Where The River Goes

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Exploring one of the three Ksamil Islands

I’m afraid the internet has been pretty horrendous along the Albanian coast so I’m only getting a moment to update now. We managed to drive 40 minutes from our place in Dhermi to find a working ATM. The next issue was then finding a place that served food! Most were only selling drinks as it seems eating out isn’t popular with the locals and there aren’t any tourists around! Being the only tourists around definitely did have its perks, though.

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It’s been quite surreal at times, partly because half the buildings appear to have been abandonned mid construction and are now ‘shitet’ (a sign which kept popping up repeatedly all over the place and we now think means ‘for sale’). Another surreal feature of the landscape is the bunkers scattered about in the most bizarre places, ranging from the middle of town to cliffs on the coast and fields in the countryside. Apparently they’re remnants from a ‘bunkerisation’ initiative led by Enver Hoxha’s communist government in the latter half of the 20th century. He wanted the entire country prepped and ready for attack from all sides and a wide range of potential enemies, installing around 750,000  of the things all over the country!  No wonder we saw so many. Kids were trained from the age of 12, apparently, to man the bunkers in an attempt to militarize civilians and be constantly vigilant against intruders. Talk about paranoia! All, of course, abandonned with the fall of communism in the 90s. If you’re interested, check out some of David Galjaard’s bunker photography collection: http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2014/01/24/david_galjaard_photographs_albanian_bunkers_in_his_photo_book_concresco.html

I think the best way to summarise our exploring will be through providing some highlights, in case anyone’s looking for any tips or recommendations for Albania trips.

1. Ksamil – just south of Sarandë. This little village has some incredibly beautiful little beaches facing out to three little islands (within swimming distance!) Corfu gets very close at this point of the coast so it looks like mountains in the sea.

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2. Blue Eye – East of Sarandë. This was a rather unexpected gem. You pay (equivalent of around £1) to enter the area and follow a river to it’s magical source: a deep and incredibly clear spring aptly named the ‘Blue eye’ of the river. The surrounding hiking trails are beautiful this time of year. Well worth heading out to if you’re anywhere near Sarandë.

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3. Gjupi beach and Livadhi beach. A couple of examples of the options available along the lengthy coast! The colour of the clear water is just jaw dropping. Bear in mind that these photos are straight from my phone therefore not edited, believe it or not!

Gjupe beach

Gjupe

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4. Butrint – another hidden treasure, the ruins if the ancient city of Butrint span across an incredible time period, dating back to the Hellenstic era (Greek influence). Legends say that the city was founded by Helenus and Andromache fleeing the destruction of Troy, but it appears it was inhabited long before -right back to prehistoric times. It was later taken over by the Romans in 228 BC before being swept up in the Byzantine Empire. The Venetians put their stamp on it when they purchased the land in 1386 before it was taken over by the Ottoman Empire in 1799! It’s been through a lot! Relics and remnants from all these eras remain at the site. Really interesting – and we were the only people there bar one or two fellow tourists.

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5. The coastal drive between Vlores and Sarandë. The roads themselves were stunning, carving through the mountains which drop down to the sea. There were so many great little spots to stop at along the way.

Dhermi beach

Dhermi beach

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Fun little restaurant built over a waterfall – Ujivara

Porto Palermo castle

Porto Palermo Castle 

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And finally, here’s a delicious trileche pud in Sarandë that I must try to make once we’re back!

Ocean Dream / Red Dirt Road

Humpback calf Vava'u

Gathering ammo for articles in Vava’u was spectacularly fruitful. Unlike in Tongatapu, the main island, people were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to promote the region. As a result I was hosted on a fantastic array of different activities. On day 3 I found myself in a go-cart whizzing around the mainland and on day 4 I was out on the waves of the open sea in a boat all day.

The carting was very novel – the very rough terrain in places really epitomised ‘off-roading’. There was also a surprising amount of variety in terms of the terrain/flora/fauna. Up on the north coast, the rich brown/red mud and luscious greens transformed to sweeping yellow fields dotted with pandan trees. I’ll do a ‘photo story’ to try and recreate the impression of the trip:

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First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

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Flying fox den with a view

Flying fox den with a view

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Picked up a straggler in the cart

Picked up a straggler in the cart

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The following day, the excursion couldn’t have been a bigger contrast from that adrenaline filled mud-fest. A reasonably small motor boat, with me, the crew and three underwater photographers on, headed out of the bay, out through the islands to the open sea. We spent from 8am-4pm getting sea sick on the waves, spotting the odd breech or the odd fin but getting frustrated as all of the whales where moving. Tonga is renowned for providing perfect conditions for whales to hang around in. As a result you get many mothers with their calves sitting around in the warm water. If the whales are moving, however, there’s not much you can do about it as they’re far faster than you could ever be!

