Monday, April 9, 2007

Travel and Accommodations

Travel in Vanuatu is very interesting and different than America. There are no speed limit signs that I ever saw so the limiting factor is the smoothness of the road, which is fairly non-existant outside of the towns (and often even in the towns). Here is a pretty nice stretch of road between Matevulu College that we visited and Camp Shining Light where we stayed on Santo island. On the right is the road that goes right up to the camp. Both of these pictures are taken by me while bouncing along in my skirt while sitting in the truck bed. I found out on this trip that I did need to bring shorts - to wear under my skirts! I'll say more about dress code in a later post on culture. Ni-Vanuatu pack as many people as possible into the backs of trucks, sometimes 20 or more people! Here is how the Ni-Vans travel in trucks. Everyone is very friendly so they were all shouting ("halo", which is hello) and waving at us as we passed them on this road. (As a cultural note though, as Ni-Vanautu get older, they get shyer so it is mostly the young people who will shout and whistle, I suppose similar to Americans. Many Ni-Vans, when talking to you one-on-one, are very quiet and difficult to hear so once again, another time that Americans are the loud obnoxious ones in comparison to another people group.) This isn't even the most full many of the trucks are so hopefully I can get some better pictures later. The drivers tell people they pass on the road "fullup" if they can't take any other passengers. I'm not really sure what number they have to get to to be "fullup"! Another factor when driving out in the bush is river crossings. Here is one place we needed to cross the river to get to Ipayato, the bush village we visited. The river was about 4 feet deep on part of this crossing, so we were thankful when our Ni-Van driver, Raymond, took us around to another crossing (where it was ONLY about 1 1/2 -2 feet deep). Some of the guys here chose to walk it rather than ride it. To get to Ipayato there were about 3 crossings without bridges and we were told the 3 or 4 bridges we did cross have only been there more recently. Had we gone after the cylcone, I'm not sure we could have crossed here, I don't know. Here is a picture of how we packed into the truck on our way down to Ipayato in south Santo island. All the gear and 5 guys sat in the back. Women and kids (and Houghton) got to take the backseat so that was nice... at least on this trip. :) I told Houghton (my brother-in-law) that although we aren't related by blood, he is my sweat brother now. Whew! That trip was certainly not a fun one with Gwenyth screaming for most of the 2 hours of the drive. Upon arrival, you wonder if your brain is bruised from all the bouncing and your legs certainly are from bashing on the door with every bump. Raymond said tire changes are required about every 3 months.

In the "big city" of Port Vila down on Efate island, the main transport is by "bus" which are vans. Some are nicer than others but it is really a nice, cheap way to get around. It costs 100 vatu ($1) per person to be transported by a bus anywhere in the city. Busses stop for anyone and pack out as full as possible. Taxis on the other hand (same shape, just have a "T" on the license plate rather than a "B") are 1000 vatu ($10) for the group and take only your group (not picking up anyone else along the way) to your one destination. Here is a picture of us in one of the busses on our way to the Vila airport. Here is what the streets are like in Vila. It is easy to flag down a bus since within 30 seconds of standing on the street, 4-5 drive past. Luganville isn't quite so busy and doesn't really have the busing system like Vila. They do have taxis, but they are just little tiny mini cars, like VW Rabbits. One more bizarre note on travel in Vanuatu...every motorcyclist I saw in Vila was wearing a helmet; no one wears seatbelts. What?

My accommodations in Vanuatu were really nice, especially compared to what some of the people live in (see some of my past posts). In Vila we stayed in "flats" which were like apartments on SIL's property. See past posts for that picture. It was about $12 a night per person there. There was a phone, electricity, ceiling fans, and both hot and cold water - nice! On Santo I stayed at Camp Shining Light in a dorm-type setting for $15 a night (including 3 meals a day!). There is one bathroom for boys and one for girls and one kitchen that everyone shares. They had electricity in the rooms and ceiling fans (no AC anywhere we stayed so we weren't spoiled!) but only cold water in the bathroom. Cold showers really aren't so bad when it is 80-90 degrees with 90 % humidity every day though! Here is the shower - 2 on the girls' side and 2 on the guys' side. Here is the bathroom sink. It is all just tin and cement but has to be scrubbed all the time because everything here molds so fast. Home sweet home!

In Ipayato the shower situation is to go wash in the ocean in your clothes, so this was nice! Also, I didn't get a picture of the toilet in Ipayato (the bush village) but everyone who did check it out told me not to even go near it. It was just a hole dug in the ground and had bamboo around it for privacy. I chose to drink very little the 2 days we were there and sweat out most of my fluids and then just go for a few "hikes" by myself. Ipayato is very "modern" as far as bush villages go though so they had access to both fresh and salt water and had a system so there were 2 water spickets so it was nice to wash off there too. The Ni-Vans who live there said the fresh water they do have is very dirty though so only the kids swim in it. :) If you check my last post and see the picture of Jesiah chasing chickens, you'll see the cement building I pitched my tent in at Ipayato. The guys stayed in this building, on the right which is the school. They stayed in tents inside it too. Their church (left) was very nice (here is Gwenyth taking a nap on the cement floor of the church). We were able to join them for their Sunday service and women sit on the right side, and men on the left. In my visit to the chapel service the next week at Matevulu College, it was girls on the left and boys on the right so I don't think the side matters so much as that the sexes are always separated for church. I'll say more about some of this in a future post about culture.

Overall, I was very comfortable and safe in my accommodations in Vanuatu. (Ipayato wasn't as comfortable on the cement floor, but everywhere else I had some sort of bed.) The travel on the bumpy roads in the trucks is an adventure and I enjoyed the newness of that, but I'm sure the excitement would wear off and it would be a frustration after living there awhile. Nice vehicles are a must but are expensive too. Before the trip, I thought perhaps for me living in Vanuatu in the future, I could get away with a moped or 4-wheeler, but the only real option anywhere outside of town is a 4-wheel drive truck. Others on my team will probably have to purchase such trucks so in town I'll probably use the taxi or bus system and otherwise mooch off my team for rides! :)

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