The first stop After Port Villa was the Island of Malakula. We anchored in the fine protection of Banam Bay and the locals were quick to come and greet us. The first thing they asked was if we knew anything about generators. Our answer was no, but we will take a look. We came into the village that afternoon and were escorted to the house with a broken generator. Actually, every generator in the village was broken, but this was the the only one we looked at. The villagers said it would only run half and hour. It turns out they didn’t have any fuel, so while we waited on that to arrive, Jesse and I took the carburetor apart and cleaned it and inspected the fuel system. The fuel system had a pretty thick grime in a lot of it, so we made sure that was clean and then reassembled the little Chinese genny. When the fuel showed up we added it but noticed it was not mixed with two stroke oil. We asked them about it and they insisted it was mixed by the fuel station. We fired it up and it was loud and overheating, so we shut it off and explained the fuel/oil mixing concept to them. They were quite dismayed, but by this time it was dark and we were at a loss of light to continue.

The entire time we worked on the genny, there was a man pounding kava behind us. When we were finished for the night, the villagers invited us for kava and we had two cups each. In fact there was only enough for us to have two cups and the genny owner to have one. So it seemed that they pounded the kava just for us. That was very kind of them. We told them we would return in the morning with oil and look more at the genny. By now the tide was out, so the villagers made their children carry our skiff across the reef so that we could return to out boats, all the while awing at the glow from the nearby volcanic island of Ambrym.

In the morning when we returned there were many children to greet us on the beach and they were very happy to see us. We returned to the genny and showed how to add the oil in the right mix and the little genny came right to life and purred perfectly and they said they had never heard it sound so good. We must have seemed like we came from outer space or something and worked a miracle. The rest of the villagers were quite surprised too. Apparently they had been running the genny for months without mixing the fuel. Unfortunately, this also led to some other overheating problems and the governor on the generator no longer worked. Once it was running they tried to plug their cell phone into it and I think it blew it up. So we had a multimeter brought from the boat and tested it, sure enough, it was way over speed and way over voltage. But there was no way to repair the governor so it would run correctly. This was very difficult to explain to them. The space men had failed so we left in our sea going spaceships the next day. We were quite apologetic in that we couldn’t make it possible for them to watch movies and charge their cell phones, but they still gave us lots of fruit and vegetables.

The next island after Malakula was the volcanic island of Ambrym, we anchored off the village of Ranon where there are allegedly the best wood carvers in all of Vanuatu. Plus we wanted to hike up the volcano and see her enormous lava pools. At first we heard the hike was not possible during this time of year due to the sorcerers working with the spirits in the volcano to ensure a good yam harvest, but when we arrived to the village there was no problem hiring a guide for the next day. That afternoon we walked around and met many of the wood carvers but there were few carvings to be had. It was not clear if they had all been shipped off or this wasn’t the right time of year or what. I did however manage to find a very nicely carved pig smashing hammer. So I was happy with that.

The next day we set out on the hike. We were told it was 11 km away and 4 hours each way. OK, seems like a pretty easy pace and not to far. We elected to go in the afternoon so that we could see the volcano at sunset and after dark when the lava would be the brightest. After an hour of hiking the guide says “OK, from here starts the four hours.” Seriously? We went on and the hike for me was brutal, as was the pace. I have never really had much problem but on this particular hike I could feel the atrophy in all of my remaining muscles and realized that I was not in the shape to keep up. Not only that, but the distances were not even close, 11 km, no way. The pace the guide kept was very fast as well and certainly not the way it seemed in the brochure. OK, there was no brochure but that’s beside the point. We reached a ridge top over looking two more ridges we would have to climb before we even got to the ash field. I was pretty much done at this point, and later looked it up and this was already 6 miles in. The weather was turning sour and the guide said there was still 3 hours (we had been hiking already for maybe 3) or so to get to the volcano but with the incoming weather we wouldn’t see a thing and should turn around. Fine by me, although I really wanted to see the volcano. Upon return to the village we renegotiated the fees and went home. It turns out we hiked around 12 miles in the jungle in about 5 hours, over some pretty steep terrain and were no where near the volcano when we turned around. 11 km hike, no, it was 11 km straight distance from the village to the ash field. Ugh. I was destroyed.

