A Travellerspoint blog

July 2006

From the top of the world to the bottom of the sea - Part 2

We hope you all enjoyed Wazza’s contribution to our travel blog….thanks Waz!

One of the highlights of our time with the boys was at the North Ambrym Arts Festival (July 20 and July 21). This is the second time this annual event has taken place and we had been looking forward to it all year. We assisted the locals by heavily promoting the Festival in National newspapers, In-flight magazines, e-mails, yacht clubs and posted flyers in Pt Vila. We were happy with the turn out with 24 tourists from around the world coming to be part of the festivities.

The event took place in the old custom village called Fanla – tucked away in the mountains of North Ambrym (about 45 minute walk from our village). This village oozes with character and mystery.

The program on the first day included grade taking ceremonies (namanghe). Namanghe on Ambrym has 8 steps and men can choose to ‘take grades’ by performing a number of rituals including dances, killing pigs or standing on a stage and being pelted by stones. We were lucky to see Chief Bong perform the final grade taking step by dancing high up on a platform, followed by a payment of money and ceremonial killing of a pig.

Local men performing a namanghe dance in the nasara (ceremonial ground)

The grade achieved by Chief Bong means that he is Tabu fire and can no longer share food that is prepared by other people. He cannot even except food from others and must grow his own food and pick fruit from special trees that are marked with his sign. This achievement is regarded as special by the people of Ambrym because the culture is so communal. Normal people rely heavily on sharing food to get through tough times. However those that are Tabu Fire are independent and separate from the rest of the community.

The dancing and singing was a real treat, and the fact that the ceremony was the real thing, not just something for the tourists, was really special.

After the ceremony there was a village tour, a yummy lunch of Island food, and a magic show. The magic you see on Ambrym is not the black magic that Ambrym is famous for, what we saw was more like magic in the western sense, i.e. tricks and illusions.

There was also a dance to unveil the newly made Rom masks that would star in the next days Rom dance. The first day was a real treat but after the unveiling of the Rom masks we were all excited about day two of the festival.

On the second day we were not disappointed, with the men putting on the most amazing Rom we have seen since being on Ambrym. More than 20 masks were involved in the dance and several high chiefs, including Woorawoorayafu (all decked out in pig tusks and Nambas), led the performance.

(Woorawoorayafu leading the Rom dances towards the nasara)

The Rom dance is so difficult to describe, but so spectacular to see. The costumes worn by the dancers are so ‘out of this world’, that you forget there are men underneath. You become lost in the dance as you are hypnotised by the beats of the giant TamTam (slit gongs), the chanting singers and the gliding motion of the Rom dancers across the Nasara (ceremony ground).

(The beautiful Rom masks made out of natural materials found in the bush)

After the Rom dance had finished, we soon heard the squealing of pigs being dragged into the Nasara from the surrounding bush. It was payment time. The leader of the Rom must always pay with the biggest pig and largest amount of money. Each of the other dancers must also kill a pig and pay money for the right to learn the secrets of mask making and to perform this custom dance. The pig killing is not our favourite part of the ceremony but it is very important part of local custom.

(Payment time!)

After the Rom we all tucked into Laplap, but during lunch Warren and Matt had to sneak off for a clandestine meeting with chief Woorawoora yafu (the big man of Fanla), who wanted Warren to value a gold sovereign coin that he had shown Pippa and I earlier in the year. Waz and Matt were a bit nervous….as the chief one of the highest chiefs of black magic in Ambrym. Waz offered quite a generous price for his coins….however they were both quite relieved when the chief decided to keep hold of his coin for a few more years.

After lunch there was a presentation of intricate sand drawing and the haunting sounds of the bamboo flute marked the end of the festival.

We were both relieved that the event went so well, and the feedback from all who attended was overwhelmingly positive.

The dates for the 2007 festival have already been announced (July 19th and 20th) and if you get the chance to go we highly recommend it – phone + 678 48687 for bookings.

The locals were really happy with our efforts to promote their event and thanked us by presenting us with a small live pig to eat with Wil, Ben and Waz. The pig was cooked slowly in a bread oven and was the most delicious, moist and tender pork we have ever tasted!

From the heights of the North Ambrym Arts festival, Wil and Ben’s visit and the Volcano treck our time here on the Santo has been a little more sedate although not without it’s adventures.

A highlight has been to dive on one of the most famous wreck dives in the world, the SS President Coolidge. This Steam Liner was converted to a troop carrier during WWII, and it sunk after running into friendly mines.

These dives are the deepest we have ever done (and probably the deepest we will ever do), but an experience to remember. The deepest dive was 40m.

(Matt, Waz and Pip at the bow canon of the SS President Coolidge)

(Entering the cargo holds of the Coolidge)

We have also been joining in with the celebrations of the 26th anniversary of Independence in Vanuatu. Just across the road from our accommodation is the main stage with string bands, dancers, singers, pikinini performances, speeches and religious preaching.

Our final bit of news is that Pippa’s work mate Kathryn has popped over to spend some time with us on Santo and will also come with us to Ambrym to share a few days of Island life.


