Welcome to Sydney!

Welcome to Sydney!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Vanuatu - Last one!

On the way back from the village, we dropped JJ off on the side of the road where about 10 men were waiting so they could go off and do a dance. This was just part of their daily life, nothing related to tourists or entertaining anyone, just one of the things they do for fun.

Here is Dan as we say good bye to JJ. I am not sure I mentioned this but he was chosen by his village, by the Chief, to be educated in English. He went to school on Santo Island, and then in England. He is the narrator for the series, Meet the Natives, both in the UK and the US. He still lives a custom life, although he and his family typically wear Western clothing except for special custom things, like this dance.

As we were driving back to the hotel, Happy asked us if we'd like to go to his village to see a traditional festival. Young boys in each village are circumcised when they are 4 - 6 years or so. Once a year, the boys that age are circumcised and then they each go off in the bush with their uncles, fathers, brothers, etc. and are separated from the women. Imagine what fun those boys must have with so much attention from their male family members. After a month away, the boys all come back and there is a village party where the women dress up, the men prepare fires to grill pigs, cows, and other food. This lasts all day. We were able to attend for about 15 minutes before the boys came back. It was amazing to see this.

Something about this blogger is being very uncooperative with my plans today. We will call this the final Vanuatu blog, and I will get the rest of the pics on FB. Thanks for reading all this. I know it was a lot!

If you can, go to Vanuatu!! Or, come to see us!

Vanuatu - Part 7

We made the two hour journey back to the resort, which I have to say seemed more painful. I guess because the best had already happened, now we were just tired and dirty. We took a shower, ate a quick dinner, and slept like babies.

The next morning we did a custom tour to Yakel Village with Happy our driver and tour guide, until we got to the village. Thank goodness both Happy and Lulu from last night were fabulous drivers because the roads, of course, were equally as bad. We took some ibuprofen just from sore muscles from being jostled around and set off on our journey. We were flying out later that day, so our tour was from 8:30 am until about 1 pm.

Our first stop - the main shopping on the whole island. These are the only Western style stores, a post office, bank, couple of other things. And, again, nothing is paved.

Here is the larger market with fruit, vege, etc.

Look at how the potatoes are bagged in banana leaf bags. Very clever!

This is kava root that they use to make kava, a liquid hallucinogenic that is considered crucial to their custom life. No, we didn't ever try it. Looks like dirt, makes you feel really drunk or high. We took a pass. We were told by Happy and by JJ (our guide later) that kava and pigs are the Tanna currency!

Just some more aisles at the market.

This is our purchase, some Mandarin oranges still on the vine. We ate a few and then gave the rest to Happy for his family.

After a really rough drive, we entered the village. As I said earlier, the reason we wanted this particular village was because they are one of a few that still are custom and actually still live the custom life and clothes all the time - not just for tourists. Additionally, they are one of the two tribes that were part of Meet the Natives and are still a cargo cult.

This is the clearing and a significant tree to Yakel. This is their meeting and gathering place. We followed JJ and got to walk through the village, meet people there, learn about how they live, and even see a custom dance.

This is what their houses look like, and not just in this village. We'd see them on the side of the road and they all looked just like this.

There are pigs and chickens everywhere. They do have some clever "fences" they build in the jungle to keep them in the village. They just look like mounds of mud. Additionally, we did see 2 pigs in a cage - they were ones who had gotten into a lot of trouble!

Here is a little boy who just followed us around from the beginning. It was just Dan and I on the tour. I don't know his name. He always just lurked in the background watching us. So cute!

Here is the current chief and one of his grandchildren. He is 76 years old, I think.

Look at the two grandchildren playing on the swings. So adorable. Boys will be naked until they have a circumcision at 4 - 6, girls wear the grass skirts.

Here is Dan with the chief! He asked where we were from, through a translator. When we said Australia, he said, "You are from a clean place and used to clean things, not like here." He was smiling and seemed very nice.

As we exited, the village children and people were there selling a few handicrafts. Each of them cost from a dollar to a few dollars. We have a lot of quarantine laws in AU, so didn't buy much since most of it was wood and seeds which are hard to get in. We did buy a few things because who can resist given the sales people : )

I thought these two girls were so cute. After I took the picture, I showed it to them. If you could have seen that smile, that would have been the best picture!

At the end of the tour, they performed a dance for us. I am having some difficulties with video on this blog, so I will post to facebook. This was such a special trip and I keep saying that the people were so amazing, friendly, and happy, but they truly have very little. We are going to be putting some things together to send them for school, and will soon be working to get some money together to sponsor a few of them to go off the island for school. We left feeling very touched by these people. We asked JJ if tourism was helpful or hurtful and he said that they people of Tanna see it as a cultural exchange. He said that they believe they have a peaceful, positive way of life and want the world to see it because in their views, we all come from Tanna. Many of the villages have converted to Christianity through missionaries, although they still live in some of the custom ways, including the ceremonial dances and things.

Vanuatu - Part 6 More Volcano!

Through the tour, we were able to see Mt Yasur in various states. The next stop was an ash field, which was basically just what it sounds like. It looked a little like the end of days or Jurassic Park...

It looks like we were close, but there was still another 20 minute drive or longer.

Here is a video of the first time we saw it exploding. It isn't nearly as exciting as from the other side and up close, but still pretty interesting.

