Saturday, May 24, 2014

“Alo” From Vanuatu

"Alo" is the Bislama way to say "hello" in Vanuatu, our 29th country to visit as we cruise on "Astarte." Bislama is the main language of Vanuatu which is a "pidgeon English" with words like "gud" for "good" and "naet" for "night." You can sort of figure out signage in the town thanks to the closeness to English. Most people also speak some English. Besides Bislama there are more than 120 local languages here in Vanuatu, the most different languages per capita in the world. Each village has its own version of language. Some children can fluently speak twelve languages!
Vanuatu has a very interesting history and we look forward to exploring this amazing country that is very environmentally conscious as well as diverse in landscape. The country lies squarely on the Pacific Ring of Fire and has nine active volcanoes as well as many thermal springs. The land mass actually rises and falls annually based on the activity of the earth's core. That volcanic past has created some beautiful and rich land structure.

In a recent archeological find, an ancient burial spot of Lapita people was found. The find included the extraordinary Lapita pottery along with skeletal remains more than 3200 years old. The Lapita people are the seafaring ancestors of all Polynesian people from Hawaii to Tahiti to New Zealand. The islands had clan-based villages. Regular skirmishes between villages were the norm and the taking of a few people was the result. These folks were invited to dinner with the chief – only they happened to be the main course!

Spanish explorers arrived and of course the various missionary groups came over time. Some were served up as dinner, but over time, the Europeans impacted the country. From more than a million indigenous people, the number dropped to 41,000 after European diseases and "blackbirding" devastated the population. "Blackbirding" is the stealing of people to work on plantations in other island nations. It was finally banned.

New Hebrides was the former name of this island nation and at one point in its history it was run under a strange arrangement between the French and the British. It was known as "the condominium" government and created an endless comedy of errors. The nickname of the government became "the pandemonium" The British and French drive on opposite sides of the road so setting up the rules of the road was challenging. The flags raised over the government buildings were measured daily to make sure one wasn't higher than the other! If jailed, it was better to stay in the French jail as the food was much better!

With World War II, the Americans arrived with ships and crews in 1942. They built airstrips and bases in several areas including here in Santo where we are anchored. The quonset huts used as offices and housing are still around the town of Luganville. As we arrived, we passed an area called "Million Dollar Point. This is where the USS President Coolidge, a luxury liner turned troopship sunk after hitting a friendly mine. It is now the world's largest accessible shipwreck. The point also is where the US disposed of jeeps, airplane engines, crates of coca-cola, bulldozers and other equipment after the war. Now it is all encrusted with coral and magnificent sea life.
New Hebrides became an independent country in the early 1980's after a few rough starts, coups and seccession threats by some outer islands.

In 2007, Vanuatu was named the "Happiest Country on Earth." Who wouldn't love a country filled with happy, smiling, welcoming people. We are excited about exploring it and so far our interaction with these "happy" people has been a very positive experience.

We are still catching up on rest and getting the boat organized. We have lots of horse-neck barnacles growing on the hull after our 24 day passage. So we have to get in the water and do some hull cleaning. We are now on a mooring in front of the Aore Island Resort. Luckily they have not yet "certified" the moorings for the year so they aren't charging us. It is very lovely and the water very calm. We treated ourselves to a nice dinner last night at the resort to celebrate making the passage. The resort runs a ferry across to the main town of Luganville and we took that in yesterday to go to the fresh market and do some looking for line to replace the broken furler line and check fuel availability and prices.

More later on the flora and fauna of Vanuatu – it is really nice to be in this lovely, happy country!

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