Sharing Lap-Lap in Vanuatu

In Vanuatu, Lois and Günter watch a local knead dough for lap-lap.

One of our favorite things to do when traveling is to finagle an invitation to the home of a family who lives there. Or, when we were sailing around the world, we liked to invite locals on our boat.

My first experience receiving such an invitation was during a Cruising World charter. Heading back from a Polynesian church service in Yassawa, Fiji, a couple beckoned us from their thatched-roof dwelling. “Would you like to join us for dinner?” a man in a sulu (sarong) asked. My husband, Gunter, nodded and we walked over, took off our shoes, and went inside.

“We only have one fish, but we’d like to share,” his wife offered, while her young boy tugged at her muumuu-style dress. The meal had already been spread out on the floor on top of a tapa cloth. The small fish occupied center stage, surrounded by mashed sweet potatoes and what appeared to be back-eyed peas. We all gathered around on the floor and took part in the meager meal while answering questions about “those boats anchored in their bay.” They wanted to know about our cruising lifestyle and we wanted to learn about theirs. “Breaking bread,” although none was offered here, was a ritual we would repeat often during the nineteen years we’ve been retired, sailing and traveling the world.

Many years later, we were no longer sailing charter yachts; we had retired and purchased our own yacht, Pacific Bliss. While sailing to the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu during our world circumnavigation, we anchored in Vureas Bay. The villagers there had a problem, they needed to fish to provide for their families, but the propeller for their only boat was kaput. Would Günter take a look? The propeller was beyond repair, so Günter offered to give him the spare prop for our dinghy. It was brand new, but we planned to leave Vanuatu to sail to Bundaberg, Australia, where we would store Pacific Bliss for the cyclone season. We’d buy another one next year. The villagers were flabbergasted and threw us a “Thank You Prop Party.” They strung flowers over fishing line hung high to surround the feast area. On top of mats, they spread various dishes donated by the villagers. One lady brought four of her precious eggs in a homemade basket as a gift!

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

During the Waterfall Bay Festival we invited Chief Jimmy and his wife Lillian for afternoon tea. I recount this in my second book, Sailing the South Pacific. I’d put a double-sized load of cinnamon-raisin bread mix into the Breadmaker. The story continues:

“It is far too hot for tea…I served cold juice in cartons, and we talk in the cockpit. The Breadmaker beeps. Both visitors rush to see the machine. They had never seen a Breadmaker before! The chief makes that loud whistling sound, common to all Ni-Vanuatu when they’re impressed. We allow the bread to cool while we attempt to continue the conversation, but Jimmy is distracted. He just stares at the loaf on the breadboard. I slice half the loaf and place a slice on each of the small plates, along with knives to spread butter and jam. The jar of raspberry jam is labeled “Made in Port Vila, Vanuatu” but our guests have never tasted anything like it. It goes fast. I ask Jimmy whether he wants another slice. Of course, he does!

‘Go ahead, slice it yourself,’ Gunter says.

Jimmy cuts a thick slice. No tea-sized portions for him! As he slathers on the butter and jam, he says, ‘Very good. American lap-lap.’ He devours that slice and cuts even more. Before long, the entire loaf is gone!”

Lap-lap is the national dish of Vanuatu, similar to pizza, that’s baked in earth pits covered with hot rocks. The locals cover the crust with small fish, coconut paste, or smashed sweet potato (see my blog Why Travel.)

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Our most recent “breaking bread with locals” occurred during our trip to Uzbekistan. To our delight, Zulya Rajabova, owner of Silk Road Treasure Tours, had arranged a surprise visit to her childhood home in Bukhara. We had the opportunity to meet her parents, sister, numerous relatives, as well as two other travelers and their guide. The home is typical of Uzbekistan family compounds, a one-level U-shaped structure surrounding an inner courtyard. So while Zulya was busy running her company in New York, we enjoyed having a marvelous lunch with her family! After multiple courses, nieces and nephews performed for us. Saying goodbyes was difficult, but despite the surprise visit, we still had a schedule to meet—including a stop in Nurata on the way to a Yurt Camp near Aydarkul Lake.

Lois and Günter with Zulya's parents.

Lois and Günter with Zulya’s parents.

Uzbekistan bride

Günter poses with a recently married family member.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

“A kiss is just a kiss…and Bliss is who I miss,” Gunter sings as I hum along.  I put my hand in his as we power walk around Sail Bay on the sidewalk fronting our condo in San Diego. It’s an unusually warm day in February, the lovers’ month. And we’re both thinking of another love, one we both shared.

Go-with-the-wind

Her name is Pacific Bliss. We knew her well. She’s the 43-foot Catana catamaran who faithfully sailed us around the world. On August 28, 2008, we crossed our path in Canet, France where we had started out eight long years before. Seven voyages. 34,000 miles. 62 countries. So many adventures and misadventures. So many Moments of Bliss.

