Tips for Vanuatu/general Pacific island life?
April 22, 2011 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Opinions on Vanuatu/general pacific life? [more inside]

I'm just finishing my degree, and have the opportunity to spend a while (several months, at the least) in Port Vila, Vanuatu. There doesn't seem to be that much in the way of unbiased documentation of the actual day to day experience of life there.

I'm already braced for terrible internet (although I appreciate that mefi may prefer this state for me ;)), limited food selection and expensive imported goods.

Detailed situation: I'll be there from about July-October, maybe. I may or may not be helping them with trade negotiations, so Port Vila sounds like a better idea than outlying islands in that case. Financial issues aren't all that pressing; a stipend will cover the whole period for academic reasons. Internet access will be slow but required, and probably really really expensive. Other than that, I plan to spend most of my time diving, maybe some canoeing etc.

I've not really spent much time in such a small community, and I'm curious what that's likely to be like. What haven't I thought of in terms of drawbacks, and/or what other awesome things should/could I do when there?
posted by jaduncan to Travel & Transportation around Vanuatu (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I graduated from high school on a small south pacific island, albeit one that was a military base, so we had access to some modern conveniences. If you have any health issues, investigate to be certain that appropriate care is available. Even on the military base, a root canal required a 6 hour military transport flight back to Honolulu for the procedure. The taxpayers picked up that tab for us, I'm assuming your insurance probably isn't so generous!

Look into your travel options. What other places can you visit because you are close, places that you may never again have a chance to get to? I'm still mad at my parents for taking our annual 2 week leave from the island to Honolulu and not Australia.
posted by COD at 6:24 AM on April 22, 2011

Good call on that COD, I hadn't even considered medical issues. I'm from the UK, so I don't currently have a policy. I was planning on travel cover, which seems reasonably priced and generous (I'm 30, no chronic conditions) and has previously pulled through when a friend got altitude sickness in Nepal.

Travel wise, I'm planning on going via either California and seeing the redwoods (considering a road trip stopover fortnight) or via Sydney on a stopover. I travel a lot, but you're right about fun breaks etc. When I'm actually there I think I'll be almost completely in Vanuatu though, and maybe see some custom islands.
posted by jaduncan at 6:39 AM on April 22, 2011

I spent a few weeks studying Vila and surrounds as part of my uni course. First up- Vila is very different to smaller towns. If you are needing to work in Vila you want to be staying there, transport isn't that great.

However, I love Vila. Initially, I found the ni-Van were a bit wary toward my group (obviously not locals) but after a few days, they got to know us quite well, especially once they worked put we were not just tourists. I would highly recommend that you learn Bislama (the pidgin English dialect that they speak) - many speak English, but you will be accepted much more if you can speak it.

Health care leaves a lot to be desired- my friend ended up with a stomach bug and went to see a guy named Greg who gave him some pills after a 5 min conversation. Another got a cut on his foot where he ended up in hospital and they sent him back to Sydney for treatment.

You legally can't buy alcohol from noon on Saturday until Monday. Not sure if this will be an issue, but consider yourself warned.

Vila is a completely different city on days where there is a cruise ship in the port- you will find that people are more likely to try and rip you off then. But, on non-cruise days, the people in the town are absolutely lovely.

You must must must must go out to Tanna while you are there. Mount Yasur is a very active volcano and is spectacular! And, due to non-existant safety laws, you can get right to the top. The island itself is also amazing, and has an ash plane like a moonscape.

Drink Vanuatu Kava- it is by far the strongest of the South Pacific Islands.

I could go on forever about this, but my phone is just about dead. MeMail me if you want more info.
posted by cholly at 6:50 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This isn't slated for completion until mid 2012 so it may not help you, but it's worth noting that Vanuatu is getting a fiber link to Fiji.
posted by snapplepop at 7:26 AM on April 22, 2011

If you haven't yet read J. Maarten Troost's "Getting Stoned With Savages", it is all about living on Vanuatu and Fiji (though his previous book "The Sex Lives Of Cannibals" deals slightly more with the isolation aspect of moving to a small remote community - in that case, Kiribati.)
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:47 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

My landlady joined the Peace Corps and moved to Kiribati for a year. This was a much more remote location than Vanuatu. They eventually closed the program there because one of the PC deals is that if there's a natural disaster or youhave a health emergency they'll promise to get you to "western" medical care relatively quickly and Kiribati only had a plane that flew in every few days. I am sure that her experiences are much more rural than you'd see on Vanuatu, but the major issues she had were

- everyone there was very very Christian. She wasn't. There weren't a lot of outsiders so she was expected to do all the Christian things as a guest there
- not a lot of biological diversity. Other than a huge array of fish/seafood sorts of things, she missed having a lot of mammals around. On the island there were pigs raised for food, dogs that were (mostly) pets and smaller critters but only a few kinds of birds and a few other anmals besides bugs.
- not a lot of food diversity. see above, not a lot of fruits and veggies besides what grew there.
- island culture. Being an American she had a "get things done" mentality that didn't fit in with the culture there. Time was more fluid, people were more relaxed, meetings were late, postponed or never happened. Not a big deal, but worth knowing if you're a type A person

I can put you in touch with her if you're interested in chit-chatting more. She wound up getting re-located to Botswana and I think she found it preferable.
posted by jessamyn at 10:39 AM on April 22, 2011

Getting stoned with savages is his second book. His first one, Sex Lives of Cannibals? Hilarious.

Also, another book to put you in the island mood? Happy Isles of Oceania.

My advice: get to know the Peace Corps volunteers in the country. They often live in far off villages and getting to know them will make having a genuine village experience much easier. Much of what you'll be experiencing at first, well, they went through as well, so I would use them as a resource.

They've put together a useful site that should help you with some basic info (though it's mainly about peace corps in the country):

I would especially read the sections titled:
1.5 Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
1.6 Health Care and Safety
1.7 Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
1.8 Frequently Asked Questions
1.9 Packing List

Since you'll be living in Port Vila, it's so easy to get used to "city life." Keep in mind, the beauty of the country is in its volcanoes and plantations and churches. Try to get out of there as much as you can; the chance to experience island village life is such an opportunity for you, don't let it pass you by.

Additionally, to prep for your stay, read some blogs! Sometimes I browse through them and before I know it, two hours have gone by.

God, how I envy your opportunity.

Also, the University of the South Pacific has its law school there. If you party with them, tell Sharlene I love her. Ditto Tamai, if she's still there.

(Response from my friend Max, who spent two years doing Peace Corps in Western Samoa)
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 1:55 PM on April 22, 2011

Seconding that you should visit Tanna and Mt Yasur (I actually found it a bit frightening, but that's just me). The place we stayed right near the volcano was really awesome. Can't remember what it was called; it was very basic but quite special.

Port Vila itself seems relatively urban. On the islands, life may seem bewilderingly quiet and boring. I didn't really 'get' it at the time, probably because I hadn't travelled much before. But spend some time and chat to some people and... well, you know.

Oh, and don't get stuck at a John Frum ceremony. They go on and on and on... 30 minutes is plenty.
posted by 8k at 4:38 AM on April 24, 2011

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