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Barry In Vanuatu

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Facts About Vanuatu

OK, here's my first entry. I'm leaving today at 22:15 (if my flight's not delayed, I'll be lucky). I'm all packed up and hoping against hope that I've got everything. The weight of my backpack has made me think twice about doing some of the Great Walks in New Zealand after my placement.
If all goes well, my next entry will be from Port Vila.
I have made it to Sydney! Currently with all limbs attached and my sanity (although that may be in doubt if I have to eat any more airline food) but not my luggage. That should have been put through from Heathrow; I'll just have to wait and hope. Jet lag not too bad yet, it'll probably grow as the day wears on.
My flight to Port Vila is in 5 hours time. Another long wait and this time there's no in-flight movie to pass the time. I will make another entry today if I can get to a computer in Vila.
I had a very tired arrival in Port Vila (this would be a running theme for the next few days). It was strange to arrive in PV's Bauerfield airport and see that Vanuatu's main international airport is smaller than most provincial European airports. The one terminal can only accommodate one arrival or departure at a time.
While queueing at the Immigration desk we were entertained by a local string band in traditional dress, which was a nice change from other airports. We had a very, well, cosy bus ride with all our luggage stacked around us in a very small minibus to the hostel we are staying, Luron Backapackers (the GAPpers have completely overrun it). It is very basic by English standards but with clean running water and 24/7 electricity it is probably the best accommodation I will stay in on Vanuatu.
A traditional dance greeted us at the hostel, followed by dinner and (very weak) kava drinking. Kava is a narcotic root mashed up, mixed with water and drunk all over the South Pacific. It tastes utterly foul but is supposed to give you a feeling of euphoria. I don't know about euphoria, but it made me want to puke.
Its lucky its not mosquito season; I had no bites this morning despite forgetting to put up my mozzie net (I was tired, my excuse and I'm sticking to it).
After breakfast the GAPpers had an epic game of Cheat (the card game) with Alex, the owner's son (or daughter, we're not quite sure). After this, the guys went to play petanque with Alex and Chris (a local who happened to be passing).
We went into Vila to change money at Goodies (which also sold 'authentic Christian goods from the Holy Land'). Most of Vanuatu in very conservatively Christian, owing to the missionaries (the ones which weren't eaten). We had lunch at a tacky burger bar. At least there's no McDonald's in Vila.
Port Vila deserves a mention, so I will mention it now. It seems more like a laid-back provincial town than a bustling capital city. Its very small; you could probably see the 'sights' in about two hours just wondering around. The people seem happy and are very friendly, always greeting you in the street. While playing petanque, we saw a couple of locals walk down the road to work singing and strumming a guitar, something you just don't get in England. There are no high rise buildings at all, a welcome change from cities back home.
In the afternoon, we took the minibus to the beach to swim in the Paciffic ocean. It wasn't as warm as I expected, owing to a recent cold snap (temperatures of only 20OC).
In the evening, we all walked into Vila to make a phonecall home (apart from Rich, who's parents have gone to France, which was nice of them). Most then went on to have a meal in Vila, Zoe, Joelle, Jane and I went back to the hostel to sleep on an almost empty stomach (apart from ice cream). I just managed to kick off my sandals before collapsing into bed.
We woke up early to go to Nguna Island, where we will be staying for a few days to learn about island life and pick up some Bislama (the local pidjin English). The journey commenced with a minibus ride on very, very rough roads (according to others, I wouldn't know because I was asleep most of the time). We then took a speedboat to Nguna and finished by ticking a box in my 'To Do Before I Die' list with a ride in an open top truck (the only vehicle on the island).
A quick note on road transport in Vanuatu - there are less than 10,000 vehicles in the country (the numberplates are 4-digit numbers). The roads are, well let's just say that the word 'road' is an qyestionable. Driving in supposed to be on the right, but is really on the side with less potholes. All drivers also seem to be in competition with each other, racing any other cars in the near vacinity.
Anyway, back to Nguna. We were welcomed to the village of Malaliu (French for bad place, apparently) by another traditional dance, followed by an introduction to our host families while on Nguna. My host family consisted of Maima and Samuel and their son Emil, although I am staying with Henry, Pat's host father, who has more space. Our house is constructed of 5 sheets of corrugated iron and a bamboo partition to make two rooms. The "bush toilet" is a hole in the ground covered by a crude seat. For your convenience, coconut husks are provided.
(About Malaliu - home to about 150, their are three buildings equipped with solar panels to provide electricity, the Chief's house, the primary school teacher's house and the clinic (built in the 1960s by an NZ aid agency). The solar panels are used to charge up car batteries, which run lights and music players at night. All water for drinking and washing comes from a large water tank replenished by rainwater (with B-E-C-K-H-A-M scrawled in large letters on the side). The tank was built by the community in the 1970s. The village is home to primary school which serves six surrounding villages (there are 2 schools in the island). The school was rebuilt by the village in the 1980s when it was destroyed by a cyclone)
There's not much else to say about this day, except that I managed to sprain my ankle while walking to Martin's house and that I discovered kava is a very good anaesthetic for sprained ankles.
We woke up early again (although we seem to be waking early every day so we are probably getting up at normal time). The day started with a church service (in Bislama, ie completely unintelligable) that marked the start of a festival (nothing to do with us) in the village that involved all the chiefs from the island.
We left halfway through the service to have a guided trek up a bigfela hill. A local called Tim led the way, hacking at the bush with a large bush knife to allow us passage. We were accompanied by loads of children from the village, who were a lot more surefooted than us Inglis (Zoe won the award for landing on her arse the most). I managed to get a very large blister on the way down and, in trying to get a plaster to stop it rubbing, managed to have it sliced off and bandaged up by a non-English speaking doctor in the local clinic. I am told I must take it off in three days (I won't uncross my fingers until then). The others went swimming in the afternoon, while I had to stay in bed feeling sorry for myself.
When the others returned, we wrote a speech in Bislama for Rich to read that evening. Pat then got pissed on by a bat. The true hilarity of this cannot be expressed with mere words on a website. Explaining to the villagers that "flyingfox pis-pis long hed blong Pat" and seeing their reaction is going to be a highlight of my trip.
In the evening, I managed one bigfela shell of kava (the most I've managed so far). The taste is revolting, kind of like peppery pondwater. I didn't feel many effects, but later in the night I danced,  so the kava must have done something. Many speeches were made in the evening, mostly the Chief saying that we're always welcome back, we'll always have friends on Nguna, etc, etc. We all received traditional dress from our host families, the girls got big flowery dresses and the boys got shirts.
Marcel has not been mentioned so far because I haven't found the right space for him. He is the French speaking garderner, entertainer and allround village bum of Malaliu. He looks incredibly cool with his dreadlocks and led all the traditional dances and also played the music to which we danced in the evening. He took a special liking to Pat (who is proficient in French) and his reaction to Pat's 'mis-hap' was by far the funniest.

Speedboat with Nguna Island in distance