Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Saturday 26/12/2009 - Boxing Day / Family Day

In Vanuatu, Boxing Day is also called Family Day.
We didn't expect much to be open either yesterday or today, but Vanuatu is different, maybe it's because of their reliance on tourist dollars. It made for a refreshing change of pace from the vacant shops of Brisbane on Christmas Day and the chaotic rush of the Boxing Day sales.We loved the snorkeling so much yesterday that we decided that there was no better way to spend today than with more snorkeling.Today we made our way to Iririki, a small (and extremely touristy) island a short barge trip from Vila ocean-front. We arrived just as the barge was about to leave, we bought a ticket from the ticket vendor and made our way on board the barge. We then consulted on the barge charge, it seems inordinately expensive, but we vaguely remembered the vendor saying something about redemption of our ticket once we were on Iririki.Once on the island we made our way to reception to see where we can redeem our barge tickets. Apparently, when you pay the barge cost, once you get onto the island you can redeem the full price in drinks and food, which was pretty cool.We found where you can hire snorkeling gear, then took a stroll around the island. It was a really hot day and it was great to be walking shin deep in the crystal clear water.

Hubby discovered this little guy doing his best to camouflage himself from us ...

And I discovered something that reminded me of home ... sensitive weed, the kind we used to have where I grew up. It's strange the things that bring back memories of times past.

On our way around the island we saw these people walking into the water, it looked pristine, so I took a photo, if for no other reason than to remember where to come back to for a swim. As it turned out it was the best and most recommended snorkeling spot on Iriki.

There were many carved tree ferns on Iriki. Some of which looked as though they were just casually waiting for something interesting to happen.

After some snorkeling we decided to see how 'the other half live' and evaluated the lunch options on the island. When I say 'the other half' I'm not speaking of hubby, or the poorer portion of the population, on the contrary, in this case what I mean is to see how the 'richies' live. Iririki is strange like that, it's beautiful and pristine, very clean and pleasant and swarmed with wealthy white people. I'm glad that hubby and I prefer to see the rawer, more guttural side of life whilst traveling. The Iriki-type people are missing out as far as I'm concerned and they can have it.

We picked a restaurant that served Coconut Crab, a local delicacy and accepted our redeemable ferry tickets. It was served (as you can see with rice and salad and a side dish of Kumala Fries. Sweet potato chips - mmmmmm.

And it was DELICIOUS! So much so that if I concentrate really hard I can almost taste it again. As with all crabs it was a bit labour intensive, but for me well worth the effort.

As we were leaving to return to Coconut Palms we saw this guy setting up for a demonstration of some sort, So I asked if I could take his photo. He agreed wholeheartedly and instantly struck a pose for the camera. He'd obviously done this millions of times before. It was staged, but cool none-the-less.

We took advantage of the return ferry wait time to get some last 'happy snaps'.

After dinner we invited Tony to have some drinks with us after his shift in reception finished. We'd bought some tequila duty-free when leaving Brisbane Airport quite cheaply. The look on Tony's face when we read from the label on the bottle "Worms are for lovers" was classic, it was even more animated seeing as only moments previous we'd commented on how we thought he should have the worms. LOL
We drank all of the tequila and some port that we'd purchased in Vila on the way home from Iriki. We discussed all manner of things including but not limited to:

1. Our new friend Moses, as mentioned a popular lad known throughout Vanuatu.

2. Marital practices and taboos including the topic of arranged marriages - Tony told us how his potential wives were picked from distant relatives within his age-group, this group of potential mates tease each other in a friendly way, in ways they're not allowed to tease other distant family members. Tony and Katura had their choice of potential spouses within this group, but both chose each other - a romantic notion.

