A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: pippamatt

A day in the life

We have had quite a few requests from people who have been looking at our blog, “What is it that you actually do each day?”. So we thought we would provide you with a day in the life…here goes…

Matt wakes up feeling guilty for not being up for an hour already (like the locals). He stumbles down the steep hill to buy some bread from Sandy the baker who is also our ‘adopted’ father for 100 vatu (about $1).

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(Our adopted family who we have a weekly meal with)

Pippa crawls out of bed and goes to the toilet using a bucket flush system. We both have showers in the trickle of cold water. By the time we get back to our room we look down at our recently cleaned feet which are again covered in dust.

Pippa puts on her conservative clothing (long skirts and covers up her shoulders). Matt sniffs his clothes and decides to turn them inside out to get another days wear out of them.

We adjourn to the dining area for breakfast (the kitchen, bathroom and sleeping quarters are always separate from each other in Vanuatu).

We tuck into bread with peanut butter and a cup of tea followed by seasonal fruits which are at the moment are yummy mangoes, paw paw and the sweetest pineapple we have ever tasted. Occasionally we spoil ourselves with weet-bix and luke warm powdered milk.

We write a list and plan our activities for the day.

Our dining room now becomes our office. On the plus side the office is airy with water views but on the down side, the insects have easy access and during heavy rainfalls the table needs to be strategically placed between the drips falling through the roof. We write e-mails, design brochures, write funding applications, send off faxes (just checking you are still awake!) and design tour guide training programs, etc.
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(Our dining area/office)

Walk up to the Fire Mountain Clinic where there is a solar rig to charge the laptop. To get the key to the room where the solar rig is located, we hassle Rosie, the nurse, who often has a line of patients including expecting mothers in labour! Rosie has delivered more than 1000 babies in her long nursing career so us asking for the key doesn’t seem to phase this superwoman in the least.

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(Rosie, the super nurse)

Lunch time. Our office reverts back into an eating establishment serving fine dished such as scrambled eggs on toast, kumala chips, cucumber and tomato salad or bruschetta (minus the cheese and basil!).

We are exhausted by the heat and collapse on the bed for a snooze.

Pick up our lap top from the charger and thank Rosie who has successfully delivered baby no.1001.

We start our 20 minute walk to Linbul to use the telephone. The walk always takes longer than expected because when we bump into someone returning from their garden, we must ask the obvious question – Yu bin go lo garden? In return, they ask – Bae yu go lo telefon?

Arrive at phone box. Kids run into their houses to bring us some chairs to sit on. A crowd of children and adults huddle over out shoulders with curiosity for this strange thing called a computer. We send and receive our e-mails and our faces light up in a smile when we happen to get news from home.

Walk back to Ranon (allowing more time for ‘story-yarning). We are afraid to make too much eye contact with people at the risk of being over burdened with fruit and vegetable giveaways.

An important part of our day is our afternoon journey into our village. We story-yarn with people, organize meetings, arrange times to test tours and purchase a few precious items from the store - rice, bully beef, toilet paper and 2 minute noodles.

Trek up the steep hill to our bungalow. Have a cold shower to wash off the sweat and grime from the day.

Decided what to cook for dinner – rice, vegetables, lentils, noodles, baked beans or go all out and make spag bog (using bully beef) followed by custard and bananas for dessert!

Cook dinner on our 3 burner gas cooker using a kerosene lamp and head torches for light.

Eat! Matt eats twice as much as Pippa – piling up his plates 3 times full.

Decide from our vast array of entertainment options – cards or cards.

Play cards – cribbage, golf, speed, gim rummy or hearts. Who said you needed TV…by the way who won Australian Idol?

Bed time. Read if we can keep our eyes awake.

Sleep solidly in despite of the heat, hard pillows, bamboo slats pressing into our backs through the thin mattress and the mosquitoes trying to get through the mozzie net. Good night.

