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Vanuatu 2011 Part 1: A paradise better to stay undiscovered!

It has been a while since I shared my last experiences, and it is time to change things a little. For starters… i’ll try doing this in English from now on. Its good practice, a potentially bigger market and I’m quite positive my dutch friends will understand.

So… Vanuatu. What a place! During my stay in New Zealand traveling to the pacific was relatively easy compared to Europe. During my six month stay in NZ I wanted to make a trip to at least one pacific island group. Just read my French Polynesia coverage and you’ll understand why. Luckily for me Air New Zealand had a couple of great deals that I had to make use of. I had been looking into Vanuatu before and I decided to book myself a trip. The main thing that attracted me to Vanuatu was the untouched and unspoiled beauty that the country had to offer together with the fact that is was a third world country and thus relatively underdeveloped.

As always, I had to do this trip on a tight budget, so I researched a great deal before I left. In the end though… I should have done a little bit more. Because of my work, I couldn’t prepare as properly as I should have and I ended up not booking some of my accommodations. But I knew a couple of things: The capital is a shitty place, don’t stay on the main island and prepare for wherever you go! And so I did. I could only afford to fly to one other island. I spend almost as much money to fly all the way to the little island Tanna, then I paid to fly in from NZ. The main island is the most touristy place to be but I wanted to see some romantic untouched beauty not spoiled by western bullshit. And the island Tanna is just that! No roads, shops, electricity, internet or an ATM’s. Just dirt, tropical forest, the happy people and an active vulcano. Sounds like adventure? It is! But you have to go in well prepared!

My departure from Auckland was slightly hectic. I decided just days before my departure to leave my apartment and live with a colleague for my remaining time in NZ. Once in the plane I finally could start enjoying my next little adventure. The flight was nice and easy, even short for my standards these days. Back on the ground it was pretty clear that I had to switch to island style mode. Hot, simple and chaotic. I cleared customs and walked outside to look for a bus. On a mission not to spend crazy money on taxi’s and such I was destined to understand the not-so-advanced public transport system. Which took me a couple of hours, but I did learn to look for mini-vans with a letter B on their license plate. Then intercept them at any point and hop on. It takes you 150 vatu to be dropped off in downtown Port-Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. 150 vatu is about €1.25.

The thirty minute drive from the airport took me all over the place. These busses don’t drive a fixed routes, they drive where ever their passengers needs to go. I don’t mind though, it gives me an opportunity to check this place out. And, I have to say, Port Vila is a mess! People live in simple huts and shacks. Most seem to survive from the island itself, and don’t have any jobs at all. Kids run around and elders hang at the corners. On the background lots of small fires are burning, the island way of taking care of your garbage. Main street isn’t any better. It is a sad place to spend time, but interesting to see nonetheless. Its quiet with some tourists and locals scattered around town, mindlessly wandering around. I enter a local supermarket and see what kind of stuff they sell here. People are what they eat, so a supermarket should sum it up nicely. I buy myself a lunch and find a nice place to eat. Its a difficult task though, because the smell in this city is pretty awful.

After my lunch I slowly walk over to my hotel. Its a nice place just outside of town. It takes me 15 minutes by foot, and its a great walk next to the waterfront. Once arrived the check-in at Moorings was a little bumpy. Apparently my reservation didn’t got to them in time. The bad english didn’t really help either, but it got sorted out and my room was being prepared. While waiting I enjoyed a good book at the pool, and I have to say the place was an absolute paradise. The price was excessive though, and I knew this would be a one-time thing. So I spend the rest of the day next to the pool, enjoying the nice weather and view, breaking this ‘moment-of-zen’ only shortly to look into some activities for the coming days.

Of course I have a wish list of stuff I want to see and do, and Tanna with its active vulcano was on the top of it, but here in Port Vila I would love to rent a quad and explore the island with complete freedom. But Vanuatu is so damn unorganized that it is hard to research this stuff in advance. At my hotel they failed to help me figuring out where to rent those things, but I am lucky to spot a couple on a quad that said ‘rent me’. While asking them where to rent such an apparatus they tell me they own the rental place. They give me the info I need and I told them i’ll look into it. I would love to do it, so I plan to go over in the morning and get one.

Back at the hotel I enjoy the sunset next to the pool with a good book in my hand. Sounds like  paradise to me.

The next day I wake up early, only to discover an overcast sky. This sucks because exploring a tropical island on a cloudy day seems contractionary. I check the forecast and decide to opt out on the Quad trip. It isn’t worth the money. Maybe later.

I spend the rest of the day relaxing at the pool, strolling around town, booking my next accommodation and getting some last minute work done for the comedy club. I felt like being lazy. I even play a game of pool against my self. Of course… I won. My flight to Tanna was leaving early the next morning, so to make sure i’ll be on time I arranged a taxi to pick me up. In the evening I tried to watch a couple of rugby matches (as the Rugby World Cup was currently going on in New Zealand) but technology was so primitive that it felt more like a photo slide show. I read some more and went to bed around midnight.

