Archives for posts with tag: Vanuatu

After 1 month of training, I found myself with 3 weeks off in Vanuatu and nothing to do.  Luckily, one of the most active lava lakes in the world was on Ambrym, an island only one hour flight away.  As luck would have it, I got a Christmas invite to a remote small village on the same island.  Of course I took it.

The adventure begun on Friday the 12th December at 3:30am when Mark, my fellow volunteer friend from Ambrym arrived somewhat unannounced on my doorstep in Port Vila.  Turns out he came back by cargo ship last minute to process his visa and had nowhere to stay. He figured he could fly back to Craig Cove (East Ambrym) with me and one other volunteer on the 20th, when we would start our volcano hike.

I spent most of the week working, as we had a few deadlines to meet before Christmas.  Mark quickly found out the flights were all sold out, and the boats were not reliable around the festive time of year.  It was a bit stressful.  I was working flat out, attending lots of friend farewells, running out of money, worried about Mark’s visa, the hike, and on top of that I had an extra couchsurfer staying in my tiny flat….

But finally the 20th rolled around, couchsurfer found a boat and Mark found a flight. I quickly washed all the sheets before locking up my house and taking myself to the airport to meet one more volunteer friend, who was placed on Espiritu Santo, Maria.

Plane finally on Ambrym
Plane finally on Ambrym

Next day at 6am we were on a pick up truck; finally volcano bound.  The hike was long and arduous.  The guides gave us little to no food, which was not impressive, given the price of the hike.  The landscape was quite like New Zealand, lush bush with volcanic looking river beds.  After what felt like forever, we arrive at a barren big open space; the ash plain.  I was really starting to wish I had a porter now… At the campsite we comment on the lack of food, ditch our bags, set up the tent and go for another hike.

The Ash Plain
The Ash Plain

There is a steep section into the volcano which should only be descended with a rope.  But this is Vanuatu. The guide forgot the rope.  Two of us go down anyway.  Far out, I’m so close I can feel the heat of the lava.  I can see it splashing against the rock sides of the crater. Ive seen a video of a fat man in a metallic heat suit doing this, and here I am in my T shirt.  I NEVER EVER thought I could get into an active volcano crater.  I have looked into one before, which I wrote about here, but we had to go at night to spot the lava. This time, the lava was a mere 100m away, it was indescribable.  After about 30mins, which felt like a short eternity we decide we should probably go back up and meet the others.

Lava Lake
OMG – Could I smile wider?

Even the night sky up top the volacano is amazing, red like the sunset, all night long.

Heart Nature
Nature loves us!

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Work Small, Spell Big was something I heard over my Christmas break.  I literally means, work a little, rest a lot, and sums up my time in Vanuatu so far like nothing else.

After the volcano walk, we walked a further 4 hours to Willit, a village in the North of Ambrym.  Engineers Without Borders NZ has a long history of working with the Water Council in the area, and we are currenlty building 4 rainwater harvesting systems.  But I didn’t go there to work! That’s another Volunteer’s job.  In the village I went to the gardens, did some weaving, and taught the ladies macramé bracelets.  I tried to do yoga and a walk most days, and was pretty successful, but mainly I just lazed around.

Hair
Me lazing around while the local little angels play with my hair

People in Vanuatu are pretty lucky.  It’s been said they are the happiest people in the world and I can see why.  In the village, you do what you feel like. There is no set jobs, and no judging of lazy people.  Suppose you want to build a house? You call some friends over and build a house!  Suppose you want to eat? Go pick some food from the gardens!  A feast at the end was always called for.

On this day we all built a house
On this day we built this rain shelter together, before having a feast

Wedding Payment
On this day a family bought a bride with a cow and a lot of taro, before having a feast

Money is needed occasionally. School fees, cement, petrol and tools are expensive.  But they are all one off costs.  Not many on the island had “regular” jobs as we know it.  Isn’t that what many people in the western world work towards?

Living the Dream
Some would call this “Living the Dream”

I hopped off the bus, and was only interested in one thing. Toilet. We had been on the bus for 3 or 4 hours, but the last hour just felt like forever, thanks to my bladder!

I look around and see a rudimentary structure that appears to be a shop and a house. There is nothing else around, just barren desert. I feel a sense of pride at my Spanish and rush towards the lady, asking for the baño. But she says there isn’t one, and tries to sell me a Coke.  I felt so devastated that she would lie to me like this. Because obviously, the family living there must have a toilet, right?

Wrong. This is Nicaragua.  A small, poor country in central America.  For me, it was the land of volcanoes, surf, rocking chairs and parties.  For the people living there, it is a different story all together.  The daily grind of putting rice and beans on the table to feed their kids is hard enough.

In Nica, the conscientious people burn rubbish (mainly plastics) outside while their children play and inhale the fumes. The majority of people just throw the rubbish wherever they are at the time when it is produced.

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Just another stream behind a township in Nicaragua

Can you imagine building a toilet as well? What’s the point? Over a billion people still practice open defecation today…. Which would be ok if they are healthy and happy.  But there are so many water borne diseases we know about, and I feel like I can make a difference. In fact, it is a social responsibility for me.

This is my motivation for going to Vanuatu with Engineers without Borders.  I’ll be there a whole year, to increase awareness in the sanitation area. Whether this be educational programmes at schools, up skilling labourers, or both, I am not sure yet.  I know no one in Vanuatu, in fact, when I saw the placement, I had to google where it was! This will be a different kind of adventure to my usual and will be what I make of it.  I am scared and excited all at the same time.

Because remember, what you see as a tourist is not reality.

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Beauty queen parading around beach

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Cute kids by the beach.  Is that plastic on top of the roof to stop the rain? yes it is.