A Travellerspoint blog

Surprise visit

We have been in Vila for the last few weeks recharging the batteries (our batteries not our laptop’s). Ice cream, cold drinks and fresh meat most days has been a real treat. Also we’ve been able to get heaps more work done being able to run the laptop for a full day on mains electricity.

We had a huge surprise last week! A visit from Pippa’s dad, Miles (who said he would never come to Vanuatu!). He arrived from Australia determined to ‘bump into us in the street’. Matt heard a car pull up where we are staying and went outside to discover Miles getting out of a taxi. He then asked that Matt entice Pippa outside on false pretences. What a surprise for her! Tears and hugs were shared and he was welcomed inside. Luckily we had a spare room (in our friends house where we are staying) so he could stay with us rather than a hotel for the week.

Pippa toured her Dad around the delights of Port Vila including the colourful markets, cultural museum, cascade waterfalls, secret gardens, village life, the underwater world (snorkeling) and she even threw in a cyclone for the complete tropical experience. Cyclone Jim came within 300 kms and caused some gale force winds and rough seas. Luckily the weather improved and the seas calmed enough for a snorkel at Hideaway Island later on in the week.

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(Pippa’s Dad in the Port Vila markets)

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(Pippa and her Dad trying some kava at the local nakamal)

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(Cyclone Jim's movements - supplied by Pippa's brother, Nigel)

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(Waves whipped up by cyclone Jim hitting Vila)

Pippa’s Dad gave us a second surprise when he arrived with a “picture frame” under his arms. He offered to show us what was inside and instead of a painting he pulled out a 40 watt solar panel that he had carried all the way from Australia. He had also bought 2 lights and a fan that could be powered by the panel – these simple items will be ultimate luxuries back on Ambrym Island!

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(Miles with his generous gifts)

While Pippa spent the week with her Dad being a tourist, Matt spent the days teaching at Port Vila International School. He enjoyed getting back into some maths and science teaching and had a fun week with well behaved students from all corners of the world, even one from Russia!

After both having busy weeks, we decided to spoil ourselves with a 4 day/3 night diving package at Tranquility Island Resort on Moso Island. Pippa completed her PADI Open Water Certificate and is now a qualified recreational diver. Matt did some different dives while Pippa was doing her theory and underwater exercises.

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The water was a little stirred up from Cyclone Jim but we still saw heaps of turtles, beautifully coloured fish and some great coral. The deepest we dove was to about 20m. We stayed in some beautiful basic bungalows right on the waters edge and had heaps of privacy (we were actually the only tourists there!) The food was also fantastic and the hosts were a young Aussie couple who we got along really well with.

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(Matt holding a baby Hawksbill Turtle - Moso island has a rearing facility for holding baby turtles until they grow to 30cm and can fend for themselves.)

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(Moso is full of Hermit crabs – no shells left for this guy who was using a shell of a local nut)

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(Matt relaxing on Moso)

We are now back in Port Vila for another week getting as much done while we have mains power and resources close by. We are getting a little too used to luxuries of Vila and are a little apprehensive about going back to the basic conditions on Ambrym.

Posted by pippamatt 14:13 Comments (3)

Volcano Odyssey

On Friday 13th we made our epic adventure to one of Ambrym Island’s famous volcanoes, Mt Marum. We made the journey a 1-day training practical for some local tour guides. Each guide was assigned a section of the track to manage and interpret information along the way.

The night before our journey, we stayed at Isaiah’s bungalows in Ranvetlam, as this is the best starting point for the trek. Two AYAD volunteers have being staying with us throughout the week, so decided to join us on our big adventure.

We began our journey at 7am and walked for 3 hours through beautiful lush rainforest. At the edge of the ash plain where the rainforest ended, we were given a home made javelin made from local cane to throw out on to the ash plain. This local custom ensures a safe journey to the volcano. The walk along the dry ash plain was flat but hot. The guides found a few kinds of local berries to give to us to eat and many put flowers in their hair as decorations. After an hour of walking, we ventured up a rocky river channel to the ridge of the volcano. We were blessed with good weather and no sign of the dangerous winds the guides had mentioned on the way to the top.

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(Flower decorations – looking to the East from the Volcano top)

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(Mat making the final ascent)

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(We made it!)

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(Janelle, Phillipa, Pippa, Matt and George on the Volcano edge)

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(Matt with tour guides on the crater edge)

When we reached the top of the volcano crater, we yelled out a cry of amazement. The crater of the volcano was a huge canyon more than 1km across with sheer cliffs all around. Although there was no lava inside we could see jets of steam coming out of the rock and the smell of sulphur was quite strong and made you cough.

We took photos and then hiked around the rim of the volcano for a few hundred metres to see a smaller crater that joins the main one. This had a little more steam coming out but still no lava.

