Among those flags was an SSCA burgee documenting the multiple visits by sv Cormorant. We met Harry and Jane of Cormorant way back in Trinidad, where we discovered Jane and I had Dana Hall School in common – me as a student and she (subsequently) as an administrator. After their first visit to Asanvari, Harry and Jane had returned from New Zealand with the equipment to build a miniature hydroelectric plant to provide the village with electricity. It sounds like such a simple thing on paper, a generator to provide electricity where there is none, but Asanvari is a long, long, long way from the "grid." It is a long way even from any easy source of fuel to run a standard generator. To devise a way to provide electricity from natural sources is quite simply, way cool! (For more information on the story of building this generator, SSCA members can search through back issues of the SSCA Bulletin online at www.ssca.org.) It was because of Harry and Jane's efforts here that Asanvari was high on our list of places not to miss.
The yacht club is presided over by Chief Nelson and his son Nixon. Nixon, particularly, speaks great English, having worked as a dive guide out of Luganville. They go out of their way to make yachties feel welcome at Asanavari, and obviously this has worked well for the village.
First thing in the morning, Nixon is liable to come paddling up to your boat with freshly-baked bread. Later in the morning, they may pass the word over the radio about activities that could happen, and in the afternoon they may organize the local ladies to bring in popular items of fruit and veg from village gardens, which we may then purchase by leaving the requested sale price in a pile of coins wherever the item had been sitting!
Although kastom dance is usually a popular thing, Nelson and Nixon picked up quickly on the fact that most of us had been to one or the other kastom dance festival recently if not both. However there was a local wedding planned for our first day that many of the cruisers decided to go to. Local, of course, is a relative term. Asanvari is on the beach, and the wedding turned out to be in a village up on the ridge about a half hour's walk away. In the company of Dave and Chrissie of Runaway Bay, who'd come sailing in from the north the night before, we went along for the "walk", which took a bit longer than advertised and included at stiff climb up a narrow path, something the ladies who'd dressed nicely for the wedding surely hadn't anticipated.
Many of the Vanutau footpaths are the width of bare feet making for challenging footing for gringo walker shod in Tevas or Crocs (the most popular cruiser footwear).
It is amazing these villages that exist sprinkled away in the forests of the mountainside. It makes you realize how little of the country we see, sticking, as we do, to communities right on the coast. On Malekula, and probably on most islands, there are still really, really traditional clans living largely out of touch with the modern world back in the deep folds of the mountains. But an amusing sidelight of our walk was crossing paths with one of Maewo's candidates for parliament hoofing it by footpath the length of his district trying to drum up votes for the upcoming September elections. Later, we asked Nelson and Nixon about the political side of Ni-Vanuatu (Ni-Vanuatu is what the people call themselves) life. It appears to be a completely separate power structure than the chief systems that rule the villages themselves (they say even the prime minister is subject to his chief when in his home village!). Pentecost, we were told has four representatives while Maewo, with a smaller population currently only has one, although due soon to be entitled to a second as their population crests 5,000. (Maewo Island, by the way, is a slightly smaller twin sister to string-bean, mountainous Pentecost to the south.) There are at least four parties fielding candidates, and the fellow we met was not the incumbent, whom Chief Nelson anticipated regaining his seat. A parliament in Port Vila sure seems a long, long way from village life, so I asked how they keep track of what is going on, and he said, "By radio."
At our turnaround point – the village hosting the wedding – we also met the bride-to-be, a nice-looking young woman with a pudgy one-year-old on her hip. Her story is also an interesting vignette of Ni-Vanuatu life. While at school to become a nurse in Port Vila, she hooked up with a fellow student and went home with him to live in Tanna. According to Chief Nelson, her parents back in Maewo had no idea what had become of her! Marriage is a big step here. A groom may have to pay a bride price of up to $100,000 vatu (about $1,000…or the equivalent value in pigs!) He may also have to compensate his future mother-in-law for the loss of a worker as usually the groom takes his bride back to his village. In the old days, and perhaps still, there were elaborate understandings of obligation between the joining families, including that a groom's younger sister might be pledged to the bride's brother and so forth, and sometime this connection might span several generations. On the other hand, most people I asked about this did say that most relationships nowadays start with a mutual attraction at school or church. Evidently, this couple was making things official by coming home to Maewo for the wedding. Another curious tidbit Chrissie picked up is that the couple recently moved to a village in the hills to get away from the dangerous ocean "where children are frequently lost." Perhaps that is just her view, having grown up on the mountain herself!