On our way back in we eventually saw an out spurt of water belonging to a resting mother and we jumped in the water with our snorkels on. The mother was very relaxed and sleepy and dozed away whilst her calf came to play with us near the surface – it was within a couple of metres of us! Every now and then the sleepy mother would rise up to breath and perhaps move along a little, still with her eyes shut! My favourite moment was swimming along side both of them, almost at arms length whilst they slowly moved along. We were in there for over an hour but it certainly eclipsed all of the morning’s sickness and frustration!

My pathetic little underwater camera did not fare well, particularly with the excitement of the situation, but I’ve fiddled around with a couple of the photos a little to try and reclaim a semblance of a whale from them! With any luck, the underwater photographer who got a shot of me with the whales with come through with his promise to send me the picture! I’ll include a low-quality version of his shot of the calf as well – Daniel Norwood photography, is where to go if anyone wants to look further into him.

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As usual, i've failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

As usual, i’ve failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

The mum with her eyes shut!

The mum with her eyes shut!

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Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

Sunny Side Up

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As soon as I sorted out somewhere to stay – things immediately began to get easier. Having a place to come back to with a bed is seriously underrated. Showers are still cold but it’s a definite improvement!

Day 1 in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga, and straight to work! I’ve been gathering together a network of contacts here to provide info/details/photos for articles. Lots of people are keen to promote Vava’u, particularly on the ‘off season’ so I’ve been hosted on many different tours and excursions. The first was a sailing trip with a lovely couple called Denis and Donna (or Donis and Denna, as I kept accidentally saying). They took me out of the harbour into the beautiful array of little islands that make up the ‘Vava’u’ region.

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The Islands all have hilarious names. Donna and Denis have just leased one called Malafakalava. Nuku Island was my favourite spot. Just look at the colour of the water! I couldn’t resist bothering the clown fish again when I headed out with the snorkel…

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Find Nemo!

Find Nemo!

Playing about with the colours a little

Playing about with the colours a little

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There are also the most incredibly caves dotted about the place. Swallows cave is famous for the clarity of the water for diving. It’s also got a huge series of swallows nests dotted like bats all over the roof, hence the name.

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The perfect introduction to Vava’u – enough to lift anyone’s moods!

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Kingdom Of Comfort

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To say that things went downhill after the previous post would be an understatement. Don’t be misled by my photographs – pictures tend to reflect the highlights! It would have been pretty unusual for me to have been ill, homeless and hungry and then whacking out a camera to take a photo of the patch of street.

The volunteer organisation I was with in Fiji are essentially a scam. The Brit I’d been sharing a room with rightfully complained about the bed bugs which were steadily chomping into our skin each night. As a result we were moved out of our home. I was very sad to leave the lovely family we had been staying with – they were pretty much the only positive aspect of life in Suva. The family were quite torn up about the episode too, deciding not to host volunteers in the future as they’d had the house fumigated previously but it was too difficult to get rid of the pesky bed bugs.

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'Bimbo' the family cat. I tried to tastefully explain the concept of what bimbo means in England which they all found very amusing.

‘Bimbo’ the family cat. I tried to tastefully explain the concept of what bimbo means in England which they all found very amusing.

My roommate and I were moved to a small double bed in a hostel which seemed more like a mental institution, aptly fitting my current state of mind at the time. We were then told by the organisers that they would be wondering around the village to try and find us somewhere to stay… needless to say – we were both horrified at the idea of setting up camp with a random Fijian family that had never hosted foreigners before etc etc. Meanwhile other volunteers were having money regularly stolen from them in their homestays…

I by no means had it the worst – my roommate had paid (a significant chunk of money) to do sports coaching. On arrival into Fiji she was told that it was school holidays so she’d be handing out fliers at the museum. Another girl was supposed to be helping disabled children in a school. Instead she was put into the leprosy ward to help bathe the patients and was asked to stitch up open wounds! Far from having a place to wind down after the challenging working days we all have ‘accommodation’ that pushes the word ‘basic’ to its limits.

