Part 1: ‘Vanuatu: Bula! I oraet tankyu’
Bislama word/phrase of the day:
Tolet i stap wea? – Where is the toilet?
27 hours spent in aircraft
12 hours spent in airports
2 oceans crossed (Atlantic & Pacific)
1 continent crossed (North America)
3 countries transferred through
1 flight nearly missed
1 day lost from crossing International date line
Note ::: These articles were originally written for a travel blog by my wife Siobhan whilst we were travelling back in October 2010. I’ll be adding them gradually to this site as an archive. –View the photography galleries here
I naïvely did not expect the levels of exhaustion and disorientation we would feel after such a journey. The owner of our motel in Port Vila exclaimed that we should ‘shoot our travel agent’ but we needed to get to Vanuatu in such an arse about face way in order to qualify for our Round the World fare.
We nearly didn’t make it here though (that sounds more dramatic than it was but let’s roll with the drama a little). We had an overnight stay in Fiji before catching our flight to Port Vila, Vanuatu. Our flight was at 8am and we had to arrive at the airport the usual 2 hours prior to take-off. Before falling into an exhaustion coma we vigilantly synchronised watches, iphones and other electronic paraphernalia with such precision that we would have made James Bond and my father proud. Alarms set, bags packed. Awake bolt up right in a fit of confusion. What? The alarms haven’t gone off! What time is it? Huh? Every device said something different and a call to reception revealed that we awoke at precisely the time we were meant to be checking in. Oops. Needless to say that it all worked out in the end. Chris held the hand of his stressy wife all the way to the airport and through check-in. How could this have happened? I managed to convince myself that the only, and I mean, ONLY, explanation was that somehow there were time pixies or ghosts or other menacing figments of science-fiction who had fiddled with all the timepieces in our room in order to vex us. Then, I picked up my emails in Vanuatu.
Sent by my adoring father:
‘Guys, watch the time. I think Fiji goes on to day light saving time at 0200…you might want to check that’.
Oh. No evil demons or pirate ghosts of the past. Just a combination of day light saving time and not setting our stubborn phones properly.
Arriving in Efate, Vanuatu
We decided that we would spend the first 4 nights in the country’s capital of Port Vila, in some nice accommodation. The Coral Motel did not disappoint with spacious rooms, a balcony, en-suite bathrooms (not altogether common here) and a private kitchenette. It also comes with a lively Australian owner who is extremely helpful and mindful of his guests. It’s situated on the main road which is noisy an not altogether picturesque but this doesn’t matter to us as it is a 15 minute walk from the centre of the tiny city.
Our first impressions might have put people off. It’s a Sunday and being predominantly a Christian country everything is shut and dead. It’s also raining, a lot. Our cheery Australian assured us that the weather here is always unpredictable and the ‘rainy season’ is a misnomer. However, a bus driver later told us, ‘It’s summer now. It’s the tropics. It rains’. Well, that’s pretty much what we were expecting; we didn’t come here for a tan, although that would be a nice bonus…if and when the clouds clear :).
Awaking on Efate
Monday sees a whole new buzz of life and atmosphere in Port Vila. The main road heaves with stinking, smoking trucks, mini-buses,vans and pickups, groaning, grumbling and belching their way through town in an endless stream. PV is alive with people. A few Australian tourists, expats, local businessmen, stall holders and the obligatory aged local man sitting about playing with their toes watching the world go by. Not forgetting the odd stereotypical sailor fresh from his boat, laptop and document folder in hand. Unmistakable with his sun-bleached blonde hair, perma-tan, weathered face, bent rollie cigarette hanging from cracked lips abused by months of sun and sea salt. The look of a man who needs more sleep and less alcohol.
As with any new environment, the smells are perhaps the biggest assault on the senses. A night of thunderstorms has perhaps exacerbated the odour of rotten vegetation and rubbish. Exhaust fumes hang thickly in the humid air and seem to wrap themselves around your face. The unpleasant smells are counteracted by the wafting sweet flowery scent worn by the local women and the exquisitely pungent odour of the frangipani plants lining the streets. I can’t talk much about the colours as the cloud cover has prevented them from being able to reveal their full glory. When the occasional beam of sunlight manages to fight its way through the grey fluff, you can glimpse the glowing azure potential of the crystal clear sea.
Ni-Vatans have to be some of the friendliest people I have encountered (ironic considering their cannibalistic past). Almost without exception they smile or say ‘Alo’ when passing you in the street. There are a ridiculous number of local dialects across the 83 islands of Vanuatu (I would quote the exact number if I could be bothered to reach for the guidebook). The main languages spoken are Bislama, French and English. Bislama (a form of Pidgin English) is a wonderful language and it looks even better written down. Imagine speaking English with a Jamaican accent and then write it down phonetically, that’s basically it;
Mi no toktok Engglis – I don’t speak English
Mi wantem rentem spidbot – I’d like to rent a speedboat (I can’t say we have much use for this saying. Lonely Planet, helpful as always. Try combining this saying with a Sean Connery accent. Result: much hilarity)
I oraet tankyu – I’m fine, thanks (this would almost be Norfolk if there were less emphasis on the ‘t’ sound).
We wandered around the fruit and veg market today collecting supplies for our kitchenette. I adore local markets. It doesn’t matter how crowded they are, how much they stink or how much the floor flows with the rank slurry from the produce on sale, they are just wonderful places. This one was very clean and civilised offering anything; coconuts, broccoli, bunches of monkey nuts, lettuce, sweet potato, bread fruit, chillies, raspberries, yams, melons, papayas and Kava root (a relation of the pepper plant that contains a hallucinogenic drug. It is made into a drink and used to ‘chill, Winston’). Chris was a little over excited about it all. Almost as excited as he was on our walk into town pointing out varieties of plants. He may need a special botany enthusiasts anorak. Would that be a hawaiian shirt? Our exotic gardener friend Will would be so proud.
An aside: Um, I just wanted to share; I am currently eating some Papaya and I can’t decide if I like it or not. Sure, the flavour is sweet and delicate but the texture is like thick vomit. Can I push past this and enjoy the fruit in it’s entirety? Because I am a hero, I’m going to give it a damn good try.
So, what have we achieved since we left the shores of the mother land? We have travelled a fair old way and sat next to some frightful human (?) specimens (a story for another day and perhaps not for the eyes of polite company); we have encountered Fijian time witchery; we have waded and wandered through Port Vila, purchased local fruit and veg and found internet (woo); we have plotted and planned our next few days and felt the tingle in our toes of the excitement of the unknown and the joy of exploring new places with your best friend.
Next Episode: Part 2: Vanuatu: Masquerade and Wol Wo Tu
Explore More: View more travel photographs of the entire trip