Monday, December 28, 2009

Monday 21/12/2009 - Our first taste of Kava

This morning we were picked up from the resort after breakfast by the Big Blue bus. We did 3 sections of theory in the morning with Mike, an ex-pat Aussie, and Henry, a softly spoken Vanuatu man. The theory session went well, we had pizza for lunch from the 'Nambawan Cafe' located right beside Big Blue on the water front. From there we were driven to our pool session with Jerry a very comical Vanuatu man who was very helpful and informative whilst still making the daunting experience of our fist time in wetsuits and tanks as comfortable as possible.

Tonight after dinner we were invited to the local Kava bar by Diana. We met at the front of the resort and were joined by another couple of guests - Heather from Toowoomba and her mother Meryl from Maryborough (nice, down-to-earth people) and another member of staff - Effie. Kava tastes pretty much like watery mud and smells pretty horrible but we drank it just the same. Luckily Diana had informed us of the smell and taste and had told us to just drink it down. It made my tongue 'numb tumas' which is 'Bislama' for very numb, the local bar owner found it funny to hear us using his language to describe the feeling. Kava is relaxing and gives your body a fuzzy feeling all over. It made me more talkative than usual (not sure if that's a good thing or not, but hey). As we were leaving the bar I gave Diana the Bourbon I'd promised myself to give her as payment for the hair braiding, she was reluctant to accept it, but both hubby and I insisted that she accept. When I finally told her that it may be considered rude of her not to accept my gift, she did graciously accept - she knew I would and could not ever think her rude.

Have I said already just how friendly and accommodating the Vanuatu people are? I know I have, but it just can't be said enough, it has to be experienced to be believed.

Sunday 20/12/2009 - Hair braiding by Diana

This morning, after breakfast we took a stroll into the local neighbourhood, to explore the local environment. We noticed that everybody was smiling, everybody said hello to us as we passed them, we weren't snubbed once. We walked down the road till we could see the water and navigated our way down a side street which popped us out at the lagoon where we witnessed a local man swimming and diving. The first time I saw him duck under the water, it took ages for him to surface again and I was starting to get worried. His wife / girlfriend didn't seemed fazed by it so I sat and waited patiently. Sure enough he did surface eventually and not in the least bit out of breath - amazing, but I guess that's what you get growing up in an Island culture.

At the lagoon we found some cool fossilised remains of underwater life. I could not resist but take some photos.

We made our way back to the resort and did some dive theory study before Diana arrived to braid my hair. She braided so very quickly and painlessly, but the braids were still tight.

We conversed about her culture and her life-style (she is a single mother of two little girls). We talked about basket and mat weaving and the role of women in her culture. She informed me that due to my interest in her culture and friendly attitude she had spoken to her mother who had kindly offered to weave a bag especially for me in the indigenous fashion.

Tonight we invited Tony and his girlfriend to have drinks with us at the resort. His girlfriend (Katura) is both beautiful and smart, training to become a pilot with Air Vanuatu. She had just that day returned from medical testing and induction into the pilots course she had earned a scholarship with in New Zealand. Tonys pride at her accomplishments was very evident.

Saturday 19/12/2009 - Coconut Palms Resort

Coconut Palms Resort
on the Island of Efate is a great 'home base' away from home. Once again Janice from Flight Centre Calamvale did an awesome job of getting us exactly what we desired - a self contained room with air conditioning and some kitchenette facilities. The resort has a really friendly atmosphere, picturesque gardens,

pool, restaurant and bar.

Upon arrival we were greeted by one of the reception staff, a friendly guy named Tony. He guided us to our room and was more than willing to let us know what Vanuatu has to offer, in terms of tours as well as local free sites and attractions.

At breakfast this morning we met one of the female staff, a very happy lady named Diana. I asked her where I could get my hair braided and she was keen to tell me that she could and would braid my hair that tomorrow afternoon, at the resort, on her day off. I've been wanting to get my hair braided for a long time and had priced such a venture back in Brisbane, but was put off by the price ($200 AUD for a full head of braids - ouch!). I was sure to ask her what she would charge for braiding, expecting it to be pricey. She laughed and said that she would do it free of charge, just because I had expressed an interest. There was no way I was going to accept such a generous offering, so I asked her what her drink of choice was. She smiled and told me it was Bourbon. I decided then and there that payment for her braiding would be a bottle of Bourbon.

