What have Machu Picchu, Nelson Mandela and Robert Smith all got in common?

Peru will be the subject of one of the forthcoming series of posts in Farflungplaces. Here is an early taste of one of the posts, thanks to our sponsors, Marca Peru.

Organising a Piss Up in a Brewery. Port Vila, Vanuatu.

There has not been enough focus on beer in Farflungplaces, an important part of the travel experience. I will attempt to put this right with this post.

WWII Madness. Million Dollar Point. Santo, Vanuatu

Like most of Vanuatu, Espirutu Santo in the northern chain of islands, was occupied by the Americans during WWII to launch their attacks on the Japanese in the Pacific. On their departure from the island they left behind infrastructure like roads and runways, and even buildings, with army built Quonset huts still standing around Santo. The biggest legacy is Million Dollar Point, both historically fascinating, but environmentally destructive, and a monument to greed and stupidity.

An island of Blue holes, Beaches and Beef. Santo, Vanuatu.

Espiritu Santo (just Santo to the locals) is what the Spanish thought Australia looked like. The explorer De Querios 'discovered' Santo in 1606 and believed he had found the great southern continent. Admittedly the mangroves and the hot humid temperatures do resemble far north Queensland, but that is all.

Top ten insider tips for Port Vila, Vanuatu

1. On a Wednesday night head down to the Nambawan cafe for their outdoor cinema (you can also go Saturday and Sunday (family film night)). Sitting in comfy chairs, or lying on a blanket, with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and eating one of their tasty pizzas is a great way to spend the evening. As the sun goes down the film begins, with a beautiful backdrop of the harbour. This is a real bonus, if the film is a real shocker you can watch the yachts coming and going, and look up at the stars. If only I could do that at a normal cinema...

The film premiere of 'Lon Marum' in Sydney. Nov 28th, 2013.

For those in Sydney, or close to Sydney, a reminder that the Australian premiere of Lon Marum is at the Macleay Museum at Sydney University on the 28th November at 5PM.

A Cargo cult, Waiting for the Americans to return. Inyeung, Vanuatu.

Inyeung island, or Mystery island, is the southern most island in Vanuatu. It is little visited except by the occasional cruise ship, the intrepid traveller catching a boat across from Aneityum (Anatom), or waiting for the weekly flight from Tanna.

Prince Philip is a God. Life in a Kastam village. Tanna, Vanuatu

Tanna gets a bad press from inhabitants of the other islands of Vanuatu. Whenever a burglary or crime occurs in Port Vila on the main Efate island 'Man blong Tanna' will conveniently (and mostly unfairly) get the blame. They are a close knit community who have a warlike history against other islands, particularly Erromango to the north, and to unwanted visitors. Missionaries would be eaten before they had the chance to convert.

The easy way to climb a Volcano. Mount Yasur, Tanna, Vanuatu

Not all volcanic climbs involve multi-day long treks across difficult terrain to view into a crater. Most do, but not all. Mount Yasur in Tanna is probably the easiest Volcano to climb in the world. It is as simple as paying for a trip in a 4WD car across the ash plains and then a drive up a muddy track to a car park just below the rim of the crater.

Mi Wantem Parcels (I want my Luggage). Bislama in Vanuatu

The national language of Vanuatu is Bislama, a form of pidgin English mixed with the odd French word, thanks to the islands history being ruled by the Anglo-Franco condominium. A rather unique and bizarre joint colonial rule that lasted until independence in 1980. Wonderful stories exist of the rivalry between the French and British, such as paying for an independent Swiss national to oversee all flag raisings to ensure neither countries flag was higher!

Lopevi Volcano, Vanuatu

Catching the plane back to Port Vila from Craig Cove, was going to give  me a great chance to see Mt Benbow from the air. But despite being a blue sky day, the whole of the volcano and surrounding caldera was shrouded in clouds and volcanic smoke by the time the plane took off. But, to make up for this, I did see the Lopevi volcano, about 8 km’s from Ambrym.

The Magical Rom dance. Ambrym, Vanuatu.

The descent from the crater of the Mt Benbow did not quite work out as planned. After returning to pick up our tents, we put on our backpacks and re-crossed the lava fields and ravines of the caldera. Again we were alternately soaked by storms or burnt by the sun.

Black Magic, and why Missionaries stood no chance. Ambrym. Vanuatu

Ambrym is still relatively untouched by western thoughts and values, and traditional custom beliefs remain very strong, particularly in the North East and North West villages, maybe not coincidentally the furthest settlements from the two small airports here.

Thunder from the Earth. On top of Mt Benbow, Ambrym. Vanuatu

Sleeping on a ridge next to an active volcano was an experience I will never forget. Mt Benbow in Ambrym was noisy all night long. There would be a period of silence, and then it would make a rumbling noise like thunder, which shook the ground, before subsiding to silence again.

The barefoot volcano ascent. Mt Benbow, Ambrym.

We were now in uncharted territory for me. Climbing canyons and lava flows are one thing, clambering up mountain sides with nothing to grab onto (oh how I missed those tree roots) and on a slippery ash based surface is another. I had walked up mountain sides with scree before, but scree is made up of small rocks and gives your feet more grip than the tiny particles of ash. We were climbing on the crater of the Mt Benbow volcano in Ambrym. The scenery was bleak, volcanic acid rain had removed all vegetation, and it was 15C colder than the beginning of the trail.