On Friday the 28th, Dany and I went down early as we decided to join Ona’s gathering in Big Bay in order to finally meet her, new ‘white people’ and visit the area and his inhabitants. Having some days off from our routine to enjoy the beauty of this island paradise was actually something we were in need of!
So we started our weekend by waiting for a shared transport at the digicel petrol station in town. Luganville was really busy as it was the municipality celebration day; many stalls and a sound system had been established along the main road. I met a woman working for the ‘Lapita café’ the local food specialist, she was selling some manioc flour and letting people try some of her fleshly made pancakes.
She explained me that she will soon start a processing business in town here in Luganville and proposed I join her for the opening demonstration session. This is great, it means first of all that we can now get some flour to bake cakes and cook pancakes and on top of that maybe we could one day cooperate with them and process our own cassava flour! At 6pm, we started to think to go back home when finally our driver arrived! We jumped on the back of the truck joining a family and their huge shopping and sat comfortably on rice bags! After an hour and half driving through the bush under the stars we arrived at Matantas were we were introduced to the chief Salomon with whom we shared a long chat about the surroundings, our project, and permaculture. He was really enthusiastic, told us he would like us to do the same over there on a piece of land he has and made us promise to come back to visit it! We pitched our tent on a lawn in the front of the beach and had a nice sleep soothed by the waves. In the morning we discovered the amazing Big Bay black sand beach by walking along its side for 4 hours to reach Malau, our destination. This long walk made us tune into this amazing wild place which is Big Bay, a feeling of deep serenity and strength curled up in between the two peninsula facing the North. The Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, first ‘white fellow’ to land in Vanuatu, arrived on this beach in 1606 and named it Terra Australis del Espiritu Santo thinking he finally arrived where he was headed since months. That ‘s where the name of the island comes from! The landscape is astonishing, high mountains from the central island descends progressively to the sea becoming hills and then a large delta plain wrinkled by a lot of rivers. We crossed many small and a huge one. We had to wait for locals specially to come and help us in this task without any risk. We hurried up as the tide was coming in and we followed Jeanne a bit anxiously, carrying a camera, phones and bags with water at the waist level on a distance of 30 m but arrived on the other side. I can tell you that we really found ourselves in a different world, a wild one, held in mother nature’s arms. We had a swim in the river feeling the strength of the elements. From there we had one of the best relaxing weekends, we joined a group of 7 people who were spending a week in a beautiful garden nearby the beach, camping under a natan gura shelter. We got to meet great people living on the island since a long time: Harold a sea wolf, kind of pirate in seek of alternative healthier way of living, and new inhabitants like two young women and a little boy freshly arrived from Dominica to live in a community establishing in Big Bay aiming for self sufficiency and a natural way of living. Devi from Eden Hope was there too and Erika a woman from Switzerland, family member of Ona who organised this gathering. We shared all together a lot of relaxing meditative time, beautiful vegetarian meals, deep philosophical conversations, long afternoons on the beach and beautiful moments at night singing around the fire. Dany and I also took a bit of time to explore the area and went to visit another village on the other end of the Bay, we had to cross another river and we found a guide, a young woman who lead us around Tolomako, her village.
We found some amazing examples of natan gura traditional buildings and the simplicity and the kindness of everyone as well as the abundance of food in the surrounding gardens touched us. We became really good friends with Edna, the daughter of the landowner friend of Ona, who took us exploring in a water taro field and crossing through thick forest to find the purest river and spring.
The time went on and we decided to prolong our stay with one more day in order to go back in town with every one and share the already organised transport. As if the weekend became endless, we got stuck: the truck didn’t come and we had to spend one more night in Malau’s Nagamal : community hall and we had a beautiful boat ride along the beach back to Matantas during sunrise !
We finally came back home on Wednesday night after a long day in town, we met Steven Quinto, an American who started Eden Hope and is starting a new community in the Big Bay area. He is the person who sponsored Tom and Zaia to Santo to encourage permaculture to spread out here in Vanuatu, Steven’s new country since 9 years. I then loaded a new article on the blog, we did some shopping and we hung out a little with the Packete family.
Meriem on her side chilled at home and hung out in town on Friday, she met really nice New Zealanders who volunteer at the VARTC centre and exchanged with them a lot of great information and a book about staple food of pacific island. She spent the night in town at their house and woke up in the morning really sick. She had a lift back to Bellaru by Philibert. On the Sunday 30th of august she had a home duty day, did a bit of cleaning, peeled dry cacao seeds in order to process her much loved chocolate and started to make some sugar cane syrup, peeling and chopping it before to soak it in water and then bringing it to boil.
On Monday the 31th, she boiled the sugar cane syrup for 3 hours filtered it and reboiled it , such a long process but interesting if we can avoid buying sugar ! Winnie, Philibert’s wife came for a visit and gave her a bit of company during the long sweet process! Ray brought natan gura to process and she helped Ginette process them on the next day de-boning while Ginette was weaving new thatch.
On Wednesday, the 2nd of September, Meriem went to the land with Franck and Ginette early morning, they collected material, burao, navenu and red wood, they dug holes, in the afternoon they started the floor structure setting posts and rails.
They had the surprise that the land had been visited by buluk : cows who left some foot prints in the garden and in the swale and tooth print in lemon grass and sweet potatoes ! But they also offered us a few precious poos!!!
On the Thursday 3rd, we all went to the land again with Ginette and Frank. Dany and them focused on the house while Meriem and I spent time in the garden that needed care! They put new posts and continued to set the rails and flatten them. They rapidly ran out of material, as Franck is a really efficient strong quick worker so they went back to the bush to collect more.
