Vanuatu Experience

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The moment Quantus flight VAT133 thumped onto the only air strip in Vanuatu’s main island, Port Villa, it was apparent just how contrastive to Australia this country would be. With passengers hurriedly collecting their hand luggage from the overhead compartments I stared delightedly out the window to obtain a further glimpse of the realm I would be touring over the next week. The darkness outside reduced my vision though with the only observable object being a dimly lit sign dripping with rain, printed ‘De Port Villa Bauerfield International’. Exhilaration was now overtaking all other emotions and so with rain cascading on all passengers exiting the plane, I found myself sprinting to the small, unmaintained airport with its tin structure looking as if it would collapse at any moment. Now wet and cold from the unexpected shower we all stood, waiting as the sound of unusual music filled our ears. I was entranced as local musicians were melodising, beating drums and strumming ukuleles, immediately inviting all onlookers into the Vanuatu culture. Gradually though, luggage was retrieved from the oversized treadmill, and travellers, including myself ventured away in small buses with our hotel collectors, ecstatic to be able to arrive to our organised accommodation around the Island, then rest.

The resort, accessed only by a short boat ride, was beautiful at night with bright coloured lights illuminating the Iririki Island Resort entrance which created a feeling of overexcitement that I didn’t want to go away. On arrival I felt like royalty with chirpy staff carrying my bags to the small golf buggy that transported me to one of many island Far?s encircling the resort. Surrounded by abundant green trees, the Far? was perfect with its decorative cultural paintings and freshly cut frangipanes surrounding a magnificent four-poster bed that was accessed by three wooden stairs. This was where I collapsed, exhausted after the day’s travel.

A small beam of light leading from the large glass door in my island Far? awoke me peacefully, but suddenly, from my dreams of the previous day’s arrival in a country of beauty and splendour, of colour and happiness. Delighted to what the day would bring I jumped out of bed, got dressed, then headed down to the resorts beautiful restaurant for the daily breakfast as staff and holiday goers beaming with liveliness were greeting me along the way. Breakfast was a feast. A mixture of local fresh fruits, delicious French pastries, roasted potatoes, and crispy bacon, eggs made to my liking, and platters of sliced coconut were awaiting me. I sat eating while observing the breathtaking view from the eatery with a picturesque vision of tourists and locals in canoes and boats that drifted quietly through the sparkling water surrounding the island. Children were giggling gleefully as they were swinging back and forth excitedly from the tire swing on the banks shore as the backdrop of once volcanic mountains faded off in the distance behind the soft morning mist. Parents were sunbaking on the pure white sand with fresh juice, enjoying the peace and relaxation from their busy lives while others were looking excitedly through brochures planning the wonderful activities they would experience. It was bliss.

The resort was a place where peaceful sounds of colourful birds singing in the unmoving palm trees were soothing and calming compared to the bustling city life of Australia. This was a destination where I could relax and escape the treacherous schedules and busy lifestyle I led back home and where, at age 18, I could finally explore a new country and culture vastly different to my own. Absorb a new way of existence and attempt to acquire further compassion for a nation less fortunate then my origin. The resort, owned by an Aussie, was not where I would see this poverty though. It was an Island of paradise with new tennis courts, beach volleyball facilities, several restaurants and five magnificent pools where cocktails of all colours and flavours were served at all hours by the warm-hearted local staff. Their colourful clothes, pure white smiles and welcoming attitudes immediately capturing my attention making me realise the rude and unsociable nature of modern Australians. I could have explored the island all day, but excited, I left the resort and began my adventures for the week.

In order to obtain my bearings of this new location, I decided that the first days of my holiday should be spent exploring Port Villa, the main and closest island to my resort. It was here that the detrimental poverty of this nation was made aware to me, making me realise just how lucky my life really is. The unmaintained streets were riddled with festering rubbish that were clogging gutters and feeding rodents, leaving a smell that lingered throughout the entire Island. Taxi drivers that distinguished themselves by a small ‘T’ placed in their car windows, called out continuously and insistently hoping, and begging for my custom. I ran frightened into a small shop that was no saviour either, with the store assistant pouncing on me if I showed the slightest interest in a product, entrapping me within the shop’s overwhelming putrid of unwashed bodies in desperation that I would purchase something, anything. It was heartbreaking to see such apprehension, such a need for money. The 24/7 markets were much worse though with an array of families from different communities working tirelessly in an attempt to sell the same items as everyone else. Children and parents often sleeping on the hard concrete ground in shifts to avoid losing the slightest opportunity to sell their produce and to ensure no one would steal their only income. These working children were never going to get the chance to attend school and learn about the world and what it had to offer, to read or write. They were stuck in a life of poverty and hardship, of hard work with minimal time for childhood exploration. Occasionally, boat’s almost sinking from weight would arrive at the jetty just metres away to swap workers and drop off more produce though, often travelling for hours from any of the 82 islands in an attempt to keep their communities going. It was at these markets that I met Albert, a local man living in a small Island community that also ran a day tour which would allow me to discover the beautiful Lolepa Island.

