infrastructure, and to educate themselves on our western culture. But beneath all the hype and excitement generated by our visit, Aroma already seamed like such a safe, vibrant, subsistence and family orientated environment. It’s easy to wonder why these people are so desperate for change, when we look back at our own communities than can seem so hostile at times. When I think about the development of PNG, I can’t help but worry that they’re going to make all the same mistakes we have. Wasting resources, degrading the environment, alienating indigenous peoples…. The list goes on. PNG has
something like the third largest rainforest in the world, but it also has one of the highest rates of deforestation. Town planning in the capital is positively retarded, and there are obviously few restrictions for development. There is no government funded public transport service (although and informal, irregular, private network exists), and even the roads in the central city are full of potholes. Many of the cities settlements are without proper sanitation and power blackouts are an almost daily occurrence. I later discovered that the area we stayed in with Kula for a couple of days was deemed so dangerous, that Telecom refused to maintain the phone lines. There’s certainly a lot of necessary development in all sectors, but how will hold up in the changing climates of the future?

Hmmmm…. this could be a calling for me to do something useful with my life, and I’
ve thought long and hard about staying in PNG over the last couple of weeks. Aside from flailing about as the big gay Sustainable Superhero here in PNG, there are loads of opportunities to set up shop or invest and make some serious, serious money. But… as they say, timing is everything and as my friend John so famously put it when he left to continue his travels just a week ago. “I just havn’t slept with enough white girls yet, and the fuzzy-wuzzy chicks just aren’t doing it for me”. Wise words Jonno, I’ll see you in Bali in a week! What is it they say…. ‘Young, dumb, and full of….fun?’ Anyway, if you’re looking for a place to invest think PNG…seriously. Give me an email and I’ll hook you up with Kula if you’re interested, so far his business interests include property development, Gold Trading, Stationary supplies, and now kite-surfing!

I think that pretty much brings me up to where I am now. I’ve spent the last two weeks in Port Moresby, staying at a nice little coastal village called Vabukori on the outskirts of the city. I seem to have come with the right people as I get mad respect anywhere
I go. I think the people around here are just really stoaked to see a white person openly walking around the village, hanging out, and willing to share a laugh. Kite-surfing has also been a great medium to meet people, you only have to go out once off the village beach and pretty soon everyone knows who you are! Unfortunately, most foreigners in POM are just so paranoid and preoccupied with business that they never get a real sense of the lifestyle or poverty, of the people beyond the razor wire compounds they like to hide behind. If you feel like an intrepid journey, I recommend PNG. Go to the highlands and go panning for gold, if you don’t get killed, you’ll probably end up a millionaire!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ciao Bella Vanuatu!

Well it had to happen sometime, and with some 2400 miles (roughly 16 days) sailing to cover in less than a month, we figured we’d better bust a move and get away while the weather was still looking good.

Our time on Espiritu Santos will be well remembered, whilst Vila didn’t exactly seem like much of a tourist trap, Luganville was even less so. The town itself (pop around 12 000) is a pretty typical sleepy tropical setup, with a good market and a number of other stores that all seem to sell a bit of everything and shut each day between 11:30 and 1:30. Hmmm…..maybe that’s why its so sleepy! Anyway there was enough there for us to chill out in the bay for four or five days and re-provision comfortably before we left.

The two highlights while on Santos would have to be a little road-trip I took via mountain bike around the coast to some famous blue water springs and a couple of days spent diving on ‘Million Dollar Point’ and the sunken wreck of the ‘USS President Coolidge’.

After waking up early one morning with no plans I thought it might be a good idea to hire a bike some place and see if I could make it the 40km or so around the island to the famous ‘blue holes’, one of the few tourist attractions in the area. While no one else was keen to slog their guts out on a bike in the rising heat I set out to find a bike to rent. Unfortunately it didn’t take long to find out that there wasn’t a single place in town that rented out bikes so my only option was to try bartering with the locals (luckily most speak pretty good English). After flagging down a bunch of kids on the street I’d had a few offers but no one seemed to have any brakes and I was told there were a few hills along the way so I had gratefully declined. After almost an hour spent hunting for a bike I decided to flag the brakes and take the next offer, so I was soon on my way on a beat up old mountain bike with 3gears (out of 21), no brakes, and a seat that would later become the bane of my beaten and bruised bum….oh well, I figured It was good to get off the boat and get some exercise.

