1.09 till 11.09.2011, 10 days, currency rate 1 € = 125 Vt (Vatu)
IntroductionThis archipelago in the Pacific gained independence just in 1980. Previously known as New Hebrides, was ruled by France and Great Britain at the same time. This meant that there were two different systems of law, education, politics etc. - which means chaos (especially in traffic law, because they both always rode in the same lane opposite themselves!). But for the inhabitants of Vanuatu there was no problem, they were easy going, cheerful and friendly. In 2007 in one of the statistics they were considered to be the happiest nation in the world. I must acknowledge that it is highly probable.
In my opinion, Vanuatu is one of the easiest, safest and enjoyable destination for the traveller. Locals look quite scary, their faces and haircut I associated with criminal movie. However, people have very peaceful attitude, and while smiling I feel guilty for thoughts that went through my head a moment earlier. There is practically no crime (perhaps a little in the capital), people are very honest, even the owners of travel agencies, hotels and public transport! Totally hassle free. It surprised me, because the European invaders killed them with diseases or captured them for slavery in other overseas colonies. In the XIX century there were about a million Ni-Vanuatu, but only 41,000 in 1935!
In every village they speak French or English, although the official language is Bislama (called pigeon English), containing 95% of English origin words. For me it sounds like funny version of English, often just simply cut off the ends of the words such: sister - "sista", good afternoon – "gudaftenun", thank you very much - "Tank yu Tumas", finish - "finis", please - "plis", etc.
Although many existing expensive resorts for tourists, Vanuatu doesn't have beautiful sandy beaches. There is the black sand or narrow beach covered with corals. Sometimes corals are mixed with sand, but this is far from the beaches in tourist catalogues (although the pictures look quite promising, it is somewhat disappointing from close up). But you can't complain about the snorkelling, because the reef is available straight from the beach. Vanuatu is also a paradise for scuba divers, especially on Santo Island, where there is a lot of sunken planes and shipwrecks. I wanted do diving on Epi Island, but there's nobody to organised it. I checked the prices on Efate, but I had no time to do it – from 48 € for a dive.
I have seen a long time ago a lovely my friend's photo – erupting volcano in Vanuatu. Then I told myself that when I get permanent residency in Australia, I will go to celebrate it on this archipelago.
We landed in Port Vila at 11.30 pm. After immigration control we left the arrivals hall and pitched a tent right next to the airport. The first encountered local smile and greeted us, asked if he could help, whether give us a lift etc. He let us pitch a tent informing the security.
The high prices scared us and we walked to the city centre (4 km). As it turned out, the minibus costs just 200 Vt (1.6 €). Port Vila is a small town, a few shops, embassies, harbour, and colourful market. Money exchange office had no security, bars, windows etc. I just closed the door and sit on a chair near the cashier, I gave the money and she opened the drawer on her desk within reach of my hand. Visions of the robberies have not arrived there yet.
Nicest part of Port Vila is a colourful local market. But try to avoid visiting the town at the weekend, because nothing is happening there, empty, boring, everything is closed. Overall, the capital is a small pleasant village.
When we solved our visa issue in Australia High Commission (pick up the permanent residency visa), after having a delicious organic beef steak, it was a time to see another part of Efate. We didn't like the fact that practically every beach which is suitable for recreation, is charging a fee. Even if you want just to stay and watch (usually 300 Vt, 2.4 €). We chose the Havannah Lodge, located 25 km north-west of Vila (30 minutes ride, 300 Vt., 2.4 €), where we paid 8 € for two people tent (including complimentary beach use).
On the return way to the capital we had a nice lookout on the island from Klem's Hill. Under it there are Mele water cascades, which most tourists love such splashing water or climbing these waterfalls, but we didn't bother to see this attraction.
However, on our last day in the country we went to Port Vila again, just to kill the time (we had departure the next day early morning). When we went to the park one passers-by heard our Polish language. And it turned out that I met his father and uncle, sailors too, a few years ago in Argentina. The world is very small. We went for a beer and Luke invited us to stay on his yacht and we didn't worry that we left our luggage in the airport storage. Well, our flight is tomorrow, and today is today and we have a cool company.