Overwhelmed with bundles of brochures that signalled hot spots in Vanuatu, I found the tour Albert recommended and booked for the following day, excited to experience how the majority of this countries residences live. The journey there was an adventure in itself with the small bus, packed with people, who were all looking around amazingly at the surroundings of towering green trees and unusual flowers. Families were frivolously walking on road sides laughing and waving at any car that drove by, as their young children were carrying rusty weapons which created a sense of worry within the bus. After a while I unexpectedly felt a sudden jolt in what seemed like the middle of nowhere and quickly everyone clambered out of the small door ready to begin our explorations. Hot and sweaty, I followed the crowd down a narrow rainforest track to a tiny boat which would escort us to our destination. The boat ride was magnificent with mountains surrounding the sea and water that was clear enough to observe the large fish and occasional jellyfish gliding through their home. As we disembarked the vessel I stood, engrossed at the Island’s splendour with its acres of unspoilt tropical rainforest and palm fringed beaches. Not wanting to wait I put on my bikini and slipped on my flippers ecstatic to snorkel in the amazing baby blue water. The incredible rainbow coloured coral in the beautiful reef was like I’d never seen before with dark blue starfish and fast paced fish popping in and out. The water was calm, no waves, and no ripples. I was living, and walking, and breathing paradise.

The BBQ lunch provided was lovely with an assortment of salads to accompany the snags and freshly caught fish that made us Aussies feel like we were home again. But bursting from overeating, the group and I continued on down the beach until we arrived at Albert’s home community, a true place of hardship. It was hard to believe that the people living on such a tropical island would be struggling to survive but these people were facing true poverty. The one-room shacks, often with several families living in each, were created by the only materials they had available; tin, chicken wire and wood. They were held up with self-cut logs and various planks of wood that looked as if they would disintegrate at any instant. Kitchens were non-existent and so the community members ate fresh foods and meat was cooked for hours over a small fire in a section to the rear of their home. Children were being bathed in old buckets or occasionally a small bath or sink that was filled with cold water they collected from the nearby stream. The community reminded me of what id learn about Indigenous Australian’s before they were overtaken, with women cooking, cleaning and caring for their young, as the men and boys were out hunting for food. It was a shock to actually see this type of life. See such deprivation and yet so much happiness, so much love coming from everyone. As I explored the community children of all ages were racing around collecting handfuls of flowers to give to me as gifts. It was as if this tour was the highlight of their day. It brought tears to my eyes to be so welcomed into a society I knew nothing of. It made me realise all the pointless things we buy for our amusement when Vanuatu children find amusement by climbing in trees and playing with the one soccer ball they have. After lovely refreshments of lemon water and coconut biscuits at the chiefs home the group ventured back to the boat in order to relax at our various resorts with a few cocktails, excited to begin a new day.

Thrilled to begin my last day here, I headed out bright and early to the magnificent Cascade Waterfalls, the drinking source for the surrounding communities living in Port Villa. The hike to the top was spectacular with hundreds of coconut trees towering over the dainty red and blue flowers in the underlying shrubs. It was amazing to listen to the tour guide as he demonstrated how locals make hats out of a large leaf and twig as well as the medicinal properties of many of the local plants. Throughout the walk I splashed through streams of water, laughing every time a tourist lost their thongs down the miniature waterfalls, as I held on tight to the supporting ropes so I didn’t go down the fall too. On arrival to the top the cascading water fell from the vertical moss covered walls into pools of water enclosed by large boulders that had fallen over the years. It was like a dream as people swam in the natural spring directly underneath the huge waterfall. Children were sliding down the innate waterslides with touring parents stressing that it wasn’t safe. The local children showed us all how it was done though, convincing majority of us to have ago as the rest were climbing up and down over the rocks trying to see as much as possible before it was time to go. I could have stayed there all day. I felt like a child again, searching over boulders for new pools of water and laughing as people attempted to get photos under the pounding waterfall. It was an experience. This was a perfect way to end my holiday, a perfect way to escape from home. I didn’t want to leave though. I might just stay a little longer in Vanuatu.





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