3. Totems, Sorcery and Herbalism - Tony told us that Vanuatu is still home to Totemic religious ideas along-side the more prevalent Christianity. Your totem animal comes with it certain taboos. A restriction on predation of your totem animal (not so uncommon in religiously totemic societies) it is also forbidden to touch your totem animal, for fear of scabies. We were told the story of someone whom was 'of the turtles' once they touched a turtle and broke out into a rash immediately. I was reminded of our visit to the Vanuatu Public Hospital where there were posters covering the walls both inside and out informing patients of the cause, care and treatment of scabies, at the time I found it strange that the hospital had isolated this issue to advertise so heavily, but now it all made so much more sense. We discussed herbalism also. Tony told us that there is a herb in Vanuatu that if a man were to eat it, he could 'take' any women he desired. He related how if (for example only) he wanted to steal a woman from her husband he'd eat this herb and breathe on her, instantly she'd forget all the feelings she had for her husband and she would then rightfully become his. I found myself much more cautious of random breathers after this discussion LOL

4. Chiefly Customs - We discussed the multiple wives topic, I found it interesting that a chief can take up to 10 wives, but all must fulfill differing roles in the chiefly home. One wife to clean the house, one wife to wash the clothes, one wife to be the primary procreator etc etc. At first when I'd heard that the Vanuatu culture condones the taking of multiple wife's I thought it a tad disconcerting, but after our discussion with Tony on this topic I realized that the taking of multiple wifes by a chief was in fact doing the first wife a favor, as she'd no longer have to do all the wifely duties. In fact some wives are very encouraging of her chief taking other wives.

5. Tattooing, hunting and sand drawing - we spoke of tattooing and how it is traditionally done, the historic significance and it's past and present social acceptability. Tattooing is quite socially acceptable in Vanuatu. We couldn't find one tattoo shop on Efate, and were later told that tattooing is done in a more traditional way (by hand). We spoke of the hunter-gatherer sexual division of labour, much like the island cultures closer to home, women are traditionally gatherers which includes 'gathering' from the sea.

6. We also discussed Dwarfs and Midgets, an interesting and informative discussion indeed. Tony told us that dwarfs and midgets (small people) were spoken of on the islands of Vanuatu, they lived in caves and would assist and sometimes hinder the local peoples lives. It is bad luck to touch a midget, if you were to touch a midget, the only way to escape with your life and sanity is to grab hold of him and not let go. Midgets are shape-shifters and can transform into a variety of forms, if you hold onto the midget until he again returns to a man he will grant you wishes. We later bought a book that explained more about 'the short people' in Vanuatu. I'll give a quick review of the stories I've read from this book at a later stage.

Friday 25/12/2009 - Christmas Day - Hideaway Island

Merry Christmas!

Hubby was feeling much better today, and his antibiotics course was now over.

As there was nothing planned for today we decided to do some snorkeling at Hideaway Island, it was absolutely beautiful.

We dove to the worlds only underwater post office, sounds more spectacular than it is, it's really just a booth and letterbox on the bottom of the reef, we didn't send any mail from there, but we did take a good look at some really pretty fish. We took a break for lunch and tasted the best fish burger EVER, well, the burger wasn't that much chop but the fish was excellent. No crumbed or battered fish for us from Hideaway, the burgers arrived just in time, we'd certainly worked up an appetite snorkeling around together, it's nice to be able to hold hands with your loved one whilst you silently explore a new aquatic location. The fish was freshly grilled, not over cooked and dry, but not gooey and raw either - delicious. I had a cocktail, I think it was mango, there's been a few cocktails between then and now, so it's a bit difficult to remember correctly. The burgers were served with potato chips, we couldn't eat them all, so we stuffed the remaining chips into the pockets of our swimming shorts.

After a short rest we returned to the water to feed the fish. There is a certain irony in feeding live fish potato chips, they loved them, so I'm guessing the irony was lost on them.

We took a few more photos with our underwater camera ...

These guys were so damn colourful and had a fascination with my newly acquired beads. I was diving down, looking about when I felt something tugging on my hair,

I turned abruptly to come face to face with a parrot fish that very well could have been this very one. I don't quite know who was more surprised, me or the fish.

There were also schools of these guys...

It's not only the brightly coloured fish that caught my eye, these guys hang out at the bottom of relatively shallow, crystal clear water. You only notice that they are there as your eye recognises movement.

I like the following two shots as they show a somewhat piranha-style view of these fish, they somehow look more menacing from a front-on view.

This next shot will give you SOME idea of just how many fish there were, especially once we took the chips out of our pockets to feed them.

