Travel to Vanuatu was one of the highlights of our round the world trip. Vanuatu consists of many small islands (83) and Malekula is the second largest of them. In this travel story from our round the world trip, we talk about the adventures got into and the privilege we had when we stayed with a local family living their lives in a traditional way.
Visiting this beautiful friendly South Pacific island was great adventure that we will always cherish.
No words can do this little South Pacific island and its inhabitant's justice. It is so different from all other places we have been to so far. It is so unspoiled of tourism (at least when we were there in 2007). We felt more like guests than tourists, which was nice and lovely surprise.
The island's infrastructure is basic, the roads are pretty bad, there are few cars and tourist facilities are relatively basic. This makes visiting Malekula very authentic and unique experience.
Our visit to Malekula wasn't organized in advanced. We arrived by plane early on Monday morning, having called ahead only the previous day.
Beautiful Malekula girl
Whom did we call? Of course Rose Bay Bungalows, because we had heard Peter could arrange interesting excursions around the island (Lonely Planet). Peter was not in but Johnny answered the phone and said they would pick us up at the airport the following morning.
The plane was small 19-seat Twin Otter. Everyone seemed to be travelling with lot of luggage so both people and luggage were weighted. The plane had one stopover on the way, on grass airfield.
When we arrived around eight o'clock in the morning, there was no one to pick us up. We had heard about Vanuatu time so we waited patiently for a while.
After an hour or so, we asked the airport employees to call Rose Bay Bungalows for us and it turned out that no one was on the way to pick us up, something about bad road or something.
They claimed there would be a truck soon going our way, i.e. north towards Rose Bay. To cut a long story short, we spent the whole day waiting for the truck and most people on this part of the island were involved in getting us on it.
It was around three in the afternoon when we were finally put on the back of a pickup with four friendly locals. The trip took only 45 minutes since it was only 14 kilometers - just under 9 miles (we would have been quicker walking).
The famous Rose Bay Bungalows
When we arrived at Rose Bay Bungalows there was no Peter and no one else could arrange the excursion... it was starting to feel like we would be spending our time in Malekula very close to the airport after all.
We were though amazingly cool about it, for some reason we had the feeling it would all sort itself out, and it did.
Because when Peter finally arrived around six in the evening, he had this great plan ready for us. You see, he had been expecting us since last Friday, which surprised us since we had only called the island the previous day (Sunday).
We were very happy with the plan so after lovely meal cooked by his wife we had a good night sleep in the Rose Bay Bungalows.
We started early the next day, the first stop was in Rano to visit Small Nambas village where we attended local dance show, i.e. kastom dancing.
Malekula kastom dancing
Very colorful and lively
There are two major cultural groups in Malekula, the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas. The name represents the size of the men's namba (penis sheath).
Small Nambas men wear only one leaf of dried fiber wound around their penis and tucked into their bark belt while Big Nambas men wind large purple pandanus fibers around their penis, securing the loose ends in a thick bark belt and leaving the testicles exposed.
The kastom dancing was very enjoyable to watch. It was colorful and lively and the dancers were enthusiastic and interested in their audience (us).
After the show, they showed us their stone collection but the first visitor from each country puts down a stone with the name of the country they come from. We put down a stone in the name of Iceland, as we were the first guests from there. Nice custom.
We were then taken to the small island of Rano to visit former cannibal site, which was interesting. Cannibalism was part of the culture in the “old days” but the last known cannibalism in Malekula is registered as late as 1969.
Our guide told us, that in the “old days” they used to eat males from the enemy tribe. It was a warrior thing. However, when the first Christian missionary stepped ashore in 1839 he was promptly eaten (as Lonely Planet so colorfully describes it).
We then headed back to Lakatoro to get truck to the southern part of the island, where we would be spending the night with local Malekula family.
We had to wait a while for the truck and when it finally came, it looked more than full to us. The locals did not agree and squeezed the four of us in (Peter, his assistant and the two of us).
Our public transport to
the south Malekula, not full at all
This meant we were 13 adults, 2 children and lot of luggage (including some alive, like hens and lobsters) on the back of this Toyota pickup.
Still plenty of space left. It was not until we were 19 adults, 2 kids and even more luggage that this truck was finally considered full.
Those passenger who were standing on the back bumper were held in place by other fellow passenger by grabbing hold on to their arms!
The journey took us 2.5 hours with our feet tucked under us so we were very pleased when we finally reached our destination. This car journey was though the most interesting we have ever done and our fellow passengers very friendly and interesting.
Our journey for the day was though not over yet. Now we had to hike through the forest to reach the village where we would stay overnight. It was hot and humid, as well as getting late in the day.
When we finally arrived in the village, it was already dark and our guides now dressed in traditional costumes, i.e. in very little. Due to the dark, we couldn't see much of the surroundings or our hosts. Therefore, after quick dinner (rice with little paste) we went to bed. We slept well in our bamboos hut, tired after the journey.
The lovely Malekula
Family we stayed with
When we woke up, we were finally able to see our host family. The village was very small, only two brothers with their families lived there.
The other family was away when we were there but the father of the other family and his four sons showed us around.
They took us on a short boat trip to see a cave and then showed us their vegetable garden. We learned how to put down banana tree and helped with the weeding (in the jungle!).
We then met up with the women of the family, i.e. the wife, their three daughters and couple of his sisters that were visiting. The family showed us some traditional dances and afterwards the women jumped into the river where they “made music in the water” which was amazing to witness.
We then said goodbye to our family, we had thoroughly enjoyed meeting them and staying with them. We sent them some photos afterwards, we can only hope they received them.
We hiked back through the jungle (downhill now) and then walked for couple of more hours until we reached the village where we spent our second night.
As we were sweating buckets during the walk (very humid), we decided to go for a swim in the local river before settling in our room. That attracted some audiences, i.e. group of lively kids from the village. We spend some time fooling around with them, again the digital camera helped to break the language barrier.
Lively Malekula kids, great fun
After dinner, we were allowed to visit a special cabin to see ceremonial mask, which was considered honor, especially for Asa as women are usually not allowed to see it.
We also watched the men make some kava, i.e. drink made from the roots of the kava plant. Kava is sedating and drunk on empty stomach for maximum effect.
The root is squeezed number of times and the final product looks a bit like mud puddle. We didn't try it but it must have tasted like one too as the men did a lot of spitting while drinking it.
Another early rise the following morning but it was really worth it as we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunrise we have ever seen, just breathtaking.
We then caught the truck back north where we spent our last day relaxing on a beautiful empty beach. We spent our last night on Malekula in a lovely little guest house just five minutes away from the airport in Norsup. The perfect end to our visit to this wonderful island.
We had amazing time in Malekula, we felt totally at peace there.
Vanuatu Tourist Board describes Vanuatu as “the land time forgot and you will never forget”. We agree. If you like adventure travels and you have the opportunity to travel to Vanuatu, do it, we can't recommend it enough.
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Ps. if you enjoyed our Malekula adventures, then you might want to check out our visit to the Amazon Jungle.
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