As we used to do, at the end of the trip we went for a massage (€ 20 per hour). I chose a tiny Asian girl, and she started jumping on me all over (Thai massage). Well, I was after few beers and I said nothing about the pain, but I had a terrible pain in my back. I couldn't sleep for the next few nights, I thought I had broken ribs, as I couldn't even take a deeper breath. Well, good that my wife was just behind the wall during the massage, as who would believe me that a little girl broke me during the massage:)
Most tourists go straight from the airport to the resorts, usually on the eastern part of the island. We wanted to see the island a little differently. After leaving the airport we turned into the first dry riverbed which led us to the beach. Here, our first surprise - there was a lot of stones, cold lava, coral skeletons, and hardly any sand. This meant more walking around with jumps, which slowed down the march pace. After a while car tracks shown up near the beach, so hiking was a little bit easier.
At evening we had to think about camping. In Vanuatu there is no public land. Each piece of land belongs to the villages. The government doesn't charge taxes, but also doesn't give anything. These villages must be self-sufficient by farming land and animals. We didn't want to break the custom rules, so we asked for camping permission. Of course there was no problem.
We pitched our tent next to the ocean. We made a dinner on our stove and slowly preparing to go sleep. But before we did, one of the local sat with us. Straight he offered us to see "traditional dance" tonight in the other village. It switched on my self-defence instinct, so I started questioning him how many tourists will be there, how much it cost, etc. However, there was nothing about money, nor about any tourist show. He offered it as we were his guests that night, and his entire village was invited to the feast.
We have heard about considerable safety in Vanuatu, so we left the tent with luggage on the beach and all together we went to a neighbouring village. Something like this I probably wouldn't do in any other mainland country in the world. Walking in darkness took us half an hour. There we were greeted by village chief's son, who sat with us, talked, fed us and ran helping the preparations. Now we found out what it's all about.
Well, every few years, when a few boys aged 6-9 years old will be living in the village, it's a time for circumcision. Then the boys become men. Obviously this is not a one-day ritual, because before the circumcision the boys have to spend several weeks with men only, get mental and physical strength – physical circumcision is only the culmination of it. And it just happened in this village last morning. And tonight they were preparing for all-night dancing. We were seating among women and girls who painted their faces. Then the time to dance comes. Wild, unique, natural. As hundreds men hit the ground with the feet the earth shook, air shrouded in dust. The men were in the middle circle, they weren't specially dressed, all barefoot in common T-shirts. As the dance means harmony and unity I also was invited to dance. We walked in a circle clapping our hands. On the outer side of circle were traditionally dressed singing women with painted faces. We stamped with legs, clapping with hands, ran in one direction, stop, stamp, return, clap, stamp, all with powerful energy. Bulb's light barely gets through the dense. It was interesting, original. I wasn't the only white person over there, as I met Peace Corps volunteer. He was working on the island for 3 years, and finally he managed for the first time to see that ceremony! Needless to say – I was very lucky. Dancing lasted all night, but we left earlier. However, returning alone through the black night jungle was a bit tricky to find the ocean, then a tent.
The next day we continued our hike on the beach. When we reached Lenakel (island capital), we get scared with the view of high mountains in the mainland of the island, as we had plan to cross to the other side of Tanna. Lenakel is a small village, and on weekend even the market was closed. We couldn't find any food to buy, finally store with boiled eggs and tomatoes solved the problem. We hiked further south, this time on the car's track (no paved track on the island) with nice ocean views.
At the afternoon we reached the black sand beach. There, a local was mowing the lawn with a machete. When we asked him how to get to the volcano, he stopped the work and began to explain the way. The most I liked when he told us to turn left at the tree with one mango fruit. Overall, it appeared that would be better if we skip Ikeuti village, as it's a detour. We listened to the local and continued to the south. After crossing the river people showed us the way into the mainland. It was steep uphill, but it was a car track long time ago, so it would be difficult to get lost. Only in temporarily abandoned villages we couldn't find the main path, as there were many of them leading to nearby huts. Fortunately, the compass led us to the north and we managed to find the main road.
After a few hours we reached Nepkasu village (phonetic transcription). There allowed us to pitch a tent, take a bath in the river, and the kids played around and posed for photos. Unfortunately the whole village went sleep with nightfall, as there was no electricity. We also had nothing to do after 7pm. They served us breakfast in the morning, so we gave some rice to the host in return.
We were surprised by nice look of Vanuatu's villages - gardens, planted flowers, swept backyards, separate toilets, kitchens, etc. I haven't seen much of high levels of personal hygiene and aesthetics in the poorer countries, but not here. Same with no rubbish on the street.
