Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ra Island and blogging

Ok, I haven't been the most assiduous blogger. Sorry about that. The main reason being that this was supposed to be a blog documenting my research and it is actually a general blog about my stay here in Vanuatu. There are several situations leading to that, the main of all being that I don't yet have a research permission. So no research until that is taken care of.

What I want to say, is that this blog, until further notice, will be like it has been so far, that is a travel blog :) and I promise to try to think about making an effort in attempting to write more often.

...but no the next 2 weeks! We are going to Torba province, in the North. To the Banks, to be more specific, and to Ra island, to be even more specific. It is very far north, close to the Solomon islands and (even) warmer than here. It is one of the most remote areas in Vanuatu, meaning that internet, phone and even electricity will not be easy (well internet pretty much impossible). TVL, one of the networks, has coverage in a big part of the islands, so we'll try that, although some people say you have to climb on trees to get signal. And we have batteries to charge the mobiles (and every now and then someone might turn on a generator).

So... no news for a while, but when I come back I try to stick to my promise (to try to think about.....).

See you soon (hopefully),


P.S. - Ah, forgot about something! Cyclones often appear in the area around the Banks. So wish me luck!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Full volcanic experience!

My first thought when I woke up this morning was that the subway, here in Port Vila, is pretty intense. It took me maybe 20 seconds to realize that the shaking was from an earthquake! Such an absurd feeling that I was not even thinking that there is no subway (or any rail-tracks) of any kind here :).

Anyway, quite impressive stuff... people just kinda came out of their homes and waited, but no one was really scared. 10 minutes later, again... this time slightly weaker. They lasted for a long time, I never experienced anything like this. Maybe around 30-40 seconds each of them.

Seems like it was between 5.4 and 5.8, the first one, according to different reports and the other one around 4.8 (on Richter scale).

So the explanation I got was that the volcano in the island of Ambrym was messing around, but nothing serious and no need to evacuate populations. The epicenter was around 100 km from Port Vila, where we are now.

Well, I guess that is what you get when you come to a place which is basically a bunch of volcanoes :)

The sensation though, really unforgettable... everything just shaking... hard enough to wake me up, which is not really an east feat!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

And now for something completely different...

In between some minor burns, skin rashes and feet wounds from walking kilometers with my flip-flops. In between struggling with this unbelievable heat! And I don't mean just the heat, but the humidity, everything... it is really hot. Between 10:00 and 15:00, walking 10 meters outside feels like running a marathon. In between all that, we still managed to get something going here.
First of all, and to put things into context, we went to a couple of clubs on the weekend (part of our research) and I couldn't help but notice that two of the songs that were played over and over (had already heard them on some buses, and some cellphones on the street), were in Portuguese! :)
I looked it up after the lyrics and here is what I found:

Indeed! This song does not stop when it's time to go out! I am sure that Portuguese people reading this will find it quite funny :)
And here is the other one:

Ok had enough??? Look for more yourself otherwise... these are the only two ones I know.
So, why am I sharing this with you? Apart from the obvious fact that it is just plain funny in itself? Well, I looked them up on the web, and got the contact to their agent from their website. Wrote to him, to tell him about this unexpected success and if they would consider coming here... to which they replied with quite some enthusiasm.
Still not easy because there is a need for money, for traveling, stay, and performance fee (if I cannot manage to convince to come just for the hell of it).
I wrote to the head of the Cultural Center here, a very respected man, the elected member of parlement with the most votes in the history of Port Vila. Someone that seems to be very much into the arts and from whom I just hear the best stories, some of which I might share later on, and he replied to me just now. In his answer he suggests they play on a festival here in October called Fest'Napuan, and that they can cover the stay and the round trip to Sydney or Brisbane.
1-0! Now I just need to convince someone to pay the round trip Lisbon - Sydney and perhaps some performance fee if possible.
Let's see, let's see!! Looking good! Perhaps an opportunity to come and do more work here in October??? Hmmmm....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Piper Methysticum

It might sound weird to some that one of my first posts would be about Kava (or Piper Methysticum), but that is only if you have never been to Vanuatu. Kava is of major importance here. Men drink it all the time, and it is used to cure all types of problems, from tooth aches or any health problem you can think of.

