Monday, February 2, 2009

Vila, Vanuatu

This morning, Monday, we docked in Vila, Vanuatu. The harbour is very picturesque with a few islands in the entrance and small early morning ferries transporting people to the mainland. The passenger dock is very grotty compared to Noumea.

We were herded toward our tour departure point around 9am. The area was very hot with no shelter, mud and large potholes in the bus area. Everyone was pretty happy about boarding the airconditioned bus. First stop was a “cultural/art’ centre with a mismatch of fake and poorly made local artifacts. In the display were Easter Island repros, Sepik Totem poles from Papua New Guinea and some Balinese stone carvings. It impressed most of the tourists who had no idea of the origins of each piece.

Next stop the National Museum where we were given a talk on the Vanuatu numbering system and a demonstration of it in a sand tray. The rest of the exhibits were good, but lacked the artistic finish of Papua New Guinea’s art.

Outside the museum I tried my Tok Pisin (pidgin English) on our bus driver. We were both surprised that apart from a few words we understood each other well. We had previously been told by the tour guide that Missionaries did away with sorcery. The bus driver told me that that was not so, that in his village people could turn themselves into sharks to take another villager. Christianity 1; sorcery 1!

Vanuatu had a joint French/English administration up until 1980 when Vanuatu gained Independence . French and English is taught in school, but we heard nobody actually speaking French except our fellow tourists. Traffic drives on the right hand side of the road in Vanuatu. The issue of road rules was eventually settled in favour of the French because the first car in the Co-Dominium was owned by a French Priest.

Vila town is not too clean but there seems to be no graffiti or Raskol Gangs as in PNG. The people seem reasonably happy and surprisingly there is no betel nuts growing or chewed in Vanuatu. Big bonus there, as in PNG, red betel nut spit stains roads, footpaths and markets. Most of the roads in Vila have huge potholes. This may be because they have just had 5 weeks of heavy rain and no chance to do repairs. The heat and humidity is almost unbearable and we both wondered how we ever lived in coastal PNG. It was wonderful to get back to the ship with its excellent airconditioning.

We are departing Vila sometime after 6pm tonight and tomorrow we visit another sparsely populated island back in New Caledonia. After that visit, it is down hill to Sydney harbour.

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