Pele Island, Vanuatu

Nestled between the islands of Nguna and Emao  lies Pele Island, the smallest of the three, just a short boat ride off the north-east coast of Efate. Between 200 – 300 Ni-Vanuatu people live in the four villages on the island and each village has at least one guest bungalow, an income generating project that also encourages visitors to Vanuatu to stay with and learn more about the local people and culture.

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We were greeted at the jetty by Enoch Takaue, the chief of Werearu village, and our host for the next few nights at the Sunset Frangipani Bungalow. The island has a small primary school (students board on the mainland to attend secondary school) and we made a quick stop to pick up Enoch’s two boys and their cousin on our way to Werearu.

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As Pele is quite small, you can easily walk around the island in a day. If you decided to stop on a beach for a swim anywhere along the way, it’s customary (and polite) to ask the village chief for permission. Before arriving we’d been keen to go exploring, but after dropping off our bags in the bungalow we settled into a couple of chairs to take in the view. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, to me, there is something quite magical about sitting in the shade of a palm tree, the sand between your toes and the gentle lapping of the ocean lulling you into an almost comatose state of relaxation within minutes.

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For the next two days we moved between the shade of the palm trees and dips in the ocean. And I wrote. Pages and pages and pages. I wrote about where we were and what we were doing. I wrote down ideas for stories, ramblings, and thoughts. None of it was important, thesis related, or for anyone else. I wrote because there were no distractions. There were no meals to cook (Enoch’s lovely wife, Joanna, made us three delicious – and massive – meals a day), no Facebook to check, emails to answer or tv to watch.

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In between writing, and hubby reading and sleeping in a hammock all day, we waded out into the shallows for a snorkel. The effects of Cyclone Pam are still evident on the reef. But, one year on and the coral is building itself back up. Little reef fish are moving back in and the clams, which are a local delicacy, create a patchwork of colorful fleshy lips woven into the growing coral bombies.

Two days were not long enough. I would’ve happily chilled out in the ocean, written, played with the kids and chatted to Joanna, swapping recipes, by the fire each night. Now we know about this gem of a place, we’ll be back for sure.

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Takaue Sunset Frangipani Bungalow Details

  • Accommodation: 3500 Vatu per person per night
  • Boat ride: 500 Vatu per person each way
  • Includes three meals a day, plus tea and coffee
  • Accommodation sleeps 5 (1 x double bed, 1 x single bed, 1 x bunk bed)
  • BYO snorkel gear
  • Bucket flush toilet and cold wash bathing facilities
  • Solar power LED lights hooked up in the bungalow and to the bathroom block outside

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To Do

  • Island walk
  • Snorkel
  • Surf (there are two breaks on Pele, one a short walk North to the point/reef break and one on the South-Eastern side of the island. The wind and swell were all wrong while we were there with a 1/2 – 1 foot wave breaking on the reef.)
  • Walk through the village and meet the locals/hang out with the kids after school
  • Read
  • Laze around in a hammock

To book contact Enoch on 5348534 or 7118360 or contact Evergreen Tours to help you connect with Enoch and book a stay.

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Mele: Kava, Cascades & a Karaoke Bus Ride

About a 10 minute bus ride north of Port Vila lies the calm crescent bay of Mele. The area of Mele is home to several villages stretching from just behind the volcanic and coral mix sandy beach back to the airport. The largest village (7000 people) on the island of Efate starts from the main road – behind The Beach Bar and a private housing estate – and spreads inland toward the dense green hills that have formed with many years of Volcanic activity.


One of the first things my husband wanted to do on our honeymoon was try Kava. He’d heard stories and was itching to get out and find a Nakamal, Kava bar. By the time we’d ordered our second round of drinks on our first day in Vanuatu (having arrived late the night before), he’d asked the staff at the resort about where we could go for good Kava. And this led us to John. John was keen to have some Kava after work. He would meet us and we could go with him.

There are rules to drinking Kava and everyone will remind you of these rules… And I advise that you listen to them.

Kava Drinking Rules:

  1. Do not drink alcohol or eat from about lunch time onwards if you are going to drink Kava at night.
  2. Drink water and eat a small snack after each shell of Kava.
  3. For your first time, maybe drink 1 or 2 shells, but don’t think you can drink Kava like beer.

