Monday, April 9, 2007

Flora and Fauna (and food!)

I thought I'd write about and show pictures about some of the plants and animals seen quite a bit on Vanuatu. For local wildlife, the most commonly seen things are geckos, which are very cute and make a crazy chirping sound. They are everywhere. Here's one very tiny one on Jim's hand. Most are like 5 inches long. I guess the locals view something like this (catching one and having it on your hand) as being voodoo, akin to one of us holding a cobra. I guess they watch you after to see what terrible things will happen to you since you messed with a gecko, like you are calling down curses on yourself or something. I think Jim was one of the few in our group who never got sick or any infected cuts or bites so the "gods" must not have minded him messing with the gecko. :) Another really common thing is spiders, much to my dismay. This one is an orb spider and they were everywhere but most weren't this big. This one was about 4 1/2 inches long and about 2 inches across and was hanging above our drying laundry. Nasty! The one nice thing about all the spiders (and they had some kind of brown one as large as a tarantula too!) is that none of them bite or have poison. The worst thing they can do is just get on you but they do help by killing flies and mosquitoes! Flies and mosquitoes are everywhere of course so mosquito nets are a must even if sleeping inside a building. Here are Gwenyth and Jesiah inside a mosquito net in the room the Richards family stayed in at Camp Shining Light. The flies love sores so they are to fault for my infected mosquito bite. They crawl all over that stuff so it is essential to keep sores covered during the day and away from the flies! Some more pleasant animals are the cows, horses, birds and chickens. There is an "emerald dove" there that is truly just like our doves but is bright emerald green! They have lots of beautiful birds but they aren't quite so friendly and fearless as our robins or sparrows, so I couldn't get any pictures. The chickens are a little different than ours (taller with longer stronger legs and some different colors) but still chasable by 2 year old's. Cows and horses I think were imported from Australia but they do have native pigs. I didn't get pictures of them. They do have a decent market for pork there and the beef is awesome! Chicken wings are reasonable, but chicken breast was like $5 a pound! The interesting thing about having cows is that there is no dairy. The people don't drink milk or eat cheese. We found cheese at one store for $18 a pound! The only milk you can get there is the Australian long-last stuff. I don't like milk anyway so I won't miss that, but the cheese lack is sad! I guess the amazing bread makes up for it. Here is some of what the beef we ate looks like (on the menu this was stew and rice). This meal was $2.50 at a restaurant. Here is a picture of that "restaurant" in Luganville on Santo island. The woman behind the counter here took all of our orders and cooked all of it in her tiny little kitchen and had everything ready all at once for our big group. It definitely wasn't fast, but you learn not to be in a hurry in Vanuatu. We filled the restaurant so others trying to come in left when they saw us packing it out. I don't think this place had a name and was just a random doorway in a wall off the main street, but it was by far some of the best of what we tried on Santo. Food was just good in general there though. Ni-Vanuatu know how to cook up a great meal!

To finish up on the animals topic, there are cats and dogs around but they really aren't seen as pets in Vanuatu except if they are owned by white-folk. They are more just part of the food chain to kill off the rats. People don't pet them or feed them so they are pretty mangy and diseased, like what you'd see in Mexico. We were told in the bush village in Ipayato that we'd want to be in tents we brought even though we were put up in cement buildings because of the rats coming in at night. I never got any company in the night that I knew of so they didn't bother me but there were some living in the storage room at Camp Shining Light so I had some run past me several times there. There really aren't any other animals that I know of in Vanuatu, other than the flying fox I posted a picture of before my survey trip. On Malakula, the guys ate at a "restaurant" that had flying fox (a bat that has a face like a fox) on the menu. They tried it and the owner was very excited to serve it to them. Fortunately, he served it just as cut-up meat, not just off the fire like in the bush. They informed me that it tastes very strong, similar to liver. They got other meals in addition to the bat and decided that if they don't have to, they'd rather not eat flying fox again. Fish is prevalent too but I'm not a fan so I stuck to the chicken and beef for eating. There are lots of fish for looking at though. Here's a "Nemo" we saw.

I'll move on to flora now. Vanuatu is just in general a gorgeously green country. Everything is in season all the time and everything is green and growing. Here are a few trees that are everywhere.

This is a papaya on the left. On the right here is a plantain tree, which is similar to banana in shape but definately not in taste. Plantain is cut and fried while the bananas in Vanautu are typically smaller than those we get in the states but a thousand times sweeter. They taste fabulous! We had as much fruit as we wanted pretty much at all times, which was awesome! Here's another fruit tree, a citron. They are similar to grapefruit, although not needing sugar for sweetening. They are very messy to eat and no one has napkins there, but they are worth the mess! This is a citron tree outside the building we stayed in at the capital city, Port Vila.
Here is a picture of a typical breakfast for us - fruit (citron and banana here), bread, and something to spread on it (Nutella, peanut butter, jam). The bread is incredible, like what you can get in France. It doesn't get hard like American "French bread" so you can keep it in the pantry several days and it's still just as good as when it was purchased. It is about 50 vatu (50 cents) per loaf. One could get very fat on all the rice and bread that is available! There are lots of starchy vegetables, like manioc, taro, yams and potatoes so the people here are more often somewhat overweight than underweight. All the fruit and vegetables I tried were very good. I had great pineapple (which I guess was out of season so not very available), mango, passion fruit, limes, lemons, and oranges (which are usually green!). I pictured breadfruit and noni fruit on one of my earlier posts and I didn't try those. There was a noni fruit tree in the yard at the camp but the staff all called it "stinky fruit" because of the vomit-like smell coming from those that were rotting on the grass. Maybe I'll try one another time but I know I'm not interested in trying an old one! I did drink from a coconut, which had little taste and I did eat from a few coconuts. The ones I tried were pretty bland but I guess taste varies like shape so I'll have to try some more. This picture is of a guy in Fiji (Indian, which was like 1/2 of who we saw in Nadi, the capital city there because they are really immigrating in mass numbers to Fiji I guess) who cut open some coconuts for us when we were there for our 16-hour layover on our way to Vanuatu.
The vegetables were interesting. Yams were fabulous and manioc was prepared like french fries (frites) and tasted just like them. Taro is boiled and then cut into pieces. It tastes starchy and was strange the first few bites, but it grows on you and I really liked it. When boiled it is taste-wise somewhere between a baked potato and a dumpling. This picture with the long dark roots in the middle is taro I think, coconuts are the lighter round brown ones on the outside, and the green toward the back is plantains. They have enormous beans (about 1 1/2 feet long) but we didn't try those. Cucumber grows and is good there and we had tomatoes at some of the restaurants, but I don't remember ever seeing either of those at market.

So, when you all come visit me in Vanuatu in a year or so, you'll be set up for food and won't go hungry! Bring your own cornmeal, dairy and apples though cuz you can't find them there. God did some amazing things when he made Vanautu!

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