This is what it looks like. The part that is used is the root, which is cleaned first (check out next picture), and then grinded, mixed with water and filtered. Traditionally (and still in some islands, or when no other method is available) it was chewed (in some places by young boys that have still no female partner), I think that I will have the opportunity to try it done in that way, when I head out to some of the outer islands. (Lucky me eh! ;))

Kava is sold at nakamal, the name for a Kava bar. There seem to be hundreds of them in Port Vila alone. It really doesn't take much to build one. A couple of wooden planks for seats, a bucket with the Kava, a couple of shells (or now bowls) where you drink it from, and a source of water so you can rinse your mouth (very very very needed). Some times they will have some finger food that you can have afterward as well.
Unfortunately I do not yet have pictures of the nakamals themselves since I have not yet found a good opportunity to do so. It would seem weird to start taking pictures like crazy there. This is a place where men come after work to relax. It is a quiet place and I try to be cautious about disturbing that. But as I get to know some of them better and better, there might come pictures soon.
The first nakamal we went to, was great. It is called Galaxie nakamal, and the owner, Didier, gave us a tour of the place. It is still after one week and a couple of dozen nakamal later, the best one that we have been to. The variety of food is amazing and delicious (except from some chicken feet and other stuff that doesn't really attract me so much).

This is a picture of Didier, Jeanette and I on our first shell of kava. Shells can be of 50 or 100 Vatu (around 3,75 and 7.5 SEK or 0.35 and 0.7 Euro), The food costs 20 Vatu a piece (you can all make the Math now :)). This is the only cheap place to be in and we have tried to go there as often as possible.
The interest is double. Apart from being a really pleasant place to be with really nice people. It is the place where we got the fastest and easiest integrated in. They like us there and already know us. We are constantly being offered cake or kava. And we have decided to do some of the work there. I'll fill you in on the details as things progress, but we have been having some good ideas on what to do in this place.
Back to Kava. I have no pictures of the way it looks, but you can get a pretty good idea if you look at your sink after you wash your dishes... honestly it looks like that and tastes even worse :) The more you drink the harder it is to prepare yourself for the next one.
The effect is interesting however. It numbs your lips and tongue, and gives you a kind of relaxed feeling all over. Not very very strong but still an interesting way to spend some hours among friends. After this, men are all speaking very slowly, with a low tone of voice, and if they drink too much, they will be stumbling back home.
One of the great things about this social event is how silent and calm everything is. You have to remind yourself to keep your voice down and when you stop talking you cannot stop but be amazed at the peace and quiet around you. So different from Latin cultures. No screaming, no interrupting, conversations run really smoothly and can be incredibly interesting. The nakamals of Port Vila are a great place to hang out at night.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

First day in Port Vila...

A couple of days have passed since we arrived, and I have been struggling with how to write about this. I started writing immediately at the end of the first day but am having an extremely hard time to wrap this up in a post. There is too much to tell and whether I start chronologically or by themes, I get invariably stuck.  I think I give up on the day-by-day description and will post things in a more relaxed order...

These first three days have been extraordinary. Against all odds we wake up early every morning (around 6:00 a.m.), even on the first day when we were extremely exhausted from the trip. The rock hard mattress makes sure that I never sleep too much... perhaps it's an alternative design to an alarm clock...

From the room, in City Lodge, I could hear some loud screaming on the street. Now I know that it is praying, at the time it sounded like advertisement. I went out to get some bottled water (first and only time I did so, tap water here is great), and the perspective was completely different from the night before.

First thing it took getting used to is greeting everyone passing on the street: "halo", "Gudmoning", "Gudnaet", depending on the circumstances, is a must. People are very nice, and when you talk with them they often say this about themselves. They are very proud of being so nice and warm.

Vila is an extremely expensive city however, perhaps more so than Stockholm or London. This fact put some pressure on us to find a place with a kitchen so we could save some money. Eating out is very very expensive, even if just a hot dog or a simple burger. Nothing is cheap here... well, apart from Kava, but we'll get to that later...
We walked a lot around the area of Port Vila, the market place, the trees filled with Papayas, coconut trees, breath taking views, and a immense heat that we are slowly becoming accustomed to.

