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Travelling in Vanuatu

Published Thu 28 July 2011 13:50 (+0800)
Tagged
  • travel (188 posts and 1102 photos)
  • vanuatu (7 posts and 27 photos)
  • people (1 post and 61 photos)
  • food (20 posts and 105 photos)

We really liked visiting Vanuatu, and we recommend it. The best things about it were the scenery and the friendly people.

People

Locals hanging out at the market
Locals hanging out at the market

In particular, we loved the way that people out and about would wave or say hello, but wouldn't immediately try and sell you anything – one of the worst aspects of going to most countries in Asia and especially places like Bali.

Even in the markets no one called out to try and get us to look at stuff. Actually if we asked someone what something was, they just smiled, told us, then went back to whatever they were doing.

Food

Local food at the market - taro, kumara, fruit
Local food at the market - taro, kumara, fruit

The food in Vanuatu was fine to good. We didn't put a lot of effort into seeking out the local stuff which doesn't have an enormous amount of appeal – they mostly eat very carby food mostly based on tubers like taro and have limited greens and other veggies.

They also eat a fair bit of rice (for city dwellers this imported due to crappy land ownership systems and a lack of market economy structures), which is sometimes made into a local coconut-and-pork thing that doesn't get great reviews.

I had good fish, though some sources suggest you avoid carnivorous reef fish (eg. barracuda) which can build up toxins and cause ciguatera poisoning – as elsewhere in the tropics – and stick to deeper-water fish or non-carnivorous species. That said, it doesn't seem a common issue and the worst types of fish are banned for sale anyway.

Happily for tourists like my partner, who doesn't eat fish, they do farm cows on Vanuatu and produce good-quality organic beef. This is a rarity in the Pacific, with most islands not having the benefit of the volcano's substantial ash contribution to the soil nor enough land and water to grow enough grass.

So Vanuatu has no trouble producing enough food with surplus land left over for forest and then fields for cows, and the end result is that you have a much wider range of Western-style food available in restaurants.

That said, the restaurants are mostly just in the bigger tourist towns – locals don't eat out as much as we do – and they are essentially all western creations.

Food is not cheap there, with much of it imported from the region, but it's not too expensive on Efate and Espiritu Santo or Aore – comparable to Australasia..

Language

Originally Vanuatu had entirely separate groups on the different islands and no common language. Once the slavers returned surviving kidnappees from Australia a standard language was effectively established as a creole had emerged in the slave plantations, Bislama. This and French were/are the official languages.

However, we never heard anyone using French amongst themselves – only with French-speaking tourists. Amongst most of the populace it seemed more common for people to speak a bit of English than a bit of French, though it's hard to be sure since we didn't try and speak French generally. I imagine you would still want French over English in dealing with officials.

The local language - a more sensible English
The local language - a more sensible English
Excellent 24 haoa a dei kastoma kea
Excellent 24 haoa a dei kastoma kea

Bislama is actually fairly accessible – it's written as phonetic English and many of the words are just special pronunciations of English words with a more French-like structure. All the words have much wider meanings than we would give them – due to the more limited vocabulary in the creole.

I liked the phonetic writing, I think it makes much more sense. And once you learn a few crucial word interpretations – “long” basically means “belong” and is then used to mean also my/his/her and of – you can figure out what people are trying to say a fair bit of the time and read a lot of the written signs.

Accommodation

By number most of Vanuatu's islands are remote and undeveloped. The three major islands we visited, Efate, Tanna, and Espiritu Santo, are the only destinations for most tourists and are fairly well set up to support them.

However Tanna is considerably more restricted, with only a few “resorts” and no system of public transport or taxis – so you are essentially completely dependent on the place you stay there for transport (ie. booked daytrips) and food. As such I couldn't recommend that you stay there for more than a few days.

Elsewhere though your options are pretty good and you're not likely to feel too hemmed in for anything less than a week, assuming you know how to relax and take daytrips around.

There is a wide range in hotel standards, from flea-ridden backpackers through to 3/4-star hotels (all claiming to be the best place on earth). We found that the midrange places lived up to expectations better than the top-end, who actually screwed us around more.

Outdoor shower!
Outdoor shower!

Aside from Port Vila, and particularly on Tanna, many of the places to stay aspire more to be “eco-accoommodation” than flashy hotels – on Tanna we had a (walled-in) outside shower area to help get us into the theme!

In terms of prices, as for food, they are relatively high due to the need to import anything and the remoteness of some of the islands – you fly most stuff into places like Tanna. We felt that overall Efate and Aore not unreasonably priced, but Tanna was too expensive for more than a couple of days.

Overall

We enjoyed our time in Vanuatu, and recommend it to our friends.

We wouldn't spend more than the time we did on Tanna, and saw no need to stay much longer around Port Vila, though you might consider more down the road now Hideaway Island or on the other side of the island. We could happily chill on a combination of Aore and then somewhere else on Espiritu Santo for some length of time, but a week would be more than enough I think.