The girl in the dugout canoe wanted to trade 2 fine grapefruit and a pineapple for one of my bras. It seemed a fair trade, they were pretty nice grapefruit. But then, I only have 3 bras onboard, so they’re fairly valuable to me. I had to decline that particular trade. We settled instead on a Brazilian football jersey from last years world cup. She seemed chuffed, although her breasts would go unfettered for another while yet.
It was our last stop in Vanuatu, in the Northern Banks Islands group and this was our first real experience of trading. Up until now it was just a few fish hooks here and there. In Vanua Lava it was a different story, all day a procession of villagers in their canoes would call to the boat offering fruit, vegetables and fresh water prawns in exchange for an odd selection of requests.
We’d stocked up on clothing in Port Vila, along with batteries, fishing gear and rice, but were unprepared for requests of Boat Paint, Nail Polish and playing cards, and of course ladies underwear. Still, we always managed to come to an agreement and ate magnificently for our time there.
Like everywhere in Vanuatu, the people speak their local village language, the national language Bislama (a sort of pijin English) and either English or French depending on which school system they came through. Spotting the Australian flag, everyone always greats us with Hello. But we’ve learned to ask which language they prefer, and while I can’t partake so much when it turns to Francais, its great to what someone reticent and shy becomes vibrant and friendly when speaking in their preferred tongue.
Its a peaceful pace of life here. Beyond Port Vila and the main tourist areas there’s barely a cash economy. Each family tends their gardens, high in the hillsides, growing Taro, spinach, sweet potato, yam, bananas, papaya. The ocean and the rivers provide protein, while the forest provides building materials. No one goes hungry and the occasional trading with the yachts can provide goods that might otherwise be out of reach. It’s gradually changing though, modern life is creeping in, mobile phones, solar panels, health care, all beneficial but creating a need for income. Small scale tourism seems a potential solution, and most villages we’ve visited have guest huts and charge small fee for hiking and fishing trips. But slowly it seems inevitable that this gentle way of life will change.
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Location:Twin Waterfalls, Vanua Lava, Vanuatu