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.

One of the pleasures of traveling is encountering the unexpected. If you keep your options open and avoid planning and filling every hour of every day, you’ll experience all kinds of unforeseen adventures.

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

Lois and Günter at the bus stop in Port Sudan

During our world circumnavigation, Gunter and I encountered the unexpected many times. On one occasion, we were guests at a tribal meeting in Sudan. We had a long, hot day running errands in Port Sudan and were dead tired by the time our bus returned us to the bay in Suakin where Pacific Bliss, our catamaran, was anchored. While filling our dinghy with produce and supplies, we encountered Kirstin and Hans, another couple from our cruising fleet.

“Ten minutes, tribal meeting. Mohammed has ordered the minivan for our group,” Hans announced.

“What does it involve?” I asked.

“Dancing,” he said.

“How long?”

“Only an hour.”

“OK, let’s go!”

The meeting was on the outskirts of Suakin. The van emptied, and we walked toward the performance area. Packed bleachers faced each other across a dusty circle; between them stood a  three-sided tent fronted by a row of white-robed, white-turbaned men sitting in overstuffed chairs. We spotted a podium to the side of the tent. Our group of ten cruisers made its way through the crowd of men and boys. Plastic chairs were brought in to seat us in front of the side bleachers.

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Turbaned politicians attend a tribal meeting in Suakin, Sudan.

One white-robed speaker after another came to the podium. After each speech, the crowd shouted hearty agreement, and everyone raised his staff.  This sequence continued for an hour or more, and it was getting dark. The speakers went on and on, and because we didn’t understand what was being said, it appeared as if they were just getting started.  The crowd loved it and erupted into rousing cheers for each message.  Finally, the last speaker wrapped things up, and music suddenly blared from two huge speakers.

The entire crowd rushed to the small circle of dirt in the center of the venue, with staffs and sticks waving high into the air. And the dance began! Chris, our crew, was right out there with them, having a blast. I stood atop my plastic chair taking movies in the fading light. I was over the dancers’ heads, shooting down into the crowd. I could see our friend Patrick standing on his chair, cheering and shouting. Then he couldn’t resist the excitement; he jumped off his chair and into the chaos.

The song seemed interminably long, but suddenly the music stopped.  And that was it! Men crowded around us yachties, laughing, smiling, and shaking hands. We hated to see it end. We’d have liked to spend more time with them, but we were herded into our mini-bus and driven back to the dinghy landing.

The following day, Boris of Li clarified what had happened: “That was a meeting of all the chiefs of the local tribes. They converged on Suakin for their meeting, and politicians joined them to represent the Sudanese government. Last night, each tribal chieftain gave a speech of praise and thanks to the government.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, two years ago, Boris explained, “Suakin had no electricity, no schools, and no hospital. These improvements have all been completed within the past two years. So now it is time to show appreciation.

“There were no women present. Why?” I asked.

Apparently, they don’t go to political rallies. These are for men only.”

I’m glad I was not born Sudanese!

Given the town’s poverty, the meeting must have been expensive. Each attendee received a can of soda and a candy bar, and during their stay, Suakin more than likely provided food and lodging for its visitors. We cruisers appreciated being invited for an unexpected glimpse into the culture of Sudan.  This event made our visit to Suakin even more worthwhile.

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Adapted from The Long Way Back by Lois Joy Hofmann. Available from Amazon and www.loisjoyhofmann.com. Photos © Lois Joy Hofmann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Hanukkah!

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.

My husband Gunter and I visited Jerusalem twice, once as a side trip during the 1990s as part of a business trip to Ein Gedi and Tel Aviv, and again during our world circumnavigation, when we docked our catamaran, Pacific Bliss, in Ashkelon.  Stories and photos of that second trip are included in my recently published book, The Long Way Back.

My favorite city in Israel—a country not much larger than New Jersey—is Jerusalem, her capital. To me, Jerusalem is the one place in the world where past, present, and future become one. I felt that portentous-yet-exhilarating sense of past and future both times.

These are some of my favorite pictures and places in that grand city:

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre built with the ubiquitous Jerusalem stone

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These olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane may have been there in Jesus’s day

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The wall at the Temple Mount, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall”

Jerusalem had been called some 70 names: Some of the better-known ones are: Ariel (Lion of God), Kiryah Ne’emanah (Faithful City), Kiryat Hannah David (City where David camped), Betulah (virgin), Gilah (joy), Kir, Moriah, Shalem (peace), Neveh Zedek (righteous dwelling), Ir Ha’Elohim (City of God), Gai Hizayon (Valley of Vision), Oholivah (My tent is in her) and, more recently, International City.

Despite its problems, I know I will always love Jerusalem. And despite the danger, I’d very much like to go back again. Have you been in Jerusalem? Would you go back again? If you have not traveled there, is it on your Bucket List?