Sunday, November 3, 2013

Port Vila, Vanuatu -- We are Nambawan!

Colorful island foliage
We had originally planned to spend the day snorkeling, but Anne was all stuffed up with a cold, and Frank was just getting over a cold himself, so we had to cancel on that idea.  Once we left the security of the ship, a crowd of raucous taxi cab drivers swarmed around us, trying to out-shout each other making a bid for our attention.  It was very confusing and a bit intimidating. 

Amidst the clamor, Frank singled out a soft-spoken dude named Joseph who was younger and noticeably more sedate; he promised us a cheaper fare, and to take us anywhere we wanted.  Of course, once we were in his cab, Joseph valiantly attempted to sell us an island tour, claiming that the rest of Vanuatu was not yet open for business. However, we anticipated his behavior change and fervor to take us to other places, and in the end, Joseph handled it well when we insisted on just a bare-bones ride into the main town of Port Vila.

Shopping at the Nambawan Market
Vanuatu is a friendly island that formerly went by the name of “New Hebrides”.  Port Vila is the capital and largest city there.  It is not the loveliest of places in the Pacific, but it is known for good shopping.  We stopped by the Duty Free shop for some inexpensive wine and checked out some of the more traditional markets.  The Nambawan (pidgin speak for “Number One”) Market was a lot of fun.   
Frank entertains some Vanuatu urchins

The local ladies were happy to chat, and Frank had a good time playing around with some of the kids, as well as doing some flea-market style bargaining with the local merchants. 

Thumbs up says Vanuatu is Nambawan!

Unfortunately, all of the peddlers seemed to sell the same junky souvenirs (and we had a feeling a lot of the goods probably came from China).

Free WiFi at the Nambawan Cafe

The Nambawan Café down by the water lured us in with an offer of free WiFi with a purchase.  The poor WiFi bandwidth issues made computer work terribly slow but gave us a quick look at our email as we shared a refreshing fruit drink made of coconut, passion fruit, pineapple and Paw Paw (said to taste like a cross between a banana and a mango).
Vanuatu's fruit and vegetable market

Further down Kumul Highway (the main drag), we came to the outdoor fruit and vegetable market.  This colorful market, replete with sumptuously displayed fruit along with some weird-looking veggies, runs non-stop Monday morning until noon on Saturday. 

Sellers take turns sleeping at the non-stop market

Some of the vendors, who come from native villages nearby, actually live here at the market during the week, sleeping under their produce-laden sales tables.

Frank readies himself to woof-down the juice
from this thirst-quenching coconut

While perusing the wares, we drank a local refresher – a straw inserted directly into a raw coconut that had been freshly decapitated just moments before.  Ahhh!!  A clear bit of sweet juice it was……, but liquid nonetheless.  It helped quell the incessant need to hydrate.

Harold and his dinghy
It’s blistering here near the equator, and our energy was running down from the heat (and our head colds), when a pleasant local named Harold walked up to us and offered to take us back to the ship.  Perfect timing!  But, as Harold led us down to the water’s edge, we were hit by the realization that he wasn’t a regular cab driver, but a water taxi driver.  Haaaa, we thought!! 

Harold prepares to carry us
across the harbor to our cruise ship
But no problem.  In fact, this was even better yet because the real beauty of Vanuatu is out on the water.  Harold gave us a charming slow ride in his dinghy across the crystal-clear harbor waters; we got to view the marina and the gargantuan Volendam imposing its sleek but massive hull above all the other surrounding watercraft as we putt-putted to a drop-off point near our ship.  The boat ride also had allowed us a chance to observe our cruise ship from a side unavailable from the shore. 
More pictures:

Hair braiding is popular on the island
(although this poor child looks tortured)

Coconut lady preps Frank's coconut for drinking

Kava is prepared from a powdered pepper plant
 and for sale here in root form

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