Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Vanuatu: Another Beautiful Island Country

Trillium at anchor in Port Vila Harbor off Iririki Island
Having grown up and lived in snow country, I am finding the South Pacific islands more beautiful than I had ever imagined. While I have been disappointed in some, mainly due to the failure to live up to the glossy travel brochures, the majority of them are more than I ever expected. The terrain is varied; the waters are beautiful. And most of all, the people are wonderful. Everywhere we go, the people are happy and relaxed. They are most welcoming, too.

Heading into Immigration to pay and get our papers.
That's Yachting World Marina behind us. We are moored
just over to the right of this photo
Vanuatu is known as the World’s Happiest Country! This name came from the fact that when the British and the French were fighting for control of the country then known as New Hebrides, the natives were left alone to continue living the way they always had. As a result, Vanuatu became the only Melanesian country where the locals identify themselves with a country rather than an island, tribe or language.
It is a land of great diversity, even though it does not appear so by just looking at the people. The total population is around 266,000 inhabitants, two-thirds of whom live on four major islands: Efate, Espiritu Santo, Malekula and Tanna. The majority are Melanesian an 84% are Catholic. The population is young with 45% of the people under the age of 15. Life expectancy for males and females is 61/64 years. Vanuatu is known as the Land of Happy People.

Lying between The Solomon Islands and New Caledonia and east of Papua New Guinea, this island country is made up of more than 80 islands and islets, divided into geographical regions of North, Central and South. The islands have been combined into six provinces. The land and waters of Vanuatu encompass 860,000 square kilometers; the land alone is 12,189 square kilometers. It is over 900 kilometers from the northern tip to the southern tip of the island chain.

Most interesting is its position being situated on the junction line of two continental tectonic plates, on the Pacific Rim of Fire. As a result, Vanuatu frequently experiences earthquakes and minor tsunamis. Most of the islands here originated form volcanic activity. Today, there are still several highly active volcanoes. One of the most famous is on the island of Tanna, which we will visit next year with the World ARC. This year we are focused on the islands north of Efate and will try to visit the northern volcanoes. Off to the east of Epi, there are two active submarine volcanoes which cause the ocean to bubble. Hopefully, we will get a glimpse of those.

Vanuatu had a rich history starting with the migration of the Melanesians arriving in their canoes with animals and plants from Papua New Guinea 3,500 years ago! Then, of course, many navigators landed on islands to claim them for their king – or queen. In more recent history, the French and British fought for control, leaving the natives out of the fight. As a result, it is the only Melanesian country where the locals identify themselves with a country rather than an island, language or tribe.

There are three official languages: English, French and Bislama, the lingua franca spoken throughout the archipelago, especially in the rural areas. There are about 110 dialects commonly spoken here. Bislama has some interesting words: bang (bank), restoron (restaurant), stoa (store), spidbot (speed boat), and Mia save (I understand) are a few examples. Of course, they speak so fast it is difficult to understand!
Of course, one of the best parts of coming into a new harbor is meeting up with cruiser friends we have met somewhere along the way. This time we saw Mike and Catherine from Fiji, who invited us to dinner on S/V Falbala. We met their friends Mike and Barbara of S/V Astarte from Florida that evening. We will probably connect with them in New Caledonia. Seeing others you know is the frosting on the cake after a passage!

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