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Traveldiary chapter 11 [October 2005 - November 2005] as PDF
|Photos: Vanuatu||More about the Pacific: South-Pacific|
Vanuatu; Melanesian Pacific-culture at its best
After three days in
As all the other
As most islands in the New Hebrides, as
Today they try also to attract tourists and their dollars and already many Aussies and Kiwis come here for an "all inclusive" holiday to small resort islands.
We arrived in Port Vila on Oct. 26, 2005
and headed for a cheap guesthouse. Our first impression was that the people
were extremely friendly. Before we had reached the centre, dozens of people had
greeted us or waved (and this without the intention to sell anything, as is
often the case in
As we had never found a market in
At first sight, the French hadn't left that much influence behind as we had hoped for; neither did we hear much French being spoken around us, nor did French bakeries and restaurants line the street.
After a few days however, we discovered a
variety of very good French influenced restaurants; none of them cheap, but
nothing is cheap in
Whereas, if it comes to fashion, they still stick to old colonial times. Most women still wear what is called a "Mother Hubbard dress"; a long colourful frilling bag. This was introduced by the missionaries to cover what they considered to be naughty skin that had been so normal to the people. Since then, they sweat and need soap to wash themselves and their cloths, which in turn is polluting the water. Not even for bathing, the newly introduced dresses were removed, after which the wet garments stuck to the body for a long time, as they often didn't have clothing to change. The same happens a lot during the rainy season. So people feel cold and get sick and often this led even to tuberculosis, a pest that hadn't existed here before.
The missionaries even told them, that the many new diseases that suddenly killed so many people, and which of course were all introduced by white men, were just a punishment because they had been cannibals before and worshiped the wrong god...
How anybody, except sadists could force others to wear (long) cloths in this hot climate, remains a mystery and it's also frustrating to see how entire nations can be brain-washed successfully!
Let's talk about nicer things; the scenery of the coastline with its blue ocean and coral-reefs was stunning. On our flight to Tanna island, 4 days later, we could admire it even from above. Tanna has a population of 30'000 that spread over an area of 565 sq km. It's famous for the last remaining villages, still living in quite a traditional way and for an active volcano.
The guesthouse we had booked by phone, didn't
really delight us. The standard was very basic and in
There were almost no cars and public transport was expensive and scarce. None of the roads were sealed and in most sections they were not only a bit, but pretty rough! They were only good for walking or 4 WD vehicles and thus very dusty.
About 80% of Ni-Vanuatu people have neither jobs nor money. In fact, they would not need money if the missionaries wouldn't have come here. They can live off the land and are quite skillful gardeners. Pigs, cattle, goats and fish are also part of their healthy diet. The only money they need to spend, are for cloths and soap, a local repeated to us. Apart from their land, most people have really nothing and those few that have jobs, need to pay dearly for everything, as prices are out of proportion. Here we realized how much more developed and wealthy, even the poorest Asian countries are. There, most people have at least some sort of income and prices are much more in relation to that.
What was impressive about
The biggest assets the families usually had, was a big number of children and that means 10-20.
Thanks to an Australian aid organisation, there was now one manual water pump installed in every village and the water was of good quality.
As all over
As most locals don't ever need a bank, the
Tanna branch of the state bank tried to make money with the few tourists.
Although there was no way to get money with a credit-card, the bank
employees gladly exchanged traveller's checks into Vatu, the local
currency, giving a very bad exchange rate but asking for a small € 8
flat-fee for the cashing of each check. Also the airline office next
door was very helpful as soon as we had found the employee, who had been
chatting in a nearby foodstall. He promised to forward our reservation request
to the headquarter in
Now we catch ourselves complaining about the lack of the modern world, but really; we have come here to see what's left of the traditional world! On Tanna island, there are still a handful of what they call "kastom villages" where people still live a mainly traditional life as in the past. After trying unsuccessfully to visit one independently, we finally joined a tourist-tour, as no taxi driver had been willing to undertake the journey over this particularly rough road to Yakel. A 22 year old woman, clad in only a grass skirt and a 28 year old man, who only wore a namba (penis sheath) were fluent in English and showed us and the other 7 tourists around their dwellings. They explained how the family clans have their own bamboo huts for cooking and sleeping. How marriages were arranged, gardens tended and herbs for medicine collected. In this village we felt as if we were set down in another world with another pace. Small children were in the nude but everybody older than 3 wore grass skirts or nambas only. The size of the penis wrap is given by the tribe a man belongs to and has nothing to do with his 'willy'. On Malekula island for example two tribes are living, called the "big nambas" and the "small nambas". But if they go to surrounding villages that are not "kastom villages", they put on western cloths, which we fear they buy with money gained from tourists who are obliged to pay quite a high visitors fee (abt.2150 Vatu/€ 17).