Then, the camera started to fill, slowly with water - much to my disgust, I'd already prep'd it for our snorkeling, by following the manufacturers instructions to a T, greasing the rubber seal and all that. It leaked into the battery compartment, which almost instantly 'stuffed' the batteries - I was one unhappy camper, but I soon got over it - mostly. I mean you just don't expect an underwater camera supposedly good to 15 meters to die snorkeling when the maximum dive depth was only 2 meters. Anyhow, hopefully Ted's Cameras will do the right thing by me and replace or refund me (I'll keep you posted).

After making our way back to the resort, I removed about 2/3rds of my braids

they were starting to loosen and the little mammal hairs on the back of my neck were starting to get pulled, we showered and enjoyed dinner before inviting our new brother James, a Waiter from Coconut Palms, to spend some time with us. James has the most infectious smile of anyone I've ever met, always happy, always friendly, we asked him to have a snack with us after his shift finished. He later, met us at our room and joined us for Tequila, Saucisson (it's really cheap in Vanuatu, cheaper than in France, apparently because of the French influence and the French ex-pats they make it locally to Parisian recipes), Camembert and baguettes. After dinner James told us what his name stands for and it was quite fitting:
J - James
A - Always
M - Makes
E - Everyone
S - Smile
Never a truer statement was made.

Thursday 24/12/2009 - Christmas Eve

Today was a lazy recovery day.
We spent the vast majority of the day at the resort.
We did go out to buy some food from the supermarket for Christmas day, just in case we couldn't find anything open tomorrow.

There are slit gongs and carved tree ferns throughout Efate, it's a great cultural touch.

I'm not sure what this building held, but it had one of the most awesome and creative murals I've seen in ages.

I did some more sketching of the resort gardens (nothing to write home about) and studied some more for the dive ticket.

Tonight I had a terrible night sleep, fraught with bad dreams.
I really worry about hubby being sick, tonight I contemplated seeing if we could get our flights home brought forward (although I didn't dare bring this up to hubby as I know it would just frustrate him). The antibiotics were making him throw up and knowing there was nothing I could do about it left me feeling weak and powerless.

Wednesday 23/12/2009 - Vila Central Hospital

When hubby woke up this morning his throat was really sore, he was quite unwell. We'd heard that from time to time 'Baby Docs' (Foreign doctors in-training) would stay at our resort, so we figured we'd see if we can get some free medical advice, at least an indication if they think it's 'doctor-worthy', but alas none were currently staying at Coconut Palms Resort. We eventually decided that enough was enough and that the best bet was to walk down to the public hospital, only a few minutes walk away. Hospitals in developing countries are quite different than hospitals at home. The fixtures are old and the fittings well used. That being said, the service was great, the price awesome, the staff quite helpful and the doctors excellent.

We were given some weird looks in the waiting room as we sat patiently waiting our turn to see the doctor. Apparently, most tourists see private doctors at the private hospital, we figured coming here was the best way to put some money back into the Vanuatu public health system (as non-residents pay an 'premium' - $45 AUD, once off charge) and it was the closest medical facility. It turned out that hubby was to see a specialist. I won't go into all the details, but the end result was that hubby was placed on antibiotics and antihistamines and told he wasn't allowed to drink alcohol, coffee, spicy, hot or cold food or drinks.

Once we got back to the resort, I put hubby to bed and went out to do some sketching by the pool. I drew a black tree fern carving (the last one, if you follow the link), that I was actually quite impressed with. I returned to the room for an afternoon snuggle and fell asleep.

later that evening I was taking a shower when the phone rang, it was Tony from the reception desk. He informed us that his girlfriend Katura was at the resort and he wouldn't be finished work for a while. I invited her to our room and we sat outside and talked into the night about all manner of things. Whilst there were many differences between hers and my up bringings, environment and culture it was easy to relate to her. We spoke about the role of women in Vanuatu both in the past and currently and it's similarities and differences with Australia and our past, the sexual division of labour, the role of the family unit, the importance of tourism, local food, our goals in life ... As I mentioned earlier she will be studying in New Zealand to be a pilot next year, after receiving a scholarship to do so - Congratulations Katura!!