We did not stay for the wedding itself, which turned out to be the first of a couple of good non-decisions we made while in Asanvari. The second was not going on a trip to "The Bat Cave." I know it's hard to imagine that an American would want to miss out on this, but Don had a sore on his foot that he was nursing, and another hike – advertised at two hours – did not sound like a smart move for it. Right decision. The Bat Cave turned out to take about six hours round trip with much bushwacking by machete and plenty of mosquitoes, and Nick and Bonnie of Rise 'N Shine reported back that there were times, scaling cliffs by means of vines and roots, when they "feared for their lives"! Bonnie did confess that at one point where she was in mortal dread, she looked over the precipice to find an aged grandmother "commuting" to her regular garden. So I guess it is a matter of perspective!
Better, more active decisions we made were the swim in the waterfall (after checking out the generator set-up), the snorkel on Asanvari's recommended reef, and the big group dinner at the yacht club.
The waterfall comes right down to the shore, so it was an easy scramble to get a fresh water plunge after our hot "walk." David and Chrissie were even smart enough to bring soap. Good thing I was last, because ---ooops ----who remembers that soap doesn't float!?! Hey, I'm a child of the Ivory generation, and besides, when is the last time I had a bath!
For the salt water plunge, Don and I dinghied over to the "huge coral head" – really more of a butte that rises from the deep at the south corner of the anchorage. The visibility was impressive, and although the only corals were small ones on the butte's flat top, there were lots of fish in a variety of sizes. Even though Don no longer has his speargun (and I don't think it would have been permitted anyway), he still prefers to snorkel with fish worth shooting if he did have one. Here, we saw at least five huge groupers, as well as the even bigger Napoleon wrasse as well as sizeable parrotfish and a whole slew of various schooling fish. We circled the butte twice and then swam across to the fringing reef and made our way in toward the village where to our surprise there was actually quite a bit of coral and still plenty of fish. Don went back for the dinghy and I continued on in a snorkel swim all the way back to the boat. As you might guess, the side of the anchorage where the waterfall comes down is pretty much devoid of coral or fish. But I could still see our anchor perfectly set in the sand 60 feet down!
We had read (and heard) that Asanvari was a good place for a group dinner ashore. By our third day there the anchorage had collected over a dozen boats, but thanks to the intestinal bug that had troubled at least half the fleet, momentum for a dinner was slow to grow. It took a NZ boat coming up from Vila with guests to get the ball rolling, but when it turned into a 75th birthday party for Rod of Sah-le-ah, everybody joined in. Nixon and his family put on a fabulous feast of roast pig, fresh-water prawns in noodles, green papaya curry, kumala (a white sweet potato), rice, stir-fried green vegetable (green peppers, I think). Don was very worried that when the number jumped by about ten at the last minute, that we were going to get short-changed (although for the equivalent of $9.50, how much could you complain?), but in fact Nixon had planned ahead and there was plenty for all 35 cruisers. After dinner there was kava and birthday desserts brought in by cruisers, plus there were not one but two string bands that alternated through dinner, and after dinner pretty much everybody – local ladies included – took to the dance floor. We may have scandalized the place by touch dancing (a little swing stuff), but soon most of the cruisers were doing the whirl and twirl thing and in the end there was the inevitable conga line. The band kept announcing a last song, as they had to walk home to their village in the dark, but they just couldn't help themselves and kept playing and singing until well after cruisers' bedtime. It's truly amazing what energy electric light can bring out.
Perhaps it was one of our less wise decisions to plan an early morning departure after a late party night, but groggy and heavy-bellied as we were, by first light we none-the-less tucked a few reefs in the sail, put our heads down and started the required bash back south.
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