After a little more gawking at the amazing view we grudgingly began the walk home. It took us more than 4 hours with few breaks and we got home just before dark. Over all it was an exhilarating, amazing and exhausting day.

All the villages in our area have been celebrating Bon Anne (New Year). This involves all the people in one village gathering together with instruments and flowers. They head off to a neighbouring village (sometimes walking for more than 4 ours) and sing songs, dance, clap and cheer to welcome in the New Year. The singing is amazing with up to 50 people all singing in a beautiful harmony. Onlookers throw talcum powder, flour and sometimes paint onto the singers, while homemade fireworks go off. At the end of most songs the leader yells ‘hipi’ then everyone else answers with a deep, booming ‘booray’ (of course a local version of hipip hooray). You can hear the singing and cheering from miles around. After the singing flowers are sold and the host villagers also give gifts of food to the visitors. Bon Anne has lasted for 2 weeks and at the end all the money and food that has been collected is used to host a big end of Bon Anne feast.
Our local village came to sing Bon Anne to us. We then joined them and sang to a neighbouring village. It was heaps of fun but really tiring. It’s amazing these guys have been doing it for the last 2 weeks.

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(Pippa pouring talcum powder onto Bon Anne singers)

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(Pippa and Berry on their way to sing Bon Anne at a neighbouring village)

Posted by pippamatt 14:41 Comments (6)

Season greetings

We hope you all had a lovely Xmas and New Years Eve.

We have filled this festive season with family feasts, snorkeling adventures, gardening and relaxing on the hammock. Christmas on Ambrym was certainly a unique one that we will treasure always…

We listened to carols in local language at the church on Xmas Eve and although we didn’t understand the words, the harmonies of the locals were beautiful.

On Christmas morning, we opened up our parcels from Australia including an awesome board game, xmas table cloth, tea towel, calendars, boules, smelly soap, lollies and books – thank you everyone who sent us a little something!!

Pippa put on her colourful Mother Hubbard dress and we ventured down the hill to enjoy pancakes, bread and tea for breakfast with our ‘adopted family’. We gave everyone a small gift including marbles for the kids, family photos, tea towels and cards. We enjoyed a lunch under a big tree together consisting of banana and pumpkin lap lap, delicious roasted pork (a whole piglet cooked in a wood fired oven), pineapple, cucumber and rice. Although we didn’t have mince pies, turkey and a cold glass of wine, we felt pretty spoilt to be enjoying such a delicious feast. It was the most tender and moist pork we have ever tasted.

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(Pippa sitting with her adopted family about to eat the Christmas feast)

We spent the afternoon with the nurse Rosie’s family (next to the bungalow). It was beautiful weather, so we all lazed under the shady trees, played with the kids and their new toys we had given them (including a boomerang, frisbee and bubbles), Matt played the guitar with Stephen (nurse Rosies son) and we ate some more food as we watched the sunset! Overall, it was a lovely day although we did miss you all back home!

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(Kids pram – Vanuatu style)

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(Christmas Day sunset)

The day after Christmas is known as Family Day here. We enjoyed a relaxing day with our adopted family, Rosie’s family and Laan Douglas (our counterpart) playing boules, cards and eating local island food.

Willie, a Canadian friend/CUSO volunteer stayed with us over the Christmas period.
On Tuesday, we all went snorkeling along a massive drop off with incredible fish and coral. From the surface you see a small cliff coming out of the water but when you get in the cliff continues underwater as deep as you can see. Visibility was probably 20m but no sign of the end of the cliff could be seen. We were all a little nervous as we snorkled along the cliff because of how deep the water was. We felt a little exposed on the surface and so kept a close look out for sharks. At one point the cliff wall jutted right out in front of us so we had no idea what was around the corner. After a few deep breaths we worked up the courage and swam around the corner to come face to face with a massive 6ft groper. Not sure who got a bigger fright, him or us, but after the initial shock we watched him for a while and he watched us. We also saw a massive pod of dolphins and our first turtle, unfortunately after we got back out of the water!!
On the way back to the village we passed a bunch of boys swimming in a beautiful fresh water spring. We are told that there are quite a few turtles here! Maybe a place for our next snorkel?

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(Snokelling in the warm tropical waters of Vanuatu)

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(Matt and Willie with boys at the natural spring)

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(Local boys cooling off in the sea splash)

We also spent a day with our adopted family making a traditional meal called tuluk. It took all day and involved grating manioc, scratching coconut, milking coconut, cooking bully beef, onion and garlic, wrapping it up in lap lap leaves and roasting it in the fire. It ended up being delicious! We also planted a mango tree with the family to commemorate our stay here on Ambrym.

