We'd hoped to be able to post a few photos on the blog today; the SIM cards eventually arrived on yesterday's flight so we are now connected to the Digicel network but, unfortunately, the data speed here in Aneityum is soooo slow it's virtually useless. Things should improve as we move northwards, apparently. In the meantime, words will have to suffice.
It's already the morning of our fifth day here and it's hard to know where the time has gone; we're feeling properly recovered after the voyage and we've been sharing tall stories of towering seas and rolling boats with the crews of the seven other yachts here. More importantly, we are getting to know the locals a little and are liking them immensely. Activity in the village seems to start with the ringing of a bell (actually an old oxy-acetylene tank suspended from a tree) at about 05.30 and then there comes the noise of the children going to the primary and secondary schools; throughout the day we hear snatches of singing and laughter. Laughter comes easily to both adults and children and it sounds like a very happy community.
When we step ashore, however, the people we meet are more subdued, almost shy. They will let us walk past them on the beach without looking at us or offering a greeting – there's certainly none of the effusive 'Bula!' shouts of hello that we always experienced in Fiji. However, catch their eye and say hello with a smile and their faces light up with a returning smile and a 'How are you?' in pretty perfect English.
We learnt a lot more about the locals when a fellow called Keith (they have very anglicised names – we've met Grace, Estelle, Kenneth, Wesley, Tom, Roger....) organised a 'cultural show' for the visiting yachts on Wednesday. It began promptly at 2.00pm Vanuatu time (so actually began at about 3.30pm) and was a hugely engaging mix of dance, explanation of their culture and beliefs, a demonstration of traditional fire-starting skills and an enormous feast. Difficult to describe so you'll have to wait for the photos!
It's clear that this village maintains most of its traditional ways – many of the houses are built of wooden poles, woven matting and thatch and fishing and small-scale agriculture occupy people's days – but they take advantage of huge influxes of tourists every couple of weeks. The nearby uninhabited Mystery Island has a new and very impressive concrete and aluminium pier, funded by cruise companies to allow their ships to disgorge their passengers ashore for the usual round of snorkeling, boat tours, food stalls and massage booths; together with the landing fees that the cruise ships pay, this all provides very useful income but we really don't want to be here to witness it all! The island is also the home to the airstrip, where twin-engined Air Vanuatu turbo-prop planes arrive twice a week, and we used the wide decking of the pier yesterday to lay out and un-twist the Irish Flag spinnaker after we tied an impressive knot in it at sea.
Our impact is, we hope, a lot more low-key but we're still contributing to the economy a little. Today we are renting the services of a local boat to take us around the island to a village on the SE side and then we'll hike back (about 4 hours, apparently). Apart from the shore-side activities, we are enjoying the snorkelling on clear waters over some good and well-populated coral reefs and the weather has calmed and the sky has cleared so it's all pretty lovely. We'll move north to the next island, Tanna, when the SE trade winds return.
This is all very removed from the excitements of the EU Referendum at home; following what sounds to have been a pretty unedifying 'debate' filled with emotion, wild disinformation and even, tragically, the murder of an MP, the great British public will have cast their votes by now. We hope that common sense will have prevailed and that the country isn't going to be propelled into the great unknown of Brexit....