After almost a month in Vanuatu we seemed to be missing that cool island vibe we’d been promised by friends who have come before us. The locals don’t seem to be as friendly or welcoming. And, while the scenery is stellar it seems to do nothing but rain! In fact, we both had found ourselves feeling a bit let down by the entire experience but then, almost like a switch was flipped we found it…the cool island vibe we’d been promised.
We spent a week in Port Vila getting re-provisioned and taking a village tour with some friends on SV Muskoka at the Ekasup Village.The village tour was pretty much a bust. Guessing they aren’t quite back to normal having just opened the country for visitors in July.
The four of us were the only people on the tour and the most exciting thing that happened was when a couple of the village men jumped out from the woods and scared the bejesus out of me. Other than that it was pretty lackluster which was rather disappointing as I’d been looking forward to experiencing the primitive native dancing.
Later that day we did get to swim with some giant sea turtles which was a spectacular moment for me. I love animals and any chance to interact with them makes my day. I literally got to hug Big Ben….a fifty year old sea turtle. He was incredible and gentle and when he looked into my eyes it was like he could see into my soul.
The only other interesting thing we found in Port Vila was a painting that we purchased. It was painted by a woman from a traditional kastom village where her father and grandfather “ate the man”. The painting depicts the cannibalism past of Vanuatu and is truly stunning. The photo here simply does not do it justice. Other than those two things we didn’t find much in Port Vila to interest us.
From Port Vila we made two overnight stays. One in Mélé Bay and one at Port Havannah. Our ultimate destination being Epi Island where we hoped to swim with the Dugongs. For those who don’t know, they are the South Pacific version of a Manatee. Interestingly enough I went to Manatee High School so this was sort of a cool thing I wanted to do.
Sadly, however, we arrived at Epi Island in the midst of much rain. We stayed there two nights and never even went to shore because it never stopped raining. Seems we’re just a month away from monsoon season here in Vanuatu and it may be coming a bit early this year. YUCK!
On a more positive note we did get in a game of dominoes and I kicked my hubby’s butt! We’re very competitive here on Dazzler so it’s always fun to be on the winning side.
My hopes of seeing the Dugong dashed and a big blow expected, we took off for Port Sandwich after two days. Not sure what kind of sandwich they were thinking of when they named it. Maybe ham, chicken or possibly a Bob sandwich. You know, cannibalism was rife in these parts up until 1969 and no one can be sure it doesn’t still occur high in the mountains in some of the most remote villages. “Hey, look, there’s a fire on the shore. Anyone seen Bob lately?”
Anyway, Port Sandwich has been touted as a great place to hide out when the winds and weather ramp up so off we went. Our friends on SV Muskoka left Epi on the same day with the same destination in mind.
Music Night on SV Muskoka
As it turns out it is an excellent anchorage. It’s a very well protected bay with no swell and great holding just perfect to weather a hearty storm. It also has a few very interesting villages and they even have a couple of island style 7-Elevens where you can pick up some super fresh French baguettes, a few canned goods and even a Tusker beer. There’s nothing like a fresh baguette steaming hot from the oven!
When we arrived there were three other boats as well as our friends on SV Muskoka. Not long after we put the hook down Kat & Scott came by in their tender. They invited us to music night aboard their boat. Seems there were several other musicians in the anchorage. Scott even came back to get us so we didn’t have to launch Sparkle in the rain.
Wow! What a wonderful evening we had aboard their 40’ catamaran. I envy catamarans for their entertainment space but in big seas I’ll take a monohull every day all day. Scott played the keyboard, we had Dan and Coco on ukulele and even had two professional musicians who played the flute and cello.
What fun we had listening to them jam together. Not always perfectly in sync but definitely entertaining. Such a special night we had on board. It was an eclectic group of people to be sure. Dan & I, the token Americans, Scott & Kat of Canada, Ollie & Coco from New Caledonia and the other couple whose names escape me, from France. Cocktails, great conversation and some cool jams. Very nice!
Finding The Cool Island Vibe
Today we woke to the surprise of no rain for the first time in weeks. We went to shore and walked about a hour to Lamap Village to find fresh bread. We were told it was just a twenty minute walk but have learned that the Ni-Vans have no concept of time. For them…it doesn’t matter how long it takes. It takes what it does so why calculate it? Turns out that this twenty minute hike was more like an hour each way but, what else did we have to do?
After a couple of attempts we finally scored baguettes hot from the oven! We trekked uphill and downhill through muddy, rutted trails and pools of water past pigs, chickens, thatched huts and lots of jungle to get there but it was so worth the trip. And, not just for the bread.
