Port Vila is more of a white man’s city than any of the other places I have visited in the Pacific. Business must be good here and that also gives a few options for Western run accommodation, bars restaurants. When checking into the dorms at the Australian run Travellers Budget Motel, I was put into a room with Avi- an Israeli who was the founder and editor of the travel page X days in Y. We had some good conversations over a few shells of Kava in the evenings and explored the island of Efate together.
One of the days we traveled around with the cheap (2USD per ride) local buses to go to the Cascades Waterfalls and Hideway Island. The falls reminded me a whole lot of the Waimea Waterfalls in Oahu, Hawaii and was a good fun for a couple of hours. The rest of the day was spent relaxing at Hideway Island, which is an island resort with great snorkelling and the World’s first underwater post office.
The following day we rented a 4WD car and went around the island. On the way we stopped at beaches, viewpoints, and other points of interest like the Tanna coffee factory, the Blue Lagoon and Taka Village for an exceptionally good lunch. For just 7USD we got an all you could eat lunch buffet with live music right at the beach. It was a place well hidden from the road and from the Lonely Planet Guidebooks, but still a gem of a place that I will be quick to recommend should anyone decide to travel to Efate, the main island of Vanuatu.
When hitchhiking from the White Sands Village to the island capitol Lenakel, I explained the driver my way of traveling and he suggested that we should ask the chief of the Island if I could stay the next night with him. He drove all the way up to his house and asked in his language if this would be okay, and next thing the chief gave me a thumbs up and showed me into the city council where he said I could spend the night. The roof and windows of the building had been damaged by the cyclone, letting in dust from the dry ground outside. My sleeping bag did not make the tiled floor more comfortable to sleep on, but at least the place was safe and dry.
The town itself had not much to offer, except a market and a couple of blue holes. Prices for food here is absolutely crazy, with a kilo of potatoes costing 10 dollars and carrots about twice that price. The dry season had now lasted six months instead of the usual three months and the ground was all dried out. People covered their faces as cars drove by as the cloud of fine dust was usually hanging in the air for a long time afterwards.
The coral was a bit more intact on this side of the island and two blue holes provided good some good snorkeling, but even the fun of those run out pretty quickly and the rest of my stay was just sitting at the black sandy beach waiting for time to pass. When I finally got to the airport I was told that my flight was booked for the next day- how could I have missed that?? I though to myself that I could not stand another day here and right then there was a pilot behind me telling me that he would take off with his four seater in just a few minutes. Having negotiated a reasonable price with him it was just to jump in on a really shaky propeller plane flight back to Port Vila.
When reading an in-air magazine on the way to Vanuatu it became clear to me that in order to experience the country to its fullest I would have to fly away from the main island of Efate. On the island Santo in the North, there were some of the World’s best beaches and wreck dives like the World famous SS Coolridge. The Island of Pentecost was known for its culture that had been preserved for centuries, where the bungee jump/land diving was invented and still is being practiced (with ropes from a tree tower). But the Island which caught my attention the most was Tanna in the South which had recently been struck by a cyclone and people were struggling to grow food because of ash coming the active volcano on the island, making the soil infertile.
When hitchhiking across the island I was invited to stay in their village, which was less than a kilometer from the volcano Mt. Yasur. We hiked up to the volcano crater during the daytime seeing lava rocks and gas being shot in the air with loud bangs and shaking ground which was scary enough. When going up again at night time the volcano was much more active and my host did not dare to go out on the crater edge. I just had a quick run up to have a picture taken there myself, as I knew there were tourists before that had died from being hit by flying lava. There were probably more than a thousand tourists going up every year, so the fear was irrational but since my host had snuck me to the backside of the volcano in order not to pay any entrance fee I was not sure if this place was just as secure.
Back at the village I tried to help my host catch some fish while he was working as a teacher during the day, but only managed to catch a tiny one due to the reef having been destroyed by the recent cyclone. The cyclone had also destroyed the gardens, killed most of the animals and some people too, so there was little food to get on the island, but the family I was staying with shared the little they had with me. On the menu was cabbage with potato one of the days and rice with sea snails the other. People there were eating sea urchins, dogs etc to survive and I was happy that neither were on the menu while I was there. With potatoes costing ten dollars per kilo it was an expensive enough living on just the basics and I could clearly see that some people were malnourished from that diet. Unicef was precent with several huge tents and was working on sending food and equipment to the island was on its way to improvement. I am still glad to have come at the time I was there to experience the post cyclone life and to be a part of helping the people I stayed with when they needed it the most.