Adventures

I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mi Likem Tanna Tumas


Tanna, Vanuatu

I know that I say this a lot, but this could be my favorite place in the world. Not just Port Resolution or even the island of Tanna, but Vanuatu in general. And not only because of the awesome point break just outside the anchorage, or because the ni-Vanuatu are very friendly while still retaining their traditional ways, or because the land is full of fruit, coffee and coconut trees. And did I mention the active volcano? This place is wild. Rugged. Remote. Alive.

Two nights ago we made the pilgrimage to Mt. Yasur (which means "god" in the Tanna dialect). When we were sailing up to Tanna we could see huge plumes of ash erupting from the volcano. The idea of standing on the rim of the volcano and watching the same thing was a bit daunting, or just plain scary. Regardless, if you make it all the way to Tanna you have to go see the volcano, after all, it is the most accessible - and perhaps the most active volcano in the world.

Around 4pm (and after a sweet but quick surf session) a bunch of yachties congregated at the Port Resolution Yacht Club to be picked up for the hour drive to Mt. Yasur. When the truck arrived I was not sure how twelve of us were going to fit in the bed. We all squeezed into small wooden benches, packed like sardines, which made me feel more secure and less likely to fall out.

The road to the volcano is a dirt road with lots of ditches and dips and dust, but it only added to the adventure. An hour later the landscape changed from lush foliage and huge banyan trees to a moonscape. Black sand and rock covered the land, with pumice boulders dotting the surrounding area. The truck parked and everybody hopped out and prepared to make the ascent to the top of the crater, a few hundred meters away from the carpark.

As we hiked up the volcano I could hear distant rumbling and slight vibrations on the ground, along with a bit of rumbling and churning in my stomach. I mean, if this thing blew a big one, we would all be dead in a second. But as we got to the top of the crater all was quiet. "Hmm, ok, this is..." KABOOOOOM!!!! Oh sh!t! I almost dropped to the ground as a huge cloud of ash billowed into the air. The noise coming from the depths of the earth would easily lead one to believe that a very angry god lived down there. It was as if the volcano was alive.


Kaboooom!

As the sun set and the moon rose, the pieces of molten lava down in the crater burned bright red. And then it happened. With an angry roar and a bomb-like explosion, red hot magma shot into the air. Oh. My. Yasur. The eruption lasted a few seconds and as the earth fell silent, the lava cooled and floated back down into the crater. Sometimes the molten lava rocks fall outside the crater and you have to watch your step so that one doesn't fall on you (or you fall on it).

If this volcano were in the US you would not be able to get within a mile of it. There would be security fences and liability forms and all that jazz. Here you can walk up to the crater, or even walk into it if you want a fiery death. There are no guard rails, nothing to keep one from falling in. The only sign of caution is a piece of wood that says, "Think Safety" before the walk to ascend the mount.

We were up on top of the crater for an hour or so, from sunset until it was dark except for the light of the nearly full moon. The volcano put on a spectacular show, erupting and shooting bright orange and red lava high into the sky every five minutes or so. It put the best fireworks in the world to shame. I do not feel like I have done the experience justice, or adequately explained the sense of awe and humbling effect of standing on the rim of an active, alive volcano.

Unfortunately we do not, and have not had internet for about two weeks now, so I can't post photos, but I will ASAP. And for all I know the western world could have come to an end while I was blissfully ignorant. This is one thing I really like about the ni-Vanuatu. While they come around asking for gasoline for a chain saw or wanting to trade fruit for fish hooks, they are not very interested in living a western way of life. They like their subsistence way of life, working when work needs to be done and relaxing the rest of the time. They strike me as a very happy people, in spite of the fact that most of the world would consider them impoverished.

The ni-Vanuatu of Tanna are, however, very traditional. When I told you that they don't make their kava by chewing it and spitting it out anymore, I was ignorant of the ways in Tanna. And when I told you that women are not killed for entering a nakamal anymore, again I was ignorant. Well, women might not be killed (or they might) but Miriam, the hostess of the yacht club, told us if a woman enters the nakamal while the men are drinking kava they will be hit "On the head and on the back and on the legs... yes, we do not enter the nakamal while the men are here." Interesting. And while I have developed a fondness for kava, I can't say that I am disappointed not to try the chew-and-spit method. Dad and Mark went in last night to try it and said it was absolutely disgusting. But each island has its own traditions pertaining to kava drinking, so I will have to investigate on the next island.

