Port Vila

Port Vila was alright as far as urban centers in the South Pacific go. The weather was calm, and the holding was excellent. The water was jade and cellophane clear. Plenty of cruising boats came and went; a dinner cruise ship with a wild upside down sail cruised by at sunset; helicopter tours launched in the afternoons.

Everything in town was located on the main drag running along the waterfront: open air markets, grocery stores, souvenir shops, gelato stands, travel agents, combo Thai restaurant and massage, a slightly derelict looking Grand Hotel, and some upscale looking condos. We found what we needed, and the prices were right. My hopes for “grocery stores magically airdropped from Paris” proved to be overly optimistic, however. We found a decent patisserie and a romantic Cafe du Village, but le fