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We woke to another rainy, miserable day in Port Vila yesterday morning, so rather than both of us slugging through the mud and getting wet, Elaine stayed on board to ready Paw Paw for our overnight sail to Erromango Island, while Roy headed to town to get our top up provisioning and dinghy fuel, then the fuel dock to purchase our very expensive duty-free diesel to top up the tanks. By mid-morning we were ready. We had, however, decided to have an early dinner before setting sail. With a cruise ship in port, we settled on a visit back to "Chill".

Fortunately we had the favourable winds with a more northerly component that were forecasted, which meant we were able to sail straight to Dillon's Bay on a beat, but without having to tack. We, however, experienced rougher than expected seas for the first few hours which, thankfully, settled down as we approached the island.

On arrival, although we were surprised to find two other yachts in the anchorage, encountering a beautiful lush island which reminded us of the Marquesas in many ways, was definitely unexpected. We had no sooner anchored and had breakfast, when Chief Jacob came to visit.

Representing the largest village on Erromango Island, he welcomed us, we exchanged "gifts" - Fruit for us, sugar and rice for him, along with some left over "kava" we had from Fiji, before spending an hour or so chatting. We learnt that the village is situated along the river and has 500 inhabitants. There is no electricity supply, except for the village freezer which has solar panels and batteries to run it. Cooking is done on an open fire, rain water is captured in tanks, but also piped from the river. There is a primary school, a secondary school and a clinic with a full-time nurse, but a doctor has visited twice this year so far. Their diet comprises fish, wild pig, chicken, fruit and vegetables. The main mode of transportation is a dugout canoe which takes approximately three days to make. The staggering aspect was the seven different denomination of churches represented. Fascinating indeed!

By then it was time for our nap and, given that we have brought the rain with us, we're enjoying a lazy day aboard, with the intention of visiting the village tomorrow.

We apologise for forgetting our "bislama" lesson on the previous two blogs, but below are a few advanced sentences as the last lesson.

Lesson Five:

"Can you take me to town?" - "Yu save tekem mi go long town?"

"The airport is close to the sea." - "Epot i stap klosap long solwota."

Log Day 601 Answer: "I like coconuts."

We hope you've enjoyed learning a little "bislama" with us.

Having reviewed the weather,  we decided that moving to Mele Bay may result in an uncomfortable night, so we opted to stay in Matapu Bay for another night and enjoyed the finale and "price-giving" ceremony of the dinghy racing. Another fun afternoon indeed, where we spent time chatting to Jane and Russ, who were very excited about their recent purchase, "Kit Cat", a Leopard 46. We obviously had lots of knowledge to impart which they were, no doubt, grateful for.

We spent yesterday morning exploring in the dinghy and ended up at the lovely Havannah Resort, where we were made to feel very welcome, while enjoying a coffee, freshly baked pastries and a much needed walk around their grounds to stretch our legs. Unfortunately our ideas of snorkeling the reefs have gone out the window as we've only had one sunny day since arriving in Vanuatu.  The remainder of the time has been overcast,  rainy and definitely on the cooler side, which hasn't exactly enticed us into wanting to swim! The water is so clear here, though, that you don't actually have to snorkel to see the underwater world. Yesterday we saw the most unusual fish, including a very unusual starfish, just by peering over the edge of the dock at the resort.

This morning we had an early departure to coincide with the tides in order to reduce the impact of the standing waves at "Devil's Point" en route back to Port Vila and were delighted to see dolphins again.

This afternoon we officially cleared out of Vanuatu,  but with an "undeclared departure date", which allows us to still visit the islands to the south of Efate Island.  As such, we'll depart Port Vila tomorrow for our overnight sail to Erromango Island, but prior to that we'll obtain our duty-free diesel and alcohol, as well as do some top up provisioning.

It is so refreshing to encounter officials that accommodate cruisers in this way, making it so much easier to visit parts of their country that would otherwise be off the beaten track. Also, to receive a level of service beyond that which we have encountered elsewhere was amazing - The customs official actually delivered all our paperwork to Paw Paw this afternoon so that we didn't have to hang around and wait for it. That's sevice you can't beat!

We ended up spending two days longer than we had intended to in Port Vila because we had to wait for our laundry. Had we known we'd have this delay, we could have just done the washing on board. Nevertheless, we took advantage of the extra time to complete our provisioning for the remainder of our stay in Vanuatu.

