Right now I am in Kathmandu. Still I will continue publishing the stories about my trip in the order that they happened, even though I am now about a month late. Today I will write about the visit to the island state of Vanuatu.
Quite frankly when I bought a ticket to Vanuatu my knowledge about this country was rather limited. This was one reason I decided to visit it: in addition to Fiji, I wanted to check out some lesser known and perhaps more exotic corner of Melanesia. Logistically too Vanuatu lies conveniently between Fiji and Australia and is connected by frequent flights to either side. Actually as I was buying the ticket I was hatching some other even more crazy plans – Vanuatu is also connected for example to Solomon Islands and New Caledonia. But the nasty Fijian border guards destroyed these plans as they forced me to buy my connection to Australia right in the airport.
Like Fiji, Vanuatu is an archipelago that consists of hundreds of islands hundreds of kilometres in every direction. Contrary to Fiji, Vanuatu does not have one central dominant island. In fact several islands of approximately the same size are surrounded by many smaller ones. When Vanuatu gained independence, several islands even tried to declare their own independence – but the uprising from central authority was finally put down. The capital Port-Vila is on the island of Efate, more or less in the middle of the archipelago. Any touristic infrastructure is concentrated on Efate, the other islands have no hotels to speak of and are difficult to reach – in practice you have to fly as the distances are significant. My visit was therefore limited to Efate.
I arrived in Port-Vila late Saturday night and quickly realised that on Sunday most places in this very religious place would be closed. Therefore the next day I took a quick stroll around the capital and followed the advice of the owner of my hotel to visit the Mele Cascades, perhaps the number one attraction on Efate.
On the road leading out of the city I caught the first empty minibus – they are all ready to take a passenger – and bargained the price of 300 vatu (3 dollars) to take me to Mele. The minibus then picked up one more passenger, a Singaporean named Li, who was heading in the same direction. Li was stranded in Vanuatu because there was a hurricane in his main destination – Solomon Islands – and the flights were cancelled. He turned out to be a crazy traveller like myself and so we visited the Mele Cascades together.
A long walk leads to the Cascades from the Mele village. The path weaves along a mountain stream that forms small cascades all the time:
The beginning of the main series of cascades. You climb the waterfalls right through the running fresh water:
Behind these rapids you reach the approach to the main waterfall:
Li is enjoying the natural jacuzzi before the last climb.
The main waterfall:
To the right of the main fall there is another fall, less powerful but extremely steep. We located a team of abseilers who were bravely making their way down the mountainside through the waterfall.
I am enjoying the refreshing water.
The population of Port-Vila is only about 50 000. And yet for Vanuatu it is a megapolis. Vanuatu was called New Hebrides in the colonial period and had a very particular status – it was controlled by a special regime consisting of the representatives of both England and France. Consequently many people here today speak both English and French, there are absolutely wonderful French bakeries and even sophisticated French restaurants. I delighted in exercising my French there as it is a rare pleasure in this part of the world..
The start of my walk around Port-Vila: the Cathedral. Vanuatu only gained independence in 1980. The official buildings in the capital look like small colonial houses, and even the Cathedral of Sacré-Coeur is not particularly grandiose.
The memorial to the brave Vanuatu warriors who fought on the Allied side in the World Wars and fell. By the total number of 7.
From the memorial you have an amazing overview of Port-Vila.
Port-Vila is located on the shores of a bay. The streets run parallel to the shoreline.
You can catch glimpses of the blue water from everywhere.
The water of the bay.
In a park by the bay I was surprised to come across a bust of a Russian naval commander. He looked quite out of place on this Pacific islands. The bust was recently erected by Russia to commemorate the first contact with Vanuatu – a Russian fleet visited the Southern Vanuatu islands in the 18th century.
The characteristic markets of Port-Vila where the islanders sell their own produce.
An election campaign was raging on the island at the time. Meet the candidates:
One evening I visited a French restaurant called L’Hospitalet. The restaurant is a local institution, it is 35 years old and is known for a number of specialities, of which I picked the most exotic sounding one. It is a flying fox, in other words a local bat. Unfortunately my camera focused here on the glass instead of the main attraction. The bat was quite tasty, a bit like rabbit.
My list of extreme sports to try (in addition to bungy jumping, skydiving and scuba diving) had long featured parasailing. I almost tried it on a beach of Sanur in Bali but the winds were finally deemed too strong and so the trip out was cancelled. In Port-Vila I immediately noticed an establishment by the name of Nautilus, run by Australians, which organised parasailing in the bay. On the arranged hour – fortunately neither rain nor strong winds materialised – we set off on a boat to the centre of the bay. The instructor is opening the parachute. I go first.
Here he explains to me how to keep balance in the air.
The parachute opens, the instructor start to slowly release the cable connecting the chute to the boat and up I go.
I asked a girl who was to go next to make a couple of photographs and she did marvellously.
It’s really nice up there.
About ten minutes later the instructor starts to wind the cable back and so gradually I am drawn back to the boat and I land.
The next day I embarked on a tour around the island Efate. I will tell about it in the next post.