Also there, we saw a water-pump but no telephone and only very recently, they started to send some children to school.
Pigs are very valuable and important as gifts and in many ceremonies, where big feasts are held. They carve special clubs, to smash the head of a pig when its time is due, but before, it has certainly a much better life than those pigs farmed in developed countries. Here pigs roam around freely and we've seen a woman patting a piggy as we would pat a kitten.
Before the villagers performed some dances for
the tourists, we were introduced to the healthy looking chief of the village
who was apparently 108 years old. The chief will take responsibility to arrange
marriages for those bachelors that have lost their parents and so, he'll buy a
spouse from another village. In many places throughout
Might be that western doctors could learn something from these "witch-doctors" and already we can observe a trend of modern people turning to "nature practitioners" in big numbers.
On the eastern side of the island, we visited what they claim to be "the world¡¯s most accessible active volcano" (we bet Aussies created that slogan!). In a 4WD vehicle, we crossed the black sand- and ash-plain at the foot of the 316 m high Mount Yasur. After a good look around this eerie landscape, where ashes suffocate an extremely green vegetation that is constantly fighting back its territory. David our guide and driver, showed us the canyon, about 10 meters high, where all the water of a lake that had been on the foot of the volcano, suddenly burst through an opening to the sea, after a cyclone had brought a lot of rain in 2000. Now, he drove us up, almost to the crater of Yasur and a few hundred meters higher up, we were able to see down into the crater. We could not see right into the molten lava, but we were told there are three melting pots, which spit out lava at various intervals. Fountains of orange liquid thundered into the air in a cloud of smoke along with a terrible noise. Especially after sunset, it was amazing how well the molten rock became visible and looked now obviously like flying lava-bombs. Some eruptions were only small but others could spit very high and the thundering noise accompanying them, apparently has caused to jump so many frightened tourist, that plenty of camera and video equipment lies on the dangerous slopes of the crater.
The activity of the volcano is measured in grades 0-8 and it was at level 2 when we visited. This was impressive to watch and still quite safe. At level 4 it feels like a constant earthquake at the base, we were told and then tourists are not allowed to go up to the top of the crater anymore. There had been three fatalities sofar as the activity can change in no time.
We spent two nights at Jungle Oasis right below that groaning cone. After the generator was switched off at about 10 pm, instead of going to bed, we watched the reflections of the eruptions on the low lying clouds above the crater and we heard the rumbling of the eruptions all night and day. The ash the volcano spit out, was constantly in the air and a layer covered everything in the surrounding. Only one hour after we had put a glass on our garden table, a dust mark was already visible where it had stood. Once a while we felt there was a bit of ash in our mouth as well. The hefty € 17 entrance fee was meant to support the surrounding villagers for the times when their own crop gets covered in ash after heavy eruptions.
As everywhere in the countryside, people here lead very modest lives. It is no exception that 20 persons sleep in the same hut, which consists of one room only. Everyone sleeps just on a mat, as beds and mattresses are not used here and people do not even dream of having a (hot?) shower or electricity.
The simple huts are normally made of bamboo and palm leaves. Only very few have brick walls and tin roofs. As earthquakes are frequent, this results usually in little damage to and by them. In the cyclone season however, the simple bamboo huts cannot protect their inhabitants. For this occasion every village is equipped with a "ground house" for shelter; a bamboo hut that is dug into the earth.
