Saturday, September 29, 2007

efate and fest'napuan.

on thursday the 27th i went on a round-efate-island tour with four other tourists in a tough 4WD van, with a guide and our mighty driver named wonka (!). we went around the island in a counter-clockwise direction, which is apparently the best way to do it because otherwise you have to go up some impossibly steep hills on impossible unpaved roads. the americans had made a sealed road all around the island during wwii, but that is long destroyed due to lack of maintenance. the roads often seemed like dustier, steeper, and less icy (thank God!) versions of the village and secondary roads in belarus.

we stopped at a few gorgeous beaches full of coral, seaweed, driftwood, and white sand. there were views out to other nearby islands as well. i took photos (see the flickr page)and made notes: "oh, i should put that sort of beach in my book! and that sort of river!" the terrain started to get very steep when we got to the northern part of the island, and the road was scary at times. our guide told us that when it rains a lot, the roads basically become waterfalls. it wasn't too hard to imagine. i could easily see the little mini-canyons, watercourses rutted into the road. wonka did a very good job of keeping us alive.

we stopped along there to pick up six schoolgirls who were taking a 2-hour walk to go visit a pastor. our guide mentioned that a lot of kids have to walk for two hours to go to primary school; school starts at 7:30, so they start walking at 5:30. amazing.

we dropped off the girls and continued making our way, now down the west coast of the island, still very steep. we then stopped at the mele maat cascades for a couple of hours. these are a system of small cascades and waterfalls; the top one falls for 20 meters. in order to get to the top, you climb a path at first, but eventually you are just climbing through the water itself, over various stages of the cascades, grabbing on to a rope railing at certain difficult parts, your feet on the stone of the cascade bed.

of course i had to climb all the way to the very top, and swam around in the two uppermost pools. unfortunately i wasn't wearing long nylon swim trunks like the guys, so unlike them i couldn't slide down some stages of the cascades without risking some serious bum abrasion. i did jump from some levels to others though. it was all great fun and exhilirating, and incredibly beautiful.

the weekend brought fest'napuan, a free international music festival, which was my original reason for coming back to port vila for a week in the middle of my trip. i think the hot running water, screens on the windows, laundry facilities, and internet access ultimately outweighed the festival in terms of reasons to be in vila... but fest'nap was still a lot of fun. my favorite group was inca marka, from chile, bolivia, and argentina -- via australia -- playing "the music of the andes." it's like a much, much better version of what one hears in the subway tunnels of times square in new york. due to them and an excellent jazz group from new caledonia, i was quite proud of the music inspired by my general american landmass.

i get up with the dawn most mornings, which has meant that often i start falling asleep very early. i'm quite the fuddy-duddy, i know, but the locals go home early and the only thing white people here seem to do at night is drink. so walking home from fest'napuan at 10:30pm was quite late for me. port vila at night is very dark. there are loads of streetlights, but none of them work! i was never actually scared, but i did walk quickly and warily, as i would if i were walking alone at night in philly.

so it was unimaginably lovely when i walked on a very dark street and a ni-van woman said to me, in the sweetest tones, "goodnight." during the day as i walk people are always looking me full in the face, with a smile, and saying a simple "hello." i find it beautiful, but it's sad to think of how bereft my own culture is of such simple acknowledgements.

i leave for sola, on vanua lava, soon and will be island-hopping and without internet access for probably at least three weeks. be well. and sometimes, look strangers in the face and smile.



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