Many faces of Van­u­atu

Cock­tails and cul­ture, poverty and splen­dour: the one con­stant is the happy peo­ple

Central and North Burnett Times - - SPORT - BY Cas Gar­vey

CLUTCHING the knot in the rope at­tached to my har­ness, I stepped to the edge of the plat­form and looked down. Eighty me­tres up and hun­dreds of me­tres of wire to get me to the other side – I thought I’d be a lot more ner­vous than I was.

But whether it was sim­ply the thrill of be­ing in an­other coun­try, or the prom­ise I’d made to take more chances and try new things, I leapt off the plat­form with­out hes­i­ta­tion and was awestruck at the jun­gle, is­land and wa­ter­fall views across the Van­u­atu moun­tain­side.

“I need to do that again!” I said as I landed on the other side. This was just day one of my five-day Van­u­atu ad­ven­ture, where I was pushed to my lim­its, im­mersed in its cul­ture, sur­prised at its di­ver­sity and had the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence the lux­u­ri­ous side of the is­land as well.

Af­ter a com­fort­able 3.5-hour Air Van­u­atu flight we ar­rived at our ho­tel about 1.30am on a rainy, muggy night.

We were stay­ing at the new Ra­mada Re­sort Port Vila, which opened in March. Tired, we set­tled in to our rooms, which were huge, lux­u­ri­ous and had ev­ery­thing we needed.

The view as we met for break­fast a few hours later at the re­sort’s Akiriki Restau­rant was ab­so­lutely stun­ning. The weather was a stark con­trast to when we’d ar­rived – the sun was shin­ing and the restau­rant over­looked the strik­ing Erakor La­goon where kayak­ers were en­joy­ing the morn­ing sun.

Af­ter break­fast we headed into Port Vila town­ship where we vis­ited the mar­kets. Hun­dreds of stall­hold­ers of­fered food and items in­clud­ing seafood, fruit and veg­eta­bles, crafts, sou­venirs, hand­made cloth­ing and tra­di­tional food.

As one of our group pur­chased a dress from a stall, a child thanked her, say­ing the money was go­ing to­wards his school­ing. I was sur­prised just how many young chil­dren were man­ag­ing the stalls by them­selves at the mar­kets – it was a Thurs­day, and we’d passed a school ear­lier filled with stu­dents.

I as­sumed these chil­dren had no op­tion but to help the fam­ily make a living.

Out­side the mar­kets, a small group gath­ered as the Van­u­atu Na­tional Coun­cil of Women held a peace­ful protest against the on­go­ing abuse in their homes and on the streets by men. It was a pow­er­ful sight.

Af­ter lunch back at the re­sort, we headed to our first ad­ven­ture: the Van­u­atu Jun­gle Zi­pline, cur­rently rated num­ber two on TripAd­vi­sor’s most pop­u­lar out­door ac­tiv­i­ties in Port Vila.

On the bus along the way I was struck by the di­ver­sity of Van­u­atu’s cap­i­tal. In the space of only 20 min­utes we’d come from a four-star re­sort, passed up­mar­ket ho­tels and casi­nos, and driven through the vil­lage and mar­ket cen­tre and the in­dus­trial area. We passed of­fices and par­lia­men­tary build­ings, vil­lages and homes with roam­ing chick­ens and lo­cals tend­ing their gar­dens, poor ar­eas where lo­cals were living in shipping con­tain­ers and makeshift shel­ters, thick jun­gle, open fields, flow­ing rivers where res­i­dents were bathing, and past farms.

Although we trav­elled through some poor ar­eas, al­most ev­ery sin­gle lo­cal we passed gave the bus a wave and a huge grin. They were some of the friendli­est and hap­pi­est peo­ple I’d ever come across; gen­uinely just living their lives, do­ing what they can to make the best of what they’ve been given.

We fi­nally ar­rived at the jun­gle zi­pline af­ter trav­el­ling up a

PHOTOS: MAURO RISCH PHOTOGRAPHY

A vis­i­tor takes part in some stand-up pad­dle­board­ing on Erakor La­goon; mid­dle, Ra­mada Re­sort Port Vila; and right, the stun­ning scenery dur­ing the Off-Road Buggy Ad­ven­ture in Port Vila.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

◗ A par­tic­i­pant takes on the Van­u­atu Jun­gle Zi­pline, a short drive from Port Vila.

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