October 27, 2013

Chickens, Dexter and the volcanic sand landing strip at Ambrym island, Vanuatu

The Air Vanuatu Twin Otter's act like buses to the islands surrounding Efate, the main island of Vanuatu. Expensive buses though, particularly for locals, as this 45 minute flight costs about US$100. The alternative is to go by boat, a 24 hour journey at a quarter of the cost, in a pretty uncomfortable ferry. Which have been known to sink. Air Vanuatu is my choice, a very safe airline (there has been the odd mishap, but mostly at night and in bad weather, so I will gloss over that).

The other passengers all carry an enormous amount of goods with them, from TV sets, wooden cages filled with chickens, boxes of Heinz baked beans, palm leaf bags full of dodgy Chinese DVDs (I notice 'Dexter' and the 'IT Crowd' on top, and wonder what the locals will make of these radically different insights into western culture) and cartons of the local Tusker Beer. I soon learn that shops are somewhat scarce in Ambrym, and that self sufficiency, aided by luxury purchases from Port Villa, is the norm.

The Chickens were unexpectedly quiet throughout the flight, either that or the drone of the propellors drowned them out.We land smoothly on the black volcanic sand and grass strip at Craig Cove (pronounced Krakow) on Ambrym, and being the only flight of the day we are surrounded by local families welcoming home loved ones. I am the only foreigner on board, and I wait patiently by my bag for “Steven” at whose house I am staying tonight. There are no hotels here, and local stays are the only form of accommodation available, which is just what I want.

Eventually I am the only passenger remaining in the hut/airport terminal, and the Airport manager approaches me. Everyone knows Steven, it is a small community, and I am told he might be at the Saturday market selling produce. I get a vague finger pointing into the bush, and I traipse off, following a mud trail from the runway which passes six houses, with encouragement and more finger pointing at each, before arriving at a small house with pigs and chickens running amok. I have found my accommodation for the night.

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