This is a view from our car as we were driving through the ash field. The remainder of the drive to the volcano was on the ash field.

Here is a picture from our window looking back on the other tour jeep with the other 4 people on our tour.

This is just another view of the vast ash field.

Here is the road as we go toward the volcano. The road is ash and the steam was coming off the side of the road the whole way to the parking lot. This was one of the best parts of the entire road, by the way. The rest of the trip was much bumpier.

Here is the entrance and the bathrooms. Yes, I did use it, basically a hole with a piece of wood over it : )

Here is part of the volcano as we were walking up it.

This is a picture of an eruption while it was still daylight.

Here is a video of the volcano erupting in daylight.

Here are a couple more during the day. Sometimes, during the day, it looked more like smoke and you couldn't see the embers, but other times you could.

At night, due to the dropping temperatures, it is really active. And, it looks brilliant because of the contrast of the night sky and embers. It was breathtaking and the closest parallel I can draw is to that of watching fireworks, while on the ledge of a really tall hill with about 50 other strangers. Before it got dark, the 8 of us were the only ones there, then more gathered as the sun went down. Still, it felt a far cry from a traditional tourist environment.

We have hundreds of these pictures, and we may post a few mores, but you get the picture, really amazing.

The next post will focus on our trip to a custom village.

Vanuatu - Part 5 Tanna Island!

First, I'll apologize that this blog has ended up being so detailed. I'm sure some of you have enjoyed it and I'm sure some of you are saying, "enough already!" I wanted to document this for both my friends and family, but also for ourselves. So, for those who are saying - enough - I'm truly sorry - maybe just look at the pictures.

The next part of our journey and the last I will document was to Tanna Island. We stayed at Whitegrass Ocean Resort on Tanna Island. Tanna has about 35,000 people who live on it full time. The people live in villages of 200 to 300 people in them. Each village has a chief who is the leader and the chiefs come together periodically for overall governance. It is the same on Efate as Tanna. In Tanna, however, there is almost no electricity. I don't believe any of the villages have it and only a few hotels have it. I believe our generator is the only one that goes 24 hours and includes hot water. Most of the other hotels do not have any electricity at night or none at all. It is about a 45 minute flight away from Efate. There are no real paved roads.

Our hotel was beautiful and very rustic. The rooms were quite basic, but felt luxurious compared to what was on the rest of the island. We only stayed 2 nights, sadly. I was afraid that it would be too rough and hot and that I wouldn't like living without the amenities. The truth was that the people were so great and the island so interesting that we could easily have stayed several days more. I highly recommend visiting here and consider it one of the best travel experiences we have ever had.

This is the view we arrived to - ahhh! The beach right in front of the hotel is dark and rocky with volcano lava.

This was the first and only sunset we saw due to the cloudy weather while we were there.

This is our little hut.

Interestingly, we were #7 there and #17 in the Havannah...

The common grounds were very nice. We even had a resort dog, Blondie! There was also a cheeky "village" dog as he was called who looked a lot like Polly and Noodles. Like all the animals we saw, they looked well cared for and fed.

We went exploring on our own the first day before the volcano. The Blue Hole, which is a beautiful clear watered swimming spot is walking distance to the hotel. We walked there and came to a beach where locals held their boats and used. See how clear the water was?

Dan thought the path looked like chicken bones due to the coral. We didn't get in much because it was pretty cool that day, but beautiful!

These are just some bananas we saw on the walk.
This is the only picture of the room because this was really it and a couple of shelves.

After a nice lunch at the hotel, we met our tour guide and the group of 8 to head to Mt Yasur, the volcano. We met at 1:30 pm because it takes over 2 hours to travel the 14 kilometres (7 miles). And, remember, no paved roads. We rode with another couple in an SUV with our driver, Lulu and we picked up Selena on the way there, who was our guide for the volcano.

There was a surprise stop for us, which was a local village singing a welcome song and some hymns.

I thought these particular children sang so well for being so little. After they sang, they gave us these flowers.

Look at the two cheeky little boys on the side here, swinging on tree limbs. They were adorable and distracting to the singing!

From there, we headed to the volcano. This was our first glimpse in the distance, still an hour drive away.

I'll pick up on the volcano next time.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Vanuatu - Part 4

As we continued the Island tour of the Ring Road, we continued to see some beautiful farm land and animals.

These were two horses with a bunch of cows with them as well.

We stopped at a place called the Blue Lagoon. Even though it was a bit cool, we just couldn't resist getting in the crystal clear water.

Look how clear the water is!

OK, I wouldn't want to show me in a swimsuit, but Dan was being so creative lining me up with this piece of fruit that fell in the lagoon.

It was such an unnatural, but beautiful color and this was on a cloudy day!

Next stop - turtle bay - which is a sea turtle conservation area.

This is Dan holding a turtle less than a month old. They raise them and release them.

This is a cocunut crab. They are getting close to being endangered, but are supposed to be tasty. We didn't eat one because of their nearly endangered status.

This is the staff quarters since the conservation place is also a resort-ish place too.
 This is just some of the grounds, very pretty things here.

Dan fed these sea turtles mangoes! One of them is 70 years old!

After such a long day, we stopped for lunch at a beautiful resort and restaurant called Villa Charmieures.

The resort was on the lagoon near the main town. We saw tons of these starfish through the crystal clear water!

We had one day of relaxing and then next day - Tanna Island!