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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Gaua Island Day 1

Losalava bay, Gaua island, Vanuatu
14°12.1 S by 167°34.2 E

Gaua Island on the northern end of the Vanuatu archipelago is a semi-active smoldering and steaming volcano like most of the young islands of Vanautu. A huge lake replete with cascading waterfalls and steaming volcanic shores takes the place of the smoking rock strewn craters of other islands. The rare flightless turkey like Megapode bird lays eggs in the warm ash soil of the shoreline and leaves them to incubate and hatch unattended in the volcano heated soil. The heavily jungled island receives endless precipitation as the warm moisture laden ocean lightens its' load when the trade winds force it up and over the island.

Although Gaua is only a few hundred miles from the modern if modest capital city of Port Vila it seems as if we've traveled back in time with each mile we've sailed north. Small villages lie camouflaged within the uninterrupted rich green foliage of the shoreline and bays. We've anchored in Losalava Bay while we visit Gaua and attend the Arts festival as it's the closest and best protected bay to the host village of Aver. Within minutes of getting the anchor secured we're visited by locals in dug out canoes heading out to do some fishing. We asked them if it's ok to swim (i.e. sharks or crocodiles). They say yes. It's important from here on north to ask this as there are indeed crocodiles and dangerous sharks in these waters.

A few other boats share our anchorage here in Losalava, Jibcho, Nomad, Two by Sea, Artic Fox, Infinity and Maajhi-Re all great people as one would expect for anyone who has ventured this far from civilization for an island art festival. First order of business was to ensure the show was on schedule after our disappointments at Southwest Bay on Malakula. I confirmed this with Chris and Kathy on Two by Sea and spent over an hour chatting it up with them as to give Kathy some quite time for a much needed nap after out night passage. Surprisingly, I slept great on my off watches and dodged my typical first day out battle with seas sickness.

The weather was also great for the passage and it was a very pleasant sail. Hoping for some fresh fish we'd trolled a line during the few available daylight hours of our mostly dark overnight passage and got unlucky with our great fishing luck when we reeled and quickly released a Great Barracuda as it can carry Ciguatera, a nasty toxin.

Back on the boat I was anxious to get in the water as the weather is getting noticeably steamier as we edge closer to the equator and the sun was burning me up. First we had to be sure it was safe to swim thus requiring another source to answer our questions on sharks and crocs and secondly to obtain permission from the chief to anchor, swim, visit the village, etc. So off we went to shore obtaining a ten year old guide named Oliver from the group of kids jumping in the water at what looked like the best dingy landing site. Oliver guided us to the village then wisely high tailed it back to the swimming hole to escape the oppressive humidity. Once in the village we came upon a group of women weaving grass skirts for the next day's arts festival performance. Their last minute preparations somewhat typifies the live for the moment don't plan ahead island time mentality. No slam just an observation. The village was without running water, roads or power of any type (no solar or generators) we understand there is a phone tacked to a palm tree somewhere. We never found the chief, but instead found Fredy who offered to show us the school. We really just wanted to go for a swim at this point, but went along on a twenty minute sweaty up hill slog to the school. I should mention we followed the main island road to the school. The "main island road" was a single track path that at one point forded a muddy creek that would seemingly be impassable should any working vehicles exist on this island.

At the school we met several of the teachers and checked out the library which was well stocked. One young teacher pointed to a picture of George Bush on his wall and said he is a very great president. Yes? Hummph. I asked what he liked about George and he said he is a very very smart man, relating how he had read about him in a magazine. To further bolster his point he whips out the very old Time magazine with Bill Clinton on the cover to prove his point. I call to his attention to the picture of Bill Clinton on the cover and note that president on the wall is George Bush. Who did he like again? He waved the magazine with Bill on the cover again and with an incredulous look like I was stupid or something said George Bush is very smart still waving the magazine. Hummph. We made a polite exit from the library and were introduced to Valerie, a Peace Corp volunteer form New York. After a nice chat we decided it would be nice to host a Peace Corp dinner aboard La Vie for the three volunteers to get the inside scoop on the island.

Back to the boat we anxiously donned swimsuits and headed to the reef pass for a snorkel. Slipping into the water was a bit of a shock as the water was incredibly warm. Too warm in fact to feel very refreshing to my nearly sun burned sweaty skin. The boat instruments report the water is just over eighty three degrees, three feet below the surface. We spent the remainder of the day chatting with other yachties and hosted new friends David and Themai for a sundowner aboard La Vie.

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