Friday, October 21, 2016

Exotic South Pacific

Wall Art In Port Vila
We stopped yesterday in Port Vila, Vanuatu. To be honest, it was a little disappointing. You sort of expect an exotic South Pacific island to be Interesting, exciting and well,  . . . exotic. It really was none of these.

To start, the cruise ship docked at the container pier. Of course this makes sense, on these islands they do not have the infrastructure of large cities, so you build one facility to accommodate large ships and the cruise ships have to share with the freighters and container ships. The downside of this is that in most cases these container piers are stuck on the outskirts of the towns and you need to find a way into town.
Port Vila Shops
Here is Port Vila you have a choice. You can take one of the many mini-van taxis or you can take a water taxi. We elected to go with friends and take a regular taxi into town and then a water taxi back. These 2000 cruise passengers are a much-needed boost to the local economy, and there is a lot of competition for customers. I was sent out in advance to navigate the throngs of eager transport operators and negotiate a price. I discovered that the water taxis were simple, a set price of $5 each, and they don’t actually care if you use US or Australian dollars. The Mini-van taxis were more negotiable, and I got prices initially from $20 per person to $5. The difference here is that they want to get you into the vehicle so they can begin to sell you on a complete “Island Tour”. Since
Cyclone Damage
most people get into the taxis to go downtown, they begin by telling you how boring the town is and how many interesting things you can see on their “Tour”. I ended up doing very well, getting a ride into town for all four of us for only $10. Even though our friends had already booked a tour with the ship (terribly overprized according to our driver) he continued to sell us on the possibility of taking a tour, but he was friendly and a good driver. A 10 minute drive deposited us safely downtown where we discovered that most of the local information about the town was accurate – it wasn’t much, lots of tourist shops, a market, and a few dodgy drinking establishments. After looking for a spot with decent WiFi we gave up and settled on a place serving local beer.

Water Taxi
We took a water taxi back to the boat. All these boats are the same, a fiberglass open boat about 20 feet long with an outboard motor. They put 12 people in the boat sitting on wooden benches. One passenger asked about life jackets and I suggested that the loose pieces of plywood serving as a floor would keep her buoyant for a while. She shrugged her shoulders and said “All part of the adventure I suppose.” On the way back to the boat we saw some evidence of the destruction caused by a recent cyclone as we passed an island that was littered with sunken and damaged boats that had been tossed ashore in the storm.

Although interesting, certainly not the exotic South Pacific Island I had expected, but at least Port Vila did not have a MacDonald’s.

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