My work at the Fiji Times started out extremely shakily – but I decided not to put up with sitting around being told I just needed to wait around all day. I ended up getting out to report on a few stories but to be honest they were boring as sin – making their way into the business section of the paper. Although I’ve had five articles published – the style of the paper is pretty shoddy in my view so I’m not particularly proud of them. My writing is by no means of a high quality but it was edited to have sentences beginning with ‘and’ and ‘because’…I thought that was frowned upon?!

The experience helped me to fairly firmly establish that I’m not interested in working in a news room. Horrific events and deaths are ‘stories’ to be probed into and dissected. If a girl is raped or killed the reaction is ‘great – let’s get someone round to the family, someone to the police and someone round to the hospital to try get something out of her’. The writing itself requires absolutely no creativity – being stripped of anything other than raw facts in their simplest form.

In my semi-homeless state after being moved out, I arrived at the magazine where I’d transferred my internship to. I jumped upon the offer to ship me out to Tonga for a series of articles – partly because I relished the opportunity to do some serious travel writing but also partly because I desperately needed an escape clause to get out of the situation I was in. The organisation had my passport in the process of getting a working VISA, so for one horrible moment I thought they were simply going to not let me leave the country…eventually we managed to sort it out though.

However – out of the frying pan…

I arrived into Tonga to end up wondering around for several hours with my luggage as every hotel seemed to be fully booked. It’s scary enough arriving into a new place (especially in a developing country) with no knowledge of where you are, how to get around, what the people are like etc. I eventually managed to sort a place to stay for the night but by this stage I had a horrible stomach bug and was feeling very sorry for myself.

I collapsed for a while but had to pick myself up the next day to head out around the island in order to get material for the articles. It was a truly beautiful place – perhaps I can post a draft version of my article once I get it sorted but for now I’ll let the photos talk for themselves. I’m now in a different part of Tonga but more on that later!

Natural land bridge on the south coast

Natural land bridge on the south coast

Kids waiting outside the church in their 'ta‘ovala' - short mat tried around the waist - traditional church-wear!

Kids waiting outside the church in their ‘ta‘ovala’ – short mat tried around the waist – traditional church-wear!

The ta‘ovala for women are longer.

The ta‘ovala for women are longer.

Lots of red and white houses dotted about the villages to match the flag! There's also been a recent coronation so there are bunting-esque decorations all over the place

Lots of red and white houses dotted about the villages to match the flag! There’s also been a recent coronation so there are bunting-esque decorations all over the place

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My Tongan taxi-driver!

My Tongan taxi-driver!

The most spectacular part of the island, in my view, were the miles of blowholes stretching down the south west coast!

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More of the same idyllic beaches!

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A Kind Of Magic

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My last full day here on Efate, Vanuatu, was packed full of surprises. It started off, as expected, with me heading back to Mele and the ‘Secret Garden’. They had to wait for enough people to arrive before they could put on a show, so I whiled away the time reading about various stories from the different Islands. They had an information section about cannibalism, where they’d stuck various news stories onto boards inside a cave. This was pretty horrific but also fascinating, as many gruesome parts of history are! What were, perhaps, most disturbing, were the photos taken by visitors to the ‘New Hebrides’, as they were called then, who happen to stumble across cannibalism in practice. It was largely done as a form of sacrifice, but also to conquered warriors in order to ‘take on their vitality’, during times of great starvation and very, very occasionally to the missionaries! By the time I’d finished picking through the cave, the show was ready.

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A man from Ambrym, the island where ‘black magic’ is said to originate from, prepared himself to display some magic tricks. Below you can see him kitted out in the traditional sheath from the area he comes from. A couple of men from other islands assisted. Here you can see him breaking open a coconut with his hand. I’m not sure if this is a magic trick, really, more just a demonstration of brute strength!

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This man cut off the leaves of one side of a palm branch, waved it around on the floor for a bit, then lifted it to show how the cut off leaves had been restored!

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The most impressive trick was when the man from Ambrym took a palm leaf, made a pit in the floor and planted the leaf in. It was then completely impossible to pull out! So much so, that one kiwi – who couldn’t handle the affront to his strength – ripped the branch entirely from its stalk in his attempt to pull it from the ground! Very impressive!

