Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Vanuatu, Port Vila - 12-09-14

We're in Vanuatu! And it's beautiful. Although we haven't had a chance to venture out of the town yet - we had to fix things and organize ourselves. And I spent the first day sulking because Garth just found out his passport is about to expire (I nagged him a lot to get a new one and he didn't. They only last five years in NZ, so he was waiting as long as possible). Now he informs me that it has to be valid for six months in order to enter a country. It has almost seven left. Which is bad, because you can't travel while waiting for a new one. He also just informed me that they don't let you stay in the Cook Islands in the cyclone season, so we have to be out by October 31st. Which means we have to get moving. I'm picturing weeks of upwind sailing, a few days in a new country then more upwind sailing. So I'm not a happy chappy.

We went to the New Zealand High Commission and Garth sorted out his passport, so at least that's one thing off my mind. It should arrive in the Cook Islands well before we do. Now we just have to move our asses. Which we're not good at.

Customs here were pretty chilled out - we got in at around 10pm and just hung out in the quarantine area until morning. It's right in front of the town, with a reef in between us and the shore. It's a really flat anchorage, so we decided to use the kayak instead of the dinghy. Good decision. It's fast, more fun and so easy to carry uphill over rocks. I love that thing.

The quarantine guys didn't make it out to us, and after waiting two days (we were free to go ashore) they just asked us to throw out anything we shouldn't have in their quarantine bin. There seems to be a lot of trust in these countries, which is frustrating because we tossed out all our fresh food the day before we got there. Then we wolfed down our leftovers for breakfast. We had enough food for a few more meals but I didn't want to pay an incineration fee, so over the side it all went. Though it seems that Fiji is the only place to actually charge for this service and none of these countries really give a damn about stuff like leftovers. They all seem to have one thing that they really care about aside from fruit and veges and nothing else really matters. In New Caledonia it was meat, but they let us eat our leftovers while we were filling out papers. In Australia it was termites and other living hangers on, and in Fiji they were worried about malaria. Vanuatu didn't care about anything. I asked if there was anything we couldn't keep aside from fruit and veges, and the customs guy looked at me really strangely.

Port Vila is really nice. We gravitated towards the vege markets straight away, like we always do. They were really interesting. The front half was a pretty normal state of affairs, with benches loaded with food on either side of a pathway. All the big things were on the ground in the middle, leaving a very narrow walkway on either side. So to go around somebody you had to step over stacks of taro and big woven pandamas baskets full of various root vegetables. Even the small baskets were huge - I would have struggled to carry one myself. They didn't have any potatoes, but numerous types of kumara, sweet potato and unidentifiable other root vegetables were there. There wasn't really any fruit either, just bananas and a few paw paws. The only two kinds of fruit I really don't eat. There were wild raspberries though! Really delicate and easily squished, but delicious. They also had green coconuts absolutely everywhere. They were stripped down to the hard shell without all the other junk around it that you normally have to get through. They left the soft bit on top, sticking up like a weird growth. So all you had to do was hack that off, stick a knife in the hole and you had a refreshing beverage for 30c. I loaded the fridge up with them and drank them cold every day. And whenever I went to town I'd duck into the vege market for another and get them to do the cutting for me. Much better than the amount we normally spend on drinks in hot places!

The back of the market looked like the inside of somebody's kitchen, multiplied by like 20. There were little kitchen areas everywhere, all lined up next to each other with more scattered behind. It was obvious that these were little restaurants. They had tables in front of them, with people eating at a few of them. It was hard to tell them apart, and impossible to see what they served. A few had simple menus, with mostly beef and fish dishes - maybe six options in total. They were around 350 - 450 vatu each (about $4 aud). We were starving, so stopped next to the first one we found with a visible menu. A friendly looking lady who spoke broken English made our lunch. I ordered satay beef and Garth got steak - with two drinks it came to around $8 all up. The meals were nearly the same - mine was stir fry beef with a rich sauce and Garth got a thin cut of meat, probably the same as mine just not chopped up. His had an amazing sauce smothered all over it as well. There was raw cabbage, rice and I think some breadfruit, all of which went really well with the sauce. The meals were huge. I was starving and only just managed to finish it. The drinks deserve a mention as well. We had juice, but I have no idea what it was. It was sweet and refreshing and obviously part lemon juice but I couldn't figure out what else was in that delicious concoction.

