Yesterday morning at 0800 we arrived quite safely in Port Resolution in the country of Vanuatu. The trip here was rather uneventful save a small issue with the roller furling for the jib. It is nothing we couldn’t deal with and certainly did not have to be fixed at sea. In fact, we will wait until we reach Port Vila to look at it further. Since we barely had enough wind to sail by and motor sailed or just plain motored most of the way it definitely was not an issue.
And, now we find ourselves in a primitive land where the people have zero concept of time. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that this is a bad thing, it’s just that it is something a person needs to understand if they want to keep from being frustrated on a moment to moment basis.
Allow Me To Explain
You see, the Ni-Vanuatu people don’t really care about time. Why should they? They live in some of the most primitive and remote villages in the entire world. Their lives are truly as simple as it gets…they worry about food, water, shelter and family.
After all, it’s not like they jump off the mat in the morning and hit the ground running. No, they aren’t racing around fixing a hurried breakfast for the kids before jamming them into the gas guzzling SUV to drive them to school like their first world neighbors. They don’t have to worry about picking up the dry cleaning and stopping to get some froufrou, overpriced coffee before they punch a time clock. And they certainly aren’t dealing with some over anal boss who is giving them crap for getting stuck in a traffic jam and showing up three minutes late for a meeting.
No, their way of life is the most basic and primitive you can imagine. Concepts like time and racing the clock to get something done simply do not register in their brains. And to be honest, what’s wrong with that? I mean who wants to be hurried and stressed all the time anyway?
If you ask a Ni-Vanuatu how long it takes to say, hike up a mountain or to walk to a village they may say “not long” but what does that actually mean? Well, it could mean a few minutes, a few hours or all day. You see to them the time it takes is just that…whatever the time it takes. So it doesn’t matter if it takes a few minutes or all day. It is what it is and you can’t change it so why do you need to quantify it? Understanding this about their culture coming in can make a world of difference in how you handle it once you arrive. For me, a person with little patience, it could drive me crazy but since I know this going in…I think I’ll be fine. At least I think so anyway.
Since we wanted to check into the country in Port Resolution we had to jump through a few more hoops than others. If you read our last article you know all about that. Anyhow, we had our permission to come here and we were excited about it.
When I woke up from my post watch nap yesterday we were less than six miles from the port. I was hoping to get my first glimpses of Mt. Yasur and the volcano but alas the clouds were in and there was nothing to see. Okay…not a big deal. I’ll see it in a day or so.
As we arrived in the anchorage at around 0800 we saw just one other boat. It’s a catamaran and as is usual for cats it was anchored in much shallower water leaving us more than enough room to pick whatever spot we wanted in this rather large and shallow bay. We located a good spot and began to run through our normal anchoring procedures. Dan on the bow running the winch and me at the helm. We’d been forewarned that while this anchorage does offer some great holding once you get the anchor set, it can be a bit tricky to get the anchor set in the first place. And, it was.
The first place we dropped we just could not get it to bite in for us so we pulled it up and moved to another spot. This time we thought we had the anchor in but as I began to back down on it we started to drag. I have a rule when setting the anchor. We have to maintain 0 knots SOG for at least twenty seconds with the engine in reverse at 2200 RPMs before I will say the anchor is set. If the speed kicks up during my count we start all over because once I say it’s set then it’s on me if we start dragging.
We did finally get the anchor set to my satisfaction and it was finally time, after four days, for us to shut down the engine and enjoy a little peace and quiet and, well, a couple of ice cold Fiji Golds. Ahhh….we made it….once again we cheated death.
As we sat in the cockpit enjoying our frosty rewards we began to survey the land around us. The scent of earthy jungle combined with a briny salt permeated the thick, humid air. On shore we could see but four tiny huts. One to our port stern sitting high upon a cliff, one about midway into the bay on the port side, one at the head of the bay and a final one sitting on a cliff overlooking the beach at the head of the bay. Yes, this appeared to be a most remote and desolate place.
Is Anyone Out There?
Once we were all settled Dan picked up the radio and called for Vanuatu Customs on VHF 16. No reply. He called again and again and got nothing. Next he tried Port Resolution Yacht Club. Nothing! So, here we were with no way to get checked in. Hmmmmm.
I looked at the clock and it was still just after 0900 and in fairness we had told them 1000 so maybe that’s why they weren’t answering. And, in order to get here the border officials have to travel 2-3 hours over gnarly, mountainous roads so I decided I needed to just be patient….a concept that is quite foreign for me.
