There are no drink driving laws in Vanuatu, at least thats what the slightly drunk driver who gave us a lift to the night club told us. The evening had started tamely enough with pina coladas at sunset. We got chatting to the Aussie expat gang as they filed in and took their places at the bar. This led to rounds of rum as we heard the various stories of how they’d all got here. A two week holiday turning into ten years seemed a common theme. Along with a healthy appetite for booze they shared a desire to escape the rules and constraints of australia for the freedom of Port Vila.
And so started the pub crawl, descending into flaming shots, lots of new best friends, a lovely local guy who nominated us his new Mum and Dad, despite being in his 50s…and i may have signed up for salsa dancing lessons, again, oh dear!
The years of joint French and English colonisation appear to have left no bad feelings in Port Vila, the Vanuatu capital, just some tasty baguettes and a fine pint. Along with the fish and chips there’s some excellent french restaurants. Fred was brave enough to try the local delicacy, flying fox (fruit bat), which thankfully did not come served as I’d expected, wrapped in its own wings.
Among the chinese shops selling tourist trash and the duty free booze emporiums sits the Vila Market, with tables laden with fresh produce and the ladies asleep underneath. There must be official market hours, but wandering by at 2am its still possible to stock up on an arm of bananas or a bundle of crabs so long as you can find someone awake. The ladies who run the stalls make their home beneath the tables from Monday to Saturday, returning home only on market closing day.
Vila is a place to return to. Fred passed through here 7 years ago on his first South Pacific adventure, and the first person we met in the first bar we went to, was an old friend from those days. Other Fred, a charming and intriguing Mick Jagger lookalike, with an exceptional head of hair, had sailed many oceans since then, but he too had found his way back here. He gave us the lowdown on where to find everything in town and introduced us to the delights of Kava.
Not Cava the lovely bubbly Spanish champagny beverage, but Kava, a foul muddy water narcotic made from the roots of a local plant, grown all through the islands. Most authentically it is prepared by virgin boys, who chew the roots and spit them into your coconut shell, or more modernly, strained through an old sock. Traditionally is drunk only by men, and any woman who witnessed its consumption or even preparation, must be killed. They’re a little less touchy about it in town and western women don’t quite count as real women anyway, so it was quite alright for me to go along to the Nakemel (Kava Bar) and give it a try.
Its an unusual social gathering, in the villages, the Nakemel would be a sacred meeting place for ceremony and kava drinking. In Vila, it took the form of a car park, with a shed and a shaded area with tables. The coconut shells are dispensed from the shed, the etiquette is to walk off alone, with your back to everyone and down the mixture in one go. Perhaps best to do it with privacy as there’s always the risk of spewing your kava straight back up. Then wander back to join the crowd and communually enjoy the effects. Everyone warned me it was quite vile tasting, but it wasn’t so bad. I managed 3 half shells without disgracing myself, the only effects were a numb mouth, an inability to follow a conversation and gentle sense of being at peace with the world. My punishment was to come later, after making it back to the boat in one piece a distinctly unpleasent feeling settled in my tummy and i spent the rest of the evening retching over side. That will be the end of my Kava adventures for now.
Our stay in Efate has been very different to the other islands. Here we’ve played the role of tourists, and the holiday feeling has been made stronger by happy visits from friends. A Shared birthday with Emmanuelle and Antoine and charming the locals with the super star 1 year old Belene and her Mum and Dad, Karljiin and Patou.
It will always be a special place, because it is here Fred asked me to marry him. And I said Yes.
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Location:Port Vila, Efate, Vanuatu