Friday, November 5th, 2010
By Chief Mate Michael Moreland
The village of Bwatnapne, on the island of Pentecost in the Vanuatu Group, rests in a valley on a large swath of lush flatlands with dramatic but gentle tropical cliffs overhanging and a long crescent coral beach that the village overlooks out to sea on the lee side of the island. A small freshwater river empties just on the southern side of the beach, deep enough only to let passageway for the local dugout canoes but clean enough for cooking and bathing. Traditional thatch huts are spread about among the large banyan trees and grass fields with a few modern cement structures that house the church and school in between. Smoke gently easing from the thatch roofs reveals cooking fires and a few people can be seen tending to their garden patches.
It is here that we found ourselves gazing upon from our ship at anchor a few hundred yards from the shore. The ship sat in still, crystal clear water and almost seemed to appear as if she was suspended in air with her anchor chain visibly leading 50 feet down to the anchor quietly doing it’s work on the coral and sand bottom. Swim call was briefly interrupted as the Captain, Donald, Ollie, and I boarded the ship’s cape island skiff and motored to the beach to say hello and make plans and a “program” for the next few days. We were met on the beach by several groups of curious people, small and large alike, and more importantly by Fredrick, the son of the late chief of the village, Chief Allen. He received us warmly and led us down the beach and up to through the small village as the little ones tagged behind and invited us into his home to have our first talk. The program was all neatly organized already and we simply had to agree and show him our appreciation. The appropriate information was sent back to the ship and within 30 minutes all of the off-watch was gathered on the beach ready for the welcoming ceremony. Amazing leis of flowers had suddenly appeared with children standing in line to which the crew made their way down, shaking hands and receiving the beautiful flowers. Beneath the banyan tree and upon a perfectly manicured field of grass we all stood as the children began singing their welcome song. Shortly there after we were all spread out, mixed among the locals, eating the feast they had prepared for us, with each our own banana leaf as a plate. The local string band arrived during dinner and set up next to the stylish kava shack where our crew and locals slowly but surely migrated to. It was to be a great night of dancing and music; with the best string band we were to hear our whole time in Vanuatu. Moderation was the key to this potent batch of kava and the crew did well, showing respect and observing custom while indulging in this highly unusual and stimulating drink from ground-up roots. We danced until we couldn’t dance anymore (maybe the kava had something to do with it) and with the party winding down, we made our way down to the beach where our trusty skiff came stern-to and took the giddy crew back to our ship with the string band music echoing off the water.
The next few days came in with more of the same great spirit and hospitality from our new friends in Bwatnapne. Guided hikes, snorkelling, paddling around in a new friend’s dugout canoe, a wonderfully successful and chaotic trading afternoon, and every night, sure enough the string band would set up and the kava would be poured with more excitement and dancing then the night before. Rightly deserved donations were made to the string band, who have ambitions to record their first album. And on the last night a special request was made for the Picton Castle’s own Gypsy Band to play a set, which we gladly obliged. We played all our hits and received some laughter, applause, confused looks but also dancing and smiles to what was to them pretty foreign music of contemporary American folk, rock, and blues. Another great night and in the morning, like always, we had to sail, but from a wonderful and beautiful place and people. It always seems to be the small places that stick with you down the road, what you remember, what stories come up, and the spirit, that is so large in such a small and remote place, that you maybe try to carry with you the rest of your life.
*Thank you to Lauren and Frankie for sharing a few of their photos to go with this log entry.