The next day we walked higher and higher, slowly traversing the mountain. Approaching one of the ridges we suddenly experienced a strange feeling. Ground wasn't stable. Everything around began shaking. The whole earth was moving under my feet, it took me a few seconds to understand the magnificence of the moment. The happiness of discovering a new feeling filled my heart - it was an earthquake! Everything was moving around, an incredible feeling. I put the backpack away, I moved with Ewelina to the middle of the path, just in case the trees began to fall. But we felt no danger, we just enjoyed a minute of powerful unusual presentation of the nature forces. I dreamed about it for years - to experience such an earthquake so no one gets harmed. And here on the island there is unlikely for tiny wooden houses to collapse. Later I found the information on internet that this earthquake was 7.0 magnitude, but the epicentre was 122 km away from the shore (and 135 km deep under the water). It was the third largest earthquake in this spot for the last quarter of century! I still have incredible luck. The following day I took shower at the campsite when the next earthquake came, but it was weaker (5.8 magnitude) and lasted only for a few seconds.
Sunday, 4th September turned out to be very unique when it comes to the forces of nature. A half hour after the earthquake in the hilly jungle, we heard thunder. It would be normal thing under a cloudy sky, but not in the sunny weather. Thunders repeated regularly. Ewelina became concerned of tsunami, earthquake or volcanic alert. However, for the last few hours we were alone. At one point we found the mountain ridge treeless, and we saw the beautiful view – the green mountainous jungle, blue sky, navy blue ocean, white waves and clouds, and in the middle of this landscape a thundering volcano.
Once we looked at this view enough, we began the steep descent. We walked through the village, reached the nearly dry riverbed and continued into it in the volcano direction. It was a mistake, as we supposed to just cross the river and find a path on the other side. After several attempts we finally managed to return to the track and we reached the volcano entrance gate.
The total trekking on Tanna was 20 hours (included short brakes), 56 km, backpacks around 12 kg:
Day 1 The airport in Tanna - beach. 1.5 hr, 4 km
Day 2 From beach to Lenakel, later the black sand beach near Isakwai village, and up to Nepkasu village, 7.5 hr, 22 km
Day 3 From Nepkasu, traverse the mountain and descend to the volcano gate, 6.5 hr, 15 km.
Day 3 From the entrance gate to the volcano's rim, 1 hr, 4km. Return the same.
Day 4 From the entrance gate/campsite through the ash fields to the road, 2 hr, 7 km.
We pitched a tent in campsite right next to the entrance gate, we cooked a dinner on the stove, and then we went to the top of the volcano. The ticket was expensive, 3350 Vt (27 €). Guards weren't the most honest, as they sold us one ticket but charging for two. Through this I have no problems to provide the information that there are no guards on the gate after nightfall (around 7-8pm) and you can enter without paying. Yasur volcano summit (361 m) can be reached in an hour walk. What I have seen over there exceeded my imagination. I just looked into the volcano crater from where melting magma with steam were forced under high pressure through a small opening in the crater. Golden and red colour lava was coming out with hiss and cracks. I never thought that I could ever see such a performance. I thought the access is only for especially trained vulcanologist or BBC cameraman. And here on Tanna all visitors are welcome if the alert level doesn't exceed level 3. The wind is usually blowing from the shore and makes the east rim's side safe for spectators. The best time to see that is after sunset, when the red magma looks brighter at dark night. This view is indescribable, you have to see it yourself. Amazing, simply hard to believe it's real!
The next day we went to see the volcano from the west side. There are ash fields with no live vegetation, burned by the volcanic soil. We liked that dramatic landscape. We walked to the end of the sand dunes and just behind them was a dense jungle. There we found the road and caught a ride to Lenakel (one hour drive, 25 km, 4 € per person, but at the campsite the owner could arrange a pick-up for 20 € per person). On the way to the capital the car climbed the hill with incredible lookout for almost the entire island. In Lenakel we tried to get a lift by cargo boat, but unfortunately the captain couldn't take passengers. In that case we bought flight tickets and then we went on foot to find wild accommodation. But on the way we hitchhiked and one guy invited us to his place. He showed us his pigs, sandal tree production, hut's structure and answered any question we had.
He also invited us for the traditional kava ceremony. It's a religious, social and cultural men's meeting connected with kava's root drink. It's not an alcohol, but has a similar side effect. Kava can be prepared only by not yet married man. The process is a bit complicated, but the worst for us was the fact that the boys chew the roots, and spit it back. I preferred not to watch it.