Katura asked what I'd been up to today, so I showed her the sketch as mentioned earlier. She was impressed and suggested that I could sell it if I wanted to. So, I removed it from my sketchbook and gave it to her as a Christmas present. That's why I can't attach a photo or scan of it here.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tuesday 22/12/2009 - Vanuatu Cultural Centre Museum

This morning we took a stroll into town to find somewhere to convert some Aussie dollars into Vatu, take a look at a few shops and find some beads for my braids. Whilst walking down into 'China town' I noticed a haberdashery shop, and figured I'd try my luck for beads there and struck success. Across the road we noticed a shop that had a guitar in the window. Hubby and I took a look at it, it was cheap and it was not well made, but it was a guitar, so we bought it. We were leaving 'China town', starting to make our way back to the resort when we noticed a guy walking towards us carrying a guitar, we stopped to chat, his name was Sam, Sammy Ray Jones, an Australian Christian missionary and guitarist. Sam and hubby jammed, periodically swapping guitars and exchanging musical ideas and influences. I looked up from the sketch I had started and noticed that a crowd was forming. Periodically, some people walking by would hear the music and stop-by to have a listen. A bus pulled up a couple of shops up the one way street we were on to let some people out, having heard the music and delivering his passengers he reversed up the street to stop and listen. Music cuts through all barriers, language, social, political, religious, socio-economic ... gotta love music for that.
We walked to the Vanuatu Cultural Centre Museum where we saw some great artifacts including, but not limited to: Tam Tam, Slit Gongs,

Ceremonial and war masks and garments.

We also saw an ancient Lapita pot from Teouma in Efate, excavated in 2006.

It was at the Cultural Center Museum that we discovered Moses demonstrating some sand drawing. Moses is somewhat of a local celebrity in Vila. Moses is from the island of Malakula in Vanuatu but currently resides in Vila, Moses acts as MC in many music festivals such as Fest' Napuan and other celebrations and gatherings in Vila, he teaches sand drawing to anyone that wants to learn (including making appearances at schools) and he also knows how to play various indigenous instruments.

You can watch footage of Moses performing the Vanuatu National Anthem here on Youtube.

This is Moses demonstrating a sand drawing of a yam flower/plant. In this photo he is drawing a butterfly. You can see the video of Moses making this sand drawing on Youtube please watch, rate and comment on it.
Sand drawing is the original written language of certain Islands in Vanuatu, it encodes cultural information such as weaving techniques, dance steps, food gathering information and much more. The true sand drawings often have an associated myth or story that goes with them. The best sand drawings are completed in one single line, the finger not lifting from the sand until the drawing is complete.
Moses offered to give us a little tour of the local area and we gladly accepted, we walked and talked about music (Kastom songs), life, sand drawing, the nakamal, the cultural centre, tattooing and other such interesting topics as we walked. We told Moses how we had previously taken a walk down to the lagoon, he suggested that he take us to a better vantage point for views of the lagoon, we accepted and walked to 'Upper View', stopping in at the Kava bar with the best views.
After a shell of Kava we walked back to the resort, once there hubby and Moses played some more music much to the delight of at least one of the locals, a bush rat, that stopped by on his nightly scurryings.

I've included the lyrics to a song that Moses sung for us, we call this song, Moses' song:

"So many things in life,
are h-hard to change your mind.
The way you walk,
The way you talk,
attracted from the start.
I walkin down the museum,
see the party callin you.
I get up in the morning,
tell your brother can we be.

I like what I see,
gotta keep this love between us.
I- I like what I feel,
no matter how long you takes.
(x 2)

I like the smiling clothes you wear.
I like the smiling teeth from your face.
And if you smile me on the phone,
then you can call me your big brother I-I-I

I like what I see,
gotta keep this love between I-I
I like what I feel,
no matter you feel it in your heart,
please my brother.

I like what I see,
gotta keep this love between us.
I- I like what I feel,
no matter how long you takes.

This dedication, I dedicate to you family back home.

It is real natural (x 3)
It is real natural (x 3)

I like what I see,
gotta keep this love between us.
I like what I feel,
no matter how long you takes,
one shell of kava.

I like what I feel,
gotta keep this love between us.
I like what I feel,
no matter how long you feeling.

Jah bless you
Ras - ta - far - i

At some stage I will upload this song to youtube and post a link here.

I'm not sure if it was the Kava or the long day, but I sure slept like a baby that night.