We spent six glorious days exploring Aneityum. Pronounced a-nee-shum, it is the southern most of Vanuatu’s 81 islands that are sprinkled on a roughly northwest-southeast axis in the Pacific waters west of Fiji and northeast of New Caledonia. Aneityum was larger than we were expecting, a mountainous island home to a village of 2,000 ni-Vans (the Melanesian locals who make up 98% of Vanuatu’s population) and fringed with golden beaches.
The weather was still and sunny during our stay, so we had a full menu of activities to choose from each day: inland hikes, reef dives, paddle boards through translucent waters, and explorations of the nearby sandy islet, Mystery Island, set up as a small show village and populated only when cruise ships drop anchor in the large bay.
We had a few interactions with the locals, who are more reticent than their Fijian counterparts. We met Kenneth, the local boarding house manager who made two attempts at hiring a local guide to take us to a waterfall to no avail. The bureaucrats we worked with were nice and laid back and we met one local young woman interested in practicing her English, but longboats filled with 20 locals would cruise by and maybe one person would tentatively wave back at us.
The solitude is in someways peaceful (we can walk down the beach without two guides or a gaggle of kids in tow), but we miss the enthusiastic bulas and insta-family feel in Fiji; in Vanuatu, a hello and a smile seem much harder to come by. I suppose it’s not unlike regional differences one might find in the US, considering the stereotypes for southern hospitality and northern get-to-it-tiveness.
It will be interesting to see if the other islands in Vanuatu have the same introverted vibe. It may be that we are small tourist-dollar-potatoes in Aneityum compared to the hundreds of people who flood the island when the cruise ship comes to town, or perhaps Vanuatu's more tragic relationship with colonizing European nations has had a lingering effect on attitudes toward newcomers. Ni-Vans were forced and tricked into indentured servitude in Australia and around the western South Pacific in the later 1800s; Fijians were spared from this, one of their former rulers having brokered a deal to give the islands to Great Britain, stipulating that Fijians would never be forced into labor, in exchange for having personal debts forgiven.
We did find it curious that no ni-Van has ever lived on Mystery Island as they fear it to be cursed and the home of angry gods, but they have no problem taking their guests there to hang out: Queen Elizabeth when she visited (and named a beach after herself), every cruise-shipper who steps foot on dry land, we were given free license to explore. Maybe the old legends hold less weight these days, or maybe there is some subtle anti-tourist island trickery afoot, or maybe they just like show it off because the islet is one of the most picturesque beaches on Earth—powdery white sand, cyan lagoon, bug-free and plenty of shade, thunderous waves crashing on the reef a safe distance away...some of the many mysteries of Mystery Island.
The photo is the view of Aneityum looking across the bay from Mystery Island (we survived our visit unscathed by vengeful spirits); we have rudimentary cell coverage, so we can currently share one photo per post via the sat phone; more photos of adventures in Aneityum to come!