Anyway, after taking the scenic route through a bunch of native villages and being treated to some of the local produce I rejoined the main road around the island. Like Efate (Vila), the main roads still exist from those built by the Americans during WWII, and although no bombs were ever dropped on these islands, the roads outside of town all look like they’ve been carpet bombed by the Japs at some stage or another. Only after a couple of hours on my bike, the combination of a seat with the padding eaten out of it and a road with potholes up to my elbow, left me fearing I might be rendered infertile forever after! Anyway, just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore a trusty Hilux rolled up with three raucous Aussie girls on the back, and (regrettably) their husbands in the cab in front. Being a seasoned hitch hiker, it wasn’t long before I was drinking cold beers on the back with the girls and on my way to one of the most beautiful swimming holes I’ve ever seen. Of course, by this time the batteries were flat in my camera so I cant show off the girls... oh well! Luckily I was with a good crew with some local knowledge as the pool was so hidden that I never would have found it on my own. It would seem property is pretty cheap in Vanuatu and it’s becoming a popular sport for kiwis and Aussies to build holiday homes here, good old fashioned kiwi batches with solar panels and all!

The Diving in Santo is also world famous. Although no battles were fought here during WWII, there was a major American naval base at Luganville and the Americans managed to sink a bunch of their ships all on their own! The most famous of these is the ‘USS President Coolidge’ which sunk just off the shore outside of Luganville when it hit a couple of American mines. It now lies about 50m off shore in around 20-60m of water. The Coolidge is a cruise ship that was converted to a troop carrier/transporter for the war in the pacific. It is now one of the most famous wreck dives in the world thanks to its easy access, and awesome array of war paraphernalia, including cargo holds packed full of jeeps, trucks, tanks, bulldozers and the like.
We dove the ‘Coolidge’ the day before we left with a local dive outfit who were cowboy enough not to care too much for legit diving certification, but they were cheap, and we didn’t all have our cert’s on us anyway so who’s complaining! Anyway, first dive was a bit of a recccie so they could suss us out as divers. We still got to penetrate the upper decks and got down to 40m though, pretty deep considering Simon had only just been certified! The second dive in the afternoon was definitely the highlight. This was a more in-depth (excuse all the terrible puns here!) penetration to the medical supply room and a couple of cargo holds. The supply room is still full of medical supplies and instruments and the cargo holds were packed full of cool shit like guns, jeeps and tanks. At those depths you only get about 20mins bottom time so it soon time to head for the surface, stopping several times along the way up the coral bank to feed the fish and decompress. Yay! Definitely a dive spot to go back to, there is soo much more to explore.

‘Million Dollar Point’ is only 500m down the coast and is a famous dumping ground for American equipment after WWII. From what I hear it was cheaper of the Americans to dump huge amounts of machinery (trucks, bulldozers, planes etc.) of the back of their ships than is was to take them home again…go figure! Anyway, It makes a super cool spot do dive or snorkel with wreckage ranging from 5-30m of water.

Anyway, so now were just about to pull into Ghizo Island in the Solomons. We’ve been at sea for the last 6 days and were originally planning to go straight to Papua New Guinea but some more dodgy weather (40+ knots) was forecast ahead of us so we have veered north to skip along its northern edge. We’ll probably spend three four days here while the weather clears before we head south to follow our original route to Darwin. We don’t know a lot about Ghizo, but I hear there’s some more good diving. I think there was quite a bit of action here during WWII so I’m looking forward to some more wrecks!
Take care ya’ll and stay tuned!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Island Hopping through Vanuatu

Hey people! Well I've managed to get myself behind a computer again, sitting in an anchorage outside of Luganville, on Espirto Santos (Northern end of Vanuatu Islands). It’s stinking hot and I should be snorkeling but I know I’ve gotta blow this one out…even if it is for the second time after the computer crashed on me!

We left Port Vila about a week ago with plans to continue North along the volcanic chain of islands that make up Vanuatu. While Cassie stocked up with fresh fruit and veges (half of which I had never seen before), the rest of us stocked up on cheep DVD’s and even cheaper duty free booze. $14 for a 1l bottle of Johnnie Walker and no limit meant we had quite a load to carry back to the boat! Trouble was we couldn’t drink any till we cleared out of Vanuatu in a couple of weeks time……hmmmm, definitely a test of will power!

