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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vanuatu day 11 - Going home

My personal bus driver came to pick me up at 7 am. The sun was out so I really didn’t want to leave… On the way we stopped at another blue hole for a swim. I really wished I could have stayed for another day or two.

At the airport I ran into couple of the boys from Million Dollar Point and they kept me company until my plane left. First flying to Port Vila, then changing planes, flying to Brisbane, changing again, and finally in Melbourne 10.30 pm.
Good to be back…
PS. 4 new posts. Start at the bottom.

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Vanuatu day 10 - Malaria?

In the morning, I went to the toilet, lifted the lid and there he was. I totally freaked out and ran out of the bathroom. Then I had a brilliant idea and flushed the toilet hoping to drown the freaking spider… But I was too scared to lift the lid to check if it was still there. I told the housekeeper about the spider, and she said that she had taken care of it, but I wasn’t convinced. Since when do spiders swim?!! The Aussie guys enlightened me that some spiders do indeed swim. I’m SO not using the toilet anymore.
There had been a cold wind at night, and as we don’t have anything else as windows except mosquito nets I think I caught a cold. I felt really feverish, had to sneeze all the time and felt so sick that I couldn’t even stay up for long. So I stayed in bed or hammock the whole day, speculating if I had malaria or not and what I should do if I had it lol. Luckily the sun wasn’t out, otherwise I would have dragged myself on the beach no matter how sick I was. After the boys finished work, they came to look after me, gave me pills and drinks and I had dinner with them for the last time…
The boys

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Vanuatu day 9 - Champagne Beach = PARADISE

I woke up when one of the ‘boys’ knocked on my door, asking me for breakfast. They went to work. They are voluntary workers, they are building a hospital for the locals. That’s something that I would imagine myself doing some day. Spending 3 weeks in paradise is not a bad way to heal the world... I went to Champagne Beach, a 10-minute walk from the resort.

UNREAL. Long beach of the finest and whitest sand that I have ever seen, it wasn’t even sand, it was literally like powder. Crystal clear, pure bright turquoise water. Sun and the palm trees. The most beautiful beach that I have ever seen. And the best part? NOT A SINGLE SOUL ANYWHERE. The sense of freedom! Just me alone in paradise. I was the happiest person alive. It was just breathtaking :) AMAZING. I never even imagined that I could find that kind of a place, a paradise where I could just enjoy it by myself, without tourists everywhere ruining it, I felt privileged. In a few years time it’s probably gonna be ruined.
The Aussies compared it to Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays where I also went, but here the water was clearer, more palm trees and the sand was … Not even sand, it was powder. And, in the Whitsundays, the tourist boats come and go non-stop. MAGIC. I went swimming and snorkeling but mostly just sucked in the amazing scenery. A few tourists came to visit for an hour or two, but mostly I got to enjoy it all by myself…

To add it all? I went snorkeling a bit further above the coral reef. And I saw a turtle! Biiig one<3.>

When the sun went down we hopped in the back of the car, Daniel, this local guy taking care of the resort, had promised to take us for a swim in the blue hole. But before that he wanted us to go and meet the principal of the local boarding school (sponsored by the EU).

Local boarding school
Later when we thought of it, the reason Daniel took us to the Blue Hole was that he could introduce Tony, the president of the Rotary Club, ‘money man’ to the school principal, because they needed a new water tank. Daniel’s daughter went to the school so he had an axe to grind... But the blue hole was beautiful. We couldn’t capture all the blue shades of the water on camera. They are called blue holes because they are more than 200 meters deep. Clear, fresh water, in the middle of the jungle. We saw some huge bats on the way back.

I got back to my bungalow and was just about to go the bathroom when I saw that my enemy, the itsy-bitsy 15cm spider had made its way from the forest back to my bungalow, and was lurking me now on my toilet seat. Very disturbing. I went to dinner and the boys promised to take care of it after dinner. Dinner was interesting, once again…
A few of the guys came for a spider-hunt in my bungalow. Alan found it but the monster got away. They turned the whole bathroom around but it was gone.

