P&O Cruise to Vanuatu and New Caledonia

Day Seven – Port Vila, capital of Vanuatu

We awoke at sparrowfart to salute the sun with Jishukan again. In the early morning light, all was still, and a little heavy with a pending humidity. The pristine, clear harbour had waters the colour of bubblegum ice cream and even in the polluted areas, one can see the bottom of the water, depending on the depth of course. The skyline was a tropical jungle with greenery everywhere. Some of the darker clouds blurred and some of the lighter silver clouds caught the rays of sunlight- forming a triangle with the sun at the apex. Where beams of lemon light hit the green canopy, there was a thick layer of steam rising, and with this, we decided to bring the tropical-strength insect repellent. Jishukan over the aquamarine harbour was just breathtaking, even better from the vantage point of Deck 10 stern of a fifteen storey cruiseliner. It was like an aerial view of Vanuatu.

We negotiated a taxi to the Cascade Falls- the twelve of us for only AUD$150, return. What an excellent haggle on Soaring Eagle’s part!

“I give you for AUD$200” said the taxi driver.

“No”, replied Soaring Eagle, “I think AUD$100 is appropriate. We can go and negotiate with another driver. Bye.” She flashed a saccharine smile and turned her back.

“AUD$150?”

“Fine,” she sighed. In reality, a tour to the Cascades organised through the ship costs around AUD$79 per person and with the park entry and taxi fare included, we only paid AUD$37 per head. Well done Soaring Eagle, you fly above us!

Port Vila is developed and probably the most western of all the ports so far. Big brands stick out like a sore thumb in the mounds of smoking rubbish in the gutters. The residential areas were like compounds shrouded in banana palms. Interspersed between the residential shacks were industry- agricultural, farming equipment, western brands, petrol, wind turbines on the horizon. Here and there were churches – Assemblies of God, at least two Churches of Christ and the Latter Day Saints and at least one French Catholic Mission, but we didn’t pass so many schools. A lot of stores along the outskirts of the main drag were run down, vacant or for sale.

The Cascades were stunning and our group started out very early, so we were there first. We suncreamed up and walked through mists of insect repellent. After a short walk, we came to a bar with a small pool. The water was so clear, so blue that it seemed like the chlorine blue you’d find in a man-made wave pool. Apparently, the blue comes from the sediments and minerals in the soil- or something geological like that. There were fish in the rockpool too! Frodo grabbed the underwater camera and dipped it in the pool so as to not disturb the fish. He got some classic shots of all the fish just staring at the camera!

We took a jungle walk through the forest of blossoming bromeliads and banana palms and came to the Cascade Waterfalls, which were pounding with the overflow from recent rain. The water was fresh, cool and electrifying- the extreme energy of the falls was astounding, even deafening. The rocks beneath were a hazel green colour, but the discolouration came from the water and the constant erosion left some rocks shaped like the step pyramids of Ur. I stood under a waterfall, let the droplets pelt my back. I slid down a waterfall and drew my energy from nature. I swam in a pool at the bottom of the waterfall and felt the power of the water push and pull.

Lucky we went early- shiploads of people slowly began to crawl all over the waterfalls, so we had the falls to ourselves for only an hour or so. Go early! Interestingly, at the mouth of Cascades park itself stood a souvenir stall with memorabilia of the tackiest kind- magnets, bookmarks, shirts with ‘Vanuatu’, postcards (the usual paraphernalia). One shirt stood out from the rest as being completely black and sporting the words, “Let The Hunt Begin” on the front. I thought this was situationally of the utmost creepiness, but later learned that the shirt came as sponsorship from Jagermeister.

Buffet lunch back on board to save on extra costs. As a fan of the Australian film “Wake in Fright”, I began to get a little suspicious. The water on board is safe to drink, there’s no doubt about that, however it was noticeably and uncomfortably chlorinated. Is it a ploy or a conspiracy to funnel the passengers into bars and coffee shops because the cocktails and soft drinks taste better? Spend more on drinks? Good grief!

We returned to shore to hit up the main shopping district, or the main street rather, of the city centre. Taxi fare- AUD$15, which equated to AUD$1.20 per person thanks to Soaring Eagle. As a Sunday, most things were closed except of course, the tourist-oriented shops opening specifically on cruise liner docking day. Most of the general stores and variety stores had the same goods for the same prices, kitsch Made In China memorabilia sitting in stagnant stores catching the eye of the voyeuristic tourist, collecting dust in between cruise liners. I just felt caught in the tourist loop- I didn’t care for duty-free watches, perfumes, alcohol or jewellery. I just wanted to wander the markets, so I took a walkie talkie, wore my rainbow poncho for visibility, and I did. I bought some cool stuff, like a tie-dye dress for summer.

After Bakmi Goreng for dinner on board, we caught the back end Murray Raine’s marionette show in the Marquee. He was excellent with those well-crafted puppets, and an impressive showman too! He’s a hilarious storyteller and a born comedian.

In the open air up on Deck 14, we watched Pacific Cirque perform trapeze acts,  acts where the woman was holding the man in the air with a strap in her clenched jaw, acts where the man was dangling from a rope supporting a net with a woman doing a handstand. All of this was over the netted swimming pool on Deck 12, in the middle of incredibly high winds, in the centre of the South Pacific, under a blanket of stars. The ship blared a thunderous party beat that pulsed far into the darkness of the Pacific Ocean. The ship’s lights lit the wash beside the boat which made the white foam stand out against the pitch black sea.

Before the show, the winds gusted with such force that my skirt flew up and I had to tie a knot in it to keep it down. It was so unbelievably dangerous for the circus performers, so just for the show, the captain changed course and turned into the wind and matched the windspeed, so that there was no wind at all across the open deck. About ten or so metres above us, however, the smoke from the funnel was seen to be white and travelling toward the direction we were heading, which proved against the night sky, just how strong the winds were. Ridiculous! The captain then gave three blasts of the horn to let us know that the party was underway. The crew had their party the previous night. Apparently this was the first time in about eight to twelve months or so that the Pacific Pearl has docked overnight, which meant that the crew were allowed onshore when their shift ended.

After the firetwirling and death defying displays of insanity and talent, we ran into the Mix Bar, where we were greeted once more by Gregg Ackermann, Piano extraordinaire! For us, he learned two Coldplay tunes, the requested Green Day track and played a few old timey favourites, which we completely lapped up- we bought his CD. He’s a brilliant performer who really grows organically with the audience and keeps the performance dynamic through engagement and interaction. He’s truly great at harnessing music classics and covering them as his own, innovatively and creatively.

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