When 1100 came around my patience was wearing and I felt I needed to do something. Even having lived this relaxed lifestyle for years now I still have a bit of that first world urgency running through my veins so I wasn’t content to just sit around waiting for something to happen. I felt the need to make something happen.
After all, it’s a Friday. If they don’t clear us in then we could be stuck sitting on the boat in the anchorage until Monday. THAT would not make Jilly a happy sailor. So, I set my fingers to work and started emailing everyone at Customs who had emailed me in the past few days. It took several emails back and forth before we were finally advised that they were leaving Lenakal to make the mountainous drive to Port Resolution.
By 1500 we finally had received a call from the Customs officer telling us they had arrived and were ready to complete the formalities of check in. We were asked to come ashore and meet them at the Port Resolution Yacht Club. (More on the PRYC later) What’s odd about this is that typically when you check into a country the officials board your vessel to be sure you are not a smuggler. Heck, depending upon the country they will even go through all of your lockers. But here they seem very trusting or maybe it had to do with the fact that it was raining at the time and they figured it was better for us to get wet than it was for them.
We dropped Sparkle in the water and in the misting rain we headed to shore. As we neared the shore we began to look for the proper landing spot. Finding the path up into the village was not as easy as one would expect as there is a lot of jungle there but we saw a line of Polynesian style dugout canoes on the beach and one power longboat anchored in the water so we knew we were in the right place.
After a few minutes of searching the shoreline I spotted it and quite frankly I wasn’t overly thrilled. You see the path from the beach was a narrow, muddy path that went practically straight up for close to 3 meters. The only way to traverse it was to climb it holding onto roots and whatever else looked to be securely fastened to the earth. “This will be fun, NOT!”
While Dan anchored the tender off the beach and then tied another line to a giant root for added security, I studied the muddy path to determine the best way to scale it without sliding back down. Fortunately Dan decided to take the lead and was there to assist me on the final, large step up to solid ground. I tried not to look back because I was really more afraid of the going down part than the going up. Oh well….I’ve got time to fall down later. For now it’s time to meet with the border agents.
With a gentle mist falling on the jungle canopy we made our way to what is affectionately known as the Port Resolution Yacht Club. We’ve been around enough to know that not every yacht club looks like the California Yacht Club in Los Angeles but this one, well, I mean, this is truly something. You know, something as in this is a yacht club????
It seems the folks here on Tanna Island have a completely different idea of what a yacht club is than I do. This yacht club is, well, a broken down shack with no doors, no windows, no lights and virtually no walls to speak of and the pungent scent of mold and dampness permeate the place. In fact the only part of it that even remotely resembles a yacht club are the courtesy flags from around the world that hang from the ceiling. Seems to me they need to up their dues so they can pay for a remodel. LOL
Oh but these are the joys of traveling and spending time in third world countries. You see things you’d never believe existed unless you saw them with your very own eyes.
As we approached the yacht club we are greeted by the Customs and Biosecurity agents. They are both well dressed in their respective uniforms and they stand to greet us and shake our hands. The brother to the Customs agent was sitting on a wooden chair near the doorway and sitting on a raggedy old couch in the opposite corner is another man with his young son. Both the man and his son are very dark skinned but the boy has a blond, curly afro. Not something I’d have expected if I hadn’t read that many Ni-Vanuatu children have blond hair that will turn dark as they get older. Each of these men rise to shake our hands as well.
The agents lead us to the only table in the place. It’s a long wooden table that looks as if it’s been here a very, very long time. They’ve placed a blue and white striped cloth over it to make it appear a bit more formal. The Customs agent then asks us for our entry paperwork.
“What?” I’m thinking to myself. “I’ve emailed this package to you and a dozen other officials not just once, but four times.” As my mind is reeling in the thoughts of incompetency and a lack of professionalism he tells us that they were having issues with their printer and could not print them this morning. Okay, okay….even I have had technical issues in my day. I certainly can’t fault them for that.
So, now we will have to fill out all of the paperwork by hand. Dan and I each grab a pen and begin to fill in the blanks. It’s dark in here even though it’s 1500 in the afternoon. Of course it’s raining outside too but the lack of lighting is making it difficult to even see what we are filling out. Dan grabs his phone and uses the flashlight while I keep holding my forms up to the light to see what the question is then put it back down to write.