Already before we had come to the guesthouse at the volcano, the arrival of their new car with the ferry to Lenakel, 50 km away, was the 'talk of the town'. By the time it arrived at Jungle Oasis, many curious people of the surrounding villages lined the street for the welcome reception, with the car being led through various arches decorated with flowers. Speeches by the village elders followed and then the shiny white 4WD ute received blessings to al its important parts. One after the other, young and old climbed on the back of the new pick-up and wanted to be given a ride.
This was now the first car to belong to someone of that village, whereas beforehand, whenever something had to be transported, a taxi from far away had to be called in.
Life in these villages is directed by daylight and we were bothered by the churchbell that woke everybody up at 5 am, so that the poor children could attend church before starting classes 3 hours later. After the work of the day had been done, the village women start cooking, whereas the men gather in the many kava bars. They can easily be identified, as there is always a lantern burning there, which they call "the red light".
It's said that kava here is stronger than in other pacific island countries and its anesthetic reaction more powerful. Preparation is often in the old traditional way, where peeled kava roots are being chewed and then spit into the pot from which a coconut bowl is filled with the brew and handed around the circle of kava drinkers. In some places today, kava is just grounded and an inventive company does even prepare "instant kava", which is being sold abroad.
When the ute had come to pick us up, we hopped to the back, in the same manner the locals do. Now we were glad that the sun was out again after a rainy day, as this meant that the rough road across the island was at least not so dusty and not too muddy either. We passed Tannas hilly "middle bush" where coffee and coconuts were grown. Again, many people walked and everybody was friendly waving at us. Some went hunting with bow and arrow or with a sling shot.
We spent the next four days at Evergreen Bungalows. For Vanuatu-standard, they are already in an upper category, as they have hot showers, a generator and an 'à-la-carte' restaurant. Compared to western standard, however, the bungalow was still very basic and neither mosquito-proof nor very clean. But even the more luxury resort next door, that was four times more expensive, offered bungalows that were invitingly open to the surrounding wildlife, only bigger, so they could fit in more of them...
However, the location on the limestone shore and the gardens above, were very nice. There was good snorkeling nearby and the guests could use fins and masks for free. The shore was of sharp cutting coral limestone and the most difficult part was to get into deep water; in brief terms: it was a pain in the...feet! ... or; in the ass, if you fell.
We were very pleased with the quality of the restaurant on our place. There was lobster on the menu most days and we could even convince the kitchen staff to replace the imported rice with local vegetables as kumara (sweet potato), taro or pumpkin, even though they believe they have to serve their guests expensive rice. As the 4-8 guests were usually dining together, this made for a nice atmosphere.
Another luxury was offered by Evergreen as a
farewell to their guests: Before we flew back to
After 10 days, we were back in the capital Port Vila. Now it seemed more developed to us than before. There was a lot of traffic with most cars being either taxis, minibuses, government- or business-vehicles, which their number plate indicated. Of the few ones that were private, 90% carried white or Asian passengers who sometimes employed a local driver.
Even though most didn't look that run down, half of the cars exhausted black smoke, because probably none of the taxis and busses were getting serviced regularly. But there is hope for the future!
The first few cars here were already driving on coconut-oil that can be grown locally. A French company is working on the development to generate electricity from copra, dried coconut, used to gain the oil. They hope that this way, electricity might be provided to all the islands, who could then grow the rawmaterial themselves.
about this project, because we now stayed at a B&B called "La
Maison Bleue". This was run by French born Françoise, who is
married to one of the leading engineers involved in the coconut-energy project.
The house was superbly situated on the hillside overlooking the blue bay and it
was the best accommodation we've had in
It's an unreal
world here: in a country where most people don¡¯t earn a single penny, as
mentioned before, they have 2'000 international companies registered in
their books. They all take advantage of Vanuatu¡¯s tax freedom that has no
income taxes for either corporates or individuals, no capital gains
taxes, no death duties. The country's only income is from 12,5% VAT (GST)
and up to 70% import duties mainly paid by the small fish. For those who work,
the minimum salary was recently raised to a "generous" € 155 per
month, even though prices are comparable and often higher than in
On the day of
our departure to
Upon arrival, the
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