With the sky as blue as it ever could get, the other day Liam and I headed for a trip around Efate, the main island.
The road last time I made the trip was unbelievably bad … we’re talkin’ almost unmanageable. This time it was sealed the whole way around.
The Americans, God bless their cotton socks, brought in huge teams of workers and equipment and finished it last year. Reckon it must be some sort of deal the Yanks had to make good after its forces spent a lot of time here during the Second World War (there’s still evidence of its presence dotted here and there).
We did the trip in a one-tonne truck (believe me, it has plenty of grunt) armed with plenty of cigarettes and about a dozen Tuskers in the Esky. Beer on a road trip here is akin to the ’60s at home … it’s just a way of life here and given that no one goes too hard on the accelerator, it’s kinda OK.
We stopped whenever something looked OK. The beach at Eton was first. A more beautiful place is hard to imagine, with its rocky outcrops, bluer than blue water, white sands and plenty of locals swimming. You can even throw into the mix a few tourists.
We watched for about 20 minutes as a local, armed with a snorkel and a sizeable net, was hell bent in getting something for lunch. I haven’t yet seen anyone fishing with a rod. There’s a Ni-Van fella who fishes in the lagoon at Erakor (the island near La Lagon resort at the end of Port Vila) and he literally uses a lasso to catch barracuda. He stands in crystal clear, waist-deep water with just a line into which he has put three loops. He just waits for a fish to mosey through the loop and then yanks it. He gets a few too.
Back on the bitumen (the locals have renamed I the road of life) we cruised past countless village from which everyone waves, kids swimming in rivers, roadside markets, coconut plantations, you name it.
It was a sensational trip, made all the better for stopping at Havana Harbour, which was a big US base during the war. Beside the road are three bamboo and palm frond huts, one of which houses a huge, ramshackle collection of all things US military, including one of the world’s biggest (and the Pacific’s biggest) collections of old Coke bottles.
Ernest, the bloke who does the collecting, is amazingly knowledgeable when it comes to Coke bottles. His collection is mainly old bottle, onto which is embossed the origin of the bottle and the date … i.e. California, 1944. Ernest explained that Coke has resumed the practice because of his collection.
“I had a visit from the US ambassador a while ago and he told me that I am a US national treasure. Me and my family are legally allowed to fly the US flag until we are all gone,” he told us.
He’s obviously very well read and to listen to his spiel is an absolute joy. He talks fondly, almost family-like, about every piece of stuff he has. The busload of tourists there at the time we were there turned out to be a disappointment. No so much as a few coins in Ernest’s donation box.
We were about 30-odd kilometres from Port Vila, or K, according to the markers on the road. There is no letter C in Bislama, so it’s K for capital. We stopped at a village shop to get a few more Tuskers for the last leg and we met up with an ex-pat (Liam knew him), who has lived in Vanuatu for 17 years.
Talk turned to Dick Eade, an ex-pat who was shot dead a few days ago. He was the first ex-pat murder (it was front page news) and it rocked the local ex-pat community, not least because he was a really decent fella. Apparently he did volunteer work to enable locals to find work on Oz and New Zealand as fruit pickers and the like. The jobs enabled them to make and save enough money to come back and buy a house and generally set themselves up.
Seems Dick was subdividing some of his land and went to have a chat with some squatters who had taken up residence. They shot him.
We moved on, armed with a few coldies, bound for out last stop … a nakamal called Last Flight, so named because it’s close to the airport.
Liam and I were chatting about the merits of the place. “It’s kind of a down and dirty sort of a place,” he said, to which I countered “a bit like the Espy (Esplanade Hotel) of nakamals,” I said. “You got it in one.”
There was a fair crowd in … a mixture of locals, ex-pats and tourists … and the kava was OK.
New Year’s eve was meant to be the start of our island hopping adventure. We were planning to spend a couple of nights on Pele on the eastern side of the island. The swimming is better on the western side, but all the bungalows were booked out, so we settled for the eastern side.
Given that the girls, Tahlia and Em, had gone for a sleepover at some friends’ house in Eluk (it’s a hillside part of town overlooking the lagoon and Erakor), we started the day slowly. A smoke, a cup of tea and lots of umming and ahhing before we decided the day should begin with breakfast and maybe a swim at Chantilly’s. Patto, who was back working, did what any reasonable person would do … he joined us for an early-morning(ish) bloody Mary, which helped us all in putting the day back onto An even keel.
Breakfast had all the usual suspects … eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomato, hash brown, toast … washed down with what was a really Tobasco-heavy bloody Mary … and then another.
Getting out to Pele on the day was looking far less likely, given that we had shopping and banking to do before picking up the girls, so the call was made to tell the guy at the village we’d be staying at that we’d arrive on New Year’s Day.
One of the shopping tasks involved picking up some batteries to fire up the Taser that belonged to Dan’s neighbour. She has kept one ever since she got terrorised by some escaped prisoners (quite a regular thing I these parts). The Neighbourhood Watch equivalent, including a small Chinese guy dressed in pyjamas and armed with a huge bush knife put paid to any real nastiness.
The neighbour explained to the police that she should probably keep a gun at the house and they agreed and issued her with a licence on the spot and offered to lend her a gun until she had the chance to buy one.
After picking up the girls (that involved beers), we headed back to Bellevue for some chill time before hitting the nakamal for some kava after which there’d be a quiet New Year’s Eve at home with some takeaway.
Liam and I went into town to the Bon Marche, which I right alongside the fantastic fruit’n’veg market. It was an amazing atmosphere with people scurrying here and there to get their last-minute goodies. Ours, by the way, involved a couple of cases of Tusker for the trip and some fireworks (from a Chinese shop).
My first pizza here (pasta for the kids) and it wasn’t anything to write home about but it went OK (that doesn’t sound right cos I am writing home about it).
We let off the fireworks at about 10 o’clock (the girls had to be in bed because a big day was planned … with an early start) and in the end, the whole house was in bed by about 10.30.
Seen one New Year’s Eve, seen ’em all. (That’s enough for today. As I write, I’m enjoying some Pastis on ice, checking the cricket scores and am ready for a nap.)
THROW ANOTHER PRAWN …
The other night at the local nakamal (Kath’s and Abel’s … there are two on the Bellevue Road) not only kava was on the menu.
Some of the locals made a trip to a really deep ravine in the Bellevue valley where there are decent sized freshwater prawns. We arrived just as they came out of the pot.
Good thing, that.
From memory they were about 90 cents each and well worth the price of admission. The snags were pretty much on the money too and with a couple of shells of kava it was the ideal precursor for a dinner washed down with a few Tuskers.
Not on the menu, however, were the mini bananas in the nakamal garden. There were plenty of bunches of bananas, each about the size of a decent index finger. Apparently that’s as big as they get. Dunno whether they’re edible.
IT’S IN THE BAG
There’s a stainless steel bowl in the kitchen and everything that is left after preparing food … i.e. egg shells, veg scraps, fat from meat, OK anything … is bound for Jeffrey’s sty.
Even, after I’d been putting them in the bin, teabags.
Dan explained that, according to the locals, most of whom keep pigs, teabags help to make the beasts tame.
Which perhaps explains my tame demeanour, given that I have so much tea in my life.
ME IN A NUTSHELL
- G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.