Saturday, September 22, 2007

gaua, chapterette the first: arrival.

first off, be sure to check out my flickr page for photos of what i write about below.

future posts won't be so long, i promise!

vanuatu as a nation consists of 83 islands. gaua is very much off the beaten track for travellers and tourists, in probably the most oft-ignored province in vanuatu. for reasons mostly related to the book i'm writing, when i found out about gaua i had to go there. something a bit like a mystical imperative drew me to the island.

and gaua did not disappoint. it started with a string of wonderful "coincidences." the day i landed in port vila i went to the air vanuatu offices to see when was the earliest i could get to gaua. flights there are three times per week but you have to go through luganville on the island of espiritu santo, and flights to luganville are often booked up. but there was one seat on the flight the next day. i grabbed that, and when she asked me when i wanted to return, i sort of pulled the 21st out of a hat.

the next morning (the 5th, my second day in vanuatu) a taxi got me to the airport for 6am check-in. i was just under the 20kg weight limit for baggage.

after buying an L&P (lemon & peora, a wonderful new zealand soft drink that i have missed for four years) i sat down, and who should sit next to me in the lounge but the only other person going from vila to gaua today: david. david is a schoolteacher who speaks excellent english, and when he found out i was going to gaua he got all excited. we talked about the island a bit and he said he would help guide me through luganville and on to gaua.

this was the first of many times on this trip that i thought of what paolo coehlo writes in "the alchemist": that when a person is following their dream, the whole universe conspires to help them acheive it. i don't think the universe is conspiring so much as being orchestrated by God. but i can definitely feel it happening.

we were served salted banana chips on the flight to luganville. way better than pretzels or peanuts. i had a window seat and took photos and ogled. vila is on the island of efate, which is breathtaking from the air, and i shall have to explore it more later.

we landed and i got my bag, which i'd have to re-check for the gaua flight. i went to the little airport cafe and bought water and laplap, which is considered the national dish of vanuatu. it's a mixture of all sorts of good things wrapped in a leaf and soaked in coconut juice, then steamed. oh my goodness it was so good. a bit messy, but oh my, so good.

we boarded the a little twin otter plane (room for six passengers) to gaua. it was cloudy over gaua but i did get to see a spectacular waterfall, to which i hope to hike during my stay.

after about 45 minutes we landed on gaua's grass airstrip and i looked at a village full of people whom i don't know and who don't speak my language and had a "what on earth am i doing?" moment. i got my big bag out of the back of the plane and david introduced me to chief victor, who was by the plane getting cargo for his village. chief victor didn't have much english but i said "kaska bay guesthouse" a few times, which was the place that i decided on for tonight because the description of it sounded rather isolated and exotic. it's also far from the village where the airport is, so i was hoping to get a boat to take me there rather than walking.

when i mentioned kaska bay, i started hearing the name "collette." i figured out that collette's guesthouse (or "bungalows") _is_ the kaska bay guesthouse, which was perfect because that was where lavie (someone i found online, who lives on vanua lava, the next island to the north of gaua) had told me to stay. i was going to go to kaska bay first and then try to figure out where collette's was later on.

so victor told someone to find a guide to take me to collette's, and i sat in a pavilion thing with a bunch of women to await my guide. all the men sat in one building, and all the women and children in another. finally a teenager came to collect me and introduced himself as phillipe. we then started walking.

it was probably a 45 minute walk, and my bag was very heavy. i had the 15kg pack, and phillipe carried the 3kg backpack for me. it was a hot and sweaty walk. but on the way we chatted -- he has pretty decent english though my bislama is nonexistent. and he asked me if i knew anyone in vanuatu and i said "do you know lavie?" his face lit up and he said, "oh, lavie is staying with me now!" at first i thought i must have misunderstood but i hadn't; lavie and his partner elizabeth are in fact staying at collette's right now!

i was beyond thrilled that i was going to be able to pick their brains about things right off the bat. i thought i was just going to have to make do without any real orientation for the next couple of weeks, and when i landed in gaua i thought, wow, maybe i should have gone to sola first and at least met someone i sort of know before going off on my own like this. i was also not looking forward to lugging around the litre of rum, which i had bought for them, for several weeks. so this worked out ridiculously well. phillipe called me lucky.

we eventually arrived at the bungalows, where i was shown my room, which is quite nice. i settled in a bit and then moveline, who does the cooking, served me an incredible lunch of fish and kumala (sweet potato) fries and cucumber. very good and pretty representative of my diet for the next few weeks.

the place itself is wonderful, too. i used the squat pit toilet before i saw that there is actually a (seatless) porcelain toilet with a bucket flush and -- oh great joy beyond belief -- toilet paper! there is also running water (from a rainwater collection tank) and even a cold shower, but they give you a bucket of hot water if you ask.

the bungalows are situated on this gorgeous little cove with nice perches for writing or meditating, and a 5-minute walk away there is a beautiful beach. aqua waters, black volcanic rocks, crushed coral sand.

after arriving i spent a few days just learning from lavie and liz about life here. we went for swims and i gradually got used to the food. lots of fish and seafood. and i am even beginning to develop a taste for it. (wonders never cease!) particularly odd was enjoying crabs for an erev shabbat meal.

tune in tomorrow (maybe) for chapterette the second.

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Anonymous Roni said...

So happy you are following your dream and proud of you. What a payoff: beautiful vistas; true adventure; expanded horizons; people who are so very different, yet the same; and G-d as your travel companion. Wow! Can we switch lives? Just for a day?

9/23/2007 09:25:00 AM  

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