Roy was up early yesterday morning to head to "Traverso's" butchery for our meat supply. Then it was time for our breakfast of freshly baked French pastries before heading to the fresh produce market, where amongst other products we purchased the sweetest raspberries we've ever tasted, known as "tropical raspberries". Since we are prohibited from taking any animal or vegetable products, fresh or frozen, into New Caledonia, it meant some rather precise shopping so as not to be wasting food at a later date or worse, running out of supplies.

Once that was completed, we had a few hours to spare, so we went in search of one of our favourite French supermarkets, Leader Price, which we had discovered on one of the maps. Unfortunately, when we found it, it was all boarded up. Obviously outdated information and rather disappointing.By then it was time to collect our laundry, which we combined with settling our bill at Yachting World and enjoyed a sundowner at the "Waterfront Bar and Grill".

This morning, after breakfast ashore, we set sail for Havannah Harbour, particularly, to explore, one of UNESCO's World Heritage sites, Chief Roi Mata's Domain on the northwest side of Efate Island, listed since 2008. It comprises three sites connected to his life and death - His home at Mangaas, the location of his death on Lelepa Island and his place of his external rest on Artok Island (aka Eretoka or Hat Island).

According to the oral traditions of the central islands, passed down through the generations, Roi Mata arrived in Vanuatu in a canoe around 1600, following which he set out to conquer Efate and the neighbouring islands. He then introduced a matrilinear lineage system based on totemic lines of descendants between whom no war could be waged. This system is still in force more than 400 years later.

The French archaeologist, José Garanger, excavated the various sites in 1972 and discovered Chief Roi Mata's tomb together with skeletal remains of 47 other people on Artok Island and was able to confirm the local oral legend. We're spending the night just on the outskirts of this site, in the picturesque, Matapu Bay. This afternoon, however, we were invited to join the other yachts in the anchorage aboard Verakai (Amanda and Nigel) to either participate in the dinghy racing or join the race committee (aka stay on board to enjoy the company, drinks and snacks, but cheer on the racers). We opted for the latter and had a very enjoyable afternoon meeting all the folks on the various yachts which we've seen all season, but never had the opportunity to meet their occupants until now.

During our walking tours of Port Vila, we've come across a number of very unusual wood carvings which we eventually discovered were "Tantam" or "Namangki". A "Tamtam" (aka "Split Drum") originated on the island of Ambrym and was used by the High Chief to bring villagers together on special occasions or to send different messages to neighbouring villages, using the different vibrations of the drum. Messages included notices of deaths, tribal war, feasting ceremonies or announcing the arrival of a High Chief to the village.

"Namangki" is feminine and is used for peace and unity. A "Tamtam" and "Namangki" are used side by side and both carvings are found in every chiefs "Nakamal" (aka "Place of Peace") throughout Vanuatu where "Kava" is drank at night. Strangely enough, though, here in Vanuatu, "Kava" is only permitted to be drunk by men in a formal setting. Woman partake in the privacy of their homes while entertaining friends.

Wood carvings are traditionally a man's domain, but a man is prohibited from carving either a "Tamtam" or a "Namangki" unless he has gained the "Right of Custom". There can be up to six faces on a single "Tamtam" or "Namangki", each associated with a level, where each level requires a separate "Right of Custom", gained in order.

To gain the right, a man first has to find a willing teacher, negotiate a price and then obtain permission from the chief of the teacher's village, following which a custom ceremony takes place. This includes the killing of a pig, supplying fresh "Kai Kai" (aka "Food") and paying the teacher his asking price. This process is repeated for each additional level, thereby providing the number of faces that the carver is allowed to carve.

It is believed that there are only one or two people left in Vanuatu who can carve six faces, a "Right of Custom" that may become extinct.

Aside from an exercise walk today, we've enjoyed a lazy Sunday, in keeping with the local custom. Now for your "bislama" lesson.

Lesson Four:

"Airport" - "Epot"

"Horse" - "Hos"

"Table" - "Tebol"

"Finger" - "Fingga"

"Barometer" - "Glas blong hariken"

"Unconscious" - "Haf ded"

"Womb" - "Basket blong pikinini"

"Fins" - "Dakdak sus".

