Snapshots of Vanuatu

Mon 22 Aug 2016 03:00

Snapshots of Vanuatu


We haven’t always had strong enough internet to update the blog with pictures – but back here in Port Vila we’ve got no excuse!  Here’s some random shots that didn’t “fit” with any of our previous tales. 


You will have gathered that Vanuatu is extremely diverse – the islands have different landscapes, soil, water, crops, languages, crafts and customs.  The people look physically very different from each other and if it wasn’t for the common language of Bislama they wouldn’t be able to communicate.  If you just speak in English – with a lisp – like you’ve had a few drinks – it kind comes out close to Bislama – here’s the basic emotions ……




And I’m sure you all get the drift of the warning on the cigarette packet (Just read it how it looks)




The 80 odd islands are well serviced by a fleet of ferries that deliver absolutely everything throughout the island chain.  There are few “harbours” to speak of so the vessels are all shallow draft that drive right up practically onto the beach to pick up and deliver their goods.  The arrival of a ferry is always a big event – everyone turns up on the beach and it’s always good entertainment to watch (and hear) all the goings on.




On Ambrym the biggest ferry day of the year was the day around 140 cows came from Santo.  I don’t’ think a single person from a number of villages missed that spectacle.  A special race was built out into the bay to guide the stock from the ferry…




Amongst massive cheering and laughter the “new residents” made their way ashore.




We hadn’t noticed many cows on the island and talking to the locals they said that most of their cows had been “lost”.  We thought perhaps something had happened during cyclone Pam - but no –“lost’ – translates to “eaten” and they just needed some moreJ  We did a roaring trade with old lengths of rope – everyone was asking for “cow rope” to lead the new member of the family home before inviting them to dinner at some point in the future.  It was an extremely well executed affair with all cows pre-ordered and paid for in advance.  The younger folk however looked very concerned ….




The villages don’t have much infrastructure but they have a system worked out for just about everything.  Generally there is no electricity in houses, but nearly everyone has a cell phone with small phone solar panels.  These don’t always work that well and once in Maewo we had 6 cell phones on charge in our boat – once the word got out – the canoes came ……  There’s usually a bigger solar panel somewhere in the village such as in Tanna where everyone bought in the house lantern to charge in the community hall during the day and collected them again before nightfall.



We always loved the villages with bakeries as baking bread onboard is a hot, sweaty and tiresome process in the tropics.  On Epi this is the local baker Joseph who lights fires under 40 gallon drums that are his ovens. He controls the heat with the little door and produces fine loavesJ




Children everywhere are always good for a laugh.  One of our favourite pass-times is “bubble bombing”.  This is a highly technical affair of judging approaching canoe speed compared with wind direction and speed, and then letting off some bubbles off the back of the boat (hopefully while no-one’s watching) and letting them drift over to the unsuspecting little ones J  The bubbles go for miles and then there’s squeals of delight as the “targets” race around trying to catch them – great entertainment for everyone J (including the big kids).





Children here will play with absolutely anything.  A fridge arrived for the health centre and these boys played every day in their own polystyrene “boats” until they broke.




Villagers are often proud to show you their local school and kids always ask us to take their photos and then they climb all over you to get a look at the picture – here’s a typical line up.




We have also been lucky enough to be invited into people’s homes which seems less common here for cruisers than it is in Fiji.  Kava is strictly men’s business – very powerful – two shells and its advisable to stand up – just to make sure you still can – before consuming any more.  Fresh Kava root is grated using a sharpened “log” of coral, then squeezed a number of times through fine dried bark before producing 100% Kava “juice”.  None of this mixing with a bucket of water stuff!




Women’s business is cooking, and the Ni-van national dish is “lap lap”.  Made from grated yam, mixed with coconut milk, its usually baked underground, or in this case in tubes of bamboo in the cooking fire.  This is Mary in her “kitchen” turning our dinner over in the coals to perfect its baking. 




I cannot possibly convey the importance of yams to a Ni-van.  I guess back in the day – no yams = no food – and it is still the main food source.  We had no idea how big they can grow.  We met this guy between villages on Ambrym.  We thought from a distance that he was carrying the outrigger of a canoe but as we got closer it became apparent that it was in fact a yam – larger than he was tied to a stick frame carried between 2 men.  He was shipping it to Port Vila to sell it as a yam this big is worth big bucks!!




Speaking of canoes, in the Maskelyne islands, people still get round in traditional sailing canoes – when they can find a sail.  This canoe was carrying the entire family on a “drive by” of Navara.




Canoes are still made 100% the old fashioned way – all sticks and woven bindings – no nails or glue here.  (that’s the kiwi fibreglass canoe in the background J )




“Floating hotels” carrying 10 times the number of people who live in the average village – AKA the P&O Cruise Ships are seen regularly here.  Being close to Australia, New Caledonia and Vanuatu are very popular cruise destinations.  Waking up to this outside your window is a bit disconcerting – it appears we must have been parked on their “spot”.




We call the occupants “marshmallows” – round, soft squishy people who are either white or pink (sunburnt) - the cruise ships disgorge large quantities of these overweight beer swilling Aussies ashore.  The villagers go to great lengths to try and separate a bit of cash from the marshmallows which is quite entertaining.  A favourite is designing some “tour” or activity to offer.  There’s a central notice board when passengers first come ashore where all the possibilities for the day are displayed.  This is a classic …




Well – that’s about it folks – we hope to head across to New Caledonia in a few days when the wind turns a bit more to the east (and hopefully north east) giving us a two day break in the trades to head south to cooler climes.  We’re looking forward to all those French bread and pastries but will miss the water temperature of 27 or 28 degrees.


For now – here’s the early morning scene that farewelled us off the beautiful island of Paama.




Lookem you!!