A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: pippamatt

Water back on!

We have had a few e-mails with people worrying about our lack of water supply. To put your minds at rest, the locals have fixed the problem with the spring and the wells and water tanks are full again! Yipppeee, showers every day are a real treat…let alone being able to flush the toilet!

Only 21 days left on Ambrym!! Looking forward to seeing you all very soon!!

Posted by pippamatt 22:26 Comments (2)

Mother nature out in force

In the last week we have had a mini drought, three earthquakes, a tsunami warning, a cold snap, a land slide and some stunning sunsets.

The water supply for some villages is getting desperately low. The well where we source our water from is down to about 30cm (when full it is about 3m deep). We were fortunate to get a recent sprinkle of rain but it wasn’t enough to fill up the water tanks. The water source for the North of Ambrym comes from a natural spring high up in the mountains but the spring has either dried up or there is a leak in the pipe some where. Either way, we are down to having a small bucket shower every three days, getting some local mammas to do our hand washing (using a small spring near the sea), flushing the toilet once a day and being very conservative with our drinking and cooking water. We really are Waterwatchers now!!

We have also had a series of earthquakes recently with a big one happening on Tuesday morning (7.0 on the richter scale). The big quake went for about 30 seconds shaking the whole house from side to side. Around 3 or 4 hours later an old man and a blind man came ambling up the hill with all their possessions (rice, clothes, pots, etc) as a tsunami warning had just come in from a nearby village (50 min walk away). We had a bit of chuckle with Nurse Rose’s family about the sudden exodus from the village (especially given that a tsunami would have hit at the very most 1 hour after the earthquake) but thought we should use the teleradio to get the straight story. Sure enough we heard that the tsunami warning had been cancelled and if a tsunami had of come, it would have happened soon after the earthquake (ie hours before people started evacuating from their houses!). We rushed down to tell our ‘family’ the news of the cancelled warning and found they were moving their last load of possessions up high into the mountains. They had already moved all their pots, clothes, pictures, photos, suit cases, etc and were about to move their mattresses to sleep in the bush for the night. They all had a good laugh when they realised they had moved all their stuff up the hill for no reason.

That night there were a few more smaller earthquakes. We awoke to a huge crashing sound and thought a tree had fallen close to our bungalow. We couldn’t see anything nearby but in the morning found that about 50 m from our bungalow a whole hill side had collapsed, taking a number of trees with it!

Yesterday was cold! I know we shouldn’t complain – it wouldn’t even have been close to Melbourne or Adelaide weather but we had our full winter woolies on and slept under our sleeping bag and blanket.

As a final gift, mother nature gave us probably the best sunset we have seen yet!


Posted by pippamatt 17:10 Comments (3)

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.

pikinini day.jpg

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)

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