"Mi laekem kokonas"

.Log Day 600 Answer: "Keep off the grass!".

It's thought that the first people to reach Vanuatu were the Lapita from Papua New Guinea who arrived around 2000BC. Clan-based villages separated by mountainous and jungle-clad terrain resulted in the development of numerous languages and localised customs.Trade as well as battles occurred between villages and a victorious village often claimed a hostage who was later presented as dinner to the other chief as a show of the victorious chief's status and power.

Spanish explorer, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros was the first European to arrive in 1606. Cook arrived in 1774, who drew the first charts of the region and named "Efate Island", "Sandwich Island", after his benefactor, the Earl of Sandwich.

"Vanuatu"  means "Land External"  and the population are called "Ni-Vanuatu" meaning "of Vanuatu". In "kasdom" (aka custom) orientated areas, traditional ceremonies still form an integral part of village life. Status and power are still earned by taking "grades" through the "Namangki" system. For example, wealth is shown in elaborate ceremonies with feasting, dancing and ritual pig killings or by men and boys diving from wooden towers with vines tied around their ankles, known as "land-diving". "Nekowiar" is a spectacular 3-day gift exchanging ceremony where attempts to outdo each other are made with lavish gifts, dancing and ornate make-up and, the "Rom Dance", featuring dancers wearing tall, conical masks and a cloak of banana leaves is another grade-taking ceremony.

For us, however,  we decided on our own grading scheme that definitely did not include cannibalism - a gastronomic tour around Port Vila, starting with breakfast at "Au Peche Mignon", where we savoured "straight out of the oven"  chaison pomme and Danish swirls. This was followed by a long walk along the newly opened promenade to "Chantilly's on the Bay", where we had planned to sample a few treats at "Organic Paradise", but, given that we were still full from our breakfast, we opted instead, to lounge around in the comfy chairs of the hotel reception area while enjoying the views. This part of Port Vila was surprisingly sophisticated, with a very French ambience. For dinner we had decided on a seafood platter at the "Waterside Bar and Grill".  After making inquiries as to what time food was served and whether we needed to make reservations or not, we were definitely looking forward to this particular treat.

Well, it was another one of those evenings that definitely did not go according to plan. When we arrived at the restaurant we were informed that they were in the middle of a shift change and to please come back in an hour.  With that,  we took a short walk to "La Café du Village", where we enjoyed sundowners accompanied by a snack of salt and pepper calamari, before returning to the "Waterside Bar and Grill". After our drinks were delivered and we placed our order, we were informed that there was no seafood platter on the menu tonight due to an absence of lobster. Our disappointment was evident and,  although we perused the rest of their menu, there was nothing else we both felt like eating. So, after finishing our drinks, it was back to "La Café du Village",  where we managed to salvage the evening. Tuna sashimi (Roy) and mussels (Elaine) for starters, tuna steaks with mint sauce for our main course and a chocolate fondue for dessert certainly hit the spot.

Our walk along the promenade earlier today revealed more examples of "bislama".

Lesson Three:

"Goodbye" - "Ale Tata" "Goodnight"  - "Gudnaet" "Maybe" - "Ating / Maet / Mebi" "Excuse me" - "Skiusmi"

"No wokbaot long gras!"

Log Day 599 Answer: "Prescription medication for children and everyone".

Prior to arriving in Vanuatu we had read a few accounts from cruisers on the very high quality of the local beef.  Then, when we received a recommendation from Blue Summit (Kate and Steve), to try the beef fillet at the waterfront restaurant called "Chill", our curiosity got the better of us and we were not disappointed.  Two beef fillets with mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes for Elaine,  fries for Roy, a side of broccoli and cauliflower gratin to share, a glass of wine for Elaine and a few beers for Roy, was not only a delicious dinner with steaks that tasted better than a number of top restaurants we'd frequented in the US, it was all for the bargain price of roughly $42USD. Unbelievable!

This morning we were up early to enjoy a breakfast of freshly baked croissants with homemade paw paw jam and coffee at "Le Café du Village". Then, it was time to explore Port Vila, starting with the Catholic Cathedral.

