In 2016, I went on a cruise with 3 of my friends. The cruise itself was the P&O Island Hopper, on the Pacific Dawn, and it took us to New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Port Vila, in Vanuatu, was my favourite stop of the cruise. I’d heard that Vila was really similar to Australia, and I think we went in to that day trip expecting it to be just like home. But before we even stepped off the boat, we definitely realised that wasn’t the case and it lead to one of the most hilarious travel days I’ve ever had. Just prior warning, please don’t read this as I’m making fun of our driver – he was amazing! There were just some experiences that shocked us a little due to naivety on our part, and luckily all involved chose to deal with it with humour.
We woke up on the boat around 7am to the captain’s announcement that we were close to the shore. After loading up at the buffet breakfast (god bless the bread roll station), we went out on to the deck to watch the boat dock. This was the first part that shocked us, the previous two docks we had stopped at were relatively quiet and empty, but this one had big metal fences around where we’d be getting off. The fences themselves were fine, but what was surprising was the amount of people there! There were people of all ages climbing those fences, yelling at us and trying to get our attention. It was all friendly, I know it’s through tourism like this that a lot of people make their living, but when you’re half asleep/severely hungover – it can be a lot to take in.
So we got off the boat, and after showing our passports and walking through the gates, we were swarmed by the locals. They all wanted us to hire them for the day as private guides. They wanted our attention so they were grabbing our hands, touching our hair, telling us how pretty we were. I’m not going to lie, at this stage me and two others were holding hands and about to start freaking out, because it was really overwhelming. But our main ringleader, Sonny, took charge and found us a driver. He even bartered the cost down for us. The guy wanted us to pay him $200AUD for his private island tour. Sonny got him down to $60AUD, but by the end of the day we were so happy with him that we ended up giving him all the Australian cash we had on us, which from memory came to about $140AUD. After all of this, we followed him to his car, and at this point we realised he was only wearing one shoe. We thought that was a little odd, but he seemed happy enough so we were fine with it.
The first moment that had us in hysterics came when, stopped at a stop sign, a shoe came flying through the front passenger window unexpectedly. There was no one around who it looked like threw it, it seemed like this shoe came out of nowhere. It also happened to be the shoe that our driver needed for his bare foot. It definitely didn’t match, but he was so happy to have two shoes again. It might not sound like much, but being in a foreign country and being a little culture shocked – this had us in fits of laughter. The driver as well, he was cracking up laughing, and he then explained that he was happy to have passengers that enjoyed a laugh as most recently he had been getting snobby middle-age passengers who preferred him not to speak. He then spent the next 2 hours cracking jokes with us, and giving us a tour of his favourite places. This guy was genuinely amazing, he made our day. But then somehow, we ended up in a conversation with him about whether or not any of us needed a husband. We took the conversation jokingly, and offered him our friend Soraya.
This was where it got a little weird, and almost derailed our day. After saying he could keep Soraya in exchange for not charging us – he then began explaining all about his family life and saying that she would fit in with his family. He kept trying to make eye contact with her, reaching back to hold her hand and offering to take us to meet his family. It got weird fast. I should probably mention that Soraya is gay, so she definitely didn’t need a husband, but our driver didn’t pick up on our subtle references to that. In an effort to turn the day around, our other travel buddy Kilvina made a big show of expressing her undying love for Soraya, and stating she couldn’t marry the driver or it would break Kilvina’s heart. Sonny (also gay) then offered to marry the driver, but he didn’t want to take him up on that offer. Our driver went oddly quiet after that, almost like we had offended him. This was really where we started thinking “Fuck, he didn’t get our joke”. Luckily after about an hour, his joking side came back and we continued with an awesome day.
All of that banter above when on over the course of the day. So that aside, we did visit some really cool places. Our first stop was at the Tanna Coffee Plantation. They grow the coffee on site, and grind it. They do most of the work by hand, its minimal electrical and mechanical effort As it was blisteringly hot that day, we all went in to the little café and got iced coffees. If you’re a coffee fan, stop here. It’s super strong but it will perk you right up. From there we went to visit the Mele Cascades waterfalls. This was the place that I was most looking forward to, but unfortunately my knee gave out when we started the hike. Kilvina and myself waited at the bottom of the falls and hung out, while Sonny and Soraya completed the loop behind the falls and back again. It was just coming out of rain season and I still to this day cannot get over how green it was. It was the kind of green you need to wear sunglasses for, the picture below will show you what I mean. I promise – there is absolutely no filter on this.
Another highlight of the trip was watching this guy climb a coconut tree to get fresh ones for us, although that started off a little sketchy. We were just driving along a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, when suddenly there was a man in the middle of the road ahead of us, biggest smile on his face but waving a machete a little too frantically for my liking. He motioned for our driver to pull over to the little clear-way on the side of the road, which he did, and then asked us all to get out of the car. We did, albeit a little hesitantly, but as soon as we were out – he took us by the hands, took us down to the beach and began telling us a story. It was about how as a child he was known as the best coconut-tree climber on the island, and that for $5AUD he would share his climbing skills with us, sing us a traditional song and then get us a coconut to drink. I gave him money to watch him climb the tree and sing, but I declined the coconut because I was fairly hopped up on coffee still at that point. This turned out, very unexpectedly, to be my favourite part of the day. There we were, abandoned buildings around us, 10 metres from the ocean in the absolute middle of nowhere. There was a beautiful big old tree to sit under, and a swing to play on, while he taught us to climb the trees and then sang us what he called his ‘traditional working songs’. This guy loved a chat too, we could have sat there with him all day.
We finished up the day at these little markets and a beach pub. This was the place where you can actually catch a boat out to dive to the underwater post office that Vanuatu prides itself on. I wanted to do that so bad, because let’s face it – I would have been the coolest aunty in the world if my nieces and nephews received a postcard from under the ocean, but we didn’t have enough time. We needed to get back to the boat or else it would set sail for Australia without us. Before heading back, we did stop at the beach pub for a bit. I actually spent a portion of my time there applying antiseptic creams to the stray dogs. I know, I know, you really shouldn’t touch the stray dogs on islands but I come from a background of working with dogs and grooming. It broke my heart to see skin infections on them that could be cleared up so easily back in Aus, so I used my little travel first-aid kit to clean them up as best I could, all without spilling my beer. And then my friends laughed at me, and made me sanitise my whole body with Dettol, and we jumped back in the car to head to the dock.
After a quick stopover at the duty free store, we said goodbye to our driver. He really was a nice guy. I’m not sure if his culture had him a little shocked by us, or if his response to us selling Soraya was a joke that we didn’t get, but all of that aside – if you ever go to Port Vila, hire one of the locals to show you around. I strongly believe that was the best decision we made on that holiday, but I know I’ll forever be apologising to my friend for, in her words, “that time you bloody sold me!”.
Have any of you been to Port Vila? If you have, I’d love to hear about your experiences, and whether you went with the private guides or not. As always, thank you for reading, and if you got even a smidgeon of a laugh out of this – please subscribe 😊