Tanna Island

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On the weekend we ventured to Tanna Island, which is just a 40-60 minute flight south from Port Vila.

The outstanding attraction is Mt Yasur, one of the most active and accessible volcanoes in the world. I will talk about that some more in another post, as well as Tanna Lodge where we stayed for two nights.

Tanna Island is a beautiful place. There are very few vehicles compared to Efate, which makes a pleasant change. Most of these are 4WDs which is due to the road conditions. Almost every road is gravel, though there are some parts which have been concreted to make them passable during the wet season. Along with the gravel roads are the many potholes, which make driving and being a passenger interesting. I decided to have a bit of a snooze on part of our trip, but only got a minute or so into it when I was jolted out and stayed out. Because of the lack of vehicles, there are lots of people walking everywhere. It is quite lovely to give them a friendly Halo and wave.

Lenakel is the biggest town on Tanna Island but really consists of little more than a market area, some produce shops and small supermarkets, a post office, bank and a few other buildings and businesses. The business area is called Black Man’s Town as no outsiders (such as the Chinese) are permitted to own businesses there. The market is open for trade on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. There is a lot of locally produced fruit and vegetables at very reasonable prices. We found them to be quite a bit cheaper than the market in Port Vila. The day we went there was also a lady selling woven shoulder bags for a good half the price of similar items in Port Vila. Lois and I spoke with Mister Tom who has the fish market. He buys from the local fishermen and keeps the fish in freezers and on sells to the resorts and restaurants. He was very friendly and explained some of the varieties of fish they catch, such as Bonito (Tuna), Poulet and Wahu.

We noticed that we got a lot of attention from the locals. On the day we went were the only white people walking through the small market. There were others in the shops, but not many at all. We were able to chat a little in our broken Bislama which was a good experience.

A good story our bus driver told us was about one of the main streets, “Jennifer Street”. It is named after a local woman who he described as having something not quite right with her. But her story is interesting. Every day for many many years Jennifer has been going to peoples homes and asking if they need any cooking pots washed. 100 Vatu ($1.20) each pot. When they agree she takes the pots and follows the street down to the beach and washes them thoroughly. She does quite a lot of these each day. No one has ever seen her spend any of her hard earned money. And when she is walking down the street, she does not move for any man or vehicle, it is her street. Jennifer Street!

Life in Tanna is simple. People do not have much materially but they do have everything they need. The food is abundant, the houses made from woven bamboo and palm fronds are strong and offer good protection, and the family unit and village life is strong. It may seem primitive to us, and maybe it is to some degree, but it is a happy way of life.

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