Thursday, June 05, 2008

June 4, 2008 - Lamen Bay, Epi Islandi, Vanuatu

Over the past four days this has become one of our favorite anchorages of the whole trip. Our relationship with Lamen Bay got off to a rough start. On Sunday night Sten had a bout of food poisoning. Luckily, it ran through him quickly and he's feeling just fine now. This is the first time on this trip that we have been in a malaria zone. We first tried just closing up the boat at dusk, but that ended up making the boat too warm and stuffy. Our third night here we deployed a mosquito net over our bunk and opened the hatches. Now the aft stateroom looks like something out of a mid-80's Ralph Lauren ad. It looks romantic, but makes both of us feel completely claustrophobic. Adding to the discomfort, the swell wraps around the northern tip of the island, and comes rolling into the bay a couple times a day. All of this makes for pretty cruddy sleeping conditions. In addition, it has rained on and off almost every day of our stay here. But for all the drawbacks, this has become one of our favorite stops on this circumnavigation.

This is the first anchorage in Vanuatu where we have swum from the boat. The anchor is set in white sand, and all around us are coral heads. The coral seems to be in tough shape, but the there is a wonderful variety of sea life around us. Diving from the boat we have encountered huge turtles, crayfish, and interesting varieties of coral, including one that looks like a bouquet of flowers. We've seen several varieties of anemones, each hosting a different type of anemonefish. We've come across two crown of thorns in the anchorage, which are similar to starfish, but have 10 arms rather than 5, each of which are covered in toxic spikes. We gave them a wide berth.

Crown of Thorns

Just across the bay, lies Lamen Island. We have had some fantastic snorkeling over the past few days off of the southern point of the island. There is heavy current and a big drop off which creates ideal conditions for any number of creatures. Between yesterday and today we saw a mother and calf dugong (sort of like a manatee), turtles, zebra and blacktip sharks, and eagle rays. The variety of numbers of large fish is just incredible. We've seen a huge Napoleon wrass, giant and bluefin trevally, and lots of big snapper and grouper, some of which were actively chasing schools of fish - pretty exciting to see. The southern tip of Lamen Island is home to one of the largest concentrations of big fish we have ever seen. Making it even more interesting for us, this was the first time we've seen many of these fish.

Leopard or Zebra Shark

Dugong Mother and Calf

All right, I'll stop with the dugongs already.

On shore, there is a lovely village, full of friendly folks. Their leader is Chief Willy, who is younger than we are! The population of Vanuatu is very young. Only about 2% of the population makes it to 60. So when she learned that Nick on Kika's 40th birthday was on Tuesday, Isobel, the island's representative in the national government, decided to throw a feast to celebrate this milestone birthday. A pig was slaughtered. Yams were mashed to make laplap. All of it was placed in underground ovens in Isobel's garden to bake. As the sun set, Nick and Charlotta from Kika, Patty and Giff from Phoenix, and Sten and I wandered down to the other end of the village to see the evening's kava ground in the village's kava grinder (which looks just like my grandmother's meat grinder). In fact, some beef had been ground in it a few days prior. Still, the resulting drink was probably more sanitary than the chewed kava we enjoyed on Anatom.

We all returned to Isobel's garden where about 40 members of her extended family, half of which were very young children, were sitting on woven mats spread on the grass. We, along with Chief Willy and the ranking men in the community, were guided to benches along the perimeter of the yard. The pig was brought out and set on the picnic table. Laplap was sliced up and piled on plates. Isobel made a speech, welcoming us all to her family. Isobel's son gave Nick a walking stick, so that he would be considered his brother. Isobel's daughter gave us all woven fans and floral leis to wear. Chief Willy spoke briefly, asking us to tell others how welcoming Vanuatu was. Then the local minister led us all in prayer. Kava was drunk. We were invited to eat. We took a sampling of food from the buffet, and returned to our seats. The women and children then came to take a bit to eat. The men and the bucket of kava retired to a dark corner of the garden to drink. Isobel traveled back and forth between the visitors and the kava drinkers. She was the only woman who did so. We had a brief glimpse into the source of her popularity with her constituents when Chief Willy joked with her that "she was always on the men's side."

Charlotta, working the Mother Hubbard like no one else can.

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