When the kava was ready, chief of the village agreed for Ewelina to participate (as guest, not a woman). We came to nakamal (meeting square close to the village), approached the mats and took the coconut shells full of kava. We stood toward the East, and then drank the bitter, muddy colour drink. It had a taste same as it look. My tongue got numb, I felt a bit dizzy, but that's it as there was no more. Kava in Tanna is considered one of the strongest in Vanuatu.
In the morning we arrived at the airport and we left this amazing island, where we had so many unforgettable, unique experiences.
Our Epi trip began in original way. We waited in departure hall for our delayed plane to Epi. Finally I went to the service desk and asked when will be departure. A guy looked at me with surprise:
- "Plane to Epi already left"
- "How come, I sit here in the second row opposite the departure gate for the last two hours"
- "I called the flight, why you didn't come?"
- "It was probably too quiet, I was waiting for speaker announcement..."
Well, we started discussion. It turned out that our luggage was already on the second island. I wasn't happy, no matter who fault it was, just a waste of holiday time. How come they couldn't realise that two passengers are missing, they had only four on board. The next flight was tomorrow, and it was to other airfield. However, it's Vanuatu. The men had gone and returned with the news:
- "Ok, you go now to Tongoa Island, and on the way back the pilots will drop you off on Epi"
That's what we need – Melanesian easy going life style. We were packed to small plane, flew to Tongoa, swap passengers and their luggage and went on way back to Port Vila. Only this time we changed the course to Valesdir. I could look through the cockpit how we are approaching the grassy airstrip where cows grazed.
In the only building a guy with our backpacks was waiting for us. We thought that we'll get some kind of transport between villages. However, it was surprise when we saw the main road and the Valesdir village - forest path with few old huts. In the village we haven't seen any person, so we continued our walk. We passed the palm oil plantations (palm oil is the main, if not the only one island's export product) and dense jungle surrounded our narrow path. It was a big surprise for us, as we couldn't count for any vehicle (it turned out that on the whole island is about 10 vehicles).
At this stage our goal was to find the next village before darkness and stay the night with locals. Fortunately, we met people who were returning from the forest with wood as fire fuel. We asked for permission to pitch a tent in their village, which naturally met with a smile and "no problem". Hospitality was nice, however in Vanuatu little surprising is the fact that the locals never refused us anything, but when we offered anything in return, they behave as if they had expected it. Also quite different than in Africa or Asia, we weren't any attraction for them. Some children came to see us, sometimes few adults, talked a bit and went their way. They didn't avoid uncomfortable questions too, so they asked if we have our food. They never invited us inside their houses, talks were held in the front. Compare to other continents it was very easy to make friends, but was hard to established closer relations. Still, we loved their hospitality, openness and lack of problems, but much of their culture and traditions I just don't understand.
In the morning we continued to march to the north, trying to buy some fruits from locals. But it wasn't so easy, because in the dry season (July-September) there are not too many of them. Sometimes the small stores (you have to ask the locals which house in the village works as a store) were able to sell something to eat (biscuits, meat tins, instant noodles, organic eggs). We usually boiled the water for our dehydrated meal. Water wasn't available for purchase, so we drank straight from the wells. We didn't use any water purification tablets, but I think officially it isn't recommended.
South to North Epi trekking took us 8.5 hours (included short brakes), 29 km:
Day 1 Valesdir airfield to Mapvilao, 1.5 hr, 6 km
Day 2 Mapvilao to Laman Bay, 7 hr, 23 km
It was an experience with nature and the locals. We were passing the beautiful reef, wild empty beaches, we met playing children and smiling peaceful adults. In some villages we saw preparations for a feast (pig hanging on the tree). We always asked for the opportunity to see the dugongs, as it was my target on this island. Everyone pointed to the Laman Bay. Dugongs are amazing creatures. They are also known as "sea cow", and its closest mainland relatives are elephants! Those mammals are living in the warm Indian Ocean waters and in Melanesia, grazing the sea grass. They aren't aggressive, but very sweet.
Finally we reached the Laman Bay, where we stopped at Paradise Sunset Bungalows. We pitched our tent on the shore and we went snorkelling. Unfortunately the reef in front of bungalow was poor, more sand then corals. The owner suggested to swim a few hundred meters, as over there sea turtles feed. We listened him and it was worth it, as for me it was the first time to have the opportunity to see these huge reptiles in the wild.