The next day, a Tuesday, we sailed a few miles down to Ranvetlem, another wood carver village. We had been told to go there by a man we met on the trail to meet more and better wood carvers, so we said we would be there Tuesday. When we arrived, the village was empty except for a few children. Wouldn’t you know it, all the adult villagers were in Ranon voting on election day. We were about to leave but the children invited us to go cliff diving off some really amazing cliffs into the ocean. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing in the water and jumping off the cliffs. It was great, even the youngest of children had no fear of jumping off and swimming in the clear deep bay. The highest cliffs, probably 12-15 meters gave Jesse and Joep quite a thrill and even off of these some very young children jumped. After several hours of this, one of the wood carvers came and Jesse bought some things. We then left, pretty satisfied with our day.

An overnight sail took us to the last island we will visit in Vanuatu – Espiritu Santo. We anchored in Peterson bay, in the outer anchorage as both Obelisk and Slick were too deep to get into the very protected inner anchorage. Even the outer anchorage was quite nice and protected and had great holding. We motored Duffy the Dinghy into the near by Oyster Island Resort and had a few cold ones for breakfast. The staff was very friendly and the guide, Greg, came out and told us of all the activities to do around the bay. He was helpful and gave us pretty exact locations of the snorkeling sites as well as which villager to ask permission for going up the rivers. This was a great stop over and we had the opportunity to snorkel on two plane wrecks, both from the old WWII US airbase here. One was a bomber fuselage and the other a fighter that was scattered along a reef. The next day we took Duffy up one of the rivers to a blue hole. The trip up was through the jungle and really a great encounter with nature, so we thought we would have this amazing blue hole in the middle of the jungle all to ourselves. No, not permitted, when we arrived, there were about two hundred very fat Australian tourists there from a cruise ship. Well, luckily for us they were not good swimmers so they mostly stayed on shore. We spent the day jumping from tall trees and playing on these enormous rope swings. This was another great day and the next day we left for Luganville, the second city of Vanuatu.

A quick sail around the corner brought us to Luganville, we are staying at the Aore Island Resort, across the bay. We were told the moorings are very secure, and they are, and there is good protection and there is. But after that, this resort is not really friendly to cruisers. It is expensive and we are treated as very second class guests. They do have a nice pool though, and some very slow internet. But there is nothing they could do to spoil the great time we have had in Vanuatu. I even got to experience a little earthquake while using the internet in the lobby! From the resort you have to take a ferry over to the actual town. This is not so bad and yesterday we headed over to check out. It was raining so hard, it rained over a foot in one day. We landed and wanted to take a cab to the market but the cabby had left his lights on and so his battery was dead. The whole idea of taking a cab was to try to stay dry, but we ended up push starting it instead! The locals were laughing as hard as I think they could. No worries, we had a good time in Luganville doing a little provisioning and trying to check out. But customs wouldn’t let us go so easily and we had to return today. On the way home yesterday the tidal river between the resort and town was so full of debris, it was incredible (see picture of wash-up above). Once we passed a canoe that had washed out and the locals on the ferry made the driver go over to check it out, but it was not in good enough condition for any of them to want it.

The locals here are very interesting. In the market they have no idea how much money to take for goods. In stores the have difficulty working the register or what they sell and even in customs the man seemed baffled by the forms he fills out everyday. Not to mention, anything more advanced than a chisel eludes almost everyone. I am starting to think that there is some very endemic learning disability somehow manifested here. I know that sounds racist, but I don’t think it is a racial thing, I think it is more cultural and the impact of well, every other culture on the natives here. I do really like Vanuatu and the natives are happy and backwardly-beautiful and it will be a shame when this has become a prime tourist destination for Australians in 20 years and the culture is gone. Anyway, we are all checked out now and will leave tomorrow morning on the ebbing tide for the Solomons. This is a bit sad as we will permanently part ways with Obelisk, with whom we have sailed since Bora Bora, they are heading to New Zealand.

As for Slick and her crew, we are doing fine I think. Joep is well adapted to boat life and always has a good attitude. Zach continues to grow as a sailor, cook and adult. Duffy wouldn’t start this morning, but I think that has something to do with all the rain, since after I drained and replaced his fuel, he can do it again! Slick continues to be tough although the inverter broke the other day and when I replaced the fuse and plugged it back in it let out some magic smoke and fizzled and blew two capacitors off the board. A new one will be hard to come by. I, on the other hand, am realizing what cruising is doing to me. Two weeks ago marked one year underway for me and I am feeling the effects of the cruising life. I am weaker and have lost any endurance I ever had. I feel like I am slowly disconnecting with the concept of returning to America, although I still look forward to it, but I don’t know if I can handle the American routine, laws, or even the superficial value structure. And intellectually I think I am dulling quite a bit. It is hard to find things that are mentally challenging enough to keep me interested and I continue to forget. This all pretty much sums up to me losing it, whatever IT is. But still, I would have rather been doing nothing else with the last year.