Vignette: The Cyclone Cometh

Vanuatu

Suppose you want the ferry to Erakor Island, Vanuatu? You just kilem gong.

The first we heard of the cyclone was Monday afternoon in Vila. That’s Port Vila, main town of Efate Island, and the capital of Vanuatu, an archipelago east of the Solomon Islands, which in turn are east of Papua New Guines in the South Pacific Ocean. We sat pouring sweat at a terrace café on the only proper street in town. 

Burgers and beer were on the menu. The beers were cold and the burgers were more like carnivals on a bun, including the kitchen sink and beets, onions, carrots, eggs, bacon, cucumber, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, salt, pepper, chilies, ketchup – and maybe a little tiny speck of free-range, insecticide-free Vanuatu beef.

A corpulent pinkish fellow at the next table was going on to his friend: "Bluh bluh rain bluh bla cyclone bluh Fiji." I leaned out from behind my mound of putative hamburger parts and inquired.

“Cyclone?”

"Yeah," he said, "Its southeast of here, toward Fiji. We just had a look at it on the Internet. A big, mean thing. It's what's been causing all the rain."

This was notable since we were bound for Fiji in 18 hours, although just then it was sunny, hot and about 600% humid in Vila, and we were just in from the nearby island of Espiritu Santo, where we'd passed sunny days blistering in relentless sun.

Yet sure enough, in the taxi home we heard the cyclone warnings in three languages on Vanuatu's only AM radio station, with a particular warning for the southeast island group centered around the cult-and-volcano Island of Tanna. By now, the cyclone had a name. May I introduce you to Jo.

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Fun for Frogs in Fiji

The first we heard of a cyclone was Monday afternoon in Port Vila, Vanuatu. We sat, pouring sweat, at a terrace on the only proper street, trying to lunch on burger and beer, but ultimately deconstructing a thing on a bun that started with the kitchen sink and then added beets, onions, carrots, eggs, bacon, cucumber, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, salt, pepper, chillies, ketchup – and maybe a tiny little speck of free-range, no insecticide Vanuatu beef. In there somewhere.

Next table over a bright pink, corpulent fellow told his ni-Vanuatu lunch mate "Bluh bluh rain, bluh bluh cyclone bluh Fiji."

I leaned out from behind my mound of discarded non-burger and inquired.

"Yeah," he said, "It's southeast of here toward Fiji. We just had a look at it on the internet and it's a big mean thing. It's what's been causing all the rain."

Since we were bound for Fiji in 18 hours this was notable, although just then it was sunny, hot and about 600 per cent humid in Vila. We were just in from Espiratu Santo, another island in the Vanuatu archipelago where we'd passed endless sunny days in relentless, blistering sun.

But in the taxi home we heard the cyclone warnings in three languages on Vanuatu's only AM radio station, with a particular warning for the southeast island group centered around the cult-and-volcano island of Tanna. By now the cyclone had a name. May I introduce you to Jo.

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Pretty Far Off the Map in the South Pacific

This week, a couple of quick little impressions about flying in and around the Vanuatu archipelago – Here's one, another in a day or so. Pictured here is an outrigger off Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu, and there are a few more photos in the Vanuatu Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

Vanuatu

The Vanuatu domestic flight terminal is like the one in Nepal, and probably a dozen others we haven't seen yet. If you're a desperately underperforming, poor country in the first place, your inclination is to spend your tiny wad on the international terminal for transits and arrivals, your countrymen and the hardy few who venture by plane beyond the gateway be damned.

It's just the way it is.

Our flight from the capital to Espiritu Santo island this morning would stop at Craig's Cove, Ambrym Island. I broke out my map of Vanuatu and found two airport symbols on Ambyrm Island. Which would it be, I asked at the check-in desk.

Blank looks. Much consultation. Studying the maps. Asking the boy in the back, the baggage boy.

No one knew, but eventually I found it, a light blue marking of a physical landmark, not a town, and that brought grateful smiles from the check-in boy.

The door to domestic departures spoke three languages – English, French and Bislama. Respectively, it read: Passengers Only, Reservées aux Passagers, Pasensa No Mo. We filed in.

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Wednesday HDR from Rarotonga

Wedhdr

Still waiting for the first signs of the warmth of spring? This photo can't hurt. It's a man climbing for coconuts on the main island of Rarotonga, Cook Islands, South Pacific Ocean.

Rarotonga and the island of Aitutaki, also in the Cook Islands, are two beautiful corners of the planet. See more photos in the Cook Islands Gallery. And check out the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

Fiji: A Story

Last month I posted a story about our visit to the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. We visited Fiji on the same trip, a few years back. Here's a little taste of that trip from the eventual book, Common Sense and Whiskey:

Fiji1

The only sounds at Koro Sun, Vanua Levu island, Fiji are four: The palm fronds, the birds, the overhead fan, and if a truck rumbles by. Sixteen bures sit in a ring around a garden and the sea is across the road.

Tony and Paula, our proprietors, greeted us, Tony with that just slightly perplexed look I swear is endemic to Kiwis, and Paula, a Dutch woman with a slow, rigid manner and huge round eyes, unblinking.

