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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Day with Chief Kurley

Waterfall Bay, Vanua Lava Island, Vanuatu.
13°49.6381 S 167°22.9558 E Anchorage

Day with Chief Kurley,

Yesterday, we went ashore for breakfast at the Waterfall Bay Yacht club. The term yacht club should not conjure up images of a luxurious dining experience as, but instead a thatch roofed hut with a few plastic chairs and a dirty table cloth. Basically, you make "reservations" the day before and then show up and Chief Kurleys' wife Elisabeth makes you breakfast. The first course was "Fried Flour" a super greasy version of pancakes, next a platter of fresh papaya, then fired eggs with green onions, then a platter of fresh pineapple and instant coffee or tea, all in all a nice hearty breakfast. We then went for a walk to one of the six "gardens" that supply the families' fresh food and kava. Kurley suggested it would be about one hour round trip. All said it was three hours as we had many stops to discuss the uses of the jungle plants and trees. Kurley pointed out which trees made the best canoes, bows and arrows, roof thatch, lashing vines, land diving vines, aromatic plants to adorn the body for kustom dances, kustom medicinal plants for upset stomach, boils, bug repellants, and one blood red plant considered a "tonic for your blood".

Once we'd climbed up the steep hills behind Kurley's home we walked along a narrow ridge that narrowed at one point to less than ten feet wide. On the right was a gorge with a rushing river and on the left was a two hundred foot cliff. We paused to take in the view of the colorful reefs and the yachts rocking gently in the crystal clear blue waters below. Kurley explained that this was the place where grudges were traditionally settled. One would lay in wait for their adversary, quietly crouching in the bushes, then just at the right moment leap out roaring and with a quick shove sending the foe over the cliff. Kerley reported the last such grudge was settled sometime in the 1930's. Befittingly, at the base of the cliff is a cave filled with skeletons. We plan to check out the cave this morning and I have a forensic investigation in mind to identify the fall victims by their fractured skulls and femurs. Further up the trail is a small stone pit that was used to cast spells of a sort toward the neighboring island of Ureparapara thereby killing ones adversary's on this island twenty five miles to the north. He correlated this practice to our use of a missile. Not sure why one would use this powerful magic, but Kurley said that when you could see smoke coming from the island it had worked.

Onward and upward we passed through "old gardens" that despite not being maintained were in tropical island abundance bearing much fruit such as pineapples, papaya, kasava, island cabbage (a type of spinach), taro and lots of kava. Eventually, we arrived at our destination, a several acre clearing where Kurley had perhaps thousands of Kava plants cultivated. Kava takes a minimum of three years growth before being ready to harvest and the older the plants the stronger the kava. When ready for harvest the stalks are cut of the shrub-like plant and the root ball is carefully extracted from the soil, then washed. A three year old root ball is worth about ten USD. Next the roots are ground using a variety of methods from the traditional stone grinding where the kava roots are held in the palm of one had while a piece of coral is used to pulp and juice the roots. Other traditional methods include having young children chew the root and then spit the masticated pulp and juice out to then be mixed with water and drank. The most common method in use today is the meat grinder method where an old fashion hand crank meat grinder is used to pulverize the roots. In Vanuatu kava is drunk quite regularly by those who can afford the habit, but mostly by men. I think I already stated previously, but I find it amazing that the women do most of the work, raising the kids, cooking and cleaning, working in the food garden, when it seems the men spend most of their time during the day attending to their kava and then at night, drinking it. At our last stop in Sola, population three hundred, thirteen kava bars do a brisk trade nightly. A "shell" of Kava cost around one hundred vatu or 1USD. A "shell" is perhaps one and a half cups and aptly served up in half a coconut shell. Vanuatu is regarded by those who know to be the strongest in the world. In Sola we had two shells and aside from the numbing sensation felt in the lips and tongue we felt no effect. Most men put away six plus bowls a night so perhaps they "feel" the affects more so than we with only two bowls.

Our return trip down the mountain was enjoyable with much interesting discussion with Chief Kurley on all nature of topics from raising children in the quickly developing culture of Vanuatu, the importance of passing down family history in respect to maintaining historical family land rights, fishing for freshwater prawns, the origins and use of traditional shell money, and a myriad of other topics. Once back to Kurleys' we rested in a gazebo on the beach and sipped on deliciously sweet and cool river water piped in from the nearby waterfall. Cross your fingers for me that we don't get sick.

The waterfall certainly is worthy of description. A few hundred feet from Kurley' s home is an amazing "double" waterfall cascading into a pool just feet from the ocean. The falls is perhaps fifty feet tall and has large double falls of water about ten feet apart. The amazing part is that each of the streams of water cascading into the pool has an origin from different sources or two rivers come within a few feet of joining right at the point they cascade over the fall. The pool is large and great for swimming, bathing and laundry. Through a combination of wanting to support the local economy and laziness we elected to have our two huge bags of laundry washed by the locals. In return for freshly laundered, hung dry and folded laundry we traded about six articles of clothing, two kilos of rice and sugar and some miscellaneous food items we had on board.

Snorkeling just off shore of the waterfall is some of the best we've seen in Vanuatu so all in all this is one of our favorite stops thus far.

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