We thought it would be nice to take it easy so we decided to do short trips during the day before pulling up into a protected anchorage to spend the night. Our first stop was just off the northern end of Efate (Port Vila) before we hit open water again briefly on our way to Cooks Reef. This reef is off the southern coast of Epi and with perfect conditions we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get in a bit on snorkeling and spear fishing before heading out to sea again. Unfortunately, the fish weren’t as big or stupid as I would have liked, but it was still good fun.

Our next destination was an inlet off the southern end of Malakula Island, called port Sandwich (don’t ask about the stupid name, it must have been the French who left in 1980). We had been having excellent sailing conditions since leaving Vila and this leg was no exception with average speeds of 7-8kts for most of the trip, mostly under spinnaker. We were also coming to the end of the last Waahoo that we had caught just out Vila, so it was time to throw out the lure again. It wasn’t long before we had hooked up again, this time it was Simon’s home-made popper made out of an old broomstick that did the damage. This thing has been slaying plenty of fish on this trip so if you’re thinking about trolling for the big fish don’t get sucked into the hundred-dollar jobbies down at you local tackle store, this thing is the shizzle! Anyway, another beautiful Mahi-Mahi hit the freezer and should keep us going for a good while yet.

When we finally reached the mouth of the inlet at port Sandwich after an 8hr sail we were all relieved to be out of the heaving swells that were building with the rising winds. We had been reading in the Vanuatu cruising guide about man eating sharks in this harbor so we were also a little hesitant to get in the water! Port Sandwich used to be an old French settlement before Vanuatu gained its independence in 1980, and the French moved out. It’s now occupied by a few hundred Melanesians who have funnily enough abandoned most of the French buildings to build their own traditional houses. Most of the villagers here work in the Copra (coconut) plantations which is the main industry on the island.
Anyway the next day we all went ashore and it wasn’t long before we had been introduced to what seemed like half the village. The people here speak Bislama (local pidgin english), French, and English (in that order) and although they kept telling us in English ‘I don’t speak English’, we seemed to have no problems communicating. Before we knew it, a feast of roast pig had been arranged for us the following day. For the last couple of years I’ve had a philosophy of only eating what I would call Free-Range, good-karma, sustainable meat. When I went traveling I knew I would have to compromise on these values if I was really going to experience local culture, but in this village I had no worries. The whole village was simply a free-range grazing area for cows, pigs and chickens. When they found out we were after a pig, the word was put out amongst the villagers and before we knew it, the pig was killed, butchered and roasted in the local bakers (wood-fired) oven. Yum!
After our feast with the locals of Pig, yams, rice, and fresh bread (hmmmm…..starch!) we also got a chance to try the infamous Vanuatu Kava. We were told specifically not to eat anything before hand so just before dinner one evening we landed our dingy and met one of the Peace Corps workers who had agreed to show us some of the-night life around town. It was only 6:00 when we got into town, but already dark and as we walked past several kava bars (really just low-key grass huts… no neon lights here!) we could already hear the kava being prepared. There are also very few lights (and definitely no signage) in the village at night, so if you didn’t have a guide your chances of finding kava might not be so easy. Anyway, we found our bar, a low key grass hut filled with men talking in hushed tones (and spitting all over the show) and settled down on bench outside. The first round wasn’t so bad because we didn’t know what to expect. Me, Si, Cassie, and Terry threw down a bowl, and immediately felt the numbing effects take over in our mouths. After a second bowl was choked down by each of us (now anticipating the earthly tones of dirty dish water….aghhh) we were well on our way. I think it affected each one of us differently but it sure made the 30min walk back to the dingy a bit more of a mission!
That pretty much sums up the traditional way of living in most of Vanuatu outside of Vila and Luganville. Not a lot of villages have electricity, relying on generators (rare) or solar panels. The people are super friendly, never pestering, and always generous. Crime seems to be very rare, and we’ve read that there’s a 100% employment rate in Vanuatu. This hardly surprised me, when you go into a store in Vila it seems like there are always 2 staff to every customer!