My original plan was to scuba dive on the island. But it turned out that on Epi there isn't much tourism, no one organise diving. In this case we wanted to hire a local boat that would take us to a spot where encountering dugongs is more likely. Well, here we could see once again the honesty of locals:
- "there is no need to take a boat, you have the same opportunities to see dugongs in front of bungalows or between the harbour and the airport".
Well, we were snorkelling on the reef in different places (the best reef was near the end of the harbour concrete pier). The colours weren't particularly delighted, but there were some marine life variety. Although I am not a water man, I spent hours on the reef. But really I had only one goal - to see the dugong. From time to time I went to places where more sea grass is growing. There was a bigger chance of encounter this mammal. Sometimes we were sitting on the beach while looking for any animal which break the water surface for taking the breath. Unfortunately we had no luck.
There are two flights a week to Laman Bay, so generally travellers staying in bungalows aren't changing too often. We met together during meals served by Tasso, the bungalows owner (delicious buffet meal included in accommodation price, or additional 4 € for camping guests for both meals). Tasso passed to us invitation to wedding in a neighbouring village. After breakfast we all six tourists walked about 30 minutes to the village.
When we arrived, we saw a wedding preparation. Women sat on the ground and were preparing cassava, taro and yam. Men were cutting meat from recently killed cows and pigs. Each family or village had its own stove/oven - dug hole in the soil lined with hot rocks and banana leaves. There was a lot of biting smoke in the eyes. Anyway, there was already even the electricity, so Western pop music was played by the stereo.
The locals welcomed us, letting us to photograph them, they talked, explained, and invited to the feast in the first round. There were several hundred people in total. When the food was ready, we were invited to join, were given paper plates (unfortunately not the banana leaf), drinks and great organic beef meat with rice and gravy. I admit that the meat had no fat on it, very delicious.
When full we further approached other guests and talked. Fortunately, most locals speak English, just a few French. We managed to find out who a bride and groom is, and we met their 4-year-old son! Yes, it was just another, at this case the last phase of the wedding ceremony. They were already married a long time ago, but didn't have enough money for all mandatory marriage ceremonies.
It was a very unique and interesting experience.
We could stay longer, but the high tide was coming. According to the locals this was the best time to meet dugong. So we said goodbye to all guests and ran down to Laman Bay. We grabbed our snorkel gear and jumped into the water to search the mammals. After several hours one Czech returned scared after meeting a large shark (he snorkel beyond the reef). Ewelina spotted octopus. In the evening we had to give up.
Early in the morning puppy jumped into our tent and started bite us with joy. We woke up but it was hard to kick out the intruder. Anyway, we were surprised that dogs are treated in a friendly way in Vanuatu. Well, the dog woke us up so we went to the shore. Someone was passing and told us that 20 minutes ago children saw the dugong in the bay. I had no choice, even though it was 6 am, I immediately ran into the ocean. I knew it was my last chance, however 20 minutes in so big reservoir is a lot of time. Mammal could be already anywhere. Ewelina was walking on shore and searched the dugongs which are taking a breath above the calm water. I swam fast in freestyle (pity that I didn't have fins) to get through as much area I could. After half an hour my morale has dropped, but I was still swimming towards the airport, looked at Ewelina from time to time to see her signs. I decided to swim around the pier, as there is a bit of sea grass. I ran over the reef, passed some turtles, fish, different coral formations. I admired the wonderful underwater world, even though visibility was down to about 20 meters. It was warm, peaceful.
Suddenly one great coral rock moved in front of me. Actually it was floating. I moved faster. The rock approached towards me, and in a split second I realised that Vanuatu loves me and offers all the best it has to offer. In front of me swam over 2-meter long dugong. It was a miracle, a dream came true, the reward (for what?). I knew how lucky I was, I was snorkelling next to the manatee. It turned back, gracefully swam in front of me, emerged to take a breath and then dived again. Such a moment was great, I had it for myself. But it would be more wonderful if Ewelina be here. I saw my wife on the pier, so I shouted and waved to her vigorously. I dived back, however I was disappointed because dugong already vanished from my sight. I struggled in vain looking for it – unfortunately it disappeared. I was sorry that Ewelina hadn't experience the same, but on the other hand I had my two minutes in heaven. Low or high tide, sea grass or reef – there is no rules, you just have to be in the water and be lucky. That day I definitely had it. Another nature wonder ticked from my list. I love the whole world.