The excitement got the better of my hubby…

Holidays + no work + the impending Kava drinking = Beer drinking on the beach all day.

Rule #1 broken

Kava

Kava

We arrived at John’s uncles house where they had prepared a really strong batch of Kava (see pic above). Kava is just really muddy water. Made from grinding the fresh kava root, mixing it with water and straining the liquid through some sort of mesh or cloth. It numbs the lips and mouth and then relaxes the body and mind. It’s not typically a drink made for getting drunk. But, that night, my hubby and John gave it a good crack. Rule #2 was kind of abided by – well they consumed a small packet of Twisties between them and their 3 shells of Kava each. That works out to about 2 twisties each after each drink. And Rule #3, yeah, well, that one also went out the window.

As hubby spent most of the night hugging the toilet bowl, I was really glad I spat out the tiny little sip of Kava I’d tried – after all, it really is just muddy water. He was convinced the chicken in his dinner had given him food poisoning… until we ran into John later that morning. John looked at us both and said “I want to die.” Turns out no one gets away from the consequences of breaking the Kava drinking rules.

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After spending a few days at Erakor Island Resort for our honeymoon, we packed up and headed north to stay in Mele Bay. The rain had settled in on Saturday, but by Sunday the clouds cleared and the humidity was back. We walked along the beach early Sunday morning, and after missing the turn off and walking halfway around the bay, we back tracked and found the road leading to the Cascades.

 

Chilling at the cascades

The Cascades are a series of pools connected by small waterfalls and rocky overflows. The walk takes about 30 minutes, starting from the bottom pools and following a path up a set of stairs, through the dense overgrown hillside and then criss-crossing the middle section of stream and pools before reaching the actual cascades.

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Mele Waterfall

The 35m waterfall at the top is a spectacular place to cool off after the humid walk. Go early in the day though. The pool at the base of the waterfall is fairly small. There was a family of 3 there at the same time as us and we all had enough space to swim and chill out. Five people were plenty,  I couldn’t imagine sharing this spot with a bus load of people, but then I’m a bit of a hermit and don’t like being in crowded places anyway.

Settling in to enjoy a beer on the beach as the sunset that night, we met Antuan – the only surfer in Mele. There are no waves in Mele, unless there is a cyclone or tsunami warning. So the boys planned a surf trip for the next day out at Pango.

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Game of pool at one of the Nakamals in Mele village.

As the break at Pango is shallow at high tide, and the reef is out of the water at low tide, a surf wasn’t possible until later in the day. We headed into Mele village for a few hours for a game of pool, an ice cream from the local who sells 3 scoops for the price of 2, and for me to indulge in chasing the pigs that roam freely alongside the dogs and chickens, all to get a photo of a pig (If we had land at home a pig would be the first animal added to the family, well after chickens anyway).

Piggy

We came across the local English primary school (there are French and English schools in Vanuatu). Almost 12 months on from Cyclone Pam and part of the school is still operating out of UNICEF supplied tents. The local community worked together to raise money and then with locals, volunteers and NGO organisations rebuilt one of the buildings in two days. Other organisations have supported the rebuilding of other classrooms, but there is still a way to go.

After hitching a ride, our last visit to Mele was for the famous Beach Bar Fire Show. But, it was the drive back to Pango that was the real entertainment of the night. We jumped in a bus (mini van) and the driver’s cousin, Sharon, offered us beers. A couple of minutes into the drive and we stopped for Woodstocks. The driver, Pete, turned off a few streets early in Port Vila and headed to a bar/restaurant. Here he shouted a round of tequila shots and the bar shouted a free round of home-made caramel vodka shots. Not being a big drinker anymore, and having already over indulged in happy hour cocktails earlier in the evening, I’d stopped partaking in the drinking and watched all of this unfold like some strange throw back to our younger days. We climbed back in the bus and Pete reassured me, as he reversed out of the parking lot, not to worry he’d only drunk a carton of Tuskers beer that day. We continued driving along roads leading away from Vila and our destination in Pango, eventually ending up on a hill full of mobile/cellphone towers overlooking the massive harbour of Port Vila. Sharon cranked up the stereo and under the glittering lights of the towers and stars we all danced and sang barefoot beside the bus to Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself”. A few songs, and a few beers later, Sharon was asleep on the front passenger seat and Pete drove us the rest of the way to Pango, singing to songs ranging from popular electronic dance music to country and western, and driving at 20km an hour along the side of the road.

