Courtesy of P.Media
Monday, August 23, 2004
|Photo courtesy of P.Media
|Images of Vanuatu
"A white missionary went to Malakula and his name could have been MacDonald, because the locals decided to break for lunch and he was it. As he ran away his white missionary shoes flew off. This, of course, spooked the locals, they had seen lizards drop their tails in flight but never a man drop his feet. Confused they picked up the feet and decided to cook them in the laplap (like an underground oven made with hot stones) but when they went to eat the feet, they were too tough (remember they were Missionary MacDonald’s shoes), so they tried to fry them, but they were still too tough and threw them away considering that the white man was too tough to eat.
This story was told to me, almost this way, by another native on a nearby island. He thought it was a great joke, and even bigger joke that we were going there. He ended his tale with "you no worry Mr Steve - they no yum yum you – you have white hard feet," and laughed till he almost burst!
Now we were not missionaries but we could have been. The looks the locals gave us as we got off the plane with our bodybag-bike bags, the porters struggled with the bags and placed them amongst the chickens, the baggage and the pigs.
The porter pointed, "What you got in here a smol boy?" Another native comedian, who laughed hilariously at his own jokes. We politely giggled along and pulled the bikes into the blazing sun, then pulled them back into the shade and started to assemble. The new soft bike bags from Ground Effect made it possible to transfer the bikes, unpack them and them put the bike bags in the back packs as there was nowhere to leave a hard case. The harder heavy-duty bags offer more security but if you’re in the backside of nowhere what do you do with an over sized suitcase? So throughout the month of so travelling the islands these bike the bags were invaluable.
Malakula is the second biggest islands in Vanuatu around 94km long and 44km wide with the southern area being more rugged than the north and middle. We had already contacted Peter the manager at Rose Bay, which was to the north of the airport near Wala Island.
We had been in Vanuatu for a couple of weeks biking around and had become a bit gun shy of what the roads and hills were like. But Malakula roads where a sight to behold. In blinding sun and pleasantly warm temperatures, we waved goodbye to the locals who had gathered to watch the bike assembly, and to a round of applause we rode off to find Rose Bay.
There where no major hills to put the K2 Razorbacks through their paces but the suspension made the sometimes rutted roads remarkably comfortable. The roads where lined with perfectly aligned coconut palms, thousands upon thousands of them. As each line flicked past it had a visually hypnotic effect. We cruised for two or three hours, waving at passer-bys, asking for directions and getting some interesting responses. The local people could not have been more helpful, often running alongside the bikes as we followed the frantic hand signalled directions.
We bought a few mangos on the side of the road for around 10 cents and entertained the local kids by trying to eat them. Tropical mango have built in dental floss, these long strands of yellow get stuck in your teeth and gives you something to chew on for the rest of the day.
Eventually we arrived at a black sand bay fringed with jungle. Still sucking mango strands out of our teeth we had arrived at Rose bay. Peter, our host, and his wife beamed and showed us to our bungalows; concrete floors, showers, toilets, beds and mozzie nets - luxury. It never fails to amuse me how people with so little manmade resources can achieve so much. Here in the middle of nowhere was a very comfortable bungalow, sure the walls and roof were of natural material but they were clean, tidy and obviously well care for, and so where we.
That evening after dinner, Peter pulled out a local map and we looked at what we where going to do over the next few days. We were determined to bike where we wanted to go, even though the offer of transport was always there, in fact everywhere we did end up Peter’s grinning face would be there before us, just checking we had made it ok.
Peter filled us in on some of the local history, but a fact that brought back to mind the Missionary story was that the last person that was eaten on Malakula was in 1969! From a European perspective the cannibalism issue is bizarre. You would think there would be sort of embarrassment with the topic, but the locals are happy to talk about it, we even met people who described how people tasted, how they were cooked and what bits were best! Sort of the difference between a quater pounder with cheese and a crispy chicken burger!
There are over 30 completely different dialects spoken on the island but what really typify this island are the tribes. These tribes are split into two major groups. The Big Nambas, who basically are in the north, and the Smol Nambas in the central and southern areas. The term Nambas comes from the size of their penis sheath made out of banana and pandanus leaves. It has nothing to do with a chap’s manliness, personally however, I would prefer to be one of the Big Nambas. I am sure it would do a lot for your self esteem! According to local legend, in South Malakula there lived Ambat and his children, but they were white and had long hair. Then one day the children ate a forbidden pink apple and they turned black and as a punishment they were banished and required to wear the Nambas.
