For travel dates to Vanuatu refer to the Travel Map.
I got into Port Vila from Auckland, New Zealand. The airport was quite small, basically just a runway and a large shed to process arrivals and departures. Outside the immigration, a Melanesian bush-band played songs, greeting and welcoming the arriving folk. That was my first taste of Vanuatu, a very welcoming country. I got a taxi to the “Blue Pango Motel”, which is slightly out of town. The Korean family who runs the place was also very friendly and I was impressed to learn that literally 5 meters outside my room was a coral reef!
Next morning I went to the market in Port Vila for a breakfast of white bread with peanut butter and instant coffee. One comes to the exotic location of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, with stories of kava, cannibalism and cargo cults and the first exotic meal consists of white bread and peanut butter. Go figure… It was nice though, and it’s what the locals eat. Next to me sat another tourist and we got talking about this and that, when he mentioned that he’d gotten a good deal for a taxi to drive the loop around the island. He asked me to join, which of course I did. I had plans to go to Tanna Island in a few days and mentioned that to our driver. He replied: “I’m from Tanna, my brother lives there, you can stay with him.” I said that would be great, but thought to myself: “Yeah right, like it’s gonna be that easy”. To my surprise it was, but that’s another story.
I became friends with the taxi driver and from there on, he never charged me for driving me around. Of course I still payed him, but yeah, that’s the ni-Van – genuinely friendly, nice, humble, welcoming. In summary, about the nicest people on the planet.
I spent my days walking to Port Vila and back, snorkelling and just having a relaxed time, made extra relaxing with some Kava at the local Nakamal in the evenings. The taste is absolutely dreadful, but the buzz is, well… relaxing. And a good vibe hanging out with the locals, who are always up for a chat and interested in knowing what one does and where one comes from.
When I got back from Tanna, I didn’t have the money to go to Espiritu Santo (for a developing country, Vanuatu is not cheap), so I decided to go to Nguna, a small island just off the northwest coast of Efate. I talked to my friend, the taxi driver, who said he knows people and can set me up with them. Great! So he took me to this village from where the boat to Nguna leaves. There wasn’t a boat going right away, so I hung out and waited for a couple of hours until a few more people had gathered, making the trip worth the boatman’s while. I was welcomed the traditional way by the family I was staying with, receiving a shirt, a flower lei and a “special meal”. This meal is meant to please foreigners, presenting them with foreign food. In Vanuatu that means a huge pile of steamed rice with a can of absolutely horrible, gooey corned meat poured over it. Give me lap lap every day! Of course I appreciated the gesture, wore the shirt and the lei, and finished my plate of rice with corned meat. After the meal, I was chatting with my hosts and said something like, Nguna is a really nice island. To which they replied, yes, it is, but we’re on Emao. Without knowing, I’d ended up on a different island. OK, Emao it is. Once again I had a reef just a few meters outside my hut, and my hosts took me for a walk around the island, which was absolutely gorgeous. I was happy in paradise.
The morning I was supposed to go back to Efate and Port Vila, I experienced the only little setback while on Vanuatu. First there was a boat leaving for Efate, then there wasn’t, then I could hire one, which is quite expensive. I said that I would be happy to stay another night, if there was no boat today. I’d settled for that, when word came that there was a boat going across after all. I tried to make sure that I wasn’t hiring the boat, just paying the passage and was told that that was the case. When we got to Efate, the boatsman charged me the price to hire the boat. I wasn’t sure if there’d been a misunderstanding or if it was just plain old rip-off.
On my last night, I treated myself to some Vanuatu steak. Yes, Vanuatu is known for it’s great quality beef. The steak was in fact delicious and I washed it down with a couple of Tusker beers. I was ready to leave for Western Australia.