When we spotted a great deal on airfares and accommodation to Vanuatu we jumped at the chance to spend a week relaxing in its tropical warmth and sample another way of life.
March falls during the humid and rainy season. There can be tropical downpours and stormy weather. Cyclone Lusi had struck the week before and done very considerable damage. But the winds had dropped and the sun was shining by the time we arrived.
Once through customs the cheerful music of a ladies band put us into a holiday mood. We were off to Nasama Resort which is only 10 minutes from the centre of Port Vila, right by a snorkeling and swimming beach.
The kitchen facilities and a barbecue meant we could self-cater. In Vanuatu restaurant prices are on a par with those in New Zealand and basic groceries are expensive. So you can easily blow your budget if you eat out every day.
We got around on the public minibuses which was much cheaper than catching a cab. They are easily recognized by a red B fixed to their number plates and we stood by the roadside and flagged them down. One comes every few minutes. The price for any number of stops is only 150 vatu, just under $2.00.
They don’t have a regular route so you just tell the driver your destination and he’ll mostly take you straight there. Occasionally you might be lucky and strike a bit of a tiki tour as passengers are dropped off at their various destinations.
It’s a chance to chat to the locals. In a population of 221,000 Vanuatu has only a small population (about 221,000) but more than a 100 different languages (the highest number of languages per head of population in the world). Most people in Vila speak some English or French alongside the local Bislama so we could make ourselves understood.
At the vegetable market in town we filled our bags with long snake beans, kumara, oranges, bundles of fresh herbs and avocadoes the size of small balloons.
We had a relaxed look around the rest of the town as it was not a cruise ship day. On those days the atmosphere changes and the pressure is on to buy.
From town it was only a short bus ride back to the best supermarket in Vila ‘Le Bon Marche’ which has a wide range of expensive imported groceries and deli items. IN the bakery section there were many types of bread to choose from including French sticks and almond and chocolate croissants. We also took home bags of the locally grown Tanna Fair Trade Coffee and organic sirloin steak, a great buy at $12 kilo, to throw on the barbecue.
One afternoon I caught the bus to the National Museum. By afternoon the cruise ship visitors had disappeared and there was hardly anyone there.I wandered around peacefully and admired the traditional artifacts, ceremonial costumes, carvings and ancient Lapita pottery. Stuffed birds from every island stared silently from their display cages.
Two very different leaders were commemorated. Roimata the 13th Century King was revered for bringing peace to Vanuatu by uniting the warring tribes. There were pictures of his gruesome burial site where dozens of his subjects were entombed alive with him. And there was a series of photographs of Walter Lini, who had been a good friend during my University days in Auckland. On his return home he fought for Vanuatu’s independence, became its first Prime Minister and was a strong voice against nuclear testing in the Pacific.
Some of the local children keen to share their culture played the giant bamboo xylophone and did a sand painting for me. Sand drawings are geometric patterns done in a continuous line with one finger. They can tell stories, be signatures or contain messages.
Snorkelling gear is expensive to hire in Vanuatu so we had brought our own and put it to good use at Paradise Cove Resort where we enjoyed a very leisurely lunch and tropical smoothies in their charming restaurant before snorkelling at the adjoining beach.
There are some Cheap Eats in Vanuatu and one of the best was at Breakas where we had a light meal ($12.00 a head) in very a romantic setting. We arrived at 6 pm and watched as they carried tables and chairs onto the beach and lit small lanterns. I ate my unremarkable Thai Beef salad while enviously eyeing my partner’s freshly battered and fried fish and chips.
The week passed all too quickly. We had loved our stay and plan to return and go further afield to one of the outer islands like Santo or Pentecost.
At the airport the departure lounge was hot and humid. Fortunately we’d left ourselves just enough vatus to indulge in a deliciously cooling coconut ice cream.