Colours and smiles of the Pacific (part 2)

Whether you are in a school, on a bus or on a playground, SMILES are everywhere! Even when you are simply walking or driving, the dozens of people that you meet on the road for the first time and will probably never meet again in your life will all smile and wave hello! Yes, all of them! The children will also happily shout hello and wave from the village houses! Even the men who walk on the road wearing huge knives (which allow them to walk through the dense jungle and make them look like people you really do not want to mess up with) smile and wave!

  

It is amazing to walk on the road along with the locals while it is raining cats and dogs and laugh at each other because we are all totally soaked but happy! The huge Banyan trees could be a perfect shelter from the rain but you need to come across one of them preferably when it starts raining and not half an hour later when it is already too late!

  

Ni-Vanuatu walk a lot because cars are a luxury on these remote islands. Another common way to travel is to jump into the open trunk of a truck (when there is a truck driving by which is in itselt an event!) which, according to our personal experience, is incredibly bumpy and dusty but is definitely a better option than walking for hours and crossing deep rivers!

  

The concepts of distance and time are relative in Vanuatu! If you ask a local how far is a specific place, you can end up with an answer of '15 minutes or probably 1 hour'... Also if you ask someone if the post office is nearby, he will smile and say yes, but then the answer will be exactly the same if you continue inquiring whether the post office is far away! So confusing...Actually everything is relative in Vanuatu because people there seem to have the most precious thing on earth - time! 

  

You also gather full baskets of smiles from the local ladies in beautiful colourful dresses while buying fresh produce and local handicraft on the permanent or road markets open almost all the time except on Sundays (the day for prayers!). There are no words to describe the pleasure of walking around the colourful stalls, choosing the locally grown vegetables and fruits for your lunch and discovering new flavours!

      

You can first get confused with the many vegetables from the potato family - it takes some time to figure out which one is the kassava (or manioc), the yam, the kumala or the taro!

  

Then you end up buying lots of big green bananas thinking that they are just another kind of sweet fruits before figuring out that these are savoury plantains requiring special cooking skills!

    

You also grab some freshly caught fish, together with some local white and black pepper to season your meal, and of course cannot miss the juicy local oranges, mandarins and grapefruits, but also the green lemons which are perfect for the dishes and the rhum cocktails on the terrace in the evening!

      

Finally you absolutely have to get for the dessert some rich-flavoured local cocoa, vanilla, peanuts and copra (the dried meet of the coconut) and remain simply speechless after discovering the strangely looking fruit called soursop which tastes like a delicious mixture of strawberries, pineapple and citrus!

     

The most common and the most delicious local fruit remains the paw-paw which is a sort of papaya! We will never forget the tiny 'restaurant' in the village of Port Resolution on Tanna Island (Port Resolution was the name of Captain Cook’s ship when he reached the island in 1774) which was actually a simple hut with one single long table.

   

There we got a dessert of a Michelin star restaurant quality which was so simple but then at the same time so perfectly balanced and beautiful - a bowl of paw-paw sliced in tiny pieces and soaked in green lemon juice with a delicate purple flower on the top of it! We also had a cup of the strong flavoured Tanna coffee from the trees grown in the rich black volcanic soil - definitely one of the best coffees in the world, probably at the same ranking as the Vietnamese coffee! 

    

After having finished with the vegetables, fruits, fish and spices on the market, you simply cannot resist buying some beautiful bright red flowers. You will also leave the market with a colourful hibiscus-patterned dress sewed by the lady selling it to you (who can also tie your hair in braids), as well as some beautiful paintings, baskets and hats made of hibiscus, banana and pandanus leaves (strangely enough, Ni-Vanuatu do not use pandanus leaves to flavour rice or cakes like people in South East Asia), with natural colours, by the local ladies (who are amazingly talented artists!).

   

Finally you choose some typical wooden or lava masks carved by the men. In Vanuatu men drink kava and carve handicraft and women do all the rest! No comment!

        

Local food is simple but full of flavours thanks to the fresh produce - it usually consists of some rice with eggs and various vegetables including the local cabbage.

  

You can also enjoy delicious fish and chips paying almost nothing and getting at the same time a stunning view from a food court next to the transparent turquoise water of the Port Vila harbour.

    

Beside the typical local dishes, you can try one of the refined French pastries - a heritage from the French presence on the islands, or sit for a while at a heavenly beach in a remote part of Efate island sipping a vanilla and coconut smoothie - a mix of local produce and Aussie influence due to the proximity with Australia - while talking to friendly locals and cool Aussies and Kiwis who come here on holiday as often as Europeans visit Rome or Barcelona!

    

The smiles are also on the faces of the Ni-Vanuatu when they welcome you with necklaces of beautiful fresh flowers or perform for you one of the kastom dances in their pandanus skirts and wreaths. The kastom, which is the word used to describe local traditions, is magnificently described in the movie 'Tanna' filmed in Vanuatu - the real story of two young people who were forbidden from being together by the chief of the village and committed suicide by eating poisonous mushrooms at the edge of mount Yasur, Tanna’s sacred volcano! Romeo and Juliet of Vanuatu!

  

Kava, the famous local narcotic beverage made of the roots of kava plant from the pepper family, which is used in ceremonies but also enjoyed in the daily life in one of the many kava bars for relaxation and celebration, will also make you smile. However you have to be patient and not let the grey muddy colour and the bitter taste of the drink discourage you from drinking everything in the coconut shell.

    

Vanuatu is also full of COLOURS...

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