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After the show had finished, I headed off, on foot, back in the direction of Port Vila, hoping to flag down a bus on the way as I’d done the day before. Instead, I bumped into some girls wearing grass skirts, asking me to come and watch their show for a ‘donation’. With a ‘why not’ attitude, I followed them into their village where they showed me their bow and arrow, a couple of hilariously uncoordinated dances, and sang to me to thank me for my visit. One of the smallest girls, 10 years old, then took me by the hand and walked me through the village, pointing out her pigs and each member of her, typically enormous, extended family. After I complimented her face paint, she sat me down and got out the powders to draw on my face too!

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Whilst she was in the process of drawing these coloured lines on my face, a man with a sack strolled past and asked me to come and watch his coconut demonstration. Thanking the girls, I followed him to the beach where he promptly shot up a coconut tree! He gave me a coconut to drink, for which I gave him an appropriate ‘donation’, then I carried on my way down the beach.

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I eventually managed to clamber onto a crammed bus, hoping it was heading in the right direction! They tend to only run between Mele and Port Vila really. We ended up winding through all the back lanes of Vila for half an hour before getting to the town!

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It’s now Sunday morning. With a flight in a few hours, I’ve hurriedly put together this recollection of yesterday! Hopefully I’ll have a little more time (and better internet!) in Fiji, in which I can reflect properly on Port Vila itself, and my time here as a whole. If there’s no internet at all then I guess this is it for now!

Bat Out of Hell

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Lots of people don’t like bats – some even have phobias of them. It’s fairly easy to see why, due to their association with horror and darkness (hence the Meatloaf title). I am definitely not one of them – this little guy was so sweet. It’s easy to see why fruit bats get called ‘flying foxes’! Anyway – I jumped in half way through the day… let me start from the beginning.

I’m running out of days here now! Just when I’m starting to get to grips with the place, I’m going to have to leave! I woke up this morning and hopped on a bus up to the village of Mele, around 10 minutes from town. There are a few places of interest in that area – one of which is the ‘Secret Garden’. At the Secret Garden they apparently bring over men from Abrym Island – the island where black magic is said to originate from – to do magic shows for tourists. Unfortunately, as I was by myself, they hadn’t been able to justify asking the men to come and perform through the morning, so I rearranged to tomorrow morning when some other tourists have booked up to go to the show. They did, however, show me the animals they keep on site, which I was perfectly happy with as an alternative!

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These Fijian banded iguanas are rapidly decreasing in quantity due to destruction of their habitats…

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They explained to me how they rotate the animals every 6 months or so – releasing and catching new individuals. They were all remarkably tame. Many of them are actually endangered now as they’re unfortunately ending up on dinner tables too much. One such example is the coconut crab. They no longer have them on site due to the scarcity of crabs left! Another example are the fruit bats. I couldn’t resist this little guy – absolutely adorable! They don’t seem to have much meat on them anyway so I’m quite sure why they’re so popular as a food source… They’re just such weird creatures – the way he wraps his wings about himself really does make him look like Dracula, haha.

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More on ‘secret garden’ after I’ve returned for the show tomorrow.

Around 10 minutes up the ring road around the island you arrive at the ‘Mele Cascades’. Some entrepreneurial individual has set up a café near the base of a series of waterfalls in order to be able to charge people to visit. There wasn’t anybody there when I arrived, however, so I just walked on in. The cascades themselves were stunning: a series of waterfalls over an outstanding long stretch of river. The path along side is very well maintained by the people who run the café so it was a very pleasant half hour walk to the pièce de résistance at the end.

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I say ‘path’, some of it included sections like this, with ruts carved into the rock to walk up!

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Another half an hour back down the ring road and you come to the beach across from ‘hideaway island’. I didn’t bother going across to the resort as it was an incredibly low tide so not ideal for snorkelling. I loved the way the school kids were playing about on the beach in their lunch hour – their school is right on the shore!

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Back tackling with the internet again this evening, so going to draw a line there!

Shores of White Sand

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I’ve had a hectic day today – firstly I was trying to get a little work done, then ended up spending hours wandering around town trying to get people to participate in my survey. This was not easy! People seemed to not even understand the concept of a survey, let alone the reasonably complex personal questions I was asking about body image. A few hours later, I gave up and returned to my infuriatingly slow computer to start working through my photos. For some reason the computer, in addition to the internet, barely works. Not ideal.

Yesterday was far more idyllic. I headed out, with a small group, to Lelepa Island – around 30 minutes from Port Vila, followed by a short trip on the boat. We walked across the island to a spectacular beach with the most incredibly clear water.

