A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: pippamatt


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)

Village stay

We have just returned from an amazing “village stay” on Moso island. All the other Youth Ambassadors stayed in Siviri village, but AUSAID wanted the two of us to experience remote island life in preparation for our year-long adventure!! We took a small boat over the crystal clear blue water to a small village called Sunae where about 60 Ni-Vans live.
Boys close up siviri.jpg
When we arrived to the island, some small kids (pikinini in Bislama) started to cry, as most white people who they see come with needle in hand. We both stayed with separate families. Their generosity and warm welcomes was overwhelming! They even gave up their own beds and slept on the floor.
Matt's Moso family.jpgPippa's moso family.jpg
We talked Bislama the whole time and were both pleasantly surprised with our ability to communicate effectively so quickly!

Some highlights over the weekend include:
• Matt’s first attempt to climb a coconut tree,
Matt climb..ut tree.jpg
• ‘Scratchem’ some coconut to make the coconut milk for the traditional Lap lap dish
• Going to church and hearing beautiful harmonies and the big lunch afterwards in celebration for Father’s Day.
• Taking one pre-school lesson for the pikinini
Matt with ..in Moso.jpg
• Visiting a beautiful beach and going snorkeling through a myriad of colourful fish
• “Story-yarning” through the night
• Discovering the rewards of a simple life!

At our departure from the village we were given one further display of generosity from these amazing people. We were given 2 island dresses that had been hand made by the Mammas and 2 hand-woven mats. As our boat drifted away the whole village waved us goodbye from the shore.

We had a bit of culture shock when we returned to Port Vila after just 2 days of village life. We can’t imagine how much culture shock we will get coming back to Australia after one year of village life!!

moso view.jpg

This final image is of a beach close to the village where we stayed. The people of Sunae are trying to start an ecotourism project. If you want a relaxing day on the beach, great snorkling, and some tasty traditional food contact Richard at Destinations Travel in Vila for more details.

Posted by pippamatt 22:54 Comments (0)

First few days

We’ve arrived in Vanuatu to a wonderful warm welcome at the airport. The beautiful harmonies of a string band filled the airport as we waited to be processed by customs (through the Vanuatu residents gate no less!). We were a little worried about getting our Indian spices through (which we had been told were essential for surviving on island cooking for a long time). We handed our things to declare form to the customs agent who seemed a little annoyed that we had declared something. He asked whether we had salami or leaves of any kind and then waved us through when we told him about the spices which are a little hard to get here in Vanuatu. Outside the airport we were greeted by a smiling ni-Van (the word here for people from Vanuatu), who put a traditional lae of leaves around our necks. We were also greeted by other Australian volunteers who have been here for 6 months and George Bumseng (Pippa’s contact for her work out on Ambrym Island). After chatting for a while we took off to our accommodation in a minibus.

The following day the current Youth Ambassadors took us on a guided tour around Vila to show us all the important sites – where to buy a bush knife, the best places to eat, the Nakamal (Kava Hut), medical centre and the amazing markets with a beautiful spread of tropical delights! This first photo is the view from the waterfront at Port Vila. Ahh its hard work being a volunteer!

port vila waterfront.jpg

On Sunday we were taken on a cruise around the bay and stopped for a snorkel. The water was so clear! The coral 15 metres below us on the sea floor was clearly visible. There were a few shallower outcrops of coral but most was too deep for a good look. I think this just wet our appetite for scuba diving!

snorkling ..unteers.jpg
george bumseng.jpg

Last night we joined heaps of Australians at a sports bar and watched the Rugby League grand final. It was very sad to see pictures of the bali bombings on satellite tv. We are fine here, the ni-Vans are very friendly, welcoming and are definitely not muslim extremists.

Posted by pippamatt 18:40 Comments (2)

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