We left the island in another original way. After check-in in a airfield building near the grassy runway we still had more than half an hour time. So we took our snorkel gear and jumped into the water, which is less than 100 meters from the airport. There we admired the colourful reef, were relaxing in the nice warm water. From time to time I looked at our hand luggage which was lying on the beach (cameras, money, passports), but this is one of the safest places in the world. At one moment we heard the airplane engine, so we quickly came out from the sea and ran barefoot. Wet, masks on the face, we sat down comfortably inside the small plane. We had great views (I recommend the left side) for the lagoons while took off.
accommmodation – expensive. Wealthy Australians and New Zealanders make the prices higher. In these tourists resorts you have to pay at least 50 €, often more then several hundred Euros per person per night. In Port Vila the cheapest double room cost 36 €, City Lodge in the heart of the city, but not on the beach. We found 3-bed dormitory at Vila Hibiscus Motel, 1600 Vt per person (13 €). There were shared bathrooms, but with hot shower.
While trekking we slept in the wild on the beach, or were hosted in the the villages. Then we tried to pay back by buying fruits from the locals, giving them some rice or pasta, and for children we had small toys.
On the western shore of Efate we slept one night in our tent in Havannah Lodge, paying 1000 Vt for the tent. No showers.
On Tanna we used once an organised campsite. It had no sign, but it's located near the main road, opposite the junction with the road towards the summit of the volcano. This Yasur Camping Ground has a small shop. Ask for Thomas, who now is building a bungalow on the tree. We wanted to sleep in the wild, but Thomas tried so hard so we agreed to his offer 1500 Vt (6 € per person) for two people in a tent with breakfast. Normally, the accommodation costs 2000 Vt. There is a cold shower. If you do not have a tent, then Thomas has two available with comfortable mattress. Small but nicely set breakfast is served in the bungalow with a perfect volcano view. The dinner we made on the campfire.
In Epi we also had used the campsite. Paradise Sunset Bungalows is situated in the Laman Bay (wrong map location in Lonely Planet). Tasso hires doubles for 6000 Vt (48 € for two people) with complimentary breakfast and dinner (delicious buffet). As we came on foot from the south of the island, Tasso has allowed us to pitch our own tent on the shore, charging us only 1000 Vt (8 €) per tent per night. We decided also to have the breakfast and dinner, for which we paid extra 4 € per person per day. We could use a cold shower, there was snorkelling equipment for free.
transport – if not by privet yacht or cruise ship, you can practically get here by plane only from other Pacific islands or from Australia. The return ticket from Sydney costs me 462 €. Note that if you want to fly between the islands - buy Air Vanuatu international ticket. As it's Qantas partner, we can buy the same flight for the same price from the Australian carrier. The only difference is that the flight will have QF number, not NF. However, only NF (Air Vanuatu) flights will be subject to special discounts (20 %) on domestic flights.
Domestic flights are always for the same price for a given destination. It looks that way, that the flights depart from the capital, and several minutes after landing the plane is going back to Port Vila.
For example, one-way ticket from Port Vila to Tanna costs 13,790 Vt (110 €). 20% discount gives us 22 € cheaper. Return ticket costs twice more, whether purchased together or separately, or a month or 5 minutes in advance (there is an opportunity to buy a ticket at the airport prior to departure). Flights to Tanna Island are daily, sometimes even two or three a day.
One way ticket prices from Port Vila to Epi Island:
To Laman Bay Airfield (Thursday and Saturday) for 70 € (56 € with discount), and to Valesdir Airfield in the south part of the island (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) for 60 € (48 € with discount).
For every domestic flight (not for international) you must pay 200 Vt (1.6 €) airport tax. On domestic flights baggage limit is often 10 kg.
Another possibility getting around the islands is on the water. Cargo boasts are departing from the main harbour (3 km south from Vila centre). We asked there for a lift, but at that time there was a boat going to Epi only, and we wanted first to do trekking on Tanna before we relaxed on the beaches of Laman Bay. Anyway, this small cargo boat demanded too much (40 €), just a little cheaper than a plane. On the way back from Tanna we wanted to catch the freight boat, but the Capitan refused to take passengers due to his license restriction (apparently the second boat don't mind take passengers).