After our first night at Rose Bay, we decided to visit both Big and Smol (small) Nambas on the same day. Biking up into the more central part of the island the trail was not the same easy going as the previous day’s costal route. Hard going up hill was intensified by the heat and the need to wear a helmet, but the stunning view and up close interaction with the locals was worth it. As we arrived at the Big Nambas’ compound, we were welcomed with a wee leaf bag of nuts and a coconut drink. The smiling face of Peter appeared through the trees.
As we sat to watch the performance you could not help but notice the segregation between men and women. They obviously danced apart and later we found they lived very separate lives, with the women doing all the menial work and the men fished, hunted, fought and drank Kava. Traditionally the Big Nambas were very aggressive and cannibalism was a major part of their culture. Their dancing reflected a very basic and earthy style, simple and emotive.
The chief was fascinated with the mountain bikes and he was keen to give it a go. For a guy who could climb a coconut tree, eat anyone who annoyed him and was in charge of a large group of fairly scary individuals, he couldn’t ride a bike very well…but no one pointed this out. After the chief all the other men wanted a go. Bear in mind these guys were only wearing a banana type leaf wrapped around their good bits and all the dangly bits where free in the wind and we still had a long hot sticky bike back to Rose Bay - it did not bear thinking about too much.
As the day wore on we left with fond farewells, checked our map and headed for the Smol Nambas. Down hill was a lot easier, we also had the new GPS watch the Casio had given us to put through its paces. Without the way points we plotted on the way there we would have still been riding around today. A bit like backing up your computer, we had to religiously remember to put in the way points on the trip to the Smol Nambas just so we could find our way back.
The folks at the Big Nambas weren’t wearing a lot, at the Smol Nambas it was even less. The headman told us in lumpy English that many of the Smol Nambas didn’t live with the women, in fact they slept separately in one house called an "Amel" while the women and children slept together elsewhere.
The dances were more rhythmic and really entertaining. After the performances, we were shown around the village and they explained to us their lifestyle. Circumcision plays a huge part and men cannot get married until they have been ‘done’, this normally happens between the ages of 20 –30!!! This brought a tear and a winch from some of the team. Women also have a symbol of circumcision- having one of their front teeth knocked out! Evidently the practice is not as common as it used to be for women but you do see a lot of females with no front teeth.
From the value of pigs to the way they made their house, it was a really entertaining evening. As dusk began to settle we started the two hours back to Rose Bay. No lights, not even a torch, just the dull glow of the GPS to go by meant it was gonna be a slow trip. Within 15 minutes it was as dark as the inside of a cow. After half an hour of peddling, bumping and two crashes we saw the lights of a truck. The truck stopped and out jumped Peter like some guardian angle. Within half an hour we were back at Rose Bay, having a few beers in the leafy restaurant, singing the praises of our rescuer.
The next few days were filled with trips to local villages, coconut plantations, laying on the beach and jungle walks. We were befriended by one of the guides who took us to his house on the island across the water from Rose Bay. Wala Island was the most beautiful island, white sand beaches, clear blue water, everything tropical holidays are made of. George took us to his house and made a fine tuna fish salad. We sat in his hut, which was like a mini sauna but his hospitality and smile was reflected by our own.
As the last day approached we packed the bikes and caught the truck to the airport. The people we had stayed with could not have been more helpful or friendly. They had shared a huge part of their culture with us and suffered our need to peddle when we could have gone by truck. We got to see first hand, up close and personal the local people. The bright yellow K2 Razorback were a great way to break the ice at any stop.
Although Malakula is one of the lesser known islands it is only a short distance to Efate, the main Vanuatu island. The roads are great, the people lovely and if you want an adventure that is not too over the top, but different, within a reasonable price range - this is the perfect destination.
Language: English, French and Bislama (pidgin)
Currency: The Vatu is the local currency, major credit cards are widely accepted in the major towns, not the islands.
Climate: Summer is from November to March, average temperature is 28 degrees Celsius; Winter is from April to October, average temperature is 23 degrees Celsius.
Water Temp: Varies from 20 degrees Celsius to 27 degrees Celsius
Dress: In town and on local beaches light and casual but not too brief.
Electricity: Not available in the islands generally, but is in Port Vila; 220-240 volts 50Hz.
Tipping: Is not a Melanesian custom
Apart from the obvious, take:
- Spares and tools, don’t expect any assistance
- Don’t forget to take the air out of your tires and shocks when flying
- A comprehensive medical kit - refer travel doctor on this issue
- Helmet for downhill and coconuts – really!
- Soft Shell - Bike bag - we used the Bodybag from Ground Effect (you need to be able to store it after use)
- Backpack- hydration packs like the K2 Fluid pack is perfect - dehydration can be a big problem
- Small plastic gifts for the local kids, cap and t-shirts as gift for those who help out.
- And the simple Bislama phrase, "Me likem one fella Tuska plese." (I would like a beer please)