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Caves where, apparently, the coconut crabs live

Caves where, apparently, the coconut crabs live

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Each area here seems to host its own collection of goodies for beach combers – this beach had tons of small grey sea beans and those beautiful dotted cone shells. The variety of sea slugs out and about was incredible. I even spotted a few nudibranchs in the low tide. They were a little plain though, unfortunately, but still fun to watch as they floated about!

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Whilst admiring this classic outrigger canoe, I asked one of the girls from the island if they still use it – to which she replied by taking me out for a spin!

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The man showing us around his island took us to some caves along the shore. He’d lit it up right to the back with candles to show us the hand prints his ancestors put on the walls when they arrived on the island. This was relatively recently actually but that didn’t seem to dampen the excitement for him! To my delight the roof was covered in tiny little bats trying to sleep. So sweet! They started to wake up and chatter to each other to complain about our intrusion!

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We promptly moved onto another beautiful snorkelling spot. The coral gardens around the island really were stunning.

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Finally we made it down to the village on the island where some of the ladies were weaving baskets in the hope to sell their wares to the nosey tourists walking about in their homes. They had a series of necklaces they’d put together from the shells with the amusing label ‘neckless’ beneath them… The village was right on the beach, with some of the houses actually built out of pieces of coral.

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Carving up a new outrigger

 

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All in all a beautiful day out to make up for the day in today! It’s taken around 4 hours to try and load photos. Needless to say – I’ve lost patience. Not sure if these are actually going to come through. Attempting to scroll back up to proof read is definitely not going to happen so apologies for that!

 

Old Habits Die Hard

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This morning I headed out, with an Australian couple, to another little village where they do cultural demonstrations, around 20 minutes from Port Vila. The lady was terrified of spiders which became pretty problematic once they started playing about with their ‘toys’, as they like to call them. A man from the village, kitted out in traditional attire, talked us through a number of different aspects of their culture.

Firstly he explained to us about their methods of food preservation. In earlier times when banana and breadfruit were the staple parts of their diets, they had to work out methods of preserving them in case the crops were destroyed by cyclones. They’d grate bananas using a piece of coral then place in all in a large sack to let the water drip out over a period of time. They’d then place the dried mush in a hole in the ground lined with coconut leaves – larger waterproof leaves would be wrapped around the banana which they would replace everytime they went brown. To secure the ‘fridge’ they’d cover it in heavy rocks. Apparently this could then last over 5 years! This seems hard to believe! To make the dried brown mush palatable after such a long time in the ground they’d add coconut milk – covers a number of sins.

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He demonstrated the various traps they use to this day to catch chickens and pigs in the bush. Then similar contraptions for marine life.

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He showed us a weird looking staff with vine tied onto the end which apparently sucks the oxygen out of the water as it expands. In large quantities (50 men or so each with a staff) they can kill all of the fish in a rock pool through sucking out the oxygen.

The most fascinating was the spider web net – they spin the wooden structure around in spider webs like it’s candy floss until the web gets thick enough to act as a form of net for smaller fish!

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The various herbal remedies he was talking about, again, seem a little hard to believe. It seems such a strange concept that you’d go out into the jungle – pick a plant – then squeeze its juice into some water to get rid of a headache… He then told us a story about how he broke his leg a few years ago from falling out of a coconut tree. Instead of taking him to the modernised hospital on a different island his father had carted him, a similar distance, over to a traditional hospital where they ‘operated ‘ with their bare hands and, crucially, without anaesthetic. He says he cried for a week then was furious with his dad for a month. Thankfully, he recovered fully!

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The most fascinating area that he talked us through was the history of the spirituality of the country. In the past, ‘black magic’ was widespread, and still believed in to this day. The man explained to us, completely in earnest, how somebody practiced in black magic could strike down someone’s house with lightening or remove their intestines. He says some people do it now today but it’s difficult to tell who because ‘we’re all Christians – they pretend to be Christians too so we cannot tell’. He went on to describe ways in which the missionaries made ‘good changes’ to their culture. For example, until a hundred years ago or so women were made to mourn for 100 days after the death of a husband in which time they could not leave their house – which would be kept in complete darkness with no daylight. They were also not allowed to wash at all within this time!

Chiefs could have as many wives as they had tusks. By tusk, I mean a special kind of pigs tusk which curls right the way round to form a circular shape. The importance of this circular tusk is such that it is on the country’s flag! If a man had kept a pig long enough for it to grow a tusk like this, and then killed it – he would earn himself the right to one wife. One notable chief around 200 years ago had fifty circular tusks on each arm! All of those women were then buried alive with him, as was also tradition, when he passed. All of the people who have brought up the subject of marriage have stressed that they are thankful to the missionaries for changing this as ‘one wife is much better’ they keep saying, through giggles.