We had been in contact with Ghislain, a Canadian guy who's been working in an IT company in Vanuatu for around 2 years, and decided to meet up for some Kava. I will talk about this in the next post.
We got the directions to Galaxie Nakamal, a Nakamal (Kava bar) in the area of Freshwota 2, near another nakamal, called "Green Light". And off we went...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Arriving at Port Vila

Ok, this is a hard one. The mix of emotions was a little overwhelming. Stepping off the plane at night, was like walking into a sauna. That feeling I probably won't forget so soon...
The airport was very small and the control not very tight, as I had heard it would be. We just walked off there, no questions, no problems... Some people were being checked though, so we might have been the exception.

Then I took some money from the ATM machine and bought a SIM card. Jeanette was about to do the same though the ATM machine "swallowed" her card and then displayed someting like "out of order, please go to another ATM"... nice! :)

To go into town there were 2 options, bus or taxi. The buses were over at that time though, so it had to be taxi... 1500 Vatu, around 140 SEK or 13 euros. For an extremely short ride... the taxis here are a rip off. The buses however work really well, that will come on a next post.

Dark, dark, dark... some people walking around at night, random lights at some distance, but mostly just dark. Only when arriving in the city center were there lights, from the hotels, shops... stepped off the taxi and went into the room. Very small room, but functional. The mattresses, from which I am now writing, are like rock. I am always waking up with some limb going numb :) And for the cherry on top of the cake, while taking a shower, a nice "little" cockroach decided to appear on the shower curtain, next to my face. Just to say hello... I tried to end its life, but it escaped and ran into the room... still at this time it is hiding someplace probably waiting for the right time to pop out again... :)

We decided to go for a walk. Everything was closed, it was dark. There was at times a very loud sound of bats. Cockroaches on the sidewalk by the dozens... scary at first, and a little disturbing. We hadn't slept in quite some time and this first impression was somewhat intimidating :)

There were some people sitting on the sidewalk (now I know they are security guards for the shops), the market place, which is open 24 hours it's an amazing view, specially during night time, and some cars passing with loud music and people screaming, most likely coming from parties. Everyone says "hello" as you pass... this is almost like a law. Everyone greets you in Vanuatu, with a warm, welcoming, smile.

Note: I am writing this two days after arrival. Internet is slow and unstable and it takes ages to upload pictures, write a post and all... I am trying to write from the perspective I had when I arrived, which was, a little scary... it is hard to write from that perspective now, since the day after (yesterday) was, in short, mind-blowing :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Arriving in Auckland was really nice. First of all the weather was great, and I mean comfortable great, and not the sauna we would discover later on... :) but that is for the next post...

The city has a nice skyline, for those that like tall buildings, but that was not really our case...

What really impressed me was:

1) The people are super nice! And I mean really really nice. In commerce as on the street, we felt so comfortable and welcome there.

(Well, not everyone was super nice perhaps... on the right is a note found on a public bathroom... watch out for Sharky :))
2) We hadn't had any decent food for a long time... the food there was awesome :) and affordable (check the pics of our first meal there). Risotto with Avocado asparagus and walnuts, and Chicken Cajun sandwich, with so many things I cannot even remember... but I remember it was delicious...

3) The trees, houses, water, flowers, landscape, sky... everytyhing was so nice...

Although we were tired like I have difficulty describing, we had a lot of fun there, with the Kiwis... (below is a picture of me on the ferry to Devon Port just 10 minutes from Auckland.

Just to finish, the police motto there is: "To serve and protect the Kiwis". :) So funny, they all call themselves Kiwis... Everywhere you go, they always refer to themselves as Kiwis.

Then it was time to move on to Port Vila...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Los Angeles

Half way there!

Jeanette and I are now in transit in Los Angeles, where we were lucky enough to have WiFi (although not a smoking room yet... it is now almost 24 hours without the possibility of a smoke...)

Everything is going well so far, although the idea of hoping on another 12 hour plane ride, for the second time in a row, is not the most appealing!

They are calling us for boarding again... next stop: Auckland!