Category Archives: Vanuatu

Vanuatu II

Apart from the archaeology, which was our entire reason for being there and which was spectacular, our stay in Vanuatu was kind of quiet. We were staying on a little island just off the coast and a few miles out of Port Vila. Here is a picture of us waiting to go out on our first night there:

Mele villageand here is what it looked like in daylight from the boat:

Hideaway Island

After all these weeks in the islands, Seven had kind of a negative reaction to being in what was unambiguously a tourist resort — where all the workers were locals and all the tourists were white. To be sure, this is not the first place where this has been true (the Marquesas, for example); but there was something about this place that made it more inescapable somehow.

ferryman

Maybe it wasn’t even this divide so much as the fact that we have, for the most part, not been surrounded by lots and lots of other tourists, and there is something about the idea that all these people have just come here to soak up the sun and drink cocktails that is kind of dispiriting. I honestly don’t know why this struck him (and me to a lesser extent) so much harder here than, say, Mo’orea, which is filled with tourists, except maybe that in Mo’orea we weren’t staying with them…

Getting in and out of town was a bit of a production involving first a boat (see above) and then a bus. From my point of view this was fine, as it gave us lots of opportunities for curious conversations. One morning I sat next to a schoolteacher who kept instructing the driver to stop and pick up little boys, who were clearly otherwise going to be left by the side of the road!  He was the one who explained to me that some of the children go to school in English and some go to school in French. No one goes to school in Bislama, seemingly, though everybody speaks it…

The resort’s secluded setting worked well for our boys, however, who by this time are beginning to burn out. We did get them out to the market one day, and they did do a lot of snorkeling in the marine preserve right off the island (which, incidentally, had live coral unlike everywhere else we’ve been — Seven said it was magnificent, like an underwater flower garden). But most of the time they spent picking up and practicing this useful skill:

Matiu playing pool

more pool

In which, of course, they were being coached by their father…

seven playing pool

I, on the other hand, whiled away the hours as I have elsewhere, though, I have to confess, I am not doing anything very productive here…

me reading

…reading not some foundational archaeological text but — wait for it — Dani’s copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Note to those who are following along — we have now sent the first 6 books in the series to Fine and Sateki’s eldest girl, who, according to her auntie, is reading them aloud to her brother and sisters. I might have to drop her a line now that I’ve re-read book 6 and suggest that she keep that one to herself…too sad for small children if you ask me).

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Filed under Family, Oceania, Pacific Islands, South Pacific, travel, Vanuatu

Making the Turn: East to Vanuatu

We have made the turn. After a whirlwind visit to the lovely city of Melbourne, we flew north Brisbane and, for the first time since leaving Boston, turned east. With this leg we were also headed into completely unknown territory. Tonga was an experience, to be sure, and much of French Polynesia was new to us, but (with the exception of Australia) it has all been Polynesian and reasonably familiar by comparison with the place we were now headed to on…

air vanuatu

Vanuatu is at the eastern edge of the western Pacific, west of Fiji and Tonga and therefore outside the Polynesian triangle. It has a fascinating, complex culture and is a favorite tourist destination for Australians, but the reason we were there is that it is also has one of the most important archaeological sites in the Pacific.

I have been lucky more than once on this trip and the Vanuatu leg is just another case in point. Matthew Spriggs and Stuart Bedford of ANU have been working a site at Teouma since 2004 which has yielded some of the most spectacular finds of Lapita pottery anywhere in the Pacific. They are now coming to the end of their work there and had expected to be finished by the time we reached nearby Port Vila. This was a great disappointment to me because I was really dying to see an archaeological dig, and particularly this archaeological dig, but there was just no way I could get us there in time. Then, quite unexpectedly, they had to suspend work for a week and that pushed their departure forward so that I could just make it out there before site was bulldozed over.

It was a tremendous experience. Unfortunately for Seven, he had to stay back and mind the children, and I didn’t take any photos because I wasn’t sure I should. But it was absolutely phenomenal. While I was standing there they pulled a 6-inch piece of pottery out of the ground that — I was reliably informed — was 3000 years old!

Lapita, just fyi, is the name given to the ocean-going culture that is thought to have moved rapidly out of island southeast Asia and into the western Pacific some 3000 to 5000 years ago eventually reaching Tonga and Samoa. As such, they are understood to be directly ancestral to the people who colonized Polynesia proper. Lapita sites are identified by a particular type of pottery with a range of decorative styles that correlates pretty directly with age, the most elaborate being the oldest.

Fortunately, Seven and I did get a chance to go together to the National Museum of Vanuatu the next day.

National Museum

There Stuart and a couple of the guys who work with him showed us a number of spectacular pots, both fragments and reconstructions, which were just being packed and shipped off to an exhibit in Paris — the first of its kind! Here is a picture Seven took of the example that is in the museum along with the accompanying text, which is also interesting for its several translations.

Lapita pot

lapita text

There are a vast number of languages spoken in Vanuatu (including a couple of Polynesian languages, one of which was spoken in a village near where we were staying, as we discovered on the bus ride out there). But the three official languages of the country are French, English, and Bislama, which is not that hard to decode when written but pretty darn hard to understand when spoken fast. Children apparently go to school in either French or English, but I could never figure out how people decide. Mostly people spoke English with us, even on the few occasions on which I spoke French to them :).

The people of Vanuatu are as varied as the linguistic scene suggests and I clearly have to do some more research to find out who they all are and what they speak and where they come from and all of that. But for now I’ll just leave you with a few random shots taken in and around Port Vila. Here are some musicians at the airport (this time it is a guitar):

musicians in the airport

And here are a couple of pictures from the market:

Port Vila Market

market port vila

A couple of street scenes:

port vila

truck  port vila

And a bunch of the workers going back to the mainland by boat:

boat Mele

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Filed under adventure, expedition, Family, Pacific Islands, South Pacific, travel, Vanuatu