The Friendly Islands of Vanuatu

We departed together with Robert and Anneke from the “Spunky” from Fiji to Vanuatu. Although it was cloudy and cold (25 degrees!) most of the time the journey from Fiji to Vanuatu went smoothly because we had fair winds. When we were close to Port Vila which is the capital of Vanuatu, we switched on the engine but the engine didn’t start. It seemed that the battery was dead. Erwin tried to fix this and he said that if he can’t fix it then we had no choice but to enter the bay and anchor using the sails. We have never done this before so I was a bit worried but fortunately he got it working with some jump cables and the service battery. Once we were anchored at the quarantine area Erwin checked the battery again but alas it had reached the end of its lifetime so we needed to buy a new battery. After we cleared in we needed to move from the quarantine area to the marina but since our battery was dead the “Spunky” was kind enough to lend us their battery so we could safely move to a mooring at the marina. Thanks again “Spunky” 😊

We heard that Vanuatu is a poor country and we expected it to be very backward and primitive. So, we were quite surprised when we saw that although small, the city of Port Vila was a modern city with all the amenities. The population of about 50,000 people is mainly Melanesian and a minority of Chinese that of course own most of the supermarkets and stores. There are also a lot of tourists mainly from Australia and New Zealand and cruise ships stop here once a week. It is a very touristy place because most of the shops in the city are for the tourists selling souvenirs, shirts, etc. Almost everyone speaks English but the local language is Bislama which is very similar to English but more phonetically written. “Where are you going?” in Bislama is “yu go wea?” and “Welcome” is “Welkam”. We also noticed that there were a lot of improvements being made on the buildings, roads and the main wharf. These projects are funded by foreign countries like Japan, Australia, China and the United Arab Emirates. The local market was huge and a pretty sight with all the colorful produce being sold. This is the only place in the Pacific where we have seen so much fruits and especially vegetables.

In 2015 cyclone “Pam” raced with a wind speed of 320 kilometers an hour across Vanuatu. The disaster caused by the cyclone was clearly visible in the marina where some boats were washed ashore.

The next few days we went with Robert and Anneke to a few of the sights like the coffee brewery and the National museum. We also decided to stay and attend the 37th year Independence celebration. It was worth the wait because everyone from the island was there and they were dressed in colorful clothes and carried or wore the national flag in their hair. Some families were even dressed in the same attire which was a pretty sight and they were easily recognizable. The Prime Minister was present for the opening ceremony and there was a marching band and a military march. After the formal ceremony all of the children gathered in the middle of the open field and awaited a helicopter that was going to fly in and drop lollipops 🍭. The idea was great but because the wind was quite strong the lollipops blew away and ended up somewhere else instead of to the children. 😩 There was a traditional dance show which was entertaining. The festivities went on until the evening but after a few hours we decided to leave and have a drink somewhere. It was a very interesting day and we were glad we stayed and experienced this.

We decided to island hop and sail short distances to the north where we were going to clear out. In the first stop there was a small village but nothing really special. Since Robert and Anneke were sailing to the south that evening we had one last get together before we finally parted ways. We had a great time with them and hope to see them again soon when we visit the Netherlands.

I read in a brochure that there was an Arts and Cultural festival planned on one of the villages so we made sure we were there on time for the festival. The village was a few kilometers from the bay so together with about 15 other cruisers we were picked up by a truck that brought us to the village. We first thought it was a local festival and outsiders were welcome to attend but imagine our disappointment when we saw that it was a festival organized specially for the tourists. We later found out that there are annual festivals arranged by different villages throughout the whole country and it is an extra source of income.

There was a traditional dance show and the locals showed us how they weave mats and bags from palm leaves. They also showed us how they prepare a local dish called “lap lap” made from yam, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on an open fire. In the morning they prepared fruits and nuts that grew from their trees for us to eat and for lunch they prepared different local dishes. Although Erwin and I do not like going to these touristy events, it was nice to see how the villagers did their best to make us feel welcome and to show us a part of their culture.

Although the capital Port Vila is a small modern town the rest of the islands is poor and primitive. Most of the people live in small huts and their clothes are worn out. As I mentioned earlier, since there are many tourists that come here it seems that the locals have learned to profit from this. There is a fee for almost everything like going to see a waterfall or a festival. The problem is that they do not really know how much to ask which often results in outrageous prices.

There was a traditional dance show and the locals showed us how they weave mats and bags from palm leaves. They also showed us how they prepare a local dish called “lap lap” made from yam, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on an open fire. In the morning they prepared fruits and nuts that grew from their trees for us to eat and for lunch they prepared different local dishes. Although Erwin and I do not like going to these touristy events, it was nice to see how the villagers did their best to make us feel welcome and to show us a part of their culture.

Although the capital Port Vila is a small modern town the rest of the islands is poor and primitive. Most of the people live in small huts and their clothes are worn out. As I mentioned earlier, since there are many tourists that come here it seems that the locals have learned to profit from this. There is a fee for almost everything like going to see a waterfall or a festival. The problem is that they do not really know how much to ask which often results in outrageous prices.

We first planned to go to the Solomon Islands after Vanuatu but we spoke to a few cruisers who just came from that direction and they told us that it was very expensive to clear in. Contrary to what we had read on the internet they also told us that it was safe and it was a good place to provision before we head to the Philippines. So, we sailed to Sola, our last stop in Vanuatu where we were going to clear out before we head to Papua New Guinea. From the information we read Sola should have supermarkets, water, fuel and a yacht club so we expected it to be a large town where we could get everything we needed before we started our ten day journey. We were a bit disappointed when we saw that Sola was a very small laid back village with just a few huts and there were several stores but they didn’t really have much. It’s a good thing we stocked up on fruits and vegetables before we left Port Vila. The yacht club was a simple resort and you could have a meal there if you order it in advance. The locals were very kind and friendly and were willing to help us with everything we needed. Since the bottom of the boat needed to be cleaned we asked help from two local boys Kammy and John to help Erwin out.

After two weeks we said farewell to the Friendly Islands of Vanuatu and sailed off to Papua New Guinea.