Colours and smiles of the Pacific (part 1)

Vanuatu can be defined with two words - COLOURS and SMILES!

    

If once you are there you feel constantly immersed in a giant rainbow and everyone around you looks like Bob Marley, do not worry, you have not had too much of the famous Pacific drink called kava!

The 'chill out, stay cool, relax, let go' attitude Philip Guyler and John Stax are singing about in their famous song seems to simply constitute the most fundamental part of the Pacific genes!

  

But wait, Vanuatu, what is it, where is it? Well, it is an archipelago country of around 80 islands of volcanic or coral build-up origin in the middle of the Pacific ocean between Australia, New Caledonia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, a 3-hour flight away from Sydney in the Australian 'backyard'.

  

Some of the islands have strange forms like the hat-shaped Hat Island and all of them seem to be in the middle of nowhere.

    

The Pacific ocean covers 28% of the surface of the earth and has around 25,000 islands scattered in this vast area sometimes thousands of miles away from each other! Life came onto these remote islands with a coconut brought by the ocean from far far away and the arrival in 1500 BC of the Lapita people - these amazing navigators who were crossing oceans in search of resources with small but very stable canoes called ama, following the migratory flights of birds, when Europeans had not even heard about sailing…

  

The origin of life which looks like a miracle explains why no big or poisonous animals live on these islands - even the Pacific boa is completely harmless - but also why the Pacific remains such a mystery and represents in some people’s mind a dream, a hidden gem, Eden on earth... Vanuatu is just one of the many well preserved secrets of the Pacific! 

  

What is really particular about Vanuatu, besides its location, is that it used to have a mixed British-French government until its independence in 1980 and as a result now has three national languages: English, French and of course the local Bislama - a mix of Creole and English which sounds incredibly familiar and at the same time can give you a huge headache if you try to understand it! Alo (hello), tankyu tumas (thank you very much), yu tok tok Engglis (do you speak English) or bae (goodbye)... - not so easy, you can trust me on this one! The capital Port Vila has a Winston Churchill and a General de Gaulle avenues, as well as complete mix-ups like the rue de Wales!

  

While you are walking around the islands, you will come across English schools in some villages and French ones in others. We visited one school and played with the children - it was amazing to see how happy they were playing volleyball, basketball or football (even though they did not even have a proper basketball equipment and one of them was standing on a chair playing the role of the 'alive' backboard!). The only sound we could hear everywhere in the school was the laughter of the children and it was infectious!

  

Besides a school, every village has a church as the 200,000 Ni-Vanuatu (the name given to the people of Vanuatu) are very religious. We used a couple of times the local buses, which you can only distinguish from a regular private van by the B on their registration number, and each time listened to happy gospel songs about Jesus! Even though the main religion is Christianity, many Ni-Vanuatu still practice traditional cults the most famous of which is the John Frum cargo cult - to make a long story short, its followers raise every single day the American flag and perform ceremonies every week in the hope that the sea will bring rich Americans with amazing supplies (or cargos) to their village!

  

Last but not least, villages have playgrounds for grown-up - you can choose between the French pétanque (a game the goal of which is to toss or roll one of the metallic balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonet) and the British soccer!

Whether you are in a school, on a bus or on a playground, SMILES are everywhere...

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