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(Kremer, Pippa and Nevin grating manioc)

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(Eta, Nevin and Kremer preparing the tuluk to be roasted in the fire)

The locals have decided they want a constant stream of volunteers to help this community As a result, the bungalow owner has decided to build a house dedicated to volunteers next to the tourist bungalows. We will soon be living local style in a house made from 100% natural materials. The house will be big enough for a small kitchen and bedroom and has a stunning view over the valley to the beach below. It should be complete in a month or two.

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(Our new house)

Posted by pippamatt 20:58 Comments (3)

Merry Christmas

In the wind down to Christmas we have been busy running tour guide training, testing tours, writing information for tourists and gathering material for a grant application for a tourism information centre. Work is going along nicely and the community seem to be very happy with what we have been doing. We hope our efforts will result in many happy tourists departing Ambrym and spreading the news of this amazing place to their friends back home.

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(Happy tour guides)

Below is a photo of our newly accredited tour guides who over two days gained practical experience in welcoming tourists, good hygiene, developing tours, and presenting information to tourists in an informative and interesting manner. We were lucky enough to have the story of our tour guide training picked up by the national newspaper of Vanuatu with a half page spread and photo.

Cyclone season is upon us and the owner of our Bungalow organized a renovation to make our Bungalow Cyclone Proof. Apparently if you tie green coconut leaves to the roof they help to keep the roof on in the event of a cyclone. The locals seem very confident about this technique, although we will be very happy not to have to test it out. We will both be pretty scared should a cyclone come.

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(Cyclone proofing our bungalow)

The weather is still so hot. Some days it can be completely still for hours on end and when you lay down for your midday nap you drip with sweat. On these occasions our hand fans and cold showers offer a brief respite. When the rain comes it offers relief and its nice to fall asleep to the sound of it on the thatch roof of our bungalow. The mosquitos have really kicked in and we are in the routine of wearing repellant and burning mosquito coils most of the time.

Kids are in school holiday mode now. There is no cinemas, nintendos, or bowling alleys here so kids entertain themselves by using rubber sling shots (to kill flying foxes and birds for a midday snack), playing cards, swimming or kicking around a ball.

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Laan behind, then Walter, Jomai and Donal in front on the hunt

We were having a nice evening walk recently when we came across a large group of families sitting by the water. We took out our camera out to take photos of a few kids in the water which caused a stampede as every kid in a 50m radius bolted for the water to be in the photo. It was hard to get the right shot so in the end we settled for a group photo on the beach.

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After the stampede.

And now the Christmas message from the Queen. Na just kidding…..

We hope you all have a beautiful Christmas with your friends and family. Make sure to have a cold beverage, a nice cut of tender meat and fruit mince pie in honour of us! We love you all, miss you heaps and look forward to our return to OZ in September 06.

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Posted by pippamatt 21:13 Comments (2)

First times

We have settled into our life here on Ambrym and have become familiar with much of our surroundings and the goings on in the nearby villages. However over the last week we still managed to experience a few more firsts:

- Our first big earthquake; our chairs shook and the crockery in the cupboard rattled for a few seconds. Some of you may have heard that a Volcano on Ambae (a nearby island) has been erupting. We can only just make out the smoke from the erupting Volcano from our local beach so it is a fair distance from us…no worries for us here….but perhaps the Earthquake was related to the Seismic activity around the Volcano?

- We were the first tourists to visit an amazing waterfall about 4 hours walk from our Bungalow. This honour was bestowed on us as part of our work here on Ambrym. Local guides are developing new tours and we are helping them test and improve these tours. The waterfall adventure tour as this new tour is known went off quite well even though we had to slog through the rain for most of the 8 hour return walk. The 40m high waterfall at the mid point of our journey was breath taking and set amongst pristine rainforest. During the tour we had our names discretely carved in a Banyan Tree declaring our presence as the first tourist to the area. Another first – we were invited to plant a banana tree and kava (the local narcotic) bush.

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(The waterfall photo we will use on the advertising brochure)

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(Proud first tourists!)

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(Boys hiding from the rain during our practice tour)

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(Hopefully many bananas for the locals from this one!)

- We had our first big dose of tropical rain, it lasted for 3 days and felt as if it was never going to end. Some of our things went mouldy, and clothes were impossible to dry. The coming wet season will certainly be quite a challenge for us both.

- We saw our first use of bush medicine. We were wandering through Ranon village when we noticed a small arrow being constructed using broken glass for the tip and a tiny stick as the shaft. A mini bow was then produced and we thought a toy was being made or perhaps a miniature animal hunt would soon begin. However the true prey was soon revealed. The feet of a man with injured knees. The bow was drawn back and the arrow was repeatedly fired into the skin of the victims feet. This we were assured would release the pressure inside the leg and reduce the pain the patient was feeling in his swollen knees. Acupuncture Vanuatu style?

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(Bush medicine in action)

Posted by pippamatt 17:28 Comments (0)

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