Crack out a cold drink and some malaria tablets – I’ve arrived in Vanuatu. At first I was shocked by how primitive the capital, Port Vila, seemed to be: more so, even, than the capital of Papua New Guinea. The rest of the landscape and the people there do strongly remind me of PNG though. They seem to have recovered remarkably well from Cyclone Pam which hit with devastating consequences earlier this year. My taxi driver from the airport described how the whole community worked together to get it back up and running as soon as possible. With tourism being the country’s main economy – it was important that they got back onto their feet quickly. More on Port Vila later…
I was a little taken aback by how difficult it appears to be for an independent (female) traveller to get around the place. Everyone else here seems to be in groups or couples. No backpackers in sight. Trips around the island arranged by any of the ‘tour’ groups seem to require a minimum of around 4 people. The other options are taxi (which would be extortionate), hitchhiking with a local (and paying them appropriately) or hiring a car. I don’t want to take the risk of hitchhiking, however friendly the people are, and unfortunately I left my driving license in the UK so I was despairing that I was out of options. Luckily I found a nice elderly ‘vanuatian’ lady in town who advertised trips to take people around the island and a couple of people had already signed up to one so I jumped on the bandwagon.
There’s a palpable barrier between the locals and the tourists here. Interaction seems geared towards the fact that we are their main source of income. Nevertheless, the trip was jaw-dropping in terms of the natural beauty and cultural displays. I feel the best way to describe the day will be through a series of photos:
The driver pulled over to show us these large and apparently harmless spiders on the side of the road. He gave it for me to hold but then put it on my neck where it started to crawl into my hair. Was not best pleased.
Blue Lagoon near Eton beach proved to be just what it said on the tin and more. The water was so clear in parts. I left the others sticking by the large rope which swings into the water and snorkelled out down the lagoon/river towards the sea. To be honest I was amazed that out of the collection of tourists gathered at the pool, nobody else felt the urge to explore the incredible place. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever swam in.
The driver then took us to a little village, which we had to walk to for a while off the side of the road. They’d prepared a special show for us (for ‘donations’, of course): they dressed up in traditional tribal gear and, after jumping out of the bushes and scaring the life out of us when we first arrived, performed a series of dances. I then spent a while taking in the sight of that incredible banyan tree! Inside, the tree has died leaving just the parasite weaving out a hollow shape mapping where the trunk once was.
A little further along the ring road around the island we stopped off at a local primary school where the children sing a couple of songs to tourists in the hope they’ll, again, donate. Singing had nothing to do with it – they pelted out lyrics at such an incredibly high volume that I could even see a vein bulging in one of the little boy’s heads.
This boy clearly had had enough of the din as well. Very amusing though.
Two burst eardrums later we carried on down the road. Chatting to the driver was fascinating. He was one of 9 children – his father had had 4 wives – back before the missionaries came. The number of wives was determined by the number of pigs a man owned, he told me. 10 pigs constituted one wife, and so on. Like many ‘tour guides’ in this sort of scenario, he felt the need to point out many things which we tourists were not particularly interested in, but which he announced with such gusto that we had to mimic great surprise and excitement. Such things include each village’s particular denomination and church, the progress in the state of electricity and the newly repaired state of the roads, fixed by the kiwis. This last one was referred to frequently throughout the trip – he said ‘it’s like being on aeroplane’ to describe the smoothness. As a tourist visiting this kind of developing country, of course it’s not the similarities we’re looking for but the unique cultural differences! This is an entirely selfish standpoint, however, and it is great, of course, to see how enthusiastic they are about the country’s progression.
Another little beach on the way home. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. Off again to visit another village tomorrow morning so will keep you posted. Have just waited up for two hours outside to get signal in order to upload this and am now rather grumpy, haha.