(Kathryn, Pippa and Waz at Million Dollar Point on Santo, which is a famous dumping ground of old WWII equipment…and a nice place to swim!)

Posted by pippamatt 02:24 Comments (0)

From the top of the world to the bottom of the sea Pt 1

The last three weeks have been action packed with visitors, weddings, Independence celebrations, Children’s day, Volcano trekking and the Arts festival that we have been promoting. To help get over this crazy time we are currently catching up on some R&R, and exploring the underwater world on Santo!

Warren, Wilson and Ben are three good mates of Matt’s and they came to share our lives for a few weeks on Ambrym….and boy did they fit a lot in while they were there.

Waz is still here with us on Santo, and we’ve decided to draft him as our guest travel blog writer. Here goes…..

We got to Ambrym on thrillseeker airlines making aerobatics look easy, Pip’s brother, Nigel was at the airstrip with a warm greeting and helped us lug our packs to the boat at Craig Cove. We said our goodbyes to Pips mum and brother as they were heading the other way. The boat hugged the coastline for more than 2 hours, passing dolphins, dugongs and flying fish. Douglas was our boat driver and bungalow owner and casually trolled a line out the back hoping to pick up dinner. Ambrym has stunning coal black beaches, over looked by ever rising mountains of lush vegetation.

Matt and Pip made a great welcoming party. It’s always too long between seeing good friends, especially these two. Ranon reminded me of Gilligan’s island “No phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury”….. well nearly. Actually, the bungalows were simple but comfortable, with Kero lamps and mosquito nets (not really necessary at the moment). It felt like most walking around Ranon requires uphill exertion, but you do quickly adapt after a few walks to the phone hut at the nearby village of Linbul, an extremely important task to stay in touch with loved ones left behind in Oz.

Us boys started with a couple of local tours. We have learnt how to live off the land and between us guys we should be right as Spybee (Ben) was excellent in building a house, I was great at making fire, Matt can easily snare a pig and Wil was extremely adept in weaving women’s dresses and headbands.

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(Left to right; Wil, Ben and Warren on the survivor tour)

Pip was not sure who the kids are around here as we played games with the young pikininis and Matt grassboarding down a hill on a coconut tree frond really showed those kids up.

We went to a triple wedding and put great thought into a present (box of Omo and a bar of soap with a Koala souvenir clip). The wedding was fairly traditional with a white bride and the groom in a monkey suit (god knows where they got them from around here). Anyway, the interesting stuff starts after the ceremony; the bride, groom and parents get lined up and seated on show to all. A never ending parade of relatives passes by kissing and dumping gifts at the bride and grooms feet. What was a tad odd was the bride, who bawled her eyes out the whole time, the groom looked sadder then at a funeral and the parents weren’t that overjoyed either, but the string band kept cheerily playing on. Pip and I gave our presents (she had a better present than us) and we got dumped with talc powder and deodorant. I guess they thought Pip was a bit pongy.


(The parents, bride and groom recieving gifts)

The highlight for me was the twin volcanoes (Mt Marum and Benbow); this was truly up there with the South west coast trek of Tassie. It was bloody scary, just ask Wil. We teetered on the edge of the biggest hole I have ever seen, as if peering down into Hades itself, with sulfur steaming from fissures and a small cone spewing lava into the air.

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(Marum crater)

We tracked around the very rim on a hard slippery surface that simple dared us to make one fatal step which would send us to either hell or an arse skidding 100m down the volcano side (dramatic hah). We trekked several hours over a lifeless landscape, expecting a wookie or R2D2 to appear any time. Everyone but me found really good lava bombs (Pip was thrilled by nerdmania) and eventually we camped between the two volcanoes in current Melbourne weather conditions (cold).

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(Mt. Marum looming in the background)

During the night we woke to a volcanic eruption off shore (we were at about 1000m above sea level). Lava from the island of Lopevi flowed down its side, branching in finger like streams before entering the sea. I was a hardly daunted by the fact that we happened to be sleeping between two volcanoes, while nearby another was putting on a great pyrotechnic display.

After a an absolutely shocker of a nights sleep, squished in with Ben and Wil in a one man tent (least it felt like it) and a bed of sharp scoria, we had a tin of chorizo and lard (Ok only us boys) for breakfast. After packing (in more ways then one) we summoned up our energies for the second volcano assault. It was a short but difficult climb, first advancing up a series of ravines and then a very steep ridge to the rim. We walked along the rim on a track angled at 45o to our feet and some unnamed individuals said they felt lucky they had a crap before they left; otherwise they would have added plenty of nuggets to their jocks. The crater of Benbow was mostly shrouded in acrid clouds of smoke but the glimpses we got were awesome. Anyway we survived being up on top of the world and have got the lava bombs to prove it.

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(Mt. Benbow Crater)

boys on to.. Benbow.jpg

(Mt. Benbow Crater)

We hardly had time to catch our breath before the two day North Ambrym Arts festival kicked off, but I’ll let Matt and Pip talk about that in Part II of this blog.

Matt, Pip and I were also invited to Pikinini day (Wil and Ben had left) at the local primary school at Ranon. Here in Vanuatu they have a public holiday every year for the kids, which is a bit like Mothers day in Australia. The kids were very cute as they all marched up carrying hand made Vanuatu flags with balloons atop.

