A Travellerspoint blog

October 2005

Settling in

We are settling in nicely to village life. We have even started our own veggie patch and planted some beans, corn, rocket and zucchini for starters. Our hosts burnt and slashed some weedy ground near our bungalow and all that was left for us to do was pull out some stray weeds, hoe some furrows and plant the seeds. The locals assured us we wouldn’t need fertilizer, as the volcanic soil is quite rich.
Matt in garden.jpg
It is still quite hot and dry with little rainfall so we will be hand watering our seedlings for a little while yet. One of our biggest challenges of the day is trying to clean our feet which get covered in dust from walking on dusty tracks. When the wet season finally arrives, I’m sure we will be wishing for dusty tracks again over slippery mud slides!

Every afternoon we hear the squeals, laughter and loud cries of joy of the kids from Ranon cooling off in the beautiful clear water below our bungalow. Sometimes we join them and head in for a snorkel.
kids in water.jpg

We continue to be blessed with everyone’s generosity. Every day the locals smile as they give us some of their locally grown veggies. We certainly won’t go hungry! We have nearly overdosed on mangoes, eating an average of five per day but pineapple season is just around the corner to excite our taste buds again.

Yesterday we took a boat to another coastal village on Ambrym to watch a custom dance for a ship full of American tourists. The one hundred odd tourists had paid up to $1500 a night to go on the cruise. The boat had almost as many crew as it did passengers. They came ashore on Zodiacs to a warm welcome by the locals. A pig was ceremonially killed for the occasion by a local wearing the custom dress which consists of very little. A Nambas (penis sheath) and not much else.
Rom dance.jpg

The dance was a traditional Rom Dance which is part of a complex ritual where men pay money and pigs to earn the right to make the costume and participate in the dance. Some dancers were wearing carved wooden masks and suits made from leaves. Others were wearing Nambas only. The dance was accompanied by singing and drum beats hammered out on a large tam tam (slit gong). At times quite spectular the dance should keep tourists coming back to Ambrym for many years to come.

Our trips to the phone box at a nearby village are becoming quite regular. When we first heard we would be plugging in to the local public phone to make email contact we imagined the two of us jammed in a tiny hot glass phone box with the sun streaming in. However the phone box is a spacious and cool hut with room for 2 chairs and table for the computer. When we use the phone after kids have finished school we sometimes attract quite an audience!
Pippa in phone booth.jpg

Posted by pippamatt 20:47 Comments (5)

work and weddings

The first photo is of the Lolihor Development Council who we met with last Friday. These are the guys we will be working with to implement the ecotourism project in North Ambrym. They represent five villages and have a 2-year appointment as a member on the Council.
Lolihor De..Council.jpg

The meeting began with a prayer. After we proposed each of our ideas in Bislama, they quietly talked through the issues in their local language in what seemed to be a group decision making process. These people who live communally also seem to make their decisions communally. It looks like we will have a busy year ahead – consulting with the community, refining existing tours, developing new tours, designing marketing material, and increasing the understanding of the tourism industry. We hope to be the ones “behind the scenes” with the locals taking ownership. The meeting also finished with a prayer. We will have to start practicing how to say a prayer in Bislama as we will probably be asked to say one next time!

The second photo is of a wedding we were invited to in a small village 1-hour walk from Ranon. We followed a parade of people up a steep hill to the wedding. Men and women were carrying bundles of food, presents, musical instruments and some men were carrying bundles of cooked pig.

There were over 200 people there in an array of colourful Island dresses and shirts. Those that couldn’t fit in the church sat outside under the mango trees. The string band started to play their cheerful tunes and the bride, groom and the wedding party proceeded toward the church. For some reason, the necks of the bride and groom were covered in talcum powder.

After the ceremony concluded, everyone made their way to a shelter made out of local materials. The bride and groom sat in front of their wedding cake but without a smile on their face. Throughout the whole process, the bride and groom never smiled. They were both very gloomy faced and the bride and her mother spent much of their time weeping. It is custom for the bride’s family to be upset for her departure from her village to live with her husband’s family.

Pippa lined up with many others to give a gift, shake hands and congratulate the newly wed couple. Everybody seemed to be spraying deodorant and squeezing talcum powder on to the bride and groom (maybe a substitute for confetti?).
wedding powder.jpg
Finally bundles of food were given out to the large extended family of the bride. The extended families of the groom had prepared these bundles of bullock, pig or vegetables as part of the bridal transaction. Most marriages are still arranged and involve the transfer of more than $1000AUD and 10 pigs as the bride price.
wedding food parcels.jpg

Posted by pippamatt 16:45 Comments (3)


For those of you who are feeling a little envious of our idylic tropical paradise we thought you might like to know some of the realities of everyday life here on North Ambrym.

