We are sure that you are all (especially in the UK) thoroughly fed up with the media coverage following the dramatic referendum result so here's a blog update to take your minds off it all...
Aneityum continues to delight us, especially as we've had unusually light winds for the past few days; we are becoming increasingly less surprised when the weather 'isn't normal for the time of year'. Light breezes plus sunshine have made things a tad warm below decks but the conditions are perfect for swimming in gin-clear water.
Our hike around the coast on Friday was superb. 10 yachties were transported by boat around the coast to the next village to begin the 5-hour walk back to our anchorage. We were led by the wonderful Chris, a 29 year old guy who was born and raised here, spent 16 years in the capital Port Vila but returned to his island last year. He guided us along the narrow muddy path, sometimes along the beach and sometimes climbing a few hundred feet into the bush, all the while telling us about his island. We worked out that English is his 7th language – he speaks his own dialect and three others (pretty much completely different languages) plus Bislama but was taught in a French school so has only learned his amazingly good English relatively recently.
Vanuatu must be the most linguistically complex country in the world – there are over one hundred distinct and separate Vanuatu languages spoken by the 250,000 inhabitants and, before independence, Vanuatu was governed by a coalition of the French and the British. Even today, there are French schools and English schools and the village we visited at the beginning of the hike is French-speaking; the men sitting in the shade of the banyan tree in the centre responded cheerfully when Graham greeted them with a "Bonjour! Ca va?".
When European whalers and sandalwood traders first arrived in 1820, incidentally decimating the population of many of the islands through the introduction of European diseases, they developed a 'jargon' pidgin-english language which gradually became Bislama, a common tongue across the whole of the country. From 1900 a written version was developed and, in 1981, was adopted by the church here. It's fairly easy to be able to decipher when it's written down; for example, "Good morning, how are you?" is "Gud morning, oslem wanern you oraet?" to which the reply is "Mi oraet, be yu?"
During the walk we learned that Chis runs snorkelling tours for the cruise ship passengers and he offered to take us out, promising Laura that she'd meet some sharks, so, the following day, we picked him up from the beach in our dinghy and he guided us over to the reef which was just teeming with tropical fish. The strong current made swimming a bit of a challenge but, sure enough, there were three or four white-tip reef sharks snoozing under coral overhangs. We moved to three other locations then motored over the reef in about two metres of water, seeing perhaps a dozen turtles swimming below us. Chris laughed and said he'd catch one and, after a brief chase, he suddenly dived off the boat and surfaced holding a Hawksbill turtle, about 80cm long. He held it for a few photos then released it to swim off again. All in all it was probably some of the best snorkelling we've done and yesterday the three of us re-visited one of the sites at low tide and spent a wonderful hour watching the fish. This was a great opportunity for Laura to add to her fish id photo guide and she also plans to produce a guide for Chris to use on his tours.
We're wanting to move north to Tanna, an island with an active volcano that you can climb, but guess what, we're waiting for weather again! There's a 'quasi-stationary front' slowly approaching us which will bring cloud and drizzle and northerly winds in the next couple of days so we'll have to wait for that to clear and the SE trade winds to return before we move. In the meantime, more exploring and snorkelling...
Of course, it's not all plain sailing. We've discovered a leak in our water maker so Graham is trying to create a temporary fix; it looks as though we'll need to get a part sent out from the UK to resolve it completely.