Speaking of, it looks like we are leaving our beloved Point Resolution tomorrow. It is going to be sad to leave my perfect wave behind. I intend to get in one more good session this evening at high tide before we leave, although it will taunt me all day to watch the perfect waves barreling across the reef, knowing that I would lose some skin if I were to surf it at low tide. I know, I know, its a rough life, but somebody has to report on the volcanos, barrels and bowls of spit kava.
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At 9/27/2012 9:29 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°31.48'S 169°29.79'E

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Vanua2

Alo! Olsem wanem? Mi likem Vanuatu tumas. Oh, yu tok tok Inglis? Ok, then I will keep the Bislama to a minimum, although "Mi likem kava tumas" sounds much better than "I like kava very much". And I really do like kava. Or rather, I like the effects of kava for about an hour or so after drinking it. After that, I get very queasy. There could be many reasons for this feeling.


Typical ni-Vanuatu house

We left off last time with Mark and me heading into the nakamal on Aneityum for a few shells of kava. Our favorite nakamal at Reggae Beach was closed due to a death in the family, so we had to venture deeper into the jungle to find the second nakamal. As we walked down a narrow path we came across a sort of compound - thatched huts with woven leaf walls, an outdoor kitchen (a roof over rocks and a fire), and lots of chickens and children running around. The women were all cooking and carrying around huge trays of steaming taro and lap-lap, a traditional taro leaves and coconut milk dish. There were no men to be found.

We asked a woman where the nakamal was and she pointed down the path. As we walked down the path a little group of thatch huts appeared. These huts are the same kind that you would find at a hokey theme park trying to replicate a south Pacific paradise, except these are for real. Open air huts with walls made of woven leaves, palm frond roofs and bamboo window sills and roughly cut benches made of a fallen coconut palm.

This is where all the men of the village had congregated. There was not one woman to be seen (except me, of course) and Mark and I were the only two white people in sight. To say that I felt out of place is an understatement. But Mark was not daunted and we walked up to "High Times" nakamal. I asked if it was okay if I entered the nakamal because, not that long ago, women were killed if they entered the nakamal. It is a sacred place and women are impure, thus the kava would have to be thrown out as well - a great tragedy.


High Times kava bar

Alas, I was allowed to enter, although I am not sure if ni-Vanuatu women are allowed. The nakamal was very small, maybe 10x10 feet, with two benches on either side. There were two windows, one to pay for a bowl of kava, the other to get the bowl. A high tide costs 100 vatu (about $1), so Mark and I started with that. We got our kava and went outside to sit on a bench and get eaten alive by mosquitos, when we saw Keith, one of the locals who took us diving earlier in the day. Mark bought him a bowl and after drinking our bowls - you down it all in one gulp - we sat down. I was very happy Keith was there because I was sure he would tell me if I made some huge cultural faux paux. We talked a bit but people who are stoned on kava are not very talkative, so we just kind of sat there.

In fact, the whole area was very quiet except for chickens clucking and the occasional crying baby off in the distance. Oh, and except for the fact that all the men were hawking huge loogies all over the place. I don't know if they were sick, trying to get the taste of kava out of their mouths or what, but every guy was spitting. Even in the nakamal, men spat on the floor (granted, it was sand, but still). The grossest part of the whole thing was not the taste of the kava, or even the fact that everybody shares the same shells, but that Mark and I were not wearing any shoes. I must have stepped on 10 loogies before we got out of there.

While I was horribly grossed out I was also quite stoned on the kava, and as Mark and I walked back to the dinghy we both had huge goofy grins on our faces. "Wow, that was a really authentic Vanuatu experience," Mark said. "Yep. Vanuatu is so cool." "Yep." And we both giggled all the way back to the boat.

By the time I got back to the boat I was starting to feel a bit queasy. There could be many reasons for this: 1. The natural effect of kava. 2. Drinking the local water with which kava is mixed. 3. Sharing shells with the locals. 4. Walking barefoot through really gross stuff. Could be any or all of the above, but that kava session was three days ago and my stomach is still not back to normal.

We are now on the island of Tanna. I sailed over here today on Mark's boat Merkava, and we had a nice breeze and sunny skies the whole way. As we neared Tanna, which is famous for its active volcano, we could actually see the huge plumes of ash blasting into the air. I asked Mark, "so, um, are we really going to stand at the edge of that active volcano?!" "Yep." Gotta love Vanuatu. This place is wild.