In Port Vila two passenger boats are operating, you can find them near the market. Efate Queen departing on Sunday noon, and the Big Sista on Monday evening. Both ships are going to Espiritu Santo Island, stopping on the way on some islands such as Epi, Ambrym and Malekula. Unfortunately, the price isn't attractive - to Epi costs 44 €. It comes back around Wednesday-Thursday.
On Efate and Tanna we hitchhiked a bit, but on Epi it's almost impossible due to extremely random transport. We got free ride once only, in other cases we had to pay, but they charged us fair. We also learned that the vehicles with registration starting at "B" are the buses (buses really don't exist there, rather pick-ups or minibuses), "PT" means public transport (a little more expensive than the bus, but I didn't notice any other difference), and "T" for taxi, or "G" for government vehicles.
From the airport to Port Vila town centre 'bus" costs 200 Vt (1.6 €, 4 km), taxi drivers will charge around 1000 Vt. At the airport we also can store the luggage for 200 Vt per piece. Ask locals from where the minibuses departing to other parts of the Island. Usually they leave at the afternoon. When our driver told us that he is leaving in two hours, we asked him without hesitation about the possibility of leaving our luggage in his car. Such a level of trust for minibus drivers we gave just the second time during our travels (the first time in Georgia). We even didn't record vehicle registration numbers.
food – Port Vila is prepared for tourists, there are a large selection of pubs and restaurants with European food. The owners are usually the French. Our favourite place was the Anchor Inn, where we enjoyed the steak with chips and salad for 8 €, beer 3 €. For sweets, unfortunately expensive, we went to Au Peche Mignon opposite the market.
However, we hadn't come to Vanuatu for a European food. We ate mostly fruits from colourful market. There was no hassle, nor yelling on us. The perfect market! Colourful, quiet, covered, written prices, smiling ladies sitting on the ground. Our main food was raspberries, bananas and pamplemousse (on the season right now). Instead of buying soft drinks in the Chinese shops, ladies opened the coconuts so we could drink the milk. Bunch of bananas, small bucket of raspberries, coconut and pamplemus cost us all together about 2.5 €.
It was a little harder to eat proper food outside the main island, not to mention the small villages. I carried with me a small alcohol stove (methylated spirits can be bought only in the capital, ask for hardware superstore Vilco). When we slept in the wild we cooked on the stove our dehydrated dishes which we brought from Australia. Besides in these small villages without electricity, someone had a small backyard shop where we could buy spices, rice, pasta, sweets, etc. Ask for fruits or eggs. In larger villages we could find a small local restaurant with fixed menu and price 200 or 300 Vt (about 2 €).
weather – we were there in the winter, so temperatures were cooler. Besides between July and September there is a dry season, so it was raining only every second day, mostly at night.
It was warm, but usually below 30 degrees. I used my sleeping bag only few times at mornings. We hiked all the time in T-shirts, except on the volcano rim where my windproof jacket was very handy. Women should cover their knees.
currency - ATM's are available only at Port Vila airport and in the city centre. Apparently they are also in Luganville on Espirito Santo. There are no ATM's on other islands, so take enough cash in local currency.
Money Exchange offices I've seen only in Port Vila, but they are closed at the weekend (even on the airport). They don't take any commission.
Rates from September 2011: 1 AUD = 93 Vt, 1 € = 125 Vt.
internet – We have seen it only in Port Vila, but apparently it worked also in Lenakel (and certainly in Santo). It was very slow, but it worked. They charge from 10 to 15 vatu per one minute (5-7 € per hour).
visa – Most European Union and other developed countries citizens don't need a visa. Free entry for one month, and the possibility of visa extension for another 30 days (40 €).
The total cost of this 10-day journey were 495 €, not including international flight ticket to and from Vanuatu (extra 459 € from Sydney). In addition to the costs of food, transport and accommodation, I paid 27 € to see volcano and I had “other" expenses for 42 € (internet, email, luggage storage, beer, gifts for local, massage).
The food expenses were 95 € in 10 days. I included cost of methylated alcohol for my stove and four freeze-dried food packages from Sydney.
The overland transport expenses were 17 €. Four domestic flights between the islands cost us 283 €. We hiked 97 km.
The accommodation expenses were 31 € (four times for camping in a tent and one night in a dormitory). Besides, we spent three nights in a tent in the wild, twice were hosted by the locals, and once we slept on the friend's yacht.