Wanting to get an insight into a different culture has always been a huge motivator for me; especially in thinking about where we hope to travel. Our trip to Vanuatu has been no different. Choosing to stay in Port Olry was all about the opportunity to live within a traditional village, a place where other tourists are scarce, and a place where our money could go directly to the community.
With a population of around 1,300 people, accommodation options are generally rustic, there are only two restaurants catering to tourists and a few sparse grocery stores. Power comes on and off at set times and the nightlife generally involves an invitation to share kava in someone’s home, a fire on the beach or a bit of star gazing. The closest atmosphere to a celebration can be found in the local Catholic Church of a Sunday, where people wear their freshest clothes and sing a few mellow hymns. If you are looking for a place with a party vibe you’ll need to keep searching.
Getting to know Angelic, the owner of our beautiful treehouse stay meant I was treated to an invitation in to her home. As Andrés stayed beachside, Angelic and I spent time in her veggie garden where she explained the traditional use of certain plants and vegetables. I learned about the leaf that is placed behind your ear to protect you from evil, an important necessity before we climbed through the ‘jungle’. We hiked through old strangler figs to the cliff top overlooking the village, all the time Angelic nursing her youngest of five children. We stopped regularly in the shade to chat intensely about our lives, and despite our different experiences we quickly discovered common ground as women. I like to think we shared some truths that strengthened both of our spirits.
As an English speaker that grew up on a neighbouring island, Angelic explained to me how socially complex the predominately French speaking town is. Families mostly live together across a few generations and they work together in a traditionally cooperative way, sharing resources and money between them as need be. With five children, growing food for Angelic is relatively secure and a growing influx of travellers helps bring much needed funds to this somewhat isolated community.
Port Olry is exactly the type of place I would love to start a community development project, so as we hiked Angelic and I threw around some ideas about how she might start to work with other women in the village to gain some much needed financial independence.
We hesitated in venturing too far from our bungalow in the first couple of days, wanting to feel out the vibe of the place; aware of stepping in to anyone’s space without a real invitation. But meeting locals in this beautiful landscape turns out to be really natural and easy, as they are some of the loveliest, warm hearted people we have ever met. If you ever get the chance to spend some time in this little corner of Santo just make sure you’ve left enough island time to mix with the traditional owners of the land and hear about how they are aiming to protect their fragile environment.