It was really awesome being able to eat what the locals do for a change, and that meal was one of my favourite things about Port Vila. For the love of God, if you find yourself in Port Vila eat at the markets! We always find it hard to locate a local place to eat, mostly because they're often dark and dinghy, with no menu or one that we can't read. Popular towns are mostly full of overpriced cafes, American eateries and very touristy food - the good places are always hidden away. Besides, we cook nearly all our meals and I never know what to cook without buying expensive food that's out of season - it's great to see what people normally cook with the local produce.

We didn't take any pictures of the market or very many of Port Vila at all actually, because nothing makes you feel more like a stupid tourist than taking pictures of regular things like food. It's incredibly awkward taking photos in places like markets as well, when you're getting in the way and snapping other people in your pictures. But I wish I'd taken some anyway. It didn't help that on our first day there was a cruise ship in town, so we were trying really hard to walk through the streets like we owned the place instead of looking around like lost and dazed tourists. I hate being associated with cruise ships! For some reason I get really offended when people ask if I'm a tourist - I have to immediately clarify that I'm traveling and live on a boat. We often go without shoes or look grubbier than we need to, which makes us feel more like we belong there instead of being those people just having a look around before heading back for cocktails by the pool. I guess because I'm not on holiday or anything, this is just every day life. We're not going to splash money around like normal holiday goers, we're just living. People treat you differently when you're just living.

We didn't really do much else in Port Vila aside from chase the Internet. Garth refused to let me get a sim card and 100mb of data for $10. Because 100mb is nothing, apparantly. Instead he paid for a wireless hot spot he found that was much cheaper. So we kept wasting money in cafes to use their wifi anyway (about $30 total, for the record). Next time I ignore him.

We went looking for a french bakery, which involved a lot of walking in the hot sun. Then we got there and the only thing French they had were croissants, which they also had in the supermarket next to the boat. But at least we got to see the town a bit, and we found a good butcher on the way. They have amazing beef in Vanuatu - it melts in your mouth and it's really cheap. Everything else is really expensive though - I think 1kg of good mince was the same price as 3 slices of ham.

The rubbish situation in Vanuatu is really bad. There doesn't seem to be a good waste collection system in place. There were wheelie bins in the park, but they were overflowing with bags all piled up around them. There were also small bins next to the walkway along the waterfront, many also overflowing. People just dumped bags and loose rubbish near the shore and occasionally somebody would come along and burn the pile. It wasnt like the streets were overflowing with rubbish or that you had to wade through trash to get in the water - you probably wouldnt really notice unless you were looking for bins. But we didn't really know what to do with our rubbish, which had been piling up since we left Australia. Eventually we gave in and left all our bags in the small bins along the walkway, because there weren't really any other options. There was a bit of rubbish floating in the water and strewn along the beaches, which was sad. Nobody seemed to care.

We had dinner before we left at the pub conveniently located right in front of the boat. Granted, it was just so we could use their wifi (which wasn't working anyway), but it was delicious. Then I managed to sweet talk the guy into letting us come back the next day and fill up our jerry cans with water. There weren't any taps ANYWHERE in the town, making it a difficult place for yachts to stay without paying for a mooring. I'm not sure what all the other anchored boats do. I was told we could fill up for $20 from the fuel dock next to the Yacht Club . I'm not paying $20 for a bit of water, especially considering a cat the same size as us would need 800L. We just needed 180, plus the 2 jerry cans filled up again. If they hadn't let us use their tap we may have been in trouble, so it was really nice of them.

There were some interesting markets along the waterfront. They had a lot of touristy stuff, but lots and lots of pretty clothes as well. I wanted them all. Garth wouldn't let me get anything without his permission, and he wasn't in the mood to go shopping. Not fair!

We're heading south to Tanna Island next, which has the worlds most accessible volcano. Exciting!

Xxx Monique

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