Another previous tradition which the missionaries fizzled out was the tactical manipulation of the blood line: a first born to a family HAD to be a son. Any unwanted daughter would have to be disposed of. He proudly explained that over the years their culture has changed for the better: any good suggestions, they take on board and any bad ones – they ignore. This is the main reason why they maintain this primitive way of life in this particular village – they want to show to tourists and their own youngsters how life used to be in the country in order to maintain a sense of their own culture.

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Their village's banyan tree, or 'cyclone shelter' as he called it!

Their village’s banyan tree, or ‘cyclone shelter’ as he called it!

After fish and chips in town and a stroll around the market to pick up a couple more lavalavas (sarongs) I went off to ‘survivor’s beach’, which apparently has something to do with the TV program ‘survivor’. Will let the photos speak for themselves, again! Armed with the underwater camera, I found a pretty massive giant clam – a very weird looking creature!

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P.B. a few fairly major spelling mistakes have been pointed out to me over the last few days (draw-dropping seemed right at the time, haha) so apologies for my lack of proof reading – am so relieved once everything finally uploads on this horrendous internet that I then promptly retire.

Warrior’s Dance

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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This boy clearly had had enough of the din as well. Very amusing though.

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Loved seeing the pidgin again! (even though this, apparently, is different)

Loved seeing the pidgin again! (even though this, apparently, is different)

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.

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Beach Side

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I’m clearly staying in the wrong place here. I did a trip around the whole island today (with a new taxi driver) and got a glimpse at the amazing beaches on the south east coast. They still haven’t fully recovered from the tsunami in 2009 which destroyed all of their beach-side homes – most of the locals have moved back up onto the mountain – but they’ve built a series of fales for tourists to stay in on the beaches themselves. Lalomanu, on the south west peak of the island, was the widest stretch of beach with four separate families setting up a series of beach fales there. That would definitely be an amazing place to stay if anyone is looking to take a trip to Samoa!

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Alternatively, further west along the southern coast you come to the Tosua Ocean Trench. This is a stunning natural hole in the ground where the sea seeps through the volcanic rock to create a pool. The locals who own the land made the most of this by setting up a place to stay around the top of the pool – it’s now become a ‘must-see’ on any tourist’s itinerary. In front of the hole are a number of little blow holes in the lava rock where the waves crash through. If I came back for longer I’d love to spend a day or two exploring the area of little islands and blow holes you see blow.

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Continuing along the ocean road we came to Sopoaga waterfall, where one entrepreneurial family converted their garden into a view point. There are a few of these dramatic, high waterfalls dotted around the island. Another is Papapapai-uta which is right in the middle of the island on the central road which cuts down the middle. Both are worth a visit if you’re passing by. The only downside is that you have to view from a distance as there’s no path down the steep cliff sides. For a swim in a fresh pool try Togitogiga. This area is a ‘natural reserve’ where people cannot built. You take a 10 minute walk into the thick green foliage and eventually turn out at a beautiful little set of falls which you can swim beneath. Perfect to rinse off the salty water of the ocean trench and Lalomanu beach!

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A couple of the resorts are very flashy and come with a suitable price tag, but the vast majority are simply family owned and consist of a series of open air fales like the one in which I’m staying currently. Maninoa was the best example of these two extremes side by side. There’s a small set of fales surrounded by two of the most expensive resorts on the island!

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Teuila - Samoa's National Flower

Teuila – Samoa’s National Flower

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Finally we looped around the tip and came to a large ocean pool adjacent to the sea. The taxi driver picked a couple of papayas and began chopping them into pieces and throwing them into the water. Within no time around 8 large sea turtles appeared! He explained to me that small turtles caught in fishing nets would be brought here to grow a little bigger before being released as they get eaten by the tiger sharks. The principle seems good but there were some very large turtles in the pool so I’m wondering whether they just decided to keep them like a sort of pet! Very cute and remarkably tame. You could feed them by hand and stroke their smooth heads!

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Love the flailing limbs in this one

Love the flailing limbs in this one

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Look at that series of expressions!

Look at that series of expressions!

This little one crawled right up to the shallows to try grab a piece of papaya that everyone else had missed.

This little one crawled right up to the shallows to try grab a piece of papaya that everyone else had missed.