Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Port Narvin on Erromango Island

Photo by Dick on Geramar

It wasn’t easy to tear ourselves away from the wonderful anchorage of Port Resolution on the island of Tanna but just after sunrise on the morning of 30 September we pointed Rutea’s bow almost due north to the east side of Erromango Island.  Corie again crewed for Mark on Merkava and all of us enjoyed a pleasant sail in the southeast trade winds.  Our destination was Port Narvin, a small village on the north side of Traitor’s Point, where some friends had heard that the school there was in desperate need of supplies for their schools.  While we were still in Fiji, we had stopped by a stationary store and stocked up on pencils, paper, notebooks, etc in anticipation of our visit.
Ruthie with Chief Joe
The anchorage there was far from ideal and the swells wrapped around the point so Rutea (and all the rest of the boats in our little flotilla) rolled badly while at anchor.  Sleep that night was hard to come by and we were all looking forward to getting off the boat when morning dawned.  As we made our way into shore, we could see a long line of school children excitedly watching us.  Once we landed the dink, we were greeted by the two chiefs, Joe and Andre (there’s actually two separate villages side by side and each village has it’s own chief but by all appearances its one village of about 800 people).  Because the anchorage is so poor, yachts rarely call on this port and now there were six yachts anchored in front of their village.  This had never happened before, we were told.

We were led into the school yard where the students ran around as if there was the promise of ice cream or a long vacation waiting for them.  Gradually they began to file into the small, cinderblock building which was way too small for the one hundred or so students.  The cruisers were given chairs at the head of the classroom, as if on display, and the students gawked and giggled at the collection of old, white people.  Of course, Corie commanded the most attention, being pretty, white and young.  One of the teachers spoke and the students became quiet as a line of older girls filed in with garlands of flowers that they placed around each of our necks.  We were asked to introduce ourselves.  With a guitar, one of the teachers led the students in a couple of songs where the students sang loudly and in beautiful harmony.  The principal spoke, welcoming us and then asked us to circulate through the classroom and grounds, talking to the students.  Corie was instantly mobbed by the girls who were fascinated with her hair.  Ruthie and Beth attracted large groups of students as they read books to them.  I spoke with one of the teachers who told me that there was no road that came into the village.  There is no store, no phones, no power, no doctor or nurse.  The nearest village that has some of these basic functions is a five-hour boat ride away.

After we had spent a couple of hours with the students, Chief Joe and Chief Andre offered to take us on a hike up the mountain.  Wearing only flip-flops, we started to climb the sometimes steep terrain through the jungle.  Chief Joe was barefoot.  The climb proved to be more strenuous than we had anticipated but after about an hour-and-a-half we were at the top, soaked in sweat and looking over a beautiful view of the bay where we were anchored and Cook’s Bay to the south.  Also we were looking over the foundation for a cellular tower that is in the process of being built.  Since there’s no construction equipment on the island, all of the materials are carried up by both men and women of the village.  There were maybe 1,000 sacks of crushed coral (that will be mixed with concrete), each sack weighing about 50 pounds.  There were 55 gallons drums, filled with water, which had also been carried up by hand in 5 gallon jugs, one at a time.  All of the framework and rigging for the tower had also been carried up by the people of the village.

We had been poorly prepared to make the climb, not just in terms of footwear but also we had no water or food with us.  Chief Joe left us for a few moments and returned with a half-dozen fresh coconuts tied to a stick that he carried over his shoulder.  With his machete, he opened a small hole in each one and the cool coconut water quenched our thirst and the coconut meat refreshed us.  On the way back down the mountain, Chief Joe said repeatedly, “Please don’t forget us.  Remember what we’re trying to do here.”  There was almost a pleading in his voice.

I know all of you get more requests for donations than you could ever attempt to grant and I’m very reluctant to add one more.  Regardless, this village has very few prospects – there’s no tourism on the island and yachts are few and far between.  For school supplies, someone has to travel to Efate Island, almost 90 miles away and they have a pathetic budget to work with.  All of us were very touched by this village and would like to help.  They desperately need computers, school supplies and books and I don’t think donations of cash would make it to the right people.  I’m willing to pay for the freight to Vanuatu if you’d be willing to donate anything else – a ream of paper, an old computer that you no longer use, some children’s books or PC educational software (they’d especially like a set of encyclopedias on CDs).  If you can find it in your hearts to send something, I’d be grateful.  Please send it to my home in San Diego and I’ll volunteer my daughter, Caity, to organize the shipment.

Birthday Cheesecake from Tricia on Geramar 
We left Port Narvin later that day, my birthday, and traveled overnight to the island of Efate and the capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila.  We once again have internet access, stores, restaurants and traffic.  From here we’ll continue north before we have to decide whether to sail directly west to Australia or south first to New Caledonia and then Australia.  The weather will impact our final decision.

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