Pretty beach on Santo
Saturday 30th October 2010

Bislama word/phrase of the day:
Blokem pikinini – contraceptive (pikinini – children)

My fickle little soul has finally been fed. I am currently sitting on a veranda with the much happier boy of my dreams tinkering with his camera equipment (that’s not a euphemism by the way) in our room. In front of me is a small tree fringed grassy area and beyond that is a white blanched coral beach that dissolves away into rippling silken sea stretching out as far as the eye can see. It is broken only by a small beach-rimmed jungle island in the distance and a scattering of black igneous rocks jutting out of the far spreading shallows like ominous shark fins. In my ears are the sounds of the waves breaking on the reef and beach, the tweeting of birds and the odd thud of a jugglers batons hitting a rubber mat (again, not a euphemism).

Although Chris was slowly showing signs of recovery we realised that waiting around in Luganville for him to be fit enough to dive was a waste of time. So we made haste North up the coast and found Turtle Bay Lodge where we intend to reside for some serious R & R. Since this morning we have snorkeled, swum and sunbathed for the first time since arriving in the South Pacific. As we waded out to the stunningly luscious reef and plunged into the bath warm water to enter the world of colour and life that we had been so longing to see, my heart smiled and my head breathed a sigh of contented relief. Thank god for the ocean.

We were unfairly forewarned about our beach accommodation by an Aussie ex-pat in Luganville with an ‘ermw’ sound and a scrunched up face. However, our new home for the next few days has several great things about it; the setting, a circus tent and an acrobat/juggler/circus folk man. He’s no carnie though (small hands, smell of cabbage), he strolls around in Thai pants exposing his yogi physique to the world and runs circus classes for children. And guess what? This friendly chap with far too much hand-eye coordination than is fair or reasonable, some 25 years ago lived in Norwich (the second person we have met today with Norwich roots!). He also worked at a pub called ‘the Swift’ on St. Stephen’s roundabout*. This is all wonderfully hilarious and joyous. Everyone (unless you hate where you’re from or you live in some horrendous dive that you should be ashamed of) loves bumping into another human being a million miles away from home who knows the place where you’re from. Perhaps it fosters a sense of home in far off places or perhaps it’s because two strangers now share something in common thus making conversation more accessible. Who knows, either way, Chris and I behaved like anyone else would have, like elderly women. Stock phrases like ‘I can’t believe that’, ‘well I never’ (ok, I actually said that one for comedy factor in an old lady’s voice) and ‘what a small world’. I hate myself a little more every time I say that last utterly ridiculously stupid phrase. Thank god I have absolutely no understanding of the laws of probability as I’d descend into the realms of self hatred even further for bandering such a ludicrous term about the place like it means something. Erg.
I digress.

Well, for the next three days, weather permitting, we intend to milk our new environment for all it’s worth. After that? Who knows.

The friendliness and warmth practiced by the Ni-Vans seems to infect the tourist and ex-pat population on E.Santo. Perhaps this is because there are not many tourists here at all and perhaps it’s just that you can’t help but adopt local attitudes. Last night we met a couple called Vic and Marianne in our motel in Luganville who were very friendly and chatty. Through the briefest of polite exchanges we discover that these New Zealanders have more in common with us than we’d expect. Vic recently travelled to Norwich in order to trace his Grandfather’s childhood which was spent in Ipswich and in the classrooms and playgrounds of Langley school. He was even selected to play for Norwich FC before the war arrived and he was drafted to New Zealand. He never returned. Marianne’s family also has origins in Bury St. Edmunds and they are spending Christmas there this year. ‘Well I never’, ‘what a small world’.

Through a stroke of luck they were due to travel today to a resort a stone’s throw from our Turtle Bay Lodge so they kindly offer for us to share a transport with them. In the short journey up the coast I feel as though I have learnt much from them. They are volunteers on a small island off E.Santo called Malekula. Here they are working with educators and villagers to maintain and develop primary education with a main area of focus on reception and Early Years (ages 0-5). Yay! I won’t bore you with the details of our conversation but I was able to nerd out a little and learn about the education system.

They are understanding of our frustrations as scabby penny-wise tourists and agree that there is not enough accurate or insightful information on offer about the country. Hurrah, we’re not just being naïve, stingy, untraveled tourists. Phew. And then, they suggest we visit Malekula and stay with them in the local bungalows and from there we can explore nearby villages through their contacts, and I could learn more about the work that they’re doing. Where did these people appear from? Just when we were losing hope and feeling like we had made a big mistake, they arrive and in the space of an hour they reassure, offer up possibilities and inform us.

Anywho, the point is we’re chuffed to bits. Today we found the sea, swum with the fishes (not in the non-gangster way), connected with our home town and been given food for thought about our next move in the game of Vanuatu chess.
I think we’ll sleep well tonight with the sound of the sea and crickets as our lullaby.

Tank yu tumas xx

(Heather, I thought of you as I gave your rash vest an outing. Thanks honey!)

*I apologise anyone reading this who is not from Norwich, you will have no idea what I am blathering on about but you may begin to think that you are perhaps missing out on something. You’d be right.
Market Child