Monday, July 7, 2008

Nangol (Land Diving), Million Dollar Point and The Coolidge

How many extreme sports have their roots in the traditions of primitive cultures? The Vanuatu ritual of tying vines to their ankles and jumping off towers they've constructed from jungle scrap, gave birth to bungee jumping. I've been told 2 completely different explanations as to the superstition behind it. One involves appeasing the gods for a good harvest and the other is too farfetched to type. I don't think they know why it originally began; only that they have a cash cow on their hands and that it continues cuz their pikininis and tourists love it. They charge $85 per person and it lasts about 2 hours. In the hierarchy of authentic native experiences, this one is a bloody nose and a black eye. It felt absolutely canned. However, in terms of dramatic spectacle - the performance was an over the top jackpot. And at that price, it needed to be.

The jumping begins in April when the yams and vines are wet and strong. As they dry, they become brittle and people get hurt. A tower collapsed this year and a photographer was killed. We caught the 2nd to last performance in June (they jump only on Sat), and there were only 5 divers. 4 of which were preteens jumping from lower platforms (the pikininis love getting naked and jumping). The one adult did leap from a huge height (about 35 feet) and as with all the divers, he went head first to crash into the raked and softened dirt below (he was unscathed). Had we been here in April, we could have witnessed dives from twice that height, but now the tower is not safe at the higher reaches and the vines are drying and could snap. Chief Luc implored me to encourage my fellow sailors to come in April for the high jump spectacle.

"No can do Chief. Big winds in April, not safe for yachties."
"But we have black magic. Pentecost is safe."
"Cyclones dude. Not safe for white man."

We agreed to disagree.

Unlike the dynamic diving, the tower is static and ghostly in appearance. It looks like it was built by witches. It stands with a tenuous purchase at the top of a steep hill that over looks a perfect "bowl" of a valley. Upon closer inspection, one can see that it's actually cantilevered, and that some science went into building this thing.

I paid for the diving but I got the testicles for free. If you take a look on you can see the pics she posted. They quietly change out of their stinky hand me down clothes and don a "numba". It's a penis sheath that is anchored around their waist. It works quiet well for hiding the exact dimensions of their units, but I believe it's "numba" 1 purpose is to lift the penis out of the way so that you can see their majestic testicles. I'm working on an anthropological theory that will propose that this tribe has evolved beyond penis envy and has embraced the power of a lustrous scrotum. Being pygmy blacks, they can't compete with their African brothers so they've bypassed the size issue and moved directly to showcasing the root of their fertility. Ingenious!

Then we sailed to Luganville and the war history began. The island of Espiritu Santo was made into a US military base from which to launch the assault on Guadalcanal. The Segond channel is extremely deep and could accommodate scores of destroyers. 100,000 of our troops were stationed here. You can still see our quonset huts everywhere, and if you dig a little deeper, like I & my Kiwi buddy Miles did, you can find some fun relics. We dug on the beach where the sand meets the jungle. We were told the Americans used that area as a dump. Sure nuff - we found 3 pristine Coke bottles with the year 1944 on them, a man's razor, a fork, a flashlight, 2 padlocks, and a couple 37 mm shell casings. This was Miles' 2nd trip here and upon returning to New Zealand after the first adventure, the customs officer asked him if he was bringing anything back from Vanuatu.

"Ah just a couple of shells."
"From the beach?"
"How big are they?"
"Oh, about 37 mm."
The official made a funny face, shrugged and let him pass.

If you really want to find remnants of our war effort here in the South Pacific then you need to go to Million Dollar Point. Here's the story and it's all true:

The Americans had won the war and were pulling out of Vanuatu. The French and British were going to continue to "condominium rule" the New Hebrides (that lasted until 1980 when the locals gained independence and changed the name to Vanuatu). We offered all of the material that we had shipped into the island to the Euros for 10 cents on the dollar. Pretty good deal right? Well the Euros decided that the Yanks would leave it behind anyway, so they declined to pay for it. And why shouldn't the Euros take advantage of us - I mean, we had just saved their little countries from the Nazis at the cost of a staggering number of US lives. It seems fair to me that they should quibble over more of our generosity. F--king ingrates. But they were right; we did leave it behind, even though they wouldn't pay for it. We built a jetty and we pushed it all into the sea. Take that you unappreciative bastards!

There are tractors, trucks, boats, cranes, fork lifts, steel girders, jeeps, office furniture, and about 1,000,000 Coke bottles lying in shallow water. We snorkeled it, and boy was it spooky. It's a sunken time capsule rusting beneath the sea. I can't post the video on the website due to the slow connections, but thanks to Todd Girouard's underwater cam that he traded me for pearls I can show it to you when we meet again.

MDP is one of those spiteful pollution sites that tickles me with the history and bravado of the American spirit. We, as a people, are wonderful villains. We are noble and cruel. We are vengeful heroes who make selfless sacrifices, sometimes morphing into self-serving blunders. We are, at a minimum, a dichotomy that is rarely boring. Here in this part of the South Pacific, where we fought and died to save the world, (and we accomplished nothing short of exactly that) I've decided that the Yank bashing will no longer be tolerated when it reaches my ears. I've been listening to it for 2.5 years now and on these beaches it will not stand.

There - I went public with my own nationalistic fervor. It's my trip, it's my dispatch and I'll rant if I want to.

Wanna here about my dive on the President Coolidge? First a little history: It's the largest accessible shipwreck in the world, and it's just down the beach from MDP. She started as a luxury liner and when war broke out she was converted into a troop ship. She hit 2 sea mines entering the Segond Channel in '42 and the Captain ran her up on the beach to save the lives of his men. He lost 2 but saved 5000. She then slipped back into deep water and all 600 feet of her is now lying on her side in 80 - 200 feet of water. I saw a 3" gun and the shells that it fired, jeeps, half tracks, gas masks, bombs, rifles, and more jeeps. The ship is so big that most people do 10 or more dives and still only see a small portion. Most of the dives require decompression stops because you go so deep. That danger, and the problems my left ear give me, ended my dives after the first one. They aren't cheap either.

I fixed the battery monitor, flew all 3 flags on the 4th of July, cleaned the sprayers, went aloft and checked for chafe, remounted the radar reflector, and bought 6 lbs of vacuum packed filet mignon (they sell this beef to Japan who repackages it as Kobe beef. It's that good). We are now checking the wx for our departure to The Solomon Islands. It just keeps getting better.

Your Man on Point,

Captain Bob

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