Unexpected delights in Vanuatu

It's often best to arrive in a new place without too many expectations, so you are open to letting the experience of it flow. We often have the luxury of time. Not feeling rushed through a place helps us be open to opportunities for new experiences or learning as well- we aren't bent on trying to cram in a checklist of "Things We're Supposed To Do Here." The reality, though, is that we often build up preconceptions about what it will be like, and what it will happen- even if it's just as a byproduct of preparation steps.

It's a little different for us at the moment. With the cyclone season fast approaching this part of the Pacific, we only have a few weeks left in tropical islands before running south for Australia. As a result, we arrived in Vanuatu with some expectations and a fairly specific plan. Sure enough- so far, Vanuatu has not been what we expected, and forces outside our control have changed our plans!

Originally, we thought we'd arrive on Efate island and spend a couple of days in Port Vila, the capital and our port of entry, before sailing north to Epi island. There, we would encounter people who live in extraordinarily different circumstances than any we have seen before. We'd have a glimpse into a history closely tied to the land and rich with ceremony. We'd get to swim with the resident dugongs in a bay at the north end of the island. There would be epic snorkeling at an atoll between Efate and Epi.

That's not exactly the way things are turning out. We arrived a week ago, but weather systems have kept us in protected waters on Efate. Port Vila has interesting corners and its own charms, but it's not the rural village removed from most vestiges of modern western culture that is the Vanuatu of our Discovery Channel dreams. For the most part, we're just another in the crowd of white tourists disgorged from vessels- cruise ships were in port for half of our stay.

Things started looking up as soon as we got away from town. This seems to be a consistent theme for us: enjoy what the population centers have to offer, but find the outposts as quickly as possible, for this is where the best memories and friends are nearly always made. In company with our friends Mike & Hyo on IO, we worked our way around to the protection of the northern harbor on Efate.

Although we thought Vanuatu would be all about cultural experiences, what we're finding in so far instead is unparalleled sea life. It is simply stupendous: in the last few days, we have seen the largest specimen of nearly every species of sea creature we've encountered to date in our two years of cruising.

It started when we made a pit stop to snorkel at a pinnacle about 7 miles from Vila, and found an incredible combination of pelagic fish and the usual confetti of colorful reef fish. A tuna patrolled with the controlled calm of a predator. Turtles glided through, and the fish all seemed utterly fearless- based on the way reef fish surrounded us, close enough to touch, we suspect dive boats feed them. Mairen, my snorkeling buddy, was nearly hoarse from squeaking with delight with each new discovery.

After settling into an bay near Havannah Harbour, snorkeling the area reefs produced even more drama. We've seen snapper and groupers that exceeded six feet in length. Massive sea turtles have glided by. Buffalo parrotfish, a riot of color and easily 100 lbs, drifting by schools of jittery snappers. In a comical domino effect, Mike accidentally spooked the largest eagle ray we've ever seen which went jetting down and startled a fat whitetip shark on the bottom. Later,Jamie e was lining up a shot on what would be by far the biggest groupers he's ever speared, when he realized he was being checked out by a yellowfin tuna with a body as long as his own. Even the average sized parrotfish, snappers, and groupers vastly exceed the typical fish size we've seen. It is an new feeling to be in waters where we have been knocked off the top of the food chain.

If the reef wasn't magical enough- to cap it off, on the swim back from their last visit yesterday, Mike and Jamie swam with dolphins.

I don't know what's next, but my expectations have been swept back off the table.

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One Response to Unexpected delights in Vanuatu

  1. kim October 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm #

    Sounds delightful!! I can’t wait to push off from Florida and feel and see the same things you are doing, soon soon WE HOPE! sailing5

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