October 20, 2011

The Road Less Travelled

"Right or left?" We asked Maia when we hit the second intersection along a dirt track.
"Left," she told us, "it looks less used."

Yesterday we dropped our anchor in Matapu Bay in Efate's Port Havannah. We had planned to leave this quite anchorage this morning and head north--sailing past volcanoes and reefs. But the promise of 25 knots and steep seas on the beam kept us anchored.

Anyway-we had a mystery to solve. During WWII the US warships assembled here before the battle of the Coral Sea. They took on water from something called the 'American Pool' which according to our cruising notes is located somewhere on shore, and inland from it are the ruins of a US base.

Our first dingy stop was an old coral pier with a wrecked cruising boat nearby--but inland of the pier was only dense jungle. Our next stop was a beach beside a deep creek-the American Pool? From there we followed a rough track up over the main road and further into the jungle-where big cement foundations seemed to indicate the base's location.

With the mystery, and a bit of history, seemingly sorted out we kept wandering up the track, occasionally stopping and choosing whether to go left or right when we hit an intersection. As we walked through waist high grass the jungle thickened blocking out the light, the birds grew noisy, and Banyon trees bigger than buildings punctuated the green, here and there the landscape opened up and small garden plots let us know why the track existed.

We contemplated turning back at the last intersection (this is really an excessive description for the point where two dirt trails meet…) but the sound of chickens kept us delving deeper. And finally after passing several goats and a cow we met two women, Martha and Rebecca who were collecting coconuts for their pigs. We tried out our fledgling Bislama on them and they led us further into Canaan, their village of a church and five thatched houses. We were shown around, introduced to all the pigs, and met everyone in the village. Then each lady gave us something from her garden-Maia earmarked the pumpkin for a certain upcoming holiday. Then Elsie (Rebecca's daughter) and a couple of the kids walked us down another road-showing us the creek where they bathe and get their water, the mountains and an extinct volcano in the distance, and the various types of plants they grow before leading us back to our boat.

Along the way Maia and the kids giggled and played and Elsie told me a little about her life: simple and quiet and better than being in Vila, where you need money to get by. Her main language is Monono and when her little daughter turns five she'll head to the main Monono village and live with her grandparents so she can learn her own language.

There are a dozen more anchorages like this in Port Havannah. But this is the only one we'll see before we hurry north toward Santos. Because in a country of 83 islands (and some 120 languages) there are there are enough stops in Vanuatu to keep us busy for months.

Vanuatu is the country least cruised in the South Pacific. Boats arrive here either eager to get home (if they're Australian)-or out of time (if they're everyone else). But we've decided that despite the lateness of the season we're going to head off to the islands least travelled for a few days more.

Because today it made all the difference.

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