Paula fixed us a vodka welcome drink, “Strong – I thought you might need it,” and we settled in to introduce ourselves. They knew we’d been traveling some 27 hours. They knew we’d be frazzled, and sunburned Tony offered again and again to arrange anything we’d like – or nothing if we’d like.

Nice folks, they set us up with bure #1 and sent a six pack of Fiji Bitter beer to the fridge, then followed that with fruit and cheese platters. We alternately sat on our porch, gazed at the sea and poured sweat, doused ourselves in the freezing shower, and napped, and that was all we did on the first day.

*****

Dew dropped from the roof, the sea lay gray and smooth as ice, and birds called from the tops of the coconut palms. The first pickup truck of the day lumbered by and color began to return to the earth as the sky lightened on the morning of the second day. The yard boys collected last night’s fallen palm fronds.

I sat with coffee (poured under the watchful eye of a gecko perched on the wall) on the front porch after I could sleep no more, and Mirja caught just the last few minutes of sleep. I had lain in bed trying to store the feeling of the pre-dawn cool, under the ceiling fan, to summon back later in the day.

A British couple who stopped to commiserate about our long flight (everybody knows everybody’s business here, apparently) said yesterday had been the hottest of their six weeks here, and indeed I took a reading of 90 degrees in the cool of our bure, in air hanging with humidity. The fan had a mighty five speeds: 1, 2, 3, 4 and on, and “on” would whip the air furiously but to little cooling effect.

*****

Vanua Levuans have the time and disposition to be open, affable and curious. And honest. We asked a waitress what she knew about Vanuatu.

“Oh, they are MUCH blacker than we are,” she told us, and laughed uproariously.

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Vanuatu to Fiji and the Cyclone: A Story

Vanuata

The Vanuatu domestic flight terminal is like the one in Nepal, or a provincial town in Eastern Europe just after Communism. The inclination is to spend the country’s tiny resources on its international terminal, their own countrymen and the few who venture by plane beyond the gateway be damned.

It's cute.

Our flight to Espiritu Santo Island would stop that Craig's Cove, Ambrym Island. I broke out my map of Vanuatu and found two airplane symbols on Ambrym Island and asked the check-in desk which it would be.

Blank looks. Much consultation. Studying the maps. Asking the boy in the back, the baggage boy. No one knew.

The door to domestic departures spoke three languages: English, French, and Bislama. Respectively, it read: passengers only, reservees aux passagers, pasensa no mo.

We filed in. 20 seats in this Twin Otter, today 16 full. One European family with their little girl, one huge white man in seat one, carrying on a running conversation with the pilot (it wasn’t a big plane), his son, a 20-ish couple-in-love, students from New Zealand (you learn these things because in about a day and a half you meet every expat in Santo), four local folks, Mirja and me.

Our home island of Efate, near the capital, Vila, brooded in cloud. Its out-islands likewise brooded, steely gray. But Malakula, just northwest in sight of our island, was fine, sunny with a blue chop off its shore.

On arrival at Ambrym, just 40 minutes later, there were no low clouds around the coast. They gathered only in the center.

Just a few houses in a pretty bay maybe three-quarters of a kilometer wide, that’s all there was of Craig’s Cove, gleaming in the morning sun. The airstrip used to be paved. Now it was pot-holed with grass growing through cracks. Landing roughly shook the wheels.

Not unusual. At the domestic check-in desk a chalkboard announced, "Longana air strip closed until further notice – tall grass."

Dirty boys with gleaming smiles ran out to meet the plane. A tan, ratty windsock had gone so into disrepair it had lost its utility, though it still hung on its pole. We let off two passengers and took on two in Ambrym, along with a bag of coconuts.

The two men who left had boxes from Telecom Vanuatu Limited Radio Systems Department and an antenna bundled into sections. It was so hot on the ground that, like prior to take off in Vila, the plane began to sweat, dropping beads of water onto our thighs. Two ancient pickup trucks appeared out of the jungle for the Vanuatu Telecom men, and while we sat in Craig's Cove we let in hordes of flies.

From Ambrym it was a brisk 20-something minutes up to Santo, flying at 4,000 feet, from where you can gaze intimately at the blue chop of the South Pacific. I read over the shoulder of a ni-Vanuatu man across the aisle. He was reading Charles Capps' "The Tongue A Creative Force."

"Watch your words" was the chapter.

I read the phrase, "I'll deny you before the Father," and a sub-heading, "God's word is wisdom."

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Climbing for Coconuts: Wednesday HDR

WedhdrcookisBright. Colorful. Summer. This one's just for fun. We're heading out to points south for the long U.S. holiday weekend, so this week's Wednesday HDR is squarely in a tropical mood.

It's also a demonstration that tonemapping in PhotoMatix doesn't require strictly RAW files (Some jpgs work far better than others, though). This photo started out as a jpg scanned from a slide from our
January 2000 trip to Fiji, Vanuatu, and the Cook
Islands.

We over and under exposed it, combined the exposures and tonemapped in PhotoMatix, then finished processing in Photoshop. The photo was taken on Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Click the picture for a larger version.

See more HDRs in the HDR Gallery, and more photos from the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji at EarthPhotos.com.

This photo is also currently on display as a "Featured Photo" at HDRSpotting.