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Vanuatu day 8 - Arriving in PARADISE :)

I still felt really sick this morning, although you’re not supposed to get a hangover from kava. I went online and took care of some stuff before I’m travelling up north, Champagne Beach and Lonnoc Beach.  I thought it might be a good idea to buy mozzie spray, because in Vanuatu there is a high risk of malaria infection, especially in the rural areas where I was heading, and I hadn’t taken any medication.
The bus ride took about 1,5 hours, and I enjoyed every second, although it was one bumpy ride! I got the front seat and the scenery was just amazing… Rivers, dense rainforest and palm trees everywhere. I couldn’t believe how green it is. Cows, horses, pigs, chickens and people from the villages. And the sun was finally shining, and I was in a bus. :(

When we finally got to Lonnoc Beach Bungalows, the only resort up there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. You should have seen the smile on my face. PARADISE.

They gave me the honeymoon suite. It was the biggest they got. Built the native style; open ceiling and cold shower, but still luxury when you compare it to how the locals live. And just a few meters from the shore! It was a small resort, not many guests, a group of old Aussie guys and 2 couples.

While the housekeeper was preparing my room, I thought I’d go for a dip before the sun goes down. White sand, crystal clear water; clearest I’ve ever seen, a hammock, palm trees… Just what I had been looking and waiting for. There were a few old Aussie men in the water, and I talked to them, and one of them borrowed his snorkel gear and I did a bit of snorkeling too. They invited me to go and have some kava with them in this local kava bar (literally in the middle of the jungle). I hesitated a bit, after all I did swear that I would never have it again, but you know how it goes… If I only had counted the days I’ve sworn not to touch alcohol after a big night out. So I agreed to go for a couple of shells.

I went in my bungalow, thinking I had arrived in the picture-perfect paradise where I would never want to leave… THEN I saw IT. It was staring at me with its eight eyes from the wall. I completely froze and couldn’t even breathe. I was afraid that if I made a move, it would make a move. I slowly backed out of the bungalow, and went to this local guy who was working there. I told him that I have a ‘small’ itsy-bitsy spider problem (diameter 15cm) and he came and took care of it.

After the sun had gone down, a car parked outside my bungalow and the ‘boys’ were calling for me ‘FIINLAAAND’ and I hopped to the back of the utility. I was hoping I’d get to try that, since it’s really popular here and I could never do that in Finland or Australia… Very bumpy ride, and I had to hold on not to fall off, but definitely an experience! A very authentic kava bar; once we got there, they just lifted the kava tank on the car and they only had two cups, so 2 people drank at a time. The boys bought me 2 shells, tried to convince me to have some more but I couldn’t. I already felt sick and dizzy after drinking only 2.
Me, Daniel, who was working at the resort, Neville and the kava tank

We went back to the resort and had dinner, with some wine, beer and brandy. Old Aussie guys in their 60s reminiscing… The stories just wouldn’t end. Alan came down to help me with my mosquito net and borrowed me his snorkel gear and torch. Soon after I got to my bungalow about 9 pm, the electricity went out. We only had electricity for 2-3 hours in the evenings. It was just me, candles, a lantern and my torch. Reading in the candle light and listening how the waves hit the shore… The only thing that was disturbing my paradise were the bugs. Mosquitoes and geckos… Of course I bought the cheapest mozzie spray they had, and I think that only made the mosquitoes attack me even more. There were also some kinds of tiny little bugs on my bed that I was trying to get rid of. And when I closed my eyes, I could see all the spiders crawling on me. The ceiling was open, so anything might have come inside. Still, I fell asleep quickly, listening to the waves.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Vanuatu Day 7 - I'm avin a kava this arvo

