Thursday, 1 August 2013

Sanbij, volkeno mo fani pipol - wokbaot long Vanuatu wetem brata blong mi =)

Hey everyone,

as the mid-year break is reaching its end, here is the last post about travels for the time being.

After my trip around Australia with Franzi, my second holiday took me to Vanuatu with my brother who visited me in Sydney for two weeks: we visited Circular Kai and had a look at the sKAIline of Sydney - take a look =)

Sydney Opera House
Panoramic View from the Harbour Bridge (click to enlarge)
At Mrs Macquarie's Point
Sydney's Skyline
At Hogwarts =)
Manly Beach
Meeting up with some friends - Nadine and Isabel
Weekly Fireworks at Darling Harbour

Now for those of you who might wonder what the title of this post has to do with its content - it's written in Bislama, one of the three official languages of Vanuatu, along with English and French. The Republic of Vanuatu is a small country in the South Pacific Ocean that only gained independence from France and the UK in 1980, making it one of the youngest countries in the world. 230,000 people live on the 65 bigger islands that stretch out over 800 miles (1,300 km) in a north to south direction. While comprising an area of about 12,000 sq km (4700 sq miles) - a similar size to Montenegro - 62% of it are covered by water.

Coming back to the title of this post - and I hope you're still with me - it says "Beach, volcano and funny people - travel in Vanuatu with my brother" - or quite literally: "Sandbeach, volcano and funny people - walkabout in Vanuatu with brother belong me". From a linguistic perspective, this language is more than interesting since it draws on only about 2,800 words which are then combined in order to form rather complex structures such as the ones used in the title of this post. This being said, let's turn to the experience of visiting the various places in Vanuatu that we went to.

We went over to Vanuatu on its national carrier Air Vanuatu that only operates 5 aircraft in its fleet. After a 3.5 hour flight from Sydney - the equivalent of flying from London to Istanbul - we arrived at Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila.

Air Vanuatu's only Boeing 737-800
Our route to the middle of nowhere =)
Magnificent views of New Caledonia

At the airport, we were picked up for transfer to our hotel which was an Apartment Hotel in the heart of Port Vila with stunning views of Iririki Island, a resort island in Vila Bay.

Iririki Island Resort, view from Mariner Apartments
Port Vila as the capital of Vanuatu does not have public transport, probably due to its rather small population of 30,000 people. Instead, mini vans featuring the letter "B" on their number plate operate as buses throughout the city centre and around the island of Efaté - just wave at them and they will take you almost anywhere for 200 Vatu (= 1,50 € / AU$ 2.30 / US$ 2.10). Taxis are a little more expensive, so it was very convenient that we were right in the "city".

Port Vila's fruit and veggie market hall
Since we had booked a "Round-the-Island" tour on Efaté, we were contacted by staff at the airport pointing out that the day we had booked it for was a public holiday, i.e. no tours would operate. Therefore, we already went on the tour on our second day in Vanuatu which turned out to be a good decision - the weather was fantastic.

Rainforest in Vanuatu
Lush grassland, bush and palm trees on Efaté
A Banyan tree on Efaté, one of the most sturdy trees in the world
that can even withstand a cyclone.
Our guides took us out of Port Vila and around Efaté, showing us the native vegetation, explaining traditions and customs and pointing out issues that Vanuatu is facing. The country itself is rather poor and largely dependent on financial aid from Australia, New Zealand and the USA for whom it used to serve as a military base. Therefore, the road around Efaté is fully developed whereas Vila has to put up with gravel roads and huge potholes that could almost fit a small car. Since most of the tourists were Australian, the guides liked to point out that in Vanuatu, they drive on the "wrong side of the road" - the right - but for my brother and me, it was indeed the "right side". Then again, the Ni-Vanuatu people are quite relaxed about traffic regulations. If there are potholes, why not drive on the left? In any case, they sound their horns a lot. We drove past former coconut plantations that were abandoned by their French owners when Vanuatu became independent, visited hidden waterfalls and beaches and went to a cultural village where locals introduced us to the pre-colonial traditions of the Ni-Vanuatu people.

Coconut plantation
Hidden waterfalls
Picnic area in a river
Ni-Vanuatu chief
Ni-Vanuatu dance
The Garden of Eden
Huge Hibiscus blossoms in the Garden of Eden
A traditional lunch: banana in coconut cream, rice, beef and mango / papaya salad
At the beach
Manua Primary School
A Ni-Vanuatu museum... of coke bottles from all over the world

One of our trips was to Tanna Island which is about an hour's flight south of Port Vila and definitely worth going to. We opted for an overnight stay since we wanted to visit Mount Yasur, an active volcano that has been constantly erupting for centuries and has therefore become a tourist attraction. Take a look:

The Domestic Terminal at Port Vila's airport
Our plane - big enough to fit 9 people, including the pilot
On the way to Tanna with a lovely Sri Lankan couple in the back =)
View of Port Vila and Iririki Island from above
Tanna Evergreen Resort Ocean View bungalows - magic!
Enjoying fruit smoothies and cocktails in paradise!
Instead of spending our time in Tanna on the beach, however, we were picked up for our Volcano tour in the afternoon. Compared to the roads on Tanna, Port Vila was like driving on clouds: a 2-hour bumpy ride in a 4WD was awaiting us before reaching the ashplains of Mount Yasur - the probably most impressive tour of my life so far was ahead.

4WD-ing it through the mountains
The ashplains of Mount Yasur (click to enlarge)
At the foot of the volcano experiencing a formidable rumble and shaky ground
The crater's edge of an active volcano - only about 50 metres away!
Nature's most impressive fireworks at dusk!
While we were waiting at the crater's edge and no one was thinking much of it, we could see the smoke ascending from the crater and smaller explosions shook the ground. Against the night sky, Mt. Yasur then offered the most impressive spectacle I have ever witnessed in my life: tons of liquid rock were catapulted out of the crater, some of which came to rest on the crater's edge below us, glowing threateningly in the dark. The major explosions that followed temporarily deafened my ears. You know those documentaries about volcanic eruptions that show a heat wave coming down from the volcanoes and eradicating everything in their way? I've always found that hard to believe - but it makes perfect sense now. While these minor eruptions have become a tourist sight, the last big eruption was in 2008 - and as if Yasur wanted to prove his power, we learnt that the roads to the crater had been closed a day after our visit due to major activity. In the Ni-Vanuatu legends, Yasur used to be a man that was seeking for a place to settle. When he was given food and experienced the hospitality of Ni-Vanuatu women, he decided to stay on Tanna Island and over time, grew into the ground. The small eruptions that we saw signify his breath, major eruptions refer to Yasur's coughing.

Back on Efaté, we spent another day in Port Vila and on Iririki Island, enjoying the marvellous sunsets of the South Pacific before finally heading back to Sydney.

The Infinity Pool at Iririki Island Resort
Sunset on Iririki Island
Vanuatu has probably been one of the most impressive destinations I've ever been to, leaving me with a lasting effect of awe, respect and admiration for both the land and the people.

Tank yu tumas, Vanuatu for your hospitality! I will definitely be back =)

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