Forlorn and seemingly forsaken, Pacific Bliss waited patiently on that same dock outside the factory where she was built. She pined for a new owner throughout the turbulent winter and the balmy Mediterranean spring while the stock portfolios of expectant buyers descended into a financial sinkhole.

Meanwhile, back in San Diego, my friends inquired, “In your entire circumnavigation, which was your favorite place?”  I searched my memory bank, struggling for answers. 

My most precious memories relate to people we met along the way. I admired how the teeming masses of Sri Lanka managed to eke out a living.  Regal women in bold saris and determined men in crisp shirts defied the steaming climate and the diesel-polluted streets clogged with tuk-tuks, taxis, bicycles and even the occasional working elephant.  When the 2004 tsunami devastated that lively southwestern coast I had photographed, I sobbed my heart out.  I mourned the wizened “lace lady” in Galle who sold me the intricate tablecloth I will forever treasure. I remembered the blind man with the missing front teeth at the souvenir-stand-by-the-sea, the one who taught us the many uses of a coconut. I pictured the family with handsome dark-eyed sons who ran the turtle rescue operation south of Colombo. All gone now.

The remarkable Ni Vanuatu of Waterfall Bay, in the Northern Banks Islands, stole my heart. They have no electricity, no cars, and no landing strip. Their island is accessible only by boat. Yet they are the happiest, most generous locals we met. We had the good fortune to anchor off their bay while we attended a festival honoring the installation of a new chief.  After three days of dancing, kava drinking, and teaching us how to make lap-lap (a pizza-like food that is their national dish) a chorus of young people belted out a song honoring the gathered sailors. Each one came forward to sing a special tribute, “My name is Joy and I love you, my name is Peter and I love you.” By the end of the song, we were all in tears.

vanuatu chieftan

Photos from pages 270-271 in Sailing the South Pacific

I first fell in love with the Aussies during the Port2Port Rally from Vanuatu to Oz, sponsored by the town of Bundaberg. A farm girl from Wisconsin who grew up in the fifties, I found it easy to relate to the sugar cane farmers of Queensland and the cowboys working the vast ranches of the Outback. Many of them became our friends. We decided to spend an entire year in Oz, traveling the length and breadth of that great land.

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Bundaberg: “I love you” balloon and bouquet, page 292, Sailing the South Pacific

 

I also find it impossible to rank the flora and fauna of my favorite places.

An avid flower-lover my entire life, my heart stopped when I viewed acres upon acres of winsome wildflowers north of  Perth, then stopped again when a child guide in Borneo led me to one lone flower, two feet wide. The bloom was a rare Rafflesia—a flower that took nine months to mature.

DSCN9652 Rafflesia, Borneo, RTW 2004

Rafflesia, World’s largest flower, Borneo (this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

My heart soared when I came upon the ancient, graying Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest, in Waipoua, New Zealand.

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Lord of the Forest, page 197, Sailing the South Pacific

Which rates higher: the majestic rock the outback Aborigines call Uluru, rising red in the pale dawn, or the brooding widow’s peak of Mount Kota Kinabalu, the symbol of Borneo, “the land beneath the clouds?”

Were the deadly saltwater crocs and ubiquitous kangaroos of Australia more thrilling than the playful orangutans in the Sepilok Forest Reserve of Borneo, the cute baby elephants in Sri Lanka’s orphanage, or the magnificent tigers raised by the monks in Thailand’s lush interior? 

Petting the Beast, Tiger Temple, Thailand

Petting the tiger; this photo will likely appear in my third book, The Long Way Back

Because I could not begin to answer the question posed by my friends, I invented a stock, smart-ass answer:  “My favorite place is the one I haven’t been to yet.” Then I would add a few lines about my next dream destination, such as:  “Right now, I’m researching Bhutan. I like the idea that they have a national happiness index. Instead of our GNP, they have a GHP. I want to check that out.”

Then we sold the boat. They say that the two happiest days in a sailor’s life are when he or she buys the boat, and when it is finally sold. 

On the one hand, I am happy to know that Bliss is no longer pining for Gunter and me, her Captain and Navigator of years gone by. She is no longer alone. Now she has other masters to care for: a family of four traveled from England to France to make her their home. They sailed her across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, as we did during our Maiden Voyage. Anticipating new adventures to come, enthused about new places to discover, they settled in. They learned to use her high-tech systems, evaluated her strength, and tested her resolve to keep them safe and secure, just as she did for us.

On the other hand, I’m sure of this: despite achieving my mission of sailing around the world, I’m still affected with wanderlust. I must continue to travel! I just may go around the world again, this time by air, land and sea. There might even be a few elephants, camels, mules and trains—and who knows what else—thrown into the mix. But it won’t be the same; this much I know. Any other mode of transportation from now on will be just that—mere transportation. 

Because now I realize that this question is all wrong. It’s not about the people, places, flora, and fauna I loved, after all. It’s about who took us there. Pacific Bliss is where I left my heart. 

WHERE I LEFT MY