In the morning I went to the local tourist office to ask what I should see or do here. The guy was very helpful and told me to hire snorkel gear and go to Million Dollar Point, where tons of equipment was dumped by the US after the WW2. So I took the bus there. It’s probably the second most famous tourist attraction in Santo, and it was empty when I got there! I only saw a couple of locals. I love it, Vanuatu really isn’t invaded by tourists yet! I was hesitating to go in the water, the waves looked big and I didn’t really know where to go…
Then these local boys, who were collecting the fee to enter the beach, came to talk to me. I asked if there are sharks. ‘Yes, reef sharks.’ ‘Are they dangerous?’ ‘Can’t really say.’ Oh, that’s comforting. One of the guys offered to go with me because I was scared, and the other boys promised to look after my bag while I’m in the water.
The water wasn’t as clear as in Efate. Corals were really pretty, but I don’t really see the excitement of seeing lots of junk in the bottom of the sea. Santo is a really famous place for divers, there are some nearly intact world famous ship wrecks, but as I don’t dive I didn’t get much out of the snorkeling there. After the guy who I was snorkeling with got stung by a jellyfish, I’d had enough of snorkeling there.
Then the sun came out! I took the most out of it, although it was only out for maybe half an hour, while chatting with the boys. They told me that their father owns the Million Dollar Point. So they were from a bit of a better family. A couple of them went to university. And once again, they told me that I’m a loca girl traveling alone here. One of them told me that he’s been working at Million Dollar Point for 15 years and he’s never seen a girl come there by herself.
I didn’t realize to ask the bus driver to come and pick me up, so I didn’t have a lift to home, and Million Dollar Point is a bit of a drive from Luganville. So I had to wait at least an hour or two, chilling with the boys, until the first tourist bus arrived and took me back to the motel. One of the guys told me that if I didn’t have a boyfriend, he would buy me, lol. I told him that you can’t buy people. And he actually told me that in their culture, when they meet a girl they like, they ask her if she wants to get married, and if she agrees, he has to pay her father 80,000 vatus, 3 pigs and 3 peacocks or ducks or whatever, I can't remember. I found it pretty amusing. Then, if the guy leaves her or takes another wife, he gets a fine of 60,000, is tied up and whipped! Awesome! But still, I don’t think I would want to live in a village in Vanuatu…
We also talked about religion. People are very religious here, 90% Christians. They asked what’s the religion in Finland, and I said Christianity, Lutheran… And they asked: ‘So… Do you worship on Saturdays or Sundays?’
In the evening I went to a kava bar with the local couple. The kava tasted stronger than the last time. But still, after a few cups I couldn’t feel anything special. They urged me to drink more. The bar closed (the bar closes when the kava finishes, and then they turn off the light) and we went to another one. I had 850 vatus worth of kava. And that’s more than a litre of kava lol. I felt so dizzy that I could barely walk on my own. The locals were laughing at me. Once I got to the motel I started throwing up. I’m never EVER touching kava again. I really couldn’t feel any of the positive effects that the couple was telling me about (you love the world, you wanna share all your secrets blah blah blah). I only felt really dizzy, my movements were very slow and I felt very sick all night. Well, at least now it’s confirmed; It’s not just muddy water! 
So, from now on, I’m sticking to alcohol, the cause of, and solution to all life’s problems!

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Vanuatu day 6 - Flying to Santo

The morning was as disappointing as every morning; cloudy and rain showers. So I made my way to Air Vanuatu sales office and enquired the cheapest flight out of here. I booked a return ticket to Espiritu Santo (Spanish=Holy spirit), the largest island of Vanuatu, up north. Vanuatu stretches over 1,100 km in a north-south direction, like Finland. And I actually thought first that it was one little island… The climate in Santo is on average 2 degrees hotter than in Port Vila. The weather forecast didn’t look any better there but I just wanted to get out of Vila, muddy, rainy town…
At the airport I talked to this Australian couple who were on their way to stay at a boarding school with the locals. This local woman, who was with them, told some funny things about dating in their culture. The local guys aren’t allowed to ‘make eyes’ at a girl until they’ve asked the girl’s father’s permission. Obviously that doesn’t concern tourists. Also, couples don’t hold hands, but instead girls hold hands and boys often hold hands. The Australian couple also helped me to find accommodation in Santo. They thought I was really brave and probably crazy to travel here by myself. Just guess how many times I’ve heard that during my trip…
After a short flight I landed onto the tiny little airport of Santo. I took a taxi to the only town on the island, Luganville, and a motel called Unity Park, and luckily they had a room available. A lot better than in Port Vila. Hot showers, very clean, big room. The town of Luganville seemed like a ghost town at 6 pm. I went for a walk to take a look around and ended up in the only little pub on the island, where else :) There were 2-4 people and me. I talked to the lady behind the bar and her boyfriend. They invited me to go to a kava bar with them the next day.
So far I really like Santo, it’s more beautiful and not as muddy as Port Vila. The people are friendly; You have to say hello to every single person you see or walk by.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Vanuatu day 5 - Raining

It’s been raining every night but at least in the daytime it’s just been cloudy. But today it was raining more or less all day. If this is the dry season here, I wonder what the wet season is like! I checked out the weather forecast and it doesn’t look good. The first sunny day will be Saturday when I’m flying home. Looks like I’m not getting the tan I was hoping for… :( Because of the rain I didn’t do much today. Went for a walk in the town but everything was closed, and cooked some noodles and chilled at the motel.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vanuatu day 4 - Erakor Island