Estimated to have 280 000 inhabitants, of whom 45% are under the age of fifteen,  the population of Vanuatu is comprised mainly of melanesians, but, in our opinion, with a much greater resemblance and mannerism associated with the African than what we witnessed with the indigenous Fijians. Two thirds of the population is distributed amongst the four major islands of Efate, Santo, Maleluka and Tanna. Given that, 85% is Catholic, as well as the beautiful Catholic churches we had seen all around French Polynesia and Samoa, we had a preconceived idea of what we might encounter here, and decided that the hike up the hill would be well worth our troubles. Finding the Cathedral locked was the first clue of things to come. Perseverance paid off, though, when we found an unlocked side entrance. It is fair to say that, unfortunately,  neither of us has been in such a "soulless"  holy building. The feeling was overpowering to be honest. Regardless,  we took a moment for our prayers before making a hasty retreat. Very strange indeed!

Next stop was the war memorial overlooking Port Vila Harbour and Mele Bay, where we meet a delightful lady in her brightly coloured traditional dress, who was obviously trying to educate us on something,  but we hadn't a clue what she was saying. In these circumstances we've found it best to simply nod,  smile and say thank you. After visiting the very fancy Reserve Bank building, we met another lady and a gentleman when asking for directions to the Erakor Lagoon. Turns out they both worked for the Foreign Investment Services and, were not only happy to give us a lift to the nearest bus stop, where we arranged a ride to the Holiday Inn Resort and Spa, but provided us with a very interesting background to Port Vila and plans for the future.

Our arrival at the resort revealed a surprisingly upmarket establishment,  including a well maintained golf course. After a mid-morning coffee, we decided to walk the 1.2 miles back to town, where we enjoyed a lunch at the "Thai Restaurant and Massage Parlour". There was absolutely no way Elaine could convince Roy to follow lunch with a Thai massage after he had eyed out the masseuse and was unable to establish "her" gender for certain.  With that we returned to Paw Paw for an afternoon nap and to start getting her organised again after our passage.

Of course, while out and about, we encountered more examples of "bislama". The answer to yesterday's phrase is below. Try and interrupt today's one.

Lesson Two:

"How much?" - "Hamas?" "Money"  - "Mane" "I don't know" - "Mi no save" One to Ten - "Wan", "Tu", "Tri", "Fo", "Faef", "Sikis", "Seven", "Eit", "Naen", "Ten" "Number one" - "Nambawan".

"I gat specel medesen blong pikinini mo evriwan".

Log Day 598 Answer: "Do you talk bislama?".

After a good night's sleep we were up early for a breakfast ashore of coffee and French pastries at "Au Leche Mignon", before taking a stroll around the "Au Bon Marche" and the fresh produce market. Although we thought the fresh produce was very inexpensive in Fiji, we were astonished at the prices here in Vanuatu. A single lettuce for the equivalent of 50 US cents, eight lettuces for $2USD, a 1Kg bag of tomatoes for $2USD, a medium sized paw paw for $1USD and on it went. Just incredible!

While sailing around the South Pacific Islands we've found at least one quirky aspect of each area. In French Polynesia it was the mesmerising, gyrating hips of the Tahitian dancers. In the Samoan Islands it was the funky buses with their upbeat music. In Tonga, particularly Neiafu in the Vava'u group, it was the creative and fun names of the various businesses. In Fiji it was the friendly "bula" we received everywhere we went and here in Vanuatu we are completely intrigued by the local language.

Located 540Km northeast of New Caledonia and previously called the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is made up of 80 islands, separated by 900Km from Anatom Island in the south to Torres Island in the north. Since the days of the early explorers, Vanuatu has remained a timeless archipelago, steeped in tradition, regardless of the fact that, prior to independence in 1980, it was simultaneously governed by both the British and the French. As a result, it has a fascinating mix of cultures, including the language, known as bislama, the lingua franca spoken through the archipelago, in addition to English, French and over a hundred vernacular languages or dialects. As such, we have decided to give you all a glimpse into this language over the coming weeks so you too can "toktok" bislama.

Lesson One: Common Expressions:

"Hello" - "Halo"

"Good morning" - "Gudmoning"

"Please" - "Plis"

"Thank you very much" - "Tank yu tamas"

"Where are you going?" - "Yu go wea?"

"I Want..." - "Me watem..."

"My name is Elaine" - "Nem blong mi Elaine".

Yu save toktok bislama?

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