A Double Birthday and the Italian Connection

There is an interesting thing that happens on this side of the world. When we left Seattle, we crossed the international date line which puts us one whole day ahead of where we came from. Basically, we lost a day. Because we lost a day, Brenda turned the ripe old age of 40 one day sooner than she would have if we were in Seattle. On September the 12th in Vanuatu, we got to celebrate her big day. But since she says her home is in Seattle, we also got to celebrate her 40th birthday when September 12th happened on that side of the world. Basically, she got the longest birthday known to mankind...2 big days long.

There is another interesting thing that happens when you are cruising the world on a sailboat. You run into other cruisers that come from all parts of the world and all backgrounds. Where we are currently moored on Aore Island in Vanuatu, there are 4 boats that are from 4 different countries. It's an international coalition.

Our newest neighbors just happen to be from Italy. They have spent their last couple of years working their way here having crossed the Atlantic ocean, transiting the Panama Canal, and finally working their way across the Pacific where we have just happened to meet on a tiny Island in the middle of nowhere. The odds of our meeting are rather slim, but it happened and it's been great.

We like new people. And since we especially like people with cool accents, we sort of latched on to the Italians and invited them to everything we were doing. On one of our adventures through one of the villages, our new friend was talking about how he was starting to get homesick for his family and for Italian food. He also mentioned that “a-yes-a, I-a like-a to cook-a.” (if you didn't understand that, it's my best Italian accent...translation: yes, I like to cook) So of course I say in my best 'Merican accent, “I like to eat.” And with that, a dinner invitation on Brenda's first 40th birthday was born.

Brenda's favorite food is without a doubt Italian. So having real live Italians make her real live Italian food on her 40th birthday was quite a treat. In our adventures with the Italians, we were given hour long dissertations on the importance of cheese, we were advised on what makes a good wine, history and geography lessons, and told how pasta must not be overcooked. We learned a lot from them and had a great time while it lasted because today, they set sail for the horizon and are now on their way across the mighty Pacific and headed for New Caledonia. Fair winds to our Italian friends.

But before our new friends set sail, we had to celebrate Brenda's Seattle time zone birthday, or B-day #2. One of the things we heard were in Vanuatu are “Blue Holes”. They are basically fresh water artisan wells that pump out a whole lot of water. And the water is a rich blue that is still amazingly clear. We learned from a local that one of these blue holes was on the island of Santo and we could hire one of the villagers to take us up the river in his dugout canoe to see this thing. This is exactly what Brenda wanted to do for B-day #2.

We make arrangements on B-day #2 for transportation via a “ute”. There are 6 of us going on this adventure (Brenda and myself, Larry, Karen, and the 2 Italians, Luca, and Renato) so a normal taxi wouldn't carry us all. When our arrangements were made, I was thinking that the “ute” might be a small bus or a bigger car than we normally see, but no. We first hire a panga to take us from Aore island across the channel to the island of Santo. This is were we lay eyes on the “ute”. It's a small pickup truck and the 6 of us need to hop in back. This is definitely what Brenda had in mind for her B-day #2. This is going to be great!

We make introductions and learn that our driver is also our tour guide and he is at our disposal for as long as we want. When our Italian friend introduces himself as Luca, our driver giggles. When Luca asks “a-what-a is-a so funny-a?” Our driver says that in his village, Luca means booger and then he laughs even louder. It's hilarious.

We all pile into the back of the ute and head out. The view from the back of the pickup truck is much better than if we were in a taxi. Our driver pulls over at various places and points out different plants and their uses and we take in the scenery and sights and smells and just enjoy the ride.

When we get to the river, our driver drops us off and says, “don't worry. I'll be back. I need to go find your guide to take you to the blue hole. Don't worry. I'll be back. Don't worry.” All of the don't worries sort of make me worry that he's not coming back. Well, don't worry, he came back and he brought with him the local villager who would be our guide.

Into the dugout canoe we go. These things aren't really made for American tourists. They are dugout from local trees which aren't as wide as our American butts. And the canoe leaks...a lot. But it's really cool. The paddles aren't some carbon fiber thing that came from REI either. They are hand carved from the same tree as the canoe and they are HEAVY. No wonder the villagers are so fit. They had to carve the canoe and the paddle and then they have to use those heavy paddles to get themselves around.