So now we’re in Luganville in the North, and planning to stay for about another week. There are loads of WWII wrecks around here including the famous USS Coolidge so we’re all looking forward to doing some diving on sunken ships, planes, jeeps and reefs. My underwater camera is still holding up so I’ll see If I can get some good photos…..stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Vanuatu......hello paradise!

Hey Everyone....I know I've been pretty shite up until now at keeping you up to date, so I though I'd pick up from Vanuatu, then fill in the rest later with some good pics.

We left New Caledonia about a week ago, Noumea was a bit of a let down and pretty shabby (not to mention expensive!) so we were all keen to move on to new places. Vanuatu was always supposed to be our first port of call after Opua (NZ) but we defected to New Cal en-route to dodge some dodgey weather. Anyway, the trip from Noumea was pretty quick thanks to a steady 25-30kt breeze. Pretty rolly weather though, I now swear by motion sickness pills!

Life onboard during passage has been pretty chilled out so far, thanks to the good weather we've generally picked before leaving. There are four of us on board, Terry (Skipper), Cassy (Terry's Daughter), Simon (another kiwi from Whangarei) and me. Most of us are generally up during the day (bar the odd cat-nap), reading books, laxing out, fishing, or otherwise just trying to stop ourselves from being rag-dolled around the cabin in rough seas. 'Sora', is a pretty easy boat to sail with all the mod cons and fancy gadgets (including auto-pilot, in-mast furling, chart-plotter, electric winches) so it's pretty easy to plug in your destination, raise the sails and let the gadgets take over until you reach port. All you really have to do once you're in open water is trim the sails now and then and keep watch for bad weather and boats that might get in your way. During the Night we all take a 3hr watch to make sure there is always someone on deck in case anything goes wrong or it looks like we're about to get run down by a container ship! Watches are always a good time to get a bit of quiet time to your self, but I've also discoverd how to watch movies on my ipod which generally helps keep you awake!

Pretty soon after leaving Noumea (capital of New Caledonia) I threw a line out as we threaded out through the complicated reef system surounding New Cal. Fishing off 'Sora' is a little bit unconventional, and somewhat unsporting.... but then again I like to fish for the table, not for the sport of it. Anyway, to put it simply we just got one big eff-off game fishing reel with a bunch of million pound fishing line and bolted it straight onto one of the safety rails at the back of the boat. We do this so we don't have to dick around in the rolling swells for hours trying to play a fish on rod and reel, given the manourverability of a 55ft ketch under full sail this general wouldn't be practical! When a fish hooks up we generally just tow it for a bit (sometimes till they're just about dead and surfing on the surface behind the boat) and haul it up by hand/reel when its stopped fighting. With this setup we can catch just about anything from Tuna to Marlin, as Terry has done so in the past. On the way from Noumea we caught a small Tuna and two Mahi-Mahi (Dorado) of respectable size... the first of which somehow manged to win the manic wrestling match that ensued after we hauled it on deck, spitting the hook and jumping off the gaff back into the sea...woops! I must say I felt a bit guilty, Mahi-Mahi are such beautiful big creatures and aparently they mate for life. The second one was not not so lucky and was soon filleted for the freezer. Stink thing is when you catch one of these big Palegic (Ocean crossing) fish theres normally enough meat on them to feed the four of us for at least a week so once we catch one thats generally the end of our fishing for the rest of our passage. Catch and release is not exactly a humane or sustainable option!

Our last leg between Noumea and Vila was relatively short at about 300 miles so it only took us 3days doing an average speed of 6-8kts. Given the rough seas we were experiencing it was just as well. Our first impressions of vila from the boat were already in stark contrast with Noumea, with loud music and colourful markets lining the water front. As you can imagine we were all super keen to stretch our legs and sample the local fare but unfortunately we had arived on Saturday. Customs wasn't open until Monday and until we cleared we wouldn't be aloud on shore......ahhhhhhhh!!!!! Oh well, the boat's usually an absolute mess after an ocean passage so I spose it made tidying up a slightly easiey task to get stuck into.

Well now it's Tuesday and we've had a bit of time to suss out Vila and I'm loving it. The people are soooo friendly, most things cost the same as NZ but piracy is also rife so Ilegal DVD's, Computer Software, and counterfit clothes are super cheap. Tomorrow we'll hire a car to drive around the island and hopefully visit some of the local tribes.....I'll keep you posted!