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.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Port Vila

It is hard to write about Port Vila at the moment because I swear we have sailed right into Jurassic Park - including an active volcano erupting in the distance, being greeted by million year old reptiles (sea turtles, and friendly ones at that), hills covered in thick foliage with wisps of smoke coming through the trees, and I am pretty sure I saw a pterodactyl swoop through the air... but I might have a good story or two about Port Vila and if I don't write about them now, they will be lost forever.

Let's see. Port Vila: charming colonial town - meets South Pacific - meets 99 cent store - meets resort atmosphere. There are French bakeries next door to the dive shops, the supermarket next to the traditional open air market, the bar next to the nakamal, a few good restaurants and lots of Chinese stores selling everything from rip off name brand shirts to Vanuatu beer huggies and cheap, plastic ukuleles - all of which I was tempted to buy. Of course after not having anything to buy - let alone anywhere to shop - save the local woman's kitchen for a grapefruit and some cabbage, just wandering through the stores and supermarket was quite entertaining.

And of course, I had to try out Tusker, the local ni-Van beer. Many times. Although I had a great time checking out the local bars - of the likes I had not seen since we were last in Port Denarau, Fiji - beer is super expensive here. Kava, however is not.

Mark and I, who have been palling around for quite some time now, decided that in Port Vila we would test the limits of kava. Considering it is the "big city", if we were to get a bit out of hand we could blend in with the other clueless tourists easier here, due simply to the fact that there are tourists here. And so we set out.

Mark picked me up from Rutea around sunset. "Where do you think we should go?" I asked him. "Oh, I dunno, I figure we just start walking and we will find something," was Mark's typical casual reply. "Well, in the tourist pamphlet it says there is a place called the "Chief's Nakamal" up the hill over that way, but it is probably filled with palangis (white people), being in the book and all." I told him. Not wanting to hit the touristy joints, we walked in the opposite direction. The farther you walk from the main drag in Port Vila, the fewer tourists you see.

Thus we started getting strange stares as we walked up the hill. Finally, we asked a kid walking down the street where the nearest nakamal was. He told us he doesn't drink kava, but that the Chief's Nakamal would be a good place for us. Mark and I shot each other a look, but the kid had taken it upon himself to flag down a bus and tell the bus driver where to take us, so it looked like we were headed for the palangi nakamal. I supposed it was a good start.

When we got in the bus (which was really just a van) we started chatting with the bus driver, asking him if the Chief's Nakamal is a good nakamal. "Ehh, is gud." "Oh yea? Do you drink kava there?" "No, but I take you dea." Then I remembered to ask the very important question that I had forgotten to ask in Vanuatu thus far: "Hey, um, what do you call white people in Vanuatu? You know, in Tonga they call us palangis and in Fiji they call us kaivalangis, what do they call us in Vanuatu?" He had to think about it for a minute. "Ah, we call de white man 'Masta'." My jaw dropped. "Excuse me? You mean like 'Master'?" "Yes! De master and de misses." Whoa dude. The ni-Van call the white man "master". What are we in, 1800?

By this time we had arrived at the Chief's Nakamal. Actually, I was not aware that we had arrived at the nakamal that was highlighted in my tourist packet because it was not much more than a wooden shack with one light and a few wooden benches under a banyan tree. There were also no other palangis around (sorry, I can't call us master and misses). Excellent. Mark and I walked up but I hesitated for a moment because I did not want to get beaten or killed. But as we entered I noticed a woman take a shell of kava, down it and then hawk a big loogie on the ground, so I knew we were in the right place.

Mark and I ordered our first shells - 100 vatu shells -, went to the side of the nakamal to chug them down and then went and bought a slice of papaya from a few women selling food outside the nakamal. We sat down. "So how do you feel?" I asked Mark, already starting to smile through numb lips. "Good, good." We sat for a bit and talked quietly. There are no loud noises in a nakamal, everybody nearly whispers and any cars that drive up dim their lights so as not to bother us kava heads.

Mark and I went for another 100 vt shell, which was no easier to drink than the first. The horrible bitterness combined with the strong numbing effects make my stomach churn now, but somehow I got them down that night. We went and got another piece of fruit to wash the taste out and sat down again. "Why do you think all nakamals are built under banyan trees?" I asked Mark. "Maybe because everybody goes to the banyan trees when there is a cyclone, and so even in the middle of a natural disaster they can still drink kava." Hee hee hee, this is as good an explanation as any I have heard (also the only one).

By our third shell I was finding it very hard to talk. I felt like I was falling backward even though I (am pretty sure I) was sitting up straight. Mark and I were chatting with a few local boys and I felt my voice get softer and softer and then trail off as my eyes closed... "Mark, we gotta go. I don't even know if I can walk." "Ok, but how about one last bowl before we go." Of course this was a horrible idea, but I made it less horrible by appealing for 50 vt bowls. "Good idea."

Shortly after drinking our fourth (although only half) shell, we left because had I sat down again, I would have slept under that banyan tree for the night. As we stumbled out onto the street I said, "Dude, I don't feel so good." "Hmmmm, maybe we should go find a place to get a beer," was Mark's logical reply. We managed to make it back down to the waterfront, but only by clutching each other so as not to stumble into oncoming traffic and those horribly bright, fast moving lights.

We finally made it to a bar where Mark got us beers, but I couldn't do more than take a few sips. I am not sure how he managed to drink both of them before we decided to go back to the boat. By the time I got home I was sure it was 2AM and I was going to be sick as a dog. In reality it was only 9:15, but I was sick as a dog with my stomach tossing and churning for the better part of the night. Alas, I am no longer a fan of kava. Mark and I wanted to push the limits, to feel the full effects of kava, and we did. And I don't ever want to again - at least not for a long time. But I also say this every time I drink too much alcohol, so we will see, although since then every time somebody tries to get me to go to a nakamal with them I politely decline.

That is Port Vila for you, in a (coco)nut shell. We have since moved on to Epi island, i.e. Jurassic Park. Today we were greeted by huge sea turtles and a pod of dolphins as we entered the anchorage, and on the way up from Efate we snagged a three foot wahoo. Tomorrow I am going to search for an alleged dugong that lives in the bay, as well as try to catch a ride on a sea turtle. And so the wild adventure that is Vanuatu continues.
At 10/7/2012 3:20 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 17°36.37'S 168°14.51'E

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