(Our bungalow bedroom)

Posted by pippamatt 20:58 Comments (1)

Back to the big smoke

At short notice, we were called back to the capital, Port Vila by our in-country manager for some Youth Ambassador meetings. The journey back to the capital started with a stunning 2 hour boat ride to the air strip on the western side of the island, Craig Cove.

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(View of Ambrym Island from the boat)

We boarded the 19 seater plane assuming it would be a quick trip from Ambrym to Vila not realising the plane had to make multiple stops on runways shorter than a postage stamp! The pilots were incredibly talented landing and taking off on tiny airstrips just metres away from the ocean. We often had to pick up precious cargo including watermelons, mangoes, pigs, chickens and people.

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(Waiting to board the plane at Craig Cove)

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(Picking up some fragile cargo)

Upon arrival, we were quickly jolted out of our simple existence into the mod-cons of Port Vila... having electricity, running water, washing machines, cold drinks, sizzling steaks, hot showers, speaking English and having easy communication with the outside world. We decided to stay awhile and wait for a spare part for our lap top to arrive from Australia and then head back to Ambrym.

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(Matt at the Port Vila markets)

During our time in Vila, Pippa broke a tooth (an old hockey injury) and had to fly back to Australia for a few days for some dental work.

The Youth Ambassador Pacific Manager has also given us a satellite phone for emergencies and easier contact with the outside world. Apparently anyone can send us free text messages using the internet (if you are interested, please e-mail us, so we can give you the details).

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(Pacific Manager, Sue Earle with Pippa and our In-Country Manager, Lou Cochrane.)

Posted by pippamatt 16:40 Comments (3)

A delicate balance

At first glance, the people of Ambrym seemed to live a very simple and basic life but after spending just a short time here we have learnt that this isn’t the case. This is a land of magic, bushcraft, politics, innovation, creativity, complex culture, traditional agriculture, spirituality and deep connections between people and their natural environment. There is also an underlying desperation to generate income to pay for essentials such as kerosene, rice and school fees. A recent blow to the community has been the fall in copra price, the main source of income for many families. The locals hope that an increase in tourism will bring valuable dollars into the community.

Everyone surveyed wanted more tourists to come to the island but also identified the need to preserve island culture and the natural environment. Ecotourism is a great option for maintaining the delicate balance between tourism development, the environment and cultural traditions. We have become aware of how important this is because when the balance is disrupted, there can be a domino effect of consequences.

For example, tourists visiting the volcanoes during yam planting season (Sep – Jan) could cause spiritual upheaval to the community. Locals can recount many occasions when this tabu has been broken causing increased volcanic activity with large amounts of ash and acid rain damaging crops and water supplies.

The yam is not your average garden vegetable! They’re a major food source, a long standing tradition and a major status symbol. The competition to grow the biggest yam (up to 2 metres long) is on the scale of AFL football in Australia. The family that can grow the largest yam gains prestige throughout the community. Families vie to purchase this special yam to share this increased status.
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(A proud man showing off his yam plant)

Although it is important to respect the tabu on visiting the Volcano during yam planting season, vital tourist dollars are missed. As part of our project we are working with counterparts including the Lolihor Development Council (LDC), tour guides and bungalow owners to develop alternative ecotours to keep tourists coming all year round. Tours being developed include forest adventures, garden tours, musical displays, village walks, canoe tours, and trips to view the ancient and spectacular Rom dance.
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(Matt exploring the forest with tour guide John)

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(Pippa and Matt inside a bunyan tree)

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(Pippa and John inside an old volcano crater)

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(One of Ranon's chiefs playing a traditional musical instrument)

We will also be trying to build the capacity of our counterparts to organise, market, promote, manage and evaluate the tours. We are also developing brochures, websites, flyers and writing media releases about what Ambrym has to offer. If you are interested in coming to this amazing place, please get in touch!

Posted by pippamatt 15:43 Comments (4)

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.
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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.
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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.
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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?).
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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.
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Posted by pippamatt 16:45 Comments (3)

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