(1) Sleep ins do not exist here, even on a Sunday morning. Everyone is up at first light (5am) with many rising before hand. Most people are beginning the 1 hour trek up a steep hill to their gardens by 6am. We’ve been dragging ourselves out of bed at 5.30 so Matt can walk down the hill in time to pick up our loaf of freshly baked bread.

(2) It is really hot at the moment. During the middle of the day the best place to be is in bed, on a hammock or on a matt under a tree. The full sun feels unbearable. Most middays there is little breeze. Luckily we remembered how to make those paper fans we all used to make at Primary School. It works wonders to cool us off in the sweltering heat. Once it cools down enough to walk to the beach we generally go for a snorkel in the clear water.

(3) We have no running water. This isn’t too much of a problem as we can siphon water once every few days from a well about 50m away.
Every container we have gets filled and then stacked away to be used when needed.

(4) Privacy is scarce. People here live in such a close-nit communal way. When one of us is alone and spotted by a local it is not uncommon for them to hang around making awkward conversation for 30 minutes until the other one of us returns, at which point they quickly say farewell.
We have been looked after by a grandmother and her 2 grandchildren since we arrived. They have been warm, caring, patient and nurturing but now we are ready for our own space. We share a kitchen and dining area with them, and so cook and eat together every night. Our hygeine and food preparation standards are quite different so we are regularly grossed out by one thing or another – whether its scale encrusted fried fish, ants swarming over fish being kept for a following days snack or cats running over food, plates and food preparation areas. Dishes are generally washed in cold dirty water. We’ve been introducing the idea of clean warm water with mixed success. I’m sure we will miss them when they go back to their usual house in the village but mostly we are looking forward to having our own space, giving the kitchen a spring clean and making it off limits to all but dead animals.

(5) Although our Bislama is improving we still struggle to understand what is going on at times. A simple matter like finding out what time the local store is open until took 4 conversations to resolve. Even then we weren’t sure if the last person had said it was still open. We ended up just walking there and having a look.

(6) Without electricity and no fridge, we don’t get cold drinks, although this we have only occasionally missed. Water from the well or juice from a freshly picked coconut is fairly cool and we occassionally have a cordial for a treat.

(7) Food had worked out a little better than we originally thought. The store is quite well stocked with flour, corned beef, tomato paste, rice and we are able to buy eggs and most kinds of vegies. Fruit is free, you pick it or it is given to you. However we have just eaten a traditional Sunday lunch loaded with heavy starchy vegetables and Laplap. The locals work hard and eat a lot to get the energy they need for their hard days work. Food at this lunch was carefully shared out equally among 30 or so people. Our plates arrived with a pile of heavy vegetables like yam, manioc, kumala (sweet potato), pumpkin, cooking banana and taro with a little coconut cream on top to help swallow it all down. We did our best but could only get through half our lunch and left feeling like we had eaten a car tyre each.

Throughout all this we are having an amazing time. The locals have lived this way for generations and we don’t hear anybody else complain so we don’t either.

The people are amazing, generous, welcoming and are happy to share what they have with complete strangers.

We are blessed and continue to try and make the most of our amazing adventure.

Posted by pippamatt 22:21 Comments (1)

Arrival at Ranon

Our arrival at Ranon was fairly low key. A few people greeted us warmly but most thought of us as just a couple more tourists. We loaded our bags from the cargo boat to a small boat and walked up to our accommodation. A swarm of men, boys and girls grabbed our 15 items of luggage and carried them up a steep hill to our bungalow. We were thankful for the help as a few items would have easily weighed 20kg.
We have settled in well at Ranon. We are very happy with our accommodation and surrounds.
our bungalow.jpg
Fruit is growing every where including a massive mango tree right beside our bungalow. PawPaw and sour sop is also in abundance. We have a view through the trees across the Sea. We are about 1km from the main village so we have some respite from the roosters and barking dogs which are the bain of village life. We are being looked after by Elsie and three children named Lan, Andrea and Walter.
pippa with.. andrea.jpg
Our Bislama is improving all the time and we are learning plenty of bush survival skills. The people here live simply, but seem to have all that they need. A tennis ball given as a present is soon discarded for local inventions like a toy windmill made from palm leaves.
Below is a picture of our kitchen and office.
our kitchen.jpg

Posted by pippamatt 18:49 Comments (0)

Boat trip to Ambrym

Our trip to Ambrym island was long but without any problems. We traveled by cargo boat instead of the faster aeroplane as we had about 80kg of baggage (10kg is the per person limit on the plane). The boat trip was around 20 hours long with a strong swell coming through during the night. We both felt a little sea sick at times but managed to get a little sleep.
our boat t.. island.jpg
Our first picture is of Matt sitting on our bed for the night - the roof covering the cargo on the deck below. Sleep walking could have been interesting!
At each stop swarms of people helped move cargo on and off the boat. No order could be seen to the process but as we pulled away all seemed happy that cargo and people were in the right place.
boat unloa..ig cove.jpg

Posted by pippamatt 18:45 Comments (0)

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