Pete was right… I had nothing to worry about at all.

 

Weekend Wandering: Bribie Island

Dear parents everywhere,

I salute you! You guys are the most amazing people in the universe.

Yours in complete awe,

Emma x

This past weekend our house was home to three little ones all under the age of six years. Two sisters staying for a few days and my friend and her little one visiting overnight. After a big day on Saturday, Sunday started with a 5am wake up call after a dummy was thrown out of the cot. 

I like my sleep. I don’t function well without it, and it appears neither do little people. By 8am the world was ending. Toes were crossing imaginary lines into someone else’s “side of the couch”, doors were shut leaving one out of the shenanigans going on inside the room by the other two, and the toothpaste was the wrong colour. There were tears and cries of “it’s not fair”. And there were screams of “no”, although, in the end I’m not sure what the no’s were about.

It was time to get out of the confines of the house! Time to get some sunshine and chill out. We loaded three children into the car, protesting that they didn’t like the beach or swimming, and headed to Bribie Island. 

Bribie is a great spot to visit with kids. On the eastern side you can 4wd and camp along the beach. On the western side the beaches are protected from big swells and a perfect place to fish or for little ones to swim. There are shops and cafes, and, on weekends, markets to explore. There are playgrounds or shady patches of grass to spread out on and enjoy the view. 

We found a little patch of grass under a eucalyptus tree, in Bongaree, and spread out a picnic blanket. Within sixty seconds all three kids were pulling on swimmers and racing towards the water. So much for hating the beach!

  
We found soldier crabs and chased fish in the shallows. We chased seagulls and buried our feet in the sand. And after they’d splashed around in the gentle waves rolling in off the boats and jet skis going past out in the channel, three smiling children laughed together and enjoyed a picnic overlooking the beach. 

  
My 36 hour experience with three young children gave me a new found appreciation and respect for parents everywhere. You guys are amazing!

School holiday destinations: Yamba

My best childhood memories are of school holidays spent running wild on secluded beaches with my sister or family friends. Bush walks through native Australian flora, scrambling up rocky outcrops for sweeping views of the rugged inland sprawl or endless turquoise ocean. And while some of these destinations could take days and days to reach, others were not that far from home.

Places like Yamba, on the New South Wales north coast, are a perfectly balanced little gem. You have all of the everyday conveniences one becomes accustomed to when living in a city (great cafes, restaurants, food stores, ice cream shop), as well as absolute isolation just a short drive or boat ride away. Instead of camping, we upgraded and stayed at the aptly named “Hilton”, a little shack a short walk between the surf beaches and town. So that everyday we could walk to the beach and hang out in the sun and surf. Then every afternoon walk into town for an ice cream… because what else are school holidays for!

A ten minute drive down the road to Angourie and you’ll find swimming holes to dive into, rock pools to explore and kangaroos feasting in the late afternoon sun. A little bit further south off the main highway is the Yuraygir National Park. Take the inland 4wd track to find a nice little surf break off the point at the northern end of the beach or drive down through Wooli and access the beach at the southern end and drive along until you find a spot to set up for the day.

Regardless of where you end up, you really can’t go wrong spending school holidays at the beach somewhere.

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Byron Bay

I love visiting Byron Bay. Every time I go I tell myself I need to visit more often, but inevitably life takes over and there are a multitude of excuses that prevent me from making the return trip. But for those few days that I am immersed in the blissful chilled-out haze that seems to have permanently engulfed Byron, I remember why it is one of my favourite places on earth…

Fountain of Life

Africa has a unique blend of issues and challenges. HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, maternal mortality, malaria, and lack of education mixed with traditional cultures, extreme poverty, and an enormous amount of NGO’s, CBO’s, governments and donors all suggesting ways to address these problems. But once you scratch the surface of the issues and challenges that are constantly in the media and on the agenda of most NGO’s and donors, you come to the issues of critical importance to a country and it’s people. Issues and challenges that are so entwined with every element of daily life that once you become aware of them, you wonder how they have been kept quiet for so long.

