The Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandez de Quirios discovered Vanuatu in 1606 but 162 years passed before Louis-Antoine de Bougainville visited the archipelago and named some of the islands to which James Cook gave his own names when he came around, six years later.
Hostile cannibalistic Melanesians kept the Europeans away until traders began to exploit sandalwood forests for the Chinese market at around 1825. They were soon followed by British Protestant missionaries and settlers, many which were eaten, and eventually by French Catholics in 1887.
The violent and lawless three way struggle between the English, the French and the exploited Melanesians continued until 1906 when an Anglo-French Condominium was established to block German expansion in the region. The Melanesian population was decimated in the process, passing from one million in 1900 to 40 000 in 1936.
During World War II, US forces arrived in Vanuatu just before the Japanese who had taken the Solomon Islands. After the war, manganese mining and the development of the fishing industry brought prosperity and a dramatic increase in the land area controlled by white settlers. This led to the creation of the Nagriamel Movement to restore communal ownership of land and to increased political tension between the three parties. The condominium was forced to hold the general elections in 1975 in 1977 and in 1979 leading to independence of the new nation Vanuatu in 1980 after secessionists had taken control of Luganville on Santo island. The new government brought in forces from Papua New Guinea and Australia that quickly ended the secession.
Traditional subsistence farming of communal lands complemented by some cash crops still dominates Vanuatu's economy but tourism is growing quickly due to the proximity of Australia and New Zealand.
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I seldom book hotels ahead of time for I prefer to choose on the spot. This time however. my flight was arriving late in the evening so I booked a room and pickup at the Tafea Guesthouse. That was a mistake because no one came to get me at when I got there, I was shown to my room by another guest because the manager was absent. The room was small and unclean so I moved to this motel the next day.
It was a good choice, I had a large room in a nice apartment with kichen and balcony. More importantly, Jean-Noel Ito (part Japanese), and his family gave me a traditional meal of tapioca with greens and took good care of me.
Kumul Road is the main street and the corner it makes with Avenue du Général de Gaule can be called the center of Port Vila. That's where the Post Office is, on the right in the photo.
The modern concrete marketplace is a little further south on Kumul Road.
The market is quite large and has all the staples such as taro, yams, breadfruit, yucca, kumara (sweet potato), coconuts, cane, bananas, papayas etc.
This lady and a half a dozen others were selling lap-lap wrapped in banana leaves. Her lap-lap was the basic pounded taro but other varieties were also available such as tapioca lap-lap and blends like tapioca-banana lap-lap etc. Lap-lap is nourishing but somewhat bland.
Here is the resort island of Iririki as seen from the market.
The Iririki Island Resort was the closest of Port Vila's luxury hotels so I went to have a look. I like to look around the jet-set hotels I come across in my travels to try to imagine what it would be like to travel like that instead of the way I do. These cabins go for 150 $US a night and up and the Meridian Hotel is still more expensive.
I have no doubt that the food would be more delicious and the beds more comfortable than in the hostels I stay in but I would feel isolated from the local populations that make travel so interesting.
If I could afford to travel with the jet-set maybe I would meet impressive people like movie stars, politicians and millionaires but I'm not sure I would like to be impressed by fame and money. Then, I would have to start worrying about how impressive I am myself and that would be a drag.
Finally, I love to visit great jet-set resorts because feeling out of place confirms my proletarian tastes and moves me to fully enjoy the simple values that I hold dear.
The large building with the red roof houses Vanuatu's parliament.
And that is the national museum hiding behind that big tree.
The museum was interesting for it dealt not only with Vanuatu but also with other parts of Melanesia.
Next to the museum was this traditional men's clubhouse called "nakamal" in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
I went to visit the village of Erakor, not far from Port Vila. This building housed the administrative offices of the district.
And this was Erakor's Presbyterian Church.
Not all the houses were this nice but the village did appear quite prosperous.
Getting around Port Vila is easy for there are many minibuses but outside of the capital the service is more erratic with some buses in the morning and hardly any after twelve noon. I had to take a taxi to Erakor. Here's my driver triumphantly returning from the purchase of cigarettes at the village store in Erakor.
I also had to take a taxi to get to these fabulous gardens near the Mele-Maat cascades.
I just had time to look around the entrance and to enjoy the manner in which Vanuatu's history and cultural values were presented on humourous panels when a watchman appeared to tell me that the place was not opened that day.
I was disappointed because I had liked what I had seen but he was adamant and I had to leave. He was just following orders and he seemed a nice fellow so I took this picture to remember his face.
The air service from Port Vila to Honiara had been interrupted so I had to fly to Nadi and board an other plane to get to the Solomon Islands.