We located the local supermarket and picked up some essentials before taking a walk through town and into the fresh food markets and shops where we took a look at all the usual touristy garb (sarongs and native dresses). I bought myself a bracelet made from Bangaro (cowrie) shells. I was later informed by a local lady that the design of the bracelet was based on the centipede motif also seen on the body of the Vanuatu people as tattoos.

We also located Big Blue, the company with whom we are booked in to do an Open Water Dive Course with, we popped in and picked up our paperwork to get a head start on the theory component. The lady at Big Blue (Maggie) was very helpful and friendly and knew Aunty Sal, a big diver, dive master and former dive instructor. Maggie was pleased that her company would be teaching some of Sals (Diving Is My Life) relatives.

On our trip into town we met John, a stroke sufferer who was kind enough to converse with us whilst we took a rest outside the Vanuatu Post Office, he, like everyone we met in Vanuatu was a very happy guy who was more than willing to share with us what he thought to be the 'must see' attractions of Vanuatu. When he told us he'd had a stroke we offered him some coin for bus fair home, so he would not have to walk home in the heat of the day. He graciously, though reluctantly accepted.

We chilled by the pool in the afternoon and chatted with a local ex-pat. She inform us that "the children are not permitted in the pool" a statement that perplexed me. She went on to tell us that the pool is reserved for 'certain' people. Baffled by this statement, I looked around the pool area and noticed that the indigenous children were swimming, giggling and having fun in the pool. It was then the thought crossed my mind that what she may have meant was that Vanuatu children were not allowed in the pool, that it was reserved for inhabitants and guests (the vast majority of which are white). After this conversation I consulted with hubby about her statements and what he thought they meant, he concurred that her statement appeared to him also as being somewhat apartheid in nature (a little disappointing, and eye opening).

At dinner we were invited out on the town by Tony to witness the pubs, clubs and local night life. We organised to re-convene at our room when his shift was finished.

After dinner we were sitting outside our room and couldn't help but notice some loud regge music playing, so we walked down the road to investigate. We soon discovered that the music was coming from a nearby shanty town. We made ourselves comfortable sitting on the side of the road (not so close as to be gate-crashers, but close enough to enjoy the festivities). The music was great and apart from getting a few strange , but impressed looks from the locals (due to us being the only Caucasians present, and most other tourists intimidated by local gatherings), we were welcomed in the usual Vanuatu style - smiles and friendly hellos. We also witnessed the local culture dance being performed at the party. Later tonight we were informed by our friend Tony that the 'group' had recently won a Christmas Caroling competition and we witnessed the prize, a party thrown in their honour.

Later, we met up with Tony and went to the Voodoo Bar, a small bar located behind a restaurant called El Gecko. Tony was a real gentleman, he took very good care of us. Early in the proceedings I required the use of the bathroom, a typical occurrence for me as I have an inability to 'hold my seal' so I'm told. I expected that Tony would direct me to the bathroom, but instead, being the gentleman that he is, walked me directly to it and 'stood guard' outside until I was done. We then moved on to a nightclub called Electro which played techno music and was quite crowded and really steamy. I had a dance or two, enough to build up a sweat, when Tony saw me sweating he graciously offered me a face washer he's brought for the very purpose. As I said, the club was quite crowded and busy, but at no time what-so-ever did I ever feel threatened, which could have been easily felt due to culture shock.

The people here are so friendly, if you express an interest in something, they will do everything within their power to provide it, or information on it for you.

After dancing at Electro, we walked back to our room (gotta love Vila for that, everything is well within walking distance). We showered and turned on the air conditioner and slept for a few hours, until at about 5am we were awakened by a male voice outside the hotel:
"Peter, my brother..."
"Peter my brother let me in, I want to sleep wif you"
It took all our self restraint not to laugh out loud at the western implication of such a statement.

Friday 18/12/2009 Departure from Brisbane and Arrival in Port Vila

For the first time on an international holiday I took some photos out of the window of the plane as we flew, I'm not sure how these will come out, but I took advantage of the travel time to explore some cool cloud formations.

Can you see the dragons head in the above photo?

The two photos above are aerial shots of Noumea

Our arrival into Port Vila via Air Vanuatu was delayed a while as there was another plane departing from the Island of Santo. This was our first introduction to the relaxed nature of 'Island Time', also called 'Blackwantime' by the local inhabitants. I, Myself prefer the term 'Island time'. The airport in Santo is small, but quite quaint.

We spend the remains of the day lazing around in our resort room, meeting the locals and preparing ourselves with some sleep.