Franck is from Ambrym Island, the mysterious one reputed for black magic! It’s important to mention that niVans in general strongly believe in black magic and explain all the little disorders of life with it, as well as terrible diseases, accidents but also social problems and …everything! . This topic is redundant at home! And it goes with ‘custom medicine’, which is a rich natural medicine handled by a lot of people, passed over from father to son etc …. Franck has a lot of bush skills, he knows all the good timber, has a great understanding of the animals as he is a good hunter and also knows a lot of plants, edible and medicinal ones! It’s quite amazing to go around and let him explain to you that this fern helps the women who struggles to get pregnant if you eat the young tops, but you can also boil the old leaves and use this tea as a boost for aging people! We discovered that our house surrounds are full of valuable trees and plants! A natural antibiotic is invading the annual garden!
With all the new material freshly debarked, they started the door, set an additional bracing and organised a half circular roof structure for the North end of the house in order to extend a little sheltered zone to dry clothes or get the shoes out of the rain.
In the garden, we used the A frame to align the pile of organic matter from the new garden on 3 contour lines, we then planted cassava cuttings into it.
Back home Dany set up a new light line for the inside common room and this is great!
During the meeting we talked about our research topics and the necessity to focus on communication and integration with local villages and custom.
Frank is going to New Zealand in a month’s time to do farm work for a period of 6 months and he needs to go to Port Villa to do an X-ray for the visa. He unfortunately cannot afford the way back plus return and the all family sadly decided that he will stay in Port Villa for one month .We talked during the meeting about the idea to pay Frank’s travel to Port Villa in order to hire his help on the building for one more month .We also talked about a chook system and decided to do some exploring the next day.
On the Friday 4th we stopped on our way to the land at the bamboo patch with a new motivation to carry bamboos every day! We spent one hour struggling to pull them on the ground after cutting them! Then cleaning all the knots. We carried a small one and a huge one making a kind of funny caterpillar chain. Arriving on site we went for a little exploring nearby the house in order to find a place for the solar system, which will also be a tools shed. We opened up a few paths with the machetes and succeeded to link places already known together.
We had the nice surprise to have Mendra visit for lunch; he was staying with Ray and Manae on the coconut plantation. Meriem went back home as she wanted to get ready to go to town for the Friday volunteers gathering at Decostop resort. We went around Rays garden with Mendra in order to spot some small bananas to transplant on our land. He brought us to Manae garden a little further West on Ray’s land to check out more bananas and we were nicely surprise to find a little banana food forest mixing taro, paw paw and a lot of island cabbage (Ibeca). We brought back a lot of island cabbage to the house site and made a lot of cuttings that we stored as the weather was quite dry and really hot. We came back early getting a lift with Ray.
On the Saturday 5th, off we went to town in the morning to call Tom and talk with him about hiring Franck for the building. We caught up at the car wash with Philibert for a nice afternoon at the blue hole!!! We had a great afternoon in this magical place, such a relaxing time swimming in this pure water and visiting the beautiful garden of Susie the owner. We got seeds and cuttings. A small tree used by cooks, they crush the leaves in their hand before preparing meals and the food is becoming magically delicious !!! A different kind of banyan which doesn’t grow high but wide, used in Tanna Island as a building structure. We ate delicious cakes and discovered the local niVan style oven ! A big pot filled up with 4 cm of sand in the bottom.
We stayed long into the night and we had an interesting chat with Philibert about the NiVan land managing particularities while eating cheese and bread!!!! The land is owned by custom owners, and most of the people are using land without even leasing it because it’s a long and expensive process. So the way of doing things here is to get an agreement with the landowner which is paid for in Vatu or in material gifts like trucks. It is not safe at all because not official!
On Sunday the 6th, we finally went back to a great routine well known at the Permaculture Research Institute Sunshine Coast: Pancake Day !!! I made a dough with cassava flour and coconut milk, we cooked them with coconut oil and covered them with star fruit jam and coconut cream with a sprinkle of crushed cacao beans … Frank went to buy rice for their brekky. We waited for him to be back to announce the great news of PRI Luganville sponsoring him to fly back from Port Vila to help with the building. The family received the news with joy and the pancakes arrived on time for celebration.
Frank and Linden came with us to the land; Linden is really enthusiastic to have one month training at building with his Dad. We picked up bamboos on the way, Linden and Dany carried huge ones and Frank did carry an extremely long one .The guys went straight into the bush to collect materials, Frank wanted to double up all the palm posts and they worked all day on replacing the support structure, they also built some bracing in the walls.
Meriem did a bit of swale work on both extremities, planted pawpaw and a local legume, ‘benoir’ or rain tree. We did some weeding in the paths to reduce some of the grass and the terrible spiky wild eggplant. I prepared lunch and spread capsicum and cucumbers seeds from food preparation along the middle pile of organic matter in the garden in the clearing. I left Meriem busy at making a fire to cook up the food and I went to explore in order to make a map. I struggled a lot but succeed to start a map drawing to scale of the South and West boundaries, the different accesses, the annual garden and the house.
At the end of the day, I needed to do a different job and went to the annual garden. I prepared beds and sewed a lot of seeds, zucchinis, Chinese greens, carrots and spring onion, marygold and borage.
Back home we were welcomed by Ginette who wanted to celebrate her husband’s longer stay and had cooked a full pot of her fantastic Simboro!
Here are some pics of a local garden, just to show you how they are managing their crop and letting you understand what permaculture can bring here.
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