As I begin filling out the Yachts Master’s Certificate the Biosecurity agent stops me and asks if I am the Captain. I tell him I am not. I am just filling in the information for Dan to sign it. Then, of course, in my usual smart aleck way I say, “Really I just like to let him think he’s in charge.” It’s at this moment that I become abundantly aware that in Vanuatu I will need to watch my tongue as the Biosecurity agent looks at me as if to say, “If my woman talked like that I’d beat her into next week.”
You see here, in their world, the order of hierarchy is Chiefs, Elders, Village Men, Boys, PIGS and then women & girls. Yes…pigs are more highly revered than women here. Hard to believe in the year 2022 that this could be the case but alas it is just that. This in mind and seeing how my joke was received I’ve resolved myself that I will have to watch my tongue over the coming weeks. Good luck with that.
With the matter of the paperwork finished up it’s time to pay our fees. If you’ve ever traveled via yacht to a third world country you know that fee time is often an interesting and sometimes even a corrupt experience. It seems the fees that are requested are very often much different than what is shown on the government websites and Vanuatu appears to be no different. We’ve been asked to pay $5000 Vatu to Customs, $5000 Vatu to Biosecurity and $3000 Vatu for the fuel to cross the mountain and check us in at Port Resolution. In reality this comes to about $130 USD and is quite frankly pretty reasonable as border fees go but it is not what shows on the website.
The options are pay it or argue about it. Now, given the fact that the Ni-Vanuatu have been historically known as cannibals and that we’ve just traveled close to 500 NM to get here we quite easily decide to pay the fee and move on. After all, what’s $50 USD here or there to get to spend time in a primitive country where voodoo, black magic, penis sheaths and women with bones in their hair are here to entertain us? I mean really….all that has to be worth twice the pice right?
We’ve paid our fees, received our paperwork and then are notified that the Immigration agent didn’t feel like coming over the mountain so we will have to seek them out when we arrive in Port Vila in a week. After we leave the agents I comment to Dan that it almost sounds like Biden and Harris are running this border but then he points out that they demanded money and gave no promises of anything free. Point well taken.
We decide to take a little stroll through the village before heading back to Dazzler. WOW! Now this is primitive country. When comparing their village to that of those we saw in even the most remote areas of Fiji, the Fijians appear quite wealthy in contrast. The only buildings that are made of wood or concrete walls are the church, school and meeting house. We’re guessing that’s because those are the places they would go to hide from a cyclone.
The houses are huts that are raised about a half a meter above the ground. They have wooden floors and the walls appear to have been created with woven mats….mats that were woven from palm fronds then stitched together. The arched roofs are thatched palm fronds and very thick.
As we walk around we note that there are little “neighborhoods” for the lack of a better word. Each neighborhood has several huts. Without knowing for certain we believe that much like in Fiji each neighborhood represents one clan/family. This village appears to be quite large as there are lots of the little subdivided areas.
Everywhere we look there are chickens….big chickens, baby chicken and loud squawking roosters that strut around like they are the kings of their domain pushing the females and chicks one direction or the other. I guess the pecking order even in the chicken world here puts men above the women. I wonder where the roosters put the pig in their order of hierarchy.
Our walk leads us to a large field where we find a cricket match being played by the women of the village. At least it looks like a cricket match with then exception that they have two batters on at once. It turns out even one of the village men, Were (pronounced weary) had the same question about it. But, it really didn’t matter as they look like they were having a great time. There was even a spectator’s box filled with women and children in colorful costume cheering on the ladies. Around the field the were men sitting under the trees, in the grass and on concrete platforms that appeared to have once been the foundations of buildings.
The Pit Of Death
As we introduced ourselves to Stanley and Were we asked about the trip to the volcano. You see Tanna Island is home to Mt. Yasur and one of the world’s most accessible, active volcanoes. The main reason for coming here is to make the trip to the rim where we can look down into the burning pit of death and feel the power that is Mother Earth.
We’re advised that they take people up in the late afternoons as it’s the best time to see it. The cost is $8000 Vatu for the experience and $2500 Vatu for the ride to and from. For this we get to go through one of the villages to see primitive locals in their native costumes. And, we are relieved of the necessary and strenuous four hour hike up a steep, rocky trail to reach the top. Yep…$105 USD/pp to be taken there by truck seems a whole lot more attractive to this ol’ gal.
We make arrangements to follow the weather and let them know which day looks to be the best. With that we make the trek through the jungle back to the shore where Sparkle awaits to deliver us back to Dazzler for the evening.
Oh, and just in case you are curious….I did not fall down the steep muddy path getting back to the beach. At least not yet. Stay tuned for updates on the situation.
Until next time,