OUR ship calls into the Port of Vila where the thousands of tourists that the cruise ships bring each year, play a major part in the local economy.
There is only one cruise ship this week and so the locals flock to the port to sell their handcrafts at the many stalls set up at the port entrance.
Local taxis abound and indeed it seems that anyone who has a motor vehicle can set himself or herself up as a taxi service for the day.
The bargaining begins at $100 for the day. No… $50 per person if you have four. We get the price down to $20 each. The van leaves a little to be desired but the driver is pleasant, speaks good English and gives a running commentary as we travel along.
The city is a bustle of people shopping for a local bargain and there are many to be found. I was surprised how competitive the duty free items were. You could find everything from designer jewellery, watches, leather goods and fashion accessories.
But time to get out of the city and head for the hills. Our driver takes us by a local village. It is basic, but clean and as far as village life goes in some countries, it looks pretty good.
Back on the road we head to the Cascade Water Falls. The 50m high waterfall cascades down into rock pools offering a cool place to swim and relax.
The highlight for me was the Secret Garden. It’s an outdoor cultural tour, set in an open garden layout. You are welcomed by local tribes who tell the story of the tribes, the first visits of white man and the interaction of both cultures. Cannibalism was practised in those days and the white man was seen as more than just another person… indeed, white meat was seen as sweet.
During our visit, a group of local school children came along to hear of the history of their country. It was great to see them interact with the story being told and what a bright interesting group they were. In many respects they were quite shy but very respectful of their elders.
It’s time to leave Port Vila and we head out into the open seas, where after a full day sailing, we make our next stop in Fiji.
Set between the lush green mountains and the sea, Suva is the capital of Fiji, it’s a beautiful harbour, alive with all forms of sailing vessels from luxury yachts to working ships.
Suva is set right on the water’s edge so you can walk from the ship to the shopping areas and lots of passengers do. The people are very friendly and welcome you with the local word ‘Bula,’ and we reply ‘Bula.’
Our ship, Explorer of the Seas dominates the skyline on the wharf and slowly 3,000 plus passengers fill the city.
We go on an excursion to a local village. Our tour guide is a young woman who tells us the story of Fiji, where everyone gets a free education and English is an essential part of that education. Locally, there are some 13 dialects, but one common to all.
Workers can be paid as little as $2.50 an hour up to $7 depending on their skills, (the Aussie dollar is worth $1.40 to the Fijian). Those working for the government are paid higher according to their role.
We drive along through the lush, green countryside and on reaching the village receive the traditional welcome of the blowing of a conch shell.
The young men of the village put on a display of traditional dances showing how they repelled their enemies with spears, then the fire walkers appear. These men are trained in the art of using fire and its meditation to heal.
They spin their fire sticks, alight both ends and put on a spectacular display where they twirl the fire sticks before placing a lit end on their mouths; I can see one man’s tongue wrapped around the end of the stick, licking the flames. It’s said that by embracing the flames you heal yourself and others.
As part of our visit, Kava is made in a large wooden bowl. We are then offered the opportunity to try the drink. It tastes a little muddy and soon causes the tongue to tingle and induces a numbing effect in the mouth. If it is continued to be consumed, the numbing effects grow and many use it as a form of escape.
You can buy Kava just about anywhere, even in the duty free shop in small packs of the powder where you just add water.
Today is Sunday and with Fiji being predominantly Christian this is the day of rest. Most of the shops are closed so we head out on an excursion to the beach.
The beach turns out to be a five star resort where you can head down to the beach or use the resorts never ending swimming pool, there are coffee lounges, bars, lunch and entertainment, but it’s time to head back to our ship. We are about to leave Fiji and head to Honolulu. It will take our ship the best part of a week to get there.
What will it be like to spend that much time at sea? That will be my next story.
Until next time,