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  • Writer's pictureswedishvikingprinc

Vanuatu - Paradise Lost.

Ahhhh, Vanuatu. It's a paradise if you love a tropical climate, warm water, great snorkeling and spectacular coastlines. I always said I would retire here, so when I got a chance to live here for a few months, I jumped at the chance. My husband and I scored a two month+ hous sitting gig in Paradise Cove.


I've mentioned before that I spent time here when I was young. I loved this place.... and I suppose I still do; I just wouldn't live here. If you are travelling for a visit, there are loads of wonderful places to go from Port Vila:

  • Cascade Falls

  • Hideaway Island

  • Take a drive to Port Havannah

  • Back to Eden

  • Eden on the River

  • Go Ziplining

  • Kayak, SUP

  • Hire a local to take you out in a water taxi

  • Go to the museums

  • Horse riding on the beach..



It's definitely worth hitting other Islands like Tanna, Santo and any of the smaller ones. You will need to spend a fair bit of time travelling, but it is beautiful and unspoilt in most places. I'll talk more of Port Vila as that is where I spent my time recently.


Arriving in the tin shed type airport (Ok, an exaggeration) it's hot, muggy and crowded until you get past Customs. Once out, you're in for a treat as the driving in Vanuatu is fantastic! I loved driving here. Yes, normal road rules apply, but they are loosely followed. For instance, if someone stops (maybe to pick someone up) you just go around them. If that means going to the wrong side of the road, that's ok. If anyone is coming towards you, they will just slow down or stop. No drama, no angst. No one is in a hurry.


The potholes are crater like in general and occasionally someone fills them. One road on the way to where I was staying was so badly damaged by recent rains you felt you were driving on the moon. The next day it was covered with coral dust, compacted and 'voila' it was like new! If you don't have decent suspension, you may need to visit one of the local chiropractors. You can avoid all potholes if you like. Driving around them works as everyone else will do the same. Speedhumps can take you by surprise as they are not always well marked, so be mindful!



There are no real 'OSH' concerns here (occupational safety and health). I have been known to transport several people on the back of the ute. They just bang on the top when they need to jump off. Anyone; babies to old grannies, will jump on for a free ride!



Small side note on the OSH thing. Following the cyclones, people were standing on the back of utes, while driving under and over fallen power lines. No one flinched as they missed it by millimeters! Hard to get used to - even when you know lines are dead...




If you are lucky enough to live in a place with a pool, you'll find you will be in it a lot. We spent hours just standing in the pool chatting. It's cooler and when it gets too warm, you just bob down and wet your head. If you are doubly lucky, you will have easy access to the sea. Swimming is wonderful. Bring reef shoes and a mask and snorkel. Even if there isn't a lot of coral, you might still be lucky to see some lovely fish.


I would recommend scuba diving. Do a course (as I did) if time permits. I was lucky enough on one of my earlier dives (at Anne's reef) to witness a mother and baby dugong swim right over the top of us. What an amazing experience! In Vanuatu you will even have the chance to see turtles, whales, incredible sea life and meet wonderful people.






Speaking of people, I did live in a bit of an ex-pat world. Everyone was lovely and I believe you will rarely meet a bad person. It's a very smiley place. The locals and ex-pats tend not to mix socially. There is no one reason why not... I will put it down to going and doing different things due to financial status. The ex-pats I met had a lovely ritual. Every Friday morning the women would meet at 10am at the Grand Hotel, and, as in the days of the Raj, would sit and talk.... sometimes for hours. The gents would sit elsewhere and wait, uninvited (strictly NO men or children) until the women were done. It was the best place to go find whatever information you needed. I found out where you can buy booze on a Sunday (at a particular petrol station), where to but a lawnmower (same place you buy head stones), where to get New Zealand salmon (at the back of the print shop, up the stairs and into a hidden office). There's nothing you can't find if you talk to these women.


Thanks to the connections made at (what my husband called it) the Mothers' meeting, I was able to get by wonderfully on my own once my husband left. As I was house sitting, I had animals to care for. I needed to know where to find chicken food when the usual place ran out - Mother's to the rescue!


My friend also found them useful: after the cyclones, no one had electricity for the longest time. Ice was sourced from the abattoir, which one of our ladies ran with her husband. My tip? Always talk to the locals.


Shopping for food was easy. There are fresh food markets in the town daily. Cheap, seasonal stuff is here. If you're unsure what something is and what to do with it, just ask. The only downside is that there are a lot of carbs in the Ni-Vanuatu diet. Having said that, I had the biggest avocados I have ever seen. They were as big as my head!


My friends also owned the biggest supermarket chain in Vanuatu, so I already knew Au Bon Marche* was the place to go for general supplies.


A curious thing I found out about Vanuatu is that on the children's list for school supplies is a machete. This is the one item that is undeniably the most useful (after reef shoes) to own of staying here for any length of lime. Everyone walks along carrying one in one hand, while catching up on social media on their phone in the other. Everyone knows how to get a drink and a snack (coconut) at any time if they have one of these (a machete, not a phone, although I suppose the two are equally useful if there is also delivery...) They are also very handy after a cyclone...


Vanuatu is a fun place to be. Everyone laughs and jokes. They speak Bislam (easy to pick up), English and French. The people are happy and never in a hurry. They genuinely care about you and each other, although some more than others. The country has a lot to offer and it is beautiful - even in the pouring rain. You never really wear any footwear in the summer other than thongs (Local stores sell them as 'local footwear') and perhaps in the cooler winter months you will wear sneakers.


There are loads of things to do like trivia nights at The Retreat**, sailing trips, take a drive to Top Rock** for a spot of snorkeling or go for a fancy lunch at the Havannah Vanuatu Resort**... One of the best things to do is lunch and snorkeling to the underwater post office at Hideaway, followed by pizza and a fire show at The Beach Hut**.


Now for the nitty gritty. We have decided, reluctantly, that we will not call this OUR Utopia. Here's a list of the pro's and con's for us:

Pro's:

  • Fabulous climate, warm (but wet) summers and not too cool winters

  • Great, friendly people

  • Plenty to do, even if living there, provided you like the outdoors

  • Close to get back to Australia if needed

  • The flowers in the markets are incredible

  • Chickens everywhere

  • It's a tax haven!

Cons:

  • It's expensive (to eat and live)

  • Cyclones

  • You don't really mix with the local Ni-Vanuatu people

  • Flights get cancelled or delayed by days more often than not

  • The food is pretty bland and not great quality in most restaurants

  • Bureaucracy can be difficult at times

  • Embassy isn't a lot of help - signing documents costs a fortune!





Below: Chilling poolside

Right: Local food smells great but sadly lacks flavour


Below: Watching the cruise ships come into the harbour





Below: Strange bedfellows. These kittens were born in the chicken coop and live there permanently!



Below: One of the magnificant outcrops near Ifira Island. Can be seen by boat or, if lucky enough to find a local guide, from the island. You can also kayak there!












* I'm not promoting anything for love or money! I just mention them as a handy place to go if you need anything from Bread and meat to sheets and machetes.


**Again, no promotion, just information.

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