STILL CLOUDY. I can’t believe I’ve been here for 4 days and I have barely even seen the sun. I was counting on that it would be sunny today, so I didn’t really know what to do. I took the bus and a ferry to Erakor Island, I had no idea what kind of an island it was but it was close so I thought I’d check it out.
On the way I saw some of the locals’ dwellings. Quite shocking. Little huts made of a few pieces of tin plates and wood and no furniture… One sofa that was actually a bench ripped out of a car. It’s hard to comprehend how poor they are. And still they do seem really happy and content with their lives. Money doesn’t bring happiness…
Erakor Island was pretty, but it was actually some sort of resort so I wasn’t allowed to discover the whole island, just the main beach, Paradise Beach. The water was so clear, you could see to the bottom all the way in the ferry. Nice sand, good place for a swim, corals further away and HEAPS and HEAPS of different colored starfish everywhere and beautiful shells. And the best pina colada I’ve ever had. But still, would have been so much better with the sun out.
I was having a look around the town when some cute little local boys came to talk to me, maybe around 7 years old. They were really sweet and got me some Band-Aid for my sore feet. I went to sleep around 8 pm cause there’s nothing to do here by myself when it gets dark.

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Vanuatu day 3 - Hideaway Island & Kava bar

STILL CLOUDY.  This morning we took the bus and a ferry to Hideaway Island. It’s a really small island, with white sandy beach, palm trees and crystal clear water. Snorkeling was good, heaps of different colored fish, bright blue starfish, rainbow fish, tigerfish, big clams, I don’t really know the names of all the fish, but it was like swimming in an aquarium.… And corals everywhere, although they told us that the latest cyclone had destroyed a lot of them. I managed to scratch my knee on one of the corals and it was bleeding and red for a few hours, but it’s good now. Because the damn sun wasn’t out, I got cold pretty soon in the water, so in the between I had a couple of pina coladas on the beach, under a palm tree :) not a bad way to spend a day…
There was this ‘world’s only underwater mailbox’ where you could send waterproof postcards and you had to dive to take it to the mailbox. Kind of a touristy thing, I’m usually not into that kind of things at all but it was cheap so I sent one to my dad. I don’t know if he is ever going to get it.
We got a lift back to town from this couple that owns half of the island. They told us that they live six months in Melbourne and then six months in Vanuatu every year. Sounds like a nice life to me, but they insisted that it’s not easy, and that was the first night that they had time to go out for a dinner in 4 months.
Then I came to my motel, had an ice cold shower with big ugly cockroaches accompanying me. Went online, and found out that I got my visa this morning! So it only took about 12 hours, that was quick! In the evening I watched a movie at the moonlight cinema.
I asked Darren if he could take me to a kava bar in the evening, because I read that women are not always welcome there and even if they are, they are only served after men. So I figured it would be better to go there with a guy.
Kava is what the locals drink here. It’s not alcohol; it’s some kind of narcotic. When the Europeans first arrived, they tried to put a stop to the kava drinking like they did to cannibalism (not so long ago!), without success. We had to ask 4 people before we found a kava bar that was open, and what do you know, just across the street from my motel! How convenient. You recognize a kava bar from this little kerosene lamp outside. The bars are dimly lit, probably so that you can’t see what you drink. Kava looks like muddy water, and smells and tastes like muddy water perhaps with a hint of wet grass. I’m actually not so sure that it’s not in fact just muddy water. I had 2 shells (it’s usually served in coconut shells). It makes your mouth feel strange, kind of numb or tingling. Otherwise I didn’t feel anything special, but it’s supposed to make you sleep better. So I’m definitely gonna buy it home to Melbourne! The locals there told us that it’s not good to drink it with alcohol or after drinking alcohol, otherwise you will feel sick. What the locals do, is they have 4-5 shells with biscuits or coke, then a couple of Tuskers (local beer) and then go home for dinner and sleep. There were maybe 10-15 people at the bar, everybody were friendly, towards me too. I wanted to take a photo but I didn’t want to stand out as a tourist (as if I didn’t otherwise).
I came home around 11 pm, I don’t know if it was the kava or what but I was really tired…

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