There is one more reason why I am more smitten than ever with this place (sorry, I know this is getting too long). As Mark and I sailed up to anchor - yes, we did not turn the engine on once the whole 50 mile passage, not even to anchor! - I noticed a nice little right hand wave peeling off the point. After setting the anchor and drinking the celebratory beer, Mark and I headed over to check out the wave. "Dude, we gotta hit it. It looks sick!!" I was totally amped to surf, especially since the last time I surfed was when I bashed my foot on the reef. Mark was not so keen, but he said he would wait out there for me to get a few waves.

I put on my reef booties and jumped in the water, so stoked to be back on my board. I paddled up to the point, watching the inside waves heave and pitch on the reef. The biggest waves on the outside seemed to be the softest and breaking in the deepest water, so I went for those. After catching three nice waves and feeling a bit like I cheated death, I returned to the boat with a huge smile and shaking with adrenaline. The waves were only head high but there was nobody else out and I had no local knowledge, so I was a bit freaked out. However, not only were the waves beautiful but the surrounding white sand beaches and thick green foliage with the occasional thatched hut on the beach, along with the rising moon and the setting sun made for a stunning and epic backdrop. I can't wait for what will come tomorrow. I'll be sure to keep you posted.
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At 9/24/2012 9:40 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 20°08.36'S 169°48.29'E

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vanuatu

I got stoned on kava. I ate sea turtle. I danced in traditional dances of the ni-Vanuatu. I free dived a coral cavern. And I have only been in Vanuatu four days.


Free diving the coral cavern

Well, three days really, if you do not count the day we arrived. After four days and three nights of passage we finally arrived in Aneityum (pronounced Anatom) Thursday afternoon, along with our buddy boats Sarah Jean and Merkava. We were very happy to arrive and anchor safely in a calm bay - not that our passage was particularly rough or long - but it was the first since New Zealand to Fiji and, to put it bluntly, I do not like passages. Unfortunately the customs official was too busy to visit us that day, so we were confined to the boat for yet another night. I was going a bit stir crazy after having been stuck on the boat for five days, but it was nice to be able to watch a movie and cook food without being thrown around.

The next morning customs and immigration officials came out to the boat to clear us in. After the formalities we served them cold Coca Cola and asked them what we must see and do in Vanuatu. They said that the land diving on Pentecost islands is very impressive and we should go see that. Land diving is the original bungee jumping. In this sacred ceremony the men of Pentecost tie vines to their ankles and jump off bamboo platforms, hoping that their vines are just long enough so that their heads brush the soil, ensuring a fruitful yam season. This sounded like quite a spectacle, so we asked when they perform this ceremony, assuming that it is in a special time of the planting or harvest season. "Ah, whenever the cruise ships come in." Of course. Silly us. In spite of being incredibly remote and rugged islands, capitalism has reached and is prospering in the far flung corners of the Pacific.


Anchorage at Aneityum

This is not all bad. Last night the local villagers offered to do a traditional feast and kastom dancing for a group of yachties (there are 8 boats here). For 1,000 vatu each (about $12), we were invited to the local nakamal at Reggae beach. We watched the women cook the food over open fires and watched the men prepare the kava. Fortunately they have kicked the tradition of having the young boys chew the kava and spit it in a bowl, which is apparently the most effective way to prepare it, but also totally disgusting. Now they grind it up. we were warned that this is not Fiji kava, this is Vanuatu kava, and it is the strongest kava in the world. Of course we were all keen to try it.

First, the local children dressed up in traditional ni-Vanuatu (of Aneityum) costumes - grass skirts for the girls and leaf loin cloths for the boys. For everyday life the women typically wear long skirts and t-shirts or modest dresses and the men wear board shorts. While the ni-Vanuatu are concerned about maintaining their culture and history, wearing a grass skirt everyday is just not logical.

After the fashion show, a few of the young men showed us how to make fire by rubbing dry sticks together. Literally. They made it look way easier than it probably is, but I'd like to think I could do it now in a pinch. A note on the ni-Vanuatu: most of them have the dark skin and dark kinky hair of typical Melanesians, but some have bright blond afros that have got to be some of the coolest hair I have ever seen. Maybe they have a little European in them. After all, the French and English have been fighting over these islands for a few hundred years.

Back to the feast. After the fire demonstration we saw watched two traditional song and dances, before the obligatory "get the white people up and make them feel like fools" last dance. Fortunately the Vanuatu dancing is not quite as complex as that of Polynesia, mostly consisting of foot stamping and tree branch swaying. Their singing, however, rivals anywhere else.