I woke up early. I was feeling excited. I was looking forward to my little adventure to the island Tanna. I repacked my small backpack and got in my taxi to the airport. This time it only took me 10 minutes to get there. I paid the prearranged price and entered the terminal. Or shack. It was ugly. Bare basics. With a bit of effort I checked in, and I was happy to see that my plane actually flew. It happens quite often that flights get canceled for all sorts of tropical reasons. Not this one though.

The plane was full. It took us a hour to get to Tanna, and once landed it felt basic. I payed some sort of travel tax and walked outside in the already burning sun. I had booked my accommodation yesterday including a pick-up. Thats no luxury, because without a prefixed transport you will not get anywhere on this island. There are no taxi’s, paved roads, stores, banks, electricity, phones or internet. This was going back to basic! A lot of locals flew in as well with the strangest luggage you can imagine. I found my transport and waited for the other guests to arrive. I jumped in the back of the pick-up truck. Doing it local style. Once on the road I knew immediately that I arrived to something special. A place like I’ve never seen before. I was even more excited!

We drove for a couple of minutes, stopping once in a while to drop some locals off. I quickly learned that the few trucks that drive around on this island function as a public transport system as well. Put your hand in the air, the driver will stop, hop in de back, tap the roof when you need to get off and pay the driver some money. In town we picked up a barrel gasoline. No gasstations on this island. The shit we never have to deal with back home…. I moved to the inside of the truck, joined an Australian couple, and we started our real journey to the other side of the island.

The ride was absolutely epic. Exhilarating. Breathtaking. I’ve never been to such a remote place in my life. We drove through thick tropical forest on dirt roads only four wheel drive cars can handle. We drove past little villages where the tribes lived of the island. Huts build from woven palm leaves. Kids and chickens running around, chasing each other. Little gardens, separated by a selfmade fences. It all felt so simple, but yet all the people seemed happy and friendly.

Crossing the island also meant crossing the islands highest mountains. The higher we got, the more beautiful the views became. This place is an absolute paradise.

Once on the other side of the mountains we got to the ash plains created by the active vulcano Mount Yusur. This was such a different environment, such a contrast to the tropical forest we saw before, that it was absolutely beautiful in its own way. It was a large area with dunes, but with black sand instead of white and with an amazing view on the vulcano. The driver effortlessly found its way through the plains, crossing dried rivers along the way.

After a 3 hour drive we finally arrived at other side of the island, where our resort was located. We were welcomed by the two owners and they showed us our personal bungalows. The place was located on top of a cliff next to the beach in the midst of a dense forrest. It was a beautiful and peaceful place. The bungalows were very basic. Which wasn’t a bad thing, but it is definitely not for everyone. Luxury is not to be found. It was a small open hut, made out of bamboo, with a sitting area and a sleeping area. It had shared bathroom facilities, which was almost an out in the open kinda thing.

One thing that immediately got my attention were the prices of excursions and the food. I had slightly hoped that such a remote place, primitive and self-sustaining, was cheap. But I was wrong. Going to the vulcano was expensive, but it was something I HAD to do, which left me without much money for anything else. Even lunch and diners was something I couldn’t really afford.

To celebrate my arrival I decided to take a trail down to the beach and enjoy the beautiful weather. It was only a 10 minute walk with a bit of a climb at the end. The beach was idyllic, tropic, remote and completely deserted. A private beach! Yay! And best of all… this was my home for the next five days! How much torture can one handle? ;)

The rest of the day I spend reading books on the beach and in my bungalow. I enjoy the feeling of not having to go to some other place, as I had to do on all my previous trips. At the same time though it feels a bit against my nature. Wasting time by doing nothing feels like spending money on thin air. I guess i’ll have to get used to it for coming days.

When night falls it goes pitch black and a small generator turnes on. Just strong enough to power a couple of small light bulbs scattered around the place. Its time for diner, which I join just this one time. I havent eating since I left Port Vila this morning and I’m starving!

I get acquainted with the Australian couple that arrived together with me. We plan on going to the active vulcano together and talk about some general stuff. We are also being joined by a loud fat Jewish-American. It was obvious from the start that he had a completely different picture from his trip to Tanna. He couldn’t grasp the simpleness of the island. The American strongly felt the whole place was so corrupt that there wasn’t even money for tarmac. The guy frustrated the hell out of us. He embodied all that was wrong with travelers, and the very reason why every unspoiled paradise gets turned into a paved safari park for tourists. Luckily it was also the last time we ever saw him again.

After diner I went back to my bungalow and read some more. I have been reading Sean Austin’s behind the scenes story of his time during the making of The Lord of the Rings, but once the generator was turned off it was so dark I couldn’t even see my hands in front of my eyes. So at 8pm I forced myself to sleep. Which was fairly difficult considering my bed was basically a wooden surface with a mattress so thin that Steve Jobs would be inspired for his next iPhone design!

Published in 2011 The Epic Journey 2011 Vanuatu


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