Fountain of Life Centre, Lilongwe, Malawi

Fountain of Life Centre, Lilongwe, Malawi

Child trafficking, mental illness, rape, and sexual assault. The buy products of poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, desperation, and a complex web of social, economical, and cultural factors. According to a 2011 report, 3% of sexually abused children aged 12-18 years reported the abuse, while 55% of cases go unreported. Trying to find a figure on rape and sexual abuse cases in Malawi is impossible. The Malawi Police, Victim Support Unit, acknowledged yesterday that in most cases a victim does not report a case of rape or sexual assault for three main reasons. One: they are afraid of going to the police; two: the victim’s family convinces them not to report the incident; or three: the victim is fearful for their life and the repercussions in their village, among their peers and family, if they report the incident. But the police are working with local schools and communities across Malawi to try to change the perceptions of Malawians when it comes to rape and sexual assault.

Victims Support Unit Officer explaining the current rape and sexual assault reporting procedures

Victims Support Unit Officer explaining the current rape and sexual assault reporting procedures

Yesterday marked the official opening of the Fountain of Life Resource Centre in Lilongwe. The centre is a partnership between the Police Victim Support Unit, Malawi government, hospitals, and other donors that provides resources and culturally appropriate care, support and protection to victims of rape and sexual abuse. The centre is part of an ongoing chain of support for victims. Even though it is the first 48-72 hours that are crucial in terms of trauma counselling for a victim, the ongoing counselling and support is just as vital. The ongoing support is something that Malawi’s Director of Social Welfare acknowledged as an area that the government and all involved parties needed to work together to improve.

The Director also acknowledged the Police Victims Support Unit’s (VSU) lack of resources to implement current programs to change the Malawi people’s perceptions of the country’s police officers. The Police VSU over the past 12 months had gone into schools, church congregations and rural communities to raise awareness of rape and sexual assault issues in Malawi and how the Police unit is able to help victims. This engagement with Malawians is something that the Fountain of Life centre will join forces with the police to extend on, with a series of DVD’s, books and brochures under development to inform Malawians of ways to deal with sexual abuse, support people who have suffered sexual abuse, and to promote positive and safe interactions between people. The VSU has been separated from the general police stations in Malawi to provide victims with an environment that feels less threatening. Police have also undergone customer services training and trauma training to improve their skills in supporting victims of rape and sexual assault. But after a victim has completed the report of an incident with police and undergone a medical they can now access continued support from the counsellors at Fountain of Life.

Trauma counselling workshops to train more Malawians to support victims of rape and sexual assault

Trauma counselling workshops to train more Malawians to support victims of rape and sexual assault

This partnership between government, Police, and follow-up trauma care and counselling is a step in the right direction for addressing one of the largest, and also quietest, issues in Malawi. The country is still a long way off having solutions to the challenging nature of the issue, but at least now victims will have further support to help them in moving on after such horrific experiences. And hopefully, with the growth of the awareness campaign, their will be a decrease in cases of rape, sexual assault, gender based violence or incest, or at least an increase in reporting, so that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.

For more information on Fountain of Life visit their website:

www.mwfountainoflife.org

Note: Rape and sexual assault are complex issues that I am not an expert on. I have not even begun to scratch the surface of either of these, but am merely reporting on an open forum held between government, police, locals, and Fountain of Life founders and psychologists to continue the conversation on the issue and to raise awareness of what is happening to address a major challenge faced by Malawians.

 

The Old Hotel, Pomene, Mozambique

Mozambique is a slow cooker melting pot of tropical tribal traditions, laid back beach lifestyle and lost in time Portuguese influences. Perched high on the point at Pomene are remnants of the Portuguese in the form of the Old Hotel. Crumbling under the pressure from the ocean and time, it’s a stark contrast to the raw beauty and traditional living in this coastal reserve.

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