September 6

We spent a lovely day here at Loltong on Pentecost Island. It was our first full day here having arrived yesterday at about noon. After school this morning we went into the village at about 10am and walked around chatting with various people. As yesterday we saw a group of women sitting under a tree cleaning kava roots. They have quite an export business going on Pentecost and we were told that they clean and dry the roots for export to Fiji. The Fijians (both the indigenous Fijians and the Indian Fijians) consume an incredible quantity of kava apparently. Vanuatan kava is known for its potency though it does lose some of its strength when dried in the Fijian manner.

In Vanuatu the kava is prepared while fresh, ground into a paste and mixed with a small quantity of water and then the juices squeezed out. In Fiji the kava is sun dried and then pounded into a powder (as it is also done in Samoa and I think Tonga as well) which is then mixed with water. From what I understand, the Polynesians (Samoans, Tongans and Tahitians) also used to grind the kava when fresh.

In fact, reports are that it was ground by virgin girls by chewing, the saliva reportedly adding certain enzymes which helped release the kava's potency. In certain parts of Vanuatu the kava is still chewed but not by virgins. Apparently the missionaries felt kava drinking in itself was a "bad thing" (as was anything that was both fun and part of the native culture just as religious leaders campaigned against alcohol in developed countries) but compromised by allowing kava drinking as long as it was not chewed which they (understandably) felt was over the top.

The people of Loltong have collected quite a bit of kava for export and tell us an island trade ship will be coming this evening or tomorrow to collect the 150lb sacks of kava. We saw the same thing at Salap in Homo Bay when we were there. Kava is one of Vanuatu's most valuable exports and markets for it also exist in other developed countries like Europe and the USA. Recently, however, some people in those countries have been trying to stop this by claiming it causes health problems. Frankly I am not convinced by what I have read since it seems to directly conflict with what I have seen, that being healthy people drinking Kava. As with missionaries, there will always be people who want to ruin other people's fun. Nothing new there.

Meanwhile, the people of Loltong are extremely friendly and we spent several hours chatting with various groups of them we met as we strolled around the village. We visited Phillip who runs "Phillip's Tiara Restaurant" which is nothing more then a round hut with some tables decorated with flags donated by passing yachties. We saw flags from Norway, USA, Mexico and of course New Zealand and Australia. Phillip showed us his guest book which was filled with photos, boat cards and testimonials from cruisers who have visited and dined with him over the last few years. We added our card and I wrote a short note. We did not, however, make a reservation as we are trying to save money and have plenty of food left aboard.

We also spent some time chatting with Chief Richard, apparently one of the high chiefs of the village. A village in Vanuatu can have several chiefs although there is always one who is the highest. The rank of a chief is both purchased by the chief though ritual pig killings and feasts (i.e. he donates pigs which he kills in a ritual fashion, feeding the village at a feast, the more pigs he kills and the bigger the feast the greater the stature.) and also through hereditary inheritance, though this is more complex then it might sound, descent on Pentecost being through the maternal aunt and not the father's family, according to our Lonely Planet guide book. We did not ask Richard if he was the highest chief in the village, no need to as far as I can see.

We bought some bread at the village store and some long beans (Asian green beans), bread and scallions (aka green onions which seem to be in huge abundance in Vanuatu though quite rare on other Pacific islands we have visited for some reason) and some fresh bread which is quite good in this village. We went back to the boat and had a lunch of bread with sliced capiccola (brought from Australia) and cheese then had some rest/play time. In the afternoon around 3pm we went out in the dinghy snorkeling. The reefs look lovely from the surface, the water being very clear, but below we found unhealthy coral though nice fish. We did some nice clown fish and anemones as well as several blue sea stars (star fish) which are quite common in the W. Pacific.

The bay is also filled with sea turtles. We can see them all over the place from our boat, but as soon as we approach one in the dinghy they submerge and disappear. This morning I saw no less then 4 simultaneously popping their heads up no more then 50yds from the boat. We also saw them yesterday swimming about as we anchored. Chief Richard says there are also several dugongs which feed in the bay at night but which remain further out away from land during the day (apparently out of fear I guess).

The dugong is a close relative of the Florida manatee or "sea cow" and inhabit many areas of Vanuatu and also New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. The local name for them is "cow fish" (which they pronounce "cow fis", fis being the pigeon word for fish). The dugong differs slightly from the Florida manatee in its tail. While the manatee has a tail similar to a sea lion with 2 halves of poorly defined shape and little structure, the dugong has a whale tail of distinct form and shape. I suspect this allows the dugong to propel itself through the water more quickly and makes it a better swimmer. The manatee is known to lumber along slowly while I have heard reports that the dugong can swim by submerged quite swiftly, though I have yet to see one. The island of Epi (at Lamen Bay) is known to have a friendly dugong which allows people to swim with it quite closely and even to hold on while it tows you. Unfortunately we did not visit Lamen Bay as it is quite exposed to the West and the winds were from that sector during the week we were in the area.

We may stay here several days before continuing on, but we do know we will stop at Asanvari on Maewo Island which is a whopping 12 miles North of here. We visited Asanvari last year upon arrival from Fiji and even though the weather was rainy we had a nice time there. We are anxious to see it in the sunshine. After that we will stop at Lolowai on the island of Ambae which is a massive 12 miles to the WNW of Asanvari. As you can see, these islands are all closely situated which makes for lovely cruising and reminds us a lot of the BVIs (British Virgin Islands) in that respect. After Lolowai we will head WSW to Luganville on Espirito Santo which is the second largest town in Vanuatu (after Port Vila, the capital). Santo also boasts several lovely anchorages including, in the North, the renowned Champagne Beach in Hog Harbor. This beach is a fabulous stretch of powder white sand and is one of three stops made by cruise ships in Vanuatu (the others being Aneytium Island which they have christened "Mystery Island" and Port Vila). We do not want to be there on days when cruise ships are there, but that is only once every 2 or 3 weeks we have heard.