Finally, we got to the kava. Natu, the school teacher who was in charge of the feast told us, "Drink your kava before you eat because then you will feel the effects more. Then you can eat a little bit and then drink some more." In the kava bar, called a nakamal, you order your kava as low tide, high tide, or tsunami, and it comes in a half shell of a coconut. The locals got a kick out of watching us wince and shudder as we drank our shells. Really, kava is not that bad, a bit bitter and a bit like muddy water, but the instant numbing effect it has on the mouth is pleasant.

After a few bowls (one high tide and a few low tides for me) I was feeling very warm and fuzzy toward Vanuatu. The effects of kava are mellow and peaceful, and give one a sense of happiness and well-being. It also made me feel a bit queasy, but this could be because I was drinking on an empty stomach, which although recommended, didn't seem necessary to me. I decided to taste some of the local fare, most of which is starchy roots like manioc, taro, cassava, and pumpkin, all cooked to incorporate coconut cream. But the best dish of the night (which I feel very guilty about) was the curried sea turtle. Most of the ni-Vanuatu food is bland, but the turtle was spicy and salty and tasted like roasted turkey, but chewier. Trust me, I was dismayed with how much I liked it. That aside, I spent the rest of the evening chatting with the locals, learning about their culture, where the good dive spots are, learning some Bislama - a pidgin English/ni-Vanuatu language - and just being stoked to be in Vanuatu.

That stoke did not wear off this morning, although the grogginess of a kava hangover did. Mark had arranged for Keith, a local who is trying to promote diving tourism, to take us out and show us a few dive spots. Mark and I did two dives the previous days which were pretty awesome - filled with soft coral, turtles, rays, reef fish and the occasional shark - but we were not sure if we were missing something. Keith took us to an awesome cave in the reef that becomes a swim through, and after working up my courage for ten minutes I finally dove deep, followed the bright blue light, and popped out on the other side of the reef. So freaking sweet. He also took us on a dive to find eagle rays and bronze whaler sharks, but they were not around today. Maybe tomorrow.

Tonight Mark and I are going back into the nakamal to drink more kava, practice Bislama, and let Mom and Dad celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary together. You would think they would be sick of each other by now, but miraculously they are not. In the meantime, tanku tumas! mi likem yu! (Thank you very much, bye!)
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At 9/22/2012 2:32 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 20°08.36'S 169°48.29'E

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On the Road Again

Ok, we are not exactly "on the road" per se, but we have been out to sea for the past three days. This means I am writing you from the semi-seasick, semi-delirious state of mind that comes with the lack of sleep and the lack of sea legs. I really should not winge though - we are sailing with three other boats - two of which are couples (so they get even less sleep than us) and one, Mark on Merkava, is single handling so it is up to him how much (or how little) he sleeps.

I must admit that I had mixed feelings about leaving Fiji. On the one hand I love Fiji and could spend a lot more time there, because really, three months is just not enough. I am, however, very excited to get to Vanuatu, which sounds like a total trip. Everybody talks about how they will just spend more time at each place they love "the second time around", but that could be a while... So you can understand my gutted-ness (is that a word?) as we sailed out the pass between Tavarua and Namotu islands.

I could not help but reflect that many of my highest points of the entire trip (so far) occurred at those two little motus: meeting Kelly Slater, getting some of the best waves of my life, partying with pro-surfers, watching the most epic surf contest of all time, seeing sharks, whales and all sorts of other cool fish... yes I am sad to leave Fiji.

But, it is time to move on and Vanuatu sounds crazy - from what I hear - but you generally don't hear too much about Vanuatu. Of course, you will be hearing lots of great stories from me in the coming weeks, but if you would like to read more on the subject, I highly recommend Maarten Troost's "Getting Stoned with Savages". It is hilarious and paints a better portrait of Vanuatu (and Fiji) than I ever could, although internet permitting, I intend to post lots of pictures, which Maarten's book lacks. Therefore you should still read my blog.

Seriously though, I kind of feel like we are once again jumping off the deep end into the remote corners of the unknown. Vanuatu sounds rugged: there is an active volcano, there is malaria, huge sharks, and on some islands men still wear nambas, which apparently are some sort of penis leaf sheath thing. I will have to investigate further and report back. As for the malaria, I intend to drink copious amounts of gin and tonic to ward it off.

We still have 120 miles to go before we arrive in Anatom, which means we should arrive tomorrow afternoon. Gracias adios. It's not that I don't like sailing, it's just that, well, I am tired of being tossed around and feeling like I could toss my cookies at any minute.

