Saturday, June 7, 2014

Oyster Island

We continue to explore Santo in Vanuatu and have moved to "Peterson Bay" near the privately-owned Oyster Island. This island houses a lovely resort and a conservation area. The bay is quite large and right now there are twelve boats at anchor here. Three of the boats are long-term residents (one is said to have been here twelve years!).
As the previous entry noted, we had planned on leaving Palikula Bay sooner, but waited for better visibility because of the surrounding reefs and narrow passage into Peterson Bay. When we left, it had cleared for us to get safely out of Palikula, but then unfortunately it really socked in with clouds and rain. We sailed up Diamond Passage and found the navigational aid to get you into Peterson. This is a stick! A long red stick – but a stick. You keep that to port and make your way through a very narrow cut between two reefs. We were at low tide so it was easy to see the reefs. We decided that we could see clearly enough and made our way through the other "sticks" that marked the narrow cut. At one point we saw less than 1.5 feet under the keel and bommies were scattered around as we made our way in and around them. We made it safely to the anchorage and dropped the anchor in 40 feet of water.

This area has a two rivers that feed into the bay. It is very protected and relatively easy to get to Luganville, the main town, from here by bus or taxi. The next day, Michael would test out the transportation and head to town to get the raw water pump hopefully repaired. He took the local bus in (the back of a pick-up with seats) for 200 Vatu (about 2 US dollars). Its a 25 minute ride. He had a few phone numbers of possible repair people. He got his project completed and found out that the one pump was pretty destroyed by a repair shop in Panama. They tried to put the bearings in backwards and badly scored the shaft of the the pump. But. We had bearings and seal for the old pump and that one got repaired so we could get the main engine running again.

A few other stops in town for bread and fresh fruit and vegetables and he made it back by bus again. Meanwhile, Barbara was baking and cleaning aboard!

We have finally done some exploring. We took our dinghy up one of the rivers here – the Matavulu River which has a "blue hole." The "Blue Hole" is the start of the river as it is the spring that feeds the river. Our mission was to gather some fresh water up the river for the laundry so we traveled with every bucket and jug we had. The water near the hole was incredibly clear. After filling up – we drifted/rowed back down the river to listen to the birds and look at the beautiful trees and plants. The river is surrounded by massive mangroves. We swear the elusive Lysepsep people were watching us from the banks of the river and throwing things at us! Perhaps it was our imaginations. The Lysepseps are natives of the Santo mountain area. They are only about four feet tall and grow their hair long as a screen (of course we are thinking of Cousin It of the Addams' Family). We want to go to the Lysepsep Cultural Park to learn about their culture and perhaps if we can arrange a group – see their dances.

We returned after our river adventure with lots of washing water. The next day, we took a hike and circumambulated 25 hectare Oyster Island. It has nicely marked trails that take you around the entire island which, along with the area waters, is a marine and nature park. There are some grand trees on the island and it was good to move around. We spotted some of the 121 bird species on Vanuatu – of which 55 are on Santo. A pair of brightly colored parrots – were making a rukus in one of the trees, obviously not pleased we were nearby. You could spot their very bright red feathers as they moved about in the overhead tree. There are also a few varieties of a swallow like bird that we saw really working in the river and again on the island. The local version of a kingfisher is smaller but very blue and did a dive bomb on us while on the river! There are 19 native lizards – mostly small skinks and geckos. We saw many of the long blue-tailed skink on the island. The tails are very bright blue. Haven't yet spotted one of the four varieties of flying foxes!

This bay has some dugongs (manatees) and Michael has spotted one or two (unconfirmed sightings!). They seem to be much smaller than the Florida Manatees we are used to seeing. They also seem much shyer (or perhaps the word is smarter) than their Florida breathren. There is also a large turtle that pops up near the boat regularly.
We may snorkel tomorrow, weather permitting, in search of a sunk plane wreck.

It is very pretty here – though we won't be dining out much at the resort as it is quite spendy. We'll wait until town where we can score a 300 Vatu lunch at the veggie market at the stands called "mamas." For about $3 US you get a meal of rice, beef and vegetables and a juice drink.

We will settle here for at least a week or two and do some exploring and perhaps land trips to see Santo. We have to go back to Luganville on Monday (tomorrow) to pick up the back-up pump and have lunch.

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