It was a brisk sail – we scooted toward Paama with the main reefed and the jib up. The island’s nearest neighbour is the volcano Lopevi – which used to have around 80 inhabitants – but because it kept erupting, they all moved off in 1960 – mostly to Paama and Epi. Only one elderly couple have returned.
We had planned to go a bit further around the coast of Paama, but on a captainly whim (and a bit of backup from Google Earth/Ovitalmaps) M took us in toward the village of Vutekai. There was a path between two reefs to a spot that was just big enough for a catamaran to anchor.
It was all going so well…until, at the crucial moment when I was supposed to drop the anchor, it stayed right where it was. It had jammed without me noticing when I had pulled it up at Lamen Bay. There was no room for manoeuvring and M began to turn /Bella Luna/ so we could exit back out to sea.
“I need something to hit it with!”
M shrugged. He was more concerned that we didn’t hit the reef. I ran to Foamy and grabbed the wooden board we found many moons ago on Moreton Island. I whacked the stuck anchor with the side of it – it took three tries, and then the anchor dropped. Huzzah! People on shore clapped – I did a happy dance.
We went ashore and met Chief Paul, his friend Saul – a very tall man from two villages away, Abraham – who came from the same village as Saul and spoke reasonable English (as opposed to our hopeless Bislama). We were given nuts to eat and taken on a walk around the village to the school, where Madame Marcie teaches grades one to three. It is a French/Bislama school.
Back at the beach Abraham told me that some of the kids were requesting to come aboard Bella Luna – they had never been on a sailboat before. Within half an hour we had 20 people onboard, including Saul, Chief Paul, and a whole lot assortment of others…
It was an hour or so of benign mayhem before M ferried three boatloads of people back to shore. He went walking to Hingal with Saul and Abraham. Just before dark, Chief Paul came to the boat in his outrigger canoe, laden with food gifts – bok choy, island cabbage, coconuts, snake beans, cucumber, paw paw…
I was SO GRATEFUL. He didn’t want anything in return, though I gave him a bag of rice I’d bought in Vila. A little while later his daughter, Netty, brought her sister over in an outrigger canoe, because her sister had missed out on a Bella Luna visit. So the Smalls took her on a tour, while Netty gave me a ride in the canoe…
The following morning Chief Paul and his sister Anita and three of her four children visited us. We chatted and Anita showed us pictures with ‘rope’ – string she made from a thin strip of pandanus leaf. As she showed me a canoe, a turtle and a flying fox, I remembered doing similar things when I was little – and that the Mothership used to be able to do a great ‘cats cradle’.
Later in the morning we set out to walk to Hingal via Wailep – the journey M had taken the night before. “Oh, there’s one small hill,” he told us breezily. The vegetation was amazing. Breadfruit trees and mango trees, nut trees, twining vines… We kept stopping to photograph hens and their clusters of chicks, strutting roosters, a calf…
…and then there was a collective groan. M’s ‘small hill’ was a steep half a kilometre slog; only interrupted by the sound of whinging and a coconut falling from a tree and rolling down the hill toward us. It had been hollowed out by a rat.
We passed through the village of Wailep which was about one third of the way to Hingal. We were invited into someone’s home, but were keen to keep walking. I could go on and on about how beautiful it all is, but pictures will do a better job.
After another night at Vutekai we moved up the coast to Tahi and spent the day on the boat in recovery mode. We were joined by Dogstar and Pandion and crews from both vessels hitched a ride on Bella Luna on a Thursday morning – we took them back to the Vutekai anchorage to check out their weekly market.
Once we greeted our friends there, and introduced our boating friends, we all bought some produce from the market. The non-glutards delighted in the banana cake and donuts.
Anita took us all up to her home where she had laid out an amazing feast on a table under a tree. Crabs (ground crab and saltwater crab), yams with coconut cream, hard-boiled eggs, capsicums… Clare, Melissa and I were given island dresses… The effort they had gone to was quite enormous.