(I’m just back from a two week cruise where we did not have any internet so I’m posting this now – in three segments – when we are back in Sydney.)
“Bula!!” That’s the word that strangers would say to us wherever we were in port for most of our cruise. And we would shout back “Bula!!” in response. It is a Fijian greeting and welcome rolled into one word.
Did you catch that work “cruise” in the above paragraph? It’s true; believe it or not, I’m on a cruise! Sanford is such a dedicated backpacker that I never thought I would get to experience the level of comfort cruising provides but here I am on a fourteen-day excursion! The itinerary is as follows; board in Sydney Harbour, two “sea” travel days, the first stop is Mare in the South Pacific country of New Calendonia, the following day is Port Vila in the country of Vanuata, then another sea day before reaching our furthest destination of Fiji. In Fiji we stop at four different ports on four successive days; Port Denarau, Suva, Savusavu and Dravuni Island. Another day at sea and then to our final stop, back again in New Calendonia to the city of Noumea, two more sea days and we’re back to Sydney.
Mare in New Caledonia was our first stop. The cruise ship offers various tours in almost all the ports to the most interesting sites at each stop. Mare however is just a small island with the only destination being a beach with great snorkeling. A shuttle bus was provided for passenger to take the 20-minute ride.
Now Sanford may have decided to take a cruise, but that certainly didn’t mean we had to do any of the “easy” stuff, like take arranged transportation. No, we were going to forge our own path. We had attended a lecture on the cruise ship about Mare prior to docking and in the course of the lecture, another beach, Turtle Beach, was also suggested as an option. This beach was in the opposite direction the shuttle bus was going and there was no transport there, you had to walk, however the distance was only about 4km.
The ship has approximately 3100 passengers on board with a very wide range of ages. You would think that there would be quite a few that would pick the option of walking to Turtle Beach. However, if you would think that, you would be wrong. Only five passengers chose to walk there. I know that because when we arrived at the beach, I could see one couple at the other end of the beach and then another fellow cruiser came by with a camera to take pictures of the area. There was not another soul on this beach the entire time we were there.
Walking to and from the beach gave us the opportunity to have a close look at the surroundings and we noticed the very distinctive rock formations in the hills along the side of the road. The hills consisted of limestone and it appeared as though there were stalagmites in all the cave openings. I think it would look quite eerie at night. We also saw an unusual plant, not sure what it is called, but when you look up close at the bright red flower, it appears to be painted on the green leaves, as the red of the flower is not separate from the green leaf that appears at the end of the flower petal.
The “sand” of Turtle Beach is made up of coral and the ocean is filled with coral. Sanford went snorkeling a distance from shore and I stayed in the shallow waters. Even close to shore there were patches of coral at my feet and I had to be careful not to step on it. What is really wonderful here is how clear the water is. I could easily see the bottom of the sea floor even in water up to my waist.
After a few hours of enjoying the beach, we headed back to the dock area, looked at the native handicraft area and headed back to the ship.
The next day we were in Port Vila. This city is the capital of Vanuata, which is made up of 83 islands in the Coral Sea. Vanuata (previously known as New Hebrides) is a new republic, having achieved independence from France and Britain in 1988. The temperature is 30 degrees but the humidity is close to 100%, making it very hot, so we decided rather than walk the distance from the port to the town, we hired a taxi.
Port Vila is a small town so it was easy to get around. For us, the highlight was their museum. One of the nu-Vanuata (this is what they call themselves) displayed some of their musical instruments and an ancient oral story telling technique, called sand drawing. This ritual and practice is recognized by Unesco in their category of “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. The story telling was mesmerizing to watch because at the same time they tell the story, the story-teller draws a picture in the sand related to what he is saying. The picture consists of a continuous meandering line drawn on a grid to produce a graceful, often symmetrical composition of geometric patterns. The picture is drawn using only one finger, which never lifts from the sand.
There was also a description and video of a male right of passage ritual called Land Diving. In land diving, a wooden tower of around 20 to 30 meters tall is built and the males climb to the top, tie vines around their ankles and jump off the tower. It is considered a successful jump if their head brushes against the ground!! I’m not sure how they survive this, but it is still practiced today by some tribes. Yikes! Land Diving is the precursor to bungee jumping.
One of the last things we did was step into a grocery store. The meat counter, especially the chicken, was unique. Their featured cuts were chicken gizzards, chicken hearts, and chicken tail! There were also our traditional cuts as well but they were very expensive.
By this time it was time to get back to the ship. Because we were already hot and sweaty, we decided to walk the four kilometers back to the boat. The next day will be a sea day and then we will be in Fiji.