Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Island Time

I'm not sure how we ended up booking a trip to Vanuatu these holidays. I think we were looking at a ridiculously cheap deal to Fiji which actually turned out to be too good to be true and then to alleviate the disappointment of not going there I went on an internet hunt with our meagre mid year budget and ended up in Port Vila.

Anyway, with the weather we've had in Victoria lately the thought of a tropical holiday was very enticing and so, here we are at the Pacific Lagoon Apartments, on the edge of Erakor Lagoon. For those of you drooling green slimes of jealousy, I must add that it is actually raining and there's a fresh enough breeze that I wish I'd bought some long sleeves but it is a far cry from the misery of Mortlake.

We took a 7am flight from Melbourne via Brisbane with Virgin. I was surprisingly happy with the Virgin service. Extremely pleasant check in staff and flight attendants, delicious banana bread as a snack on the way to Brisbane and an even more delicious gourmet sandwich on our way across the Coral Sea. The only downside was the dickhead in front of us who insisted on reclining his seat the full way back - who needs to do that on a 2 HOUR flight? Thankfully he was sitting in front of Taine, not me or he would have had some nasty knees in the back!

From the moment you step off the plane and into the Port Vila airport you are on 'island time'. Here is the perfect place to wind down because no one will allow you to move at any speed! The lines to the immigration windows snake around a tiny room like a deceptive Disneyland queue and the silly sods who dressed for their Melbourne departure were sweating profusely by the time they get to the front.

The local currency is the vatu, some of which we tried in vain to access from the ATM at the airport. To pay for a taxi to our accommodation we exchanged the $100 AU in our wallets for $8500 vatu. There's just a fleeting moment where you feel really rich with those $1000 notes - till you realise that the taxi will cost $3000. They drive on the right hand side of the road here so there was a certain sense of American deja vu as we hurtled out of the airport on what seemed like the wrong side of the road. This feeling was exacerbated by the fact that we seemed to be driving head on into the oncoming traffic most of the time, as we overtook everything in our way! And then there's the issue of the unmaintained roads. The pot holes are so big I thought I was back on the Hopkin's Highway! There was lots of horn tooting and swerving but in a totally non aggressive manner with the drivers exchanging high fives and big waves. No road rage in island time.

The manager of our accommodation is an expat Aussie who came for a holiday 5 years ago and didn't go home. ( It's not hard to see why!). In another example of island time, he dropped whatever he was doing and took us in his car for a drive around town to find an ATM and a supermarket. This proved to be a lengthy exercise because most of the ANZ machines were having island time of their own! Eventually we did get some money and managed to buy some food for dinner. By Aussie standards, the supermarket made our local IGA look flash, but we were able to get some sausages and locally grown bananas.

Port Vila is an assault on the senses and an oxymoron of 3rd world meets 1st world. Ute loads of islanders crowd into the back of pick ups as they drive past the construction of monolithic new resort and conference facilities. The produce market, where the native women sell bananas and taro and coconuts and sleep under their stall tables at night because it's too far to get back to their villages, is next door to a Billabong outlet. A game of barefoot soccer takes place across the road from the harbour where a multi million dollar cruise ship sits at berth. The city/town sits amongst the most beautiful tropical jungle and the streets are covered in litter.

Our apartment manager told us that the going rate for wages here is $150 vatu an hour - almost $2AU. Kids here go to school only if their parents can afford it and the unemployment rate is around 50%. There is no welfare system on the island so extended families are very important. Given that food costs as much as it does at home, the people here must live on a lot of instant noodles and taro. I'm glad we aren't staying at a 5 star resort when we are surrounded by so much poverty.

We caught a bus back from the supermarket. What an amazing system of beat up people movers this is. They pick you up wherever you are and take you to wherever you want to go for 150 vatu. Our driver was a rasta looking fellow called Chris who spent a lot of time leaning over the back talking to us and high fiving Taine rather than looking at the road. No drama though, the drivers coming the other way were doing the same thing and somehow managed to avoid hitting us! Chris has a great deal on round the island trips (as does every bus driver in Port Vila) but he seemed like such a genuine guy ( to the extent that he magically appeared on our patio to show us his brochure as we were eating our sausages!) that I think we will have to spend the few extra thousand vatu to go with him and his sister on Saturday.

I haven't taken many photos today. I've been too busy looking out the window in amazement and hanging on to the seat for dear life to be able to pick up the camera. I'll do better tomorrow.

In the morning I'm looking forward to walking the 50 paces to the lagoon and checking out some fish through my prescription snorkel mask. But only when I wake up. After I've had some island made peanut butter on toast. If I feel like it. Cause I'm on island time :-)

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