Right, Time, Right Place, Right Now


Jun 5, 2001
Outside Magazine

"Machetes, aisle three," said the hardware store clerk in Port Vila, on Efate, the third-largest of Vanuatu's islands and home to two-thirds of its mostly Melanesian population of 180,000. Port Vila, the capital, though faded and scruffy in a pleasant, Somerset Maughamish kind of way, is surprisingly cosmopolitan. At Le Meridien, I could order Melanesian dishes, such as minced pork wrapped in manioc and taro leaves, in English, at Paris-steep prices. As I picked at my coconut crab at the Waterfront Bar & Grill, I eavesdropped on yachties whose timetable dictated cruising to New Zealand before December's cyclone season began. I could have shopped for French cologne or Australian shiraz. But instead I walked to the hardware store, because I've always wanted a machete and could find no souvenir in the duty-free shop that pleased me half as much, even though it turned out to be made in Brazil.

The best of Vanuatu lies beyond Efate. But stay a day or two to sea kayak to tiny offshore islands, snorkel among 300 species of coral, and visit the Ekasup Cultural Village. Located a few miles from Port Vila, the village is a scattering of traditional thatch houses, their pointed roofs extending almost to the ground to make them more secure during high winds. Traditional too is the location, near a banyan tree with a huge, above-ground root system that provides sanctuary during cyclones. The show Ekasup puts on is a bit commercial, but it can provide some insight into the old survival skills, which could prove useful if you find yourself in the outer islands without lunch in hand and need to know how to trap a fish or spear a pig.

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