Next time, from Vanuatu!
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At 9/18/2012 5:13 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 18°57.42'S 173°54.91'E

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Fiji: Take 3




Post Cloudbreak surf stoke in less than ideal conditions.

Bula bula bula!  Ah yes, back in Fiji and currently, back at Cardos (for the internet, of course but a pint of Fiji Bitter is somewhat obligatory).  Here at Port Denarau there are a few new faces and a few old ones.  Like I have said before, there is nothing better than arriving in a foreign country and having friendly faces waiting.  Not just the friendly Fijian faces, but the faces of friends as well.

Let's see, I arrived in Fiji last Saturday after a 13 hour flight from LAX to Nadi.  I missed my friends Sean and BJ from Slow Dance by an hour or so, as they were on their way out as I was flying in.  So it goes.  As soon as I walked off the plane I was greeted with a blast of that warm, heavy tropical air that I have grown to love.  I made my way through customs which was fairly uneventful, although they were not happy that I flew in on a one way ticket.  I promised them that I wouldn't stay forever - although it is tempting - and they let me through.

Back at the boat I felt like I was home.  Dad was waiting for me with a cold beer, but I declined as it was about 7 am.  I spent the day reacclimatizing - napping, cleaning out my cabin, going for a beer at Cardos and sneaking into the resort pool for a swim.  And whereas I was so happy to be back in Denarau, the thing I wanted to do most was get out of here - to go surf, of course.

My day finally came a few days ago when, after a vivid dream about surfing I awoke to a phone call from Teh of Go Surf Fiji, telling me to get up because the boat was leaving for Cloudbreak in 20 minutes.  I jumped out of bed, got my gear together and ran down to meet the boat, ignoring Dad's warnings that the weather forecast called for 35 knot winds and heavy rain in the afternoon.

I couldn't stop smiling as we motored out to Tavarua, in spite of the butterflies in my stomach at the prospect of surfing Cloudbreak and the rather cold rain pelting me.  As we pulled up to Cloudbreak I saw mediocre waves peeling and crumbling across the reef, and both the rain and wind started to increase.  No time like the present, so I jumped off the boat into blissfully warm 80 degree water.  So nice.

Even though the waves were not very nice there was still a crowd of 10+ out at the peak, but after surfing Southern California all summer it did not bother me at all.  And even though the waves were "small", about chest to head high, I was still a bit skittish, paddling for the horizon every time a set came through.  I have seen too many people take gnarly waves on the head to take any chances myself.  

I managed to catch two small waves before I looked around and realized the wind had picked up to 25 knots, whipping the water up the face of the waves and making it a bit hectic in the lineup.  Deciding that two waves was sufficient to say that yes, I have surfed Cloudbreak (a dream of mine since I learned of it), I paddled back to the boat in the channel.  

Inia picked me up and we sat in the boat shivering in the pouring rain and howling wind, waiting for everybody else to come back to the boat.  Isia told me he loves this weather and I told him I thought it was ironic that this is by far the worst weather I have ever been out here in, and also the only time I have ever surfed Cloudy.  We were both stoked, albeit cold.

I got back to the boat around lunchtime just as Mom, who arrived two days after me, was heating up some leftover curry.  There is nothing better than a hot bowl of curry to warm you up after a cold day on the water. 

 But it is ironic, right?  That I come back to Fiji and freeze my ass off?  No worries, it was just a few days of rain and now the weather has returned to its typical sweat-if-you-even-move days and warm but comfortable nights.

Not only did I fulfill my dream of surfing Cloudbreak on this charmed third time in Fiji, but we have now been joined by our good friends Mark on Merkava and Beth and Norm on Sarah Jean.  We have not seen them since New Zealand and it is very fun to be hanging out with them again.  I am trying to talk Mark into anchoring his boat at Tavarua and Namotu for a few days of waves, so we will see what happens.

Speaking of Namotu, yesterday morning I went out to surf my favorite wave, Namotu Lefts.  The waves were a bit big, but after catching two waves I felt pretty good about the session, until I took a wave on the head.  The wave broke right in front of me so i ditched my board and dove deep.  Unfortunately I did not dive deep enough, and the wave picked me up, tumbled me a few times, and then slammed me into the reef.  


OUCH.

I now have a nice gash on my foot that will keep me out of the water for a few days.  I should probably stay out of the water until it is healed, but that is just not realistic.  The worst part about it is that I had brand new reef booties in my pack that I decided not to wear because Namotu Lefts is a deep water take off and it was high tide.  What a chump.