For the first time since we’ve arrived here we got to experience the true Ni-Vanuatu people as they stopped us along the way to introduce themselves and ask about where we’d come from. They really are so very friendly if but a bit shy. Unlike Fiji where everyone is outwardly friendly, here you must engage them first.
One lovely couple who walked with us for fifteen or twenty minutes even offered to go across the bay to their garden and bring us some fresh vegetables the following day. When we told them it was supposed to be pouring down rain they said it would not be a problem. They are used to it. Fortunately we had plenty of veggies on board so we thanked them for their kind offer and told them to stay home and stay dry.
After an hour of trekking we arrived at a Catholic school that had hundreds of children running around. I believe the man we met said there were close to four hundred there. They all wear uniforms so you can tell the primary and secondary children apart. As the token white people or Katam, as we are called here, we were quite a spectacle.
The children here are very shy but they follow us wherever we go. We learned that the kids, much like the adults, need us to engage with them first and once you do you’ve made a friend for life. Regrettably, this is a Francophone island and we don’t speak much French so it made communicating difficult. But, we did get to experience a few nice moments with the children.
The kids love to have their photos taken and then want to see them on our phones. The giggles and laughter when they see their photos truly fills our hearts with such joy. We only wish we had a portable printer or Polaroid camera to leave the images behind.
It’s Absolutely Heartbreaking
The heartbreaking moment for us was when we stopped at the little market…an island style quick mart if you will, to see if they had any bread. This was located in the middle of the school grounds and we arrived at lunchtime. One man who spoke good English was telling us that the children coming and going at the market were there to get food for lunch. For whatever reason their parents did not send them to school with food.
You know what they got? These tiny, half burned baguettes just slightly larger than a hotdog bun. We saw several older girls go in and buy six or seven of them then go outside and hand them to the younger children. We weren’t sure if they were siblings or if they were doing this as a way of tithing in the name of the church. It was humbling and heartbreaking at the same time as we could not come close to helping the shear number of children who needed food. We could only stand by helplessly and watch.
I told Dan that the next time I hear a youngster in our country complaining that they don’t have this or that they will get an earful from this old broad. Seriously, when you see how truly poor these people are and how little they have you realize you have nothing to complain about.
Proud To Be An American
For the first time in our travels we are meeting people who still think of America and her people as truly wonderful and inspiring. When you tell them you are from the USA they actually want to shake your hand. You see the US defended their islands in WWII and they have never forgotten it. They look at and treat us like we are celebrities.
Two men who stopped to talk with us at the fruit and vegetable market thanked us over and over for what our country did during the war. They just kept smiling and shaking our hands. I think they would have stood there chatting with us for hours.
One man, Marcel, said he would bring us fruit tomorrow as a small token of appreciation for what our country did for theirs. We’ve been looking for pamplemousee since we arrived in Vanuatu. The last time we had it was in French Polynesia and it quickly became our favorite fruit. Marcel said he had some and would bring them to us. We prepared a bag of goodies to trade with him as we can’t possibly accept anything for free from people who have so little.
Honestly…it was rather nice to not hear the horrors and things people speak of about our country for a change. Here they still believe America is a great nation. We actually felt very proud to be Americans once again. Isn’t there a song about that???
Poor But Happy
Unlike in Fiji….these people are desperately poor! They make Fijians look like royalty. It would truly be heartbreaking if you didn’t see how happy they are in their own lives. They don’t know a different way and are happy living such a simple life.
As we look around we can’t help but think that they have a better grasp of happiness than those of us from first world countries. You don’t see stress on their faces. They don’t worry about time and clocks or jobs and buying things. They get up, do what they need to do to survive and spend time with family and friends. THAT is all that matters here. Honestly…what else is there in reality?
And, interestingly enough we’ve learned from talking to these people that they live very long lives. It’s not unusual for someone to live into their late eighties or nineties or longer. But, those who have moved out of villages and into the cities eat differently, experience more stress and aren’t as physical and their lifespan is typically around seventy. Guess there really is something to clean, simple living.
The Take Away
If we take anything with us when we do decide to leave this lifestyle we hope it to be the island mentality…that part that says… “Material things mean nothing….it’s the people and experiences in your life that make it beautiful.” If we’ve learned anything in our travels…this is the most important!
People…whoever and wherever they are…want one thing…to be happy and be with their families. Skin color, religion, geography…none of it really matters…in the end we are all exactly the same! All of the divisiveness that is being spread around the world is manufactured by people with evil hearts and a desire for power.
The hope comes in that in these remote places of the world no one cares about skin color or anything other than how you treat each other. Here we are all brothers and sisters. Hopefully their way of life and their ideals will spread through people like us who are out here experiencing it. Sort of ironic eh? Once our first world ideals were peaceful and theirs were barbaric but now the scales have shifted. It’s time for us to take a few lessons from them.
Until next time,