The trip up river takes us about 30 minutes. The canoe is actually very stable with all 7 of us packed inside and it's also surprisingly quick. I have a pretty good hunch that the quickness came from the paddling of our guide and not from us. We were struggling with just holding the paddle so our efforts of paddling I'm sure were somewhat of a joke. But the river is gorgeous. The water is crystal clear, mangrove trees line the shore, there are colorful fish swimming in and out of the mangrove roots, and vines hang into the water. It's truly a jungle paradise.

We make it to the blue hole and our guide says that it's OK to walk around to check stuff out and it's OK to swim in the hole. Perfect. This is the tropics and we just made an attempt at paddling so we are all hot and sweaty, so swimming sounds great. Just as we are about to jump in, Luca says “a-look-a, there is a snake-a.” Crap...snakes. Oh well. There is also a vine hanging from a tree that I assume will send me to the middle of the blue hole and bypass the snake-a. So with the look of Tarzan, I swing out and plunge into the middle of the blue hole. It's incredible. The water is about 80 degrees, it's fresh, it's clear, and I bypassed the snake-a.

All of us take turns pretending that we are Tarzan of the jungle and make multiple swings in the most incredible body of water that I have ever laid my eyes on. After a couple of hours swimming, relaxing, and admiring, it's time to paddle our way out. Just as we are about to get back into the dugout canoe, our guide says “wait a minute” and starts bailing water. It's about half full. These things aren't very water tight. The trip out is just as good as the trip up. I can't adequately tell you how incredibly beautiful this jungle is.

We make it back and our driver is still waiting for us. “Don't worry” he says again. “You are my bruddah, I won't leave you.” He says this all with a smile that truly means, today we are his brother, and his home he wants to share with us. The people here are friendly and inviting. They have nothing, and I mean nothing, but they are proud of their island and they want us to see it. He tells us that there is the most beautiful beach in the world on the north side of the island and there we can see coconut crabs. Perfect. We love beautiful beaches and coconut crabs are on our list of things that we really wanted to see.

We spend another hour riding in the back of the ute and get to a village called Port Orly. Our driver walks us over to a hut where the villagers keep the crabs. Coconut crabs are land crabs that climb to the top of the coconut trees, snip off a coconut, then crawl back down the tree and eat the coconut meat on the jungle floor. They can grow to over 20 pounds. These things are awesome. For some reason which I'm not sure of, after the crabs are caught, the villagers hang the crabs from a string in their hut, almost like they are on display like you are at a butcher shop with meat hanging in the window. Luca says “they-a look-a like-a alien-a”. Yeah, they look like an alien for sure. Our driver says the villagers hunt for the crabs at night with a torch. I can only imagine what that scene looks like.

Port Orly is a much different village than the others that we have seen. It's the largest village in the country and has about 3,000 people. They have a chunk of land that goes from the sea all the way up to the mountains. We met the chief who invited us to wander around. We also saw the village store which was about the size of a closet and didn't carry much stuff. The homes are about the size of the average American's tool shed. They are a tiny one room shack and the whole family sleeps in there. There are communal cooking areas and eating areas and I am told that a lot of the village shares everything. One of the other things that we saw here that we haven't seen anywhere else is the village's fishing fleet. There are tons of dugout canoes lining the beach and nets hanging from trees to dry out. It's quite a sight.

Port Orly also has what could be the most beautiful beach on the face of the earth. It has fine white coral sand, bright turquoise colored water, palm trees that were gently swaying, and an amazing village on it's shore which makes it just that much more incredible. Even though it wasn't my 40th B-day #2, it's exactly what I would have wanted to do if I had a B-Day #2.

Next up...diving on the S.S Coolidge. It's considered one of the top 10 dives in the world...and it's here.

Our guide and his hand carved dugout canoe.

The "Blue Hole"

Port Orly's fishing fleet.


  1. And the good news is that we got to go along!

  2. happy belated double birthday brenda! i feel so guilty for letting it slip by (maybe it was my tomorrow and your yesterday or vice versa? 😉)! however, i can't imagine a better way for anyone to celebrate! love the story of your adventures, and the pictures too. have fun, stay safe, and keep in touch. love you both. xoxo


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