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We were made special guests for the day and lined up to be presented with a salu-salu (type of lae). Matt and Pip presented a soccer ball to the school which was going to be a quiet affair until they were ordered to shake the hand of every school kid (150 of them) in front of around 200 onlookers. We were privileged to sit and listen, while songs were sung, speeches were made and a rousing sermon made by the local preacher. Lunch was kindly provided by Sandy and Krema who had been so nice to us all during our stay on Ambrym. After a traditional lunch (including Lap Lap) the children’s games followed. The pikininis rotated from game to game and they all looked like they were having fun. The biggest highlight for the locals was the dog with a coconut leaf tied around its neck. We couldn’t quite see the amusement in a frantic dog running all over the place, chased by locals (and the leaf tied to it) but we may have just missed the punchline. All in all we were very lucky to be invited to a local festival with other locals from all over northern Ambrym and get a real taste of Ambrym village life.

Posted by pippamatt 00:16 Comments (1)

Two families meet

Pippa’s Mum (Jill) and brother recently ventured away from the hectic lives in Adelaide to spend 10 days with us in sunny Vanuatu. We met them in Port Vila and spent a few days showing them the sights of the capital city – the markets, shops, resorts and restaurants.


(All enjoying a refreshing tropical juice in Pt Vila)

On Sunday we decided to hire a 9 seater bus and have a go at driving on the right hand side of the road all the way around Efate. Although scary at times, it ended up being a lovely way to explore the Island. We took our time and stopped at some stunning white sand beaches, thermal hot springs, road markets, natural estuaries, lookouts and even managed a stop where Survivor Vanuatu was filmed.

On Tuesday the real adventure began as we hopped on the 19 seater aircraft to Ambrym Island. It always ends up being a long trip to our village with 1 hour in the air followed by a 2.5 hour boat ride around the North coast of Ambrym to Ranon village. We were all feeling quite weary by the time we got here so had some dinner on our balcony and an early night to bed.

Both Jill and Nigel had incredibly busy times leading up to this holiday, so they spent plenty of time on Ambrym relaxing, reading and exploring the local environment.

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(Pippa and her Mum walking along the beach towards Ranvetlam)


(Relaxing after a snorkel)

They also went on a few of the tours we have helped develop including a Bush Discovery Walk, Ranvetlam village tour, pikinini plei plei kastom night tour and the Rom Dance. We were planning on walking to the volcano together but the hot weather, steep hills and heavy bags didn’t look quite as inviting as relaxing on the beach!

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(Sitting in front of an old bunyan tree as part of the Bush Discovery Walk)


(Matt swinging like Tarzan on a bush vine as part of the Bush Discovery Walk)

We spent our last night sharing a meal with our ‘adopted’ family and two other families that we are very close to. Before we ate our feast of island kakai, Jill and Nigel were presented with some beautiful island gifts – a wooden carving and a woven basket. The father of the family made a beautiful speech which made us all a bit teary! It was a very special and unique moment to bring both of our ‘families’ together.

On the same day that Jill and Nigel left, three of Matt’s mates from Uni arrived. We hope to climb the volcano together on Monday and are all looking forward to the 2 day North Ambrym Arts Festival next week. It has been a real treat showing some of our dear friends and family members this unique place that we have called home for the past 9 months.

pip and matt.jpg

Posted by pippamatt 19:21 Archived in Vanuatu Comments (2)

World Cup frenzy

It sounds like the World Cup has taken Australia by storm. The Ni Vans have also adopted Australia as their own showing full support for the socceroos.

We have managed to see two of their games. We are back in the capital now, so last week we went to a local pub to watch their game vs Italy on the big screen. Although they had a disappointing end to their quest for gold we should all be proud they reached the final 16.

We also had a fun adventure on Ambrym trying to watch the game vs Brazil. There are only about five TVs in the whole of North Ambrym all hooked up to generators. We had some volunteer friends stay with us for a week and we all decided to do a 2am night walk through the jungle to the nearest TV. We walked up to the old custom village, Fanla (home to some of the high chiefs) and managed to wake up every dog and person in the village! One of the locals stumbled out of their homes to ask what we wanted. He told us that they couldn’t get the satellite dish to work and that we would have to walk to the next village if we wanted to see the game. We had only walked this track once (in the daylight) so it made for quite an adventure walking in the middle of the night in dim torch light at each intersection trying to decide whether to take the path to the right or left. After about 20 minutes of exploring, we finally found the Rural Training Centre and could hear the match was underway.

We walked into the hall and shuffled our way to the back behind about 100 passionate Ni Van Socceroo supporters. The TV had good reception but was quite small so we shared a pair of binoculars to see what was going on. It took us quite awhile to realise that Australia wasn’t the ones wearing yellow!

Although we lost and could hardly see a thing it was a great adventure and a totally unique experience! The next morning we were blurry eyed but had to attend heavy going meeting followed by the arrival of the National Geographic cruise ship.

Posted by pippamatt 23:15 Comments (1)

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