Friday, July 30, 2010

Vanuatu at a glance.

Port Vila in Vanuatu is a pleasant little town where we took the time to enjoy a little bit the local living. Things here are either very expensive or very cheap. It just depends what you are looking for. In the supermarket items are very expensive but at the farmer’s market you get a bag full of local produces for $10. Restaurants work the same way. In the tourist oriented places you’ll pay $30 for a meal while at the market you just sit at the table and eat for $3.50. On the picture you can see us eating at the farmer’s market but this was before the food poisoning struck us and puts us down sweating for 12 hours! But hey, we saved $53 on the meal…. On the plus side this is winter down here and nights are pretty cold so a bit of fever is always welcome to warm us up ;-) We know we are very bad and never follow the advice of our travel doctor we consulted before leaving for this trip who told us to NEVER eat street food but experiencing the local bacteria ecology is a trill we always fall for and makes us marvel the power and ingenuity of our immune system!

Shopping or just wandering in the markets and shopping centers is always fun and here is no exception. On the first picture you can see some produce we bought at the local market. Pay attention to the bag containing a sort of potato that I never remember the name but tastes pretty good. The bag is made out of a palm leaf and you wouldn’t believe how strong it is. The bag is cheap to make, sturdy and 100% biodegradable. Not hassle with the “bring you own bag to save the environment” here. Just pick up the bag at the market, bring it to the boat, wash all the potatoes in soap water to remove the dirt and the cockroaches that got in and throw the bag overboard. On the second picture you see Danielle browsing at the DVD stand. Here they have these interesting products where they managed to cram 12 to 16 illegally copied movies into one DVD and selling them for $4 ($0.35/movie). Many of the movies have been recorded in a movie theater with the occasional hands and heads of the spectators in front of the camera and are completely illegal in any country where anti-piracy laws are enforced. But here no problem! Stands like this are everywhere and obviously the actors, the producers and the investors who worked hard making the movies get big zippo, nothing! Outraged and our social conscience aroused we just bought 12 of them…. The third picture shows something we found interesting. In this clothing mall ladies make dresses, skirts and blouses right on the spot and sell them from $10 to $15 a piece. If you look closer at the sewing machine you may think that she uses one of those old machines made in the middle of the last century but this is not the case at all. We saw those machines for sale in Fiji last.

The visit of the National Museum in Port Vila was a bit short but interesting. The artifacts were obviously unique but what struck us the most was that we happen to be there the day the local schools had chosen to hold a field day at the museum. Thus we ended up at the door surrounded from everywhere by kids moving in all directions. The personnel of the museum had their hands full with all this youth and we just couldn’t find anyone to pay our entry fee so we finally just entered and did our visit. Inside was as hectic as outside and as far as we could see we were the only visitors that day other than all these small two legged Vanuatians running everywhere with their sheet of paper containing the questions they had to find the answers inside the museum. But the highlight was definitively the kids who were drawing on a sand board patterns that, base on the tone of the instructor’s voice, meant something about the culture of Vanuatu but he was talking in the local language, which seems to be a derivative of English but coming way too far in time to be intelligible for the profanes like us.

We took a tour to visit the Ekasup Village not far from Port Vila. For 15 years they receive visitors with a special and imaginative setup. Out of the bus we were greeted by a warrior who walked us through a path in the forest to the entrance of the village along which we could not only see spiders with a body the size of a quarter and 3 inches long legs but also other warriors, all dressed up with palm leaf skirts, black painted marks and wooden weapons shooting angrily at us and defying us to step out of the path! Again this was an occasion for me to act manly in front of Danielle but unfortunately I’d left my bow and my spear in the bus and knowing that these guys used to be cannibals I just kept walking! The great chief stood in the door of the village with all the warriors, about 15 of them, behind him with their weapons aiming at us. The chief finally agreed to let us in and we were then taken in charge by a guide who showed us the different aspects of the village life and the way the ancient lived one of them being the fact that men used to pay the fathers with pigs to be able to marry their daughter. Interestingly this dowry system is still in place but money replaced the pigs in the transaction and the government sets the price, which is about $12,000.00, to be paid for a bride. To put things in perspective in Canada I would have had to give my mom and dad in-law a moose, two deer and five loonies to marry Danielle!

The last but not the least we happened to be in Vanuatu on the 30th anniversary of their independence on July 30th, 2010 and had the chance to walk in Parliament Park where food stands and shows were going on all day. Well, I say all day but I should say almost all week as we had fireworks every evening and we could hear music for the last three days from the park. The fact is you can buy fireworks at the hardware store in town so many people just have fun at night. So far we haven’t heard the fire trucks so these little explosive rockets must not be that bad after all. The shows were quite humble but the food was really great. The park was completely surrounded by something like a hundred shacks built for the occasion and selling skewers, fish, rolls, roasted chicken, square smoochy things we have no idea what they were or different kind of pastry. All cooked on a small grill at the back of the shacks. Once again and against all our travel doctor’s advices we tasted almost everything. But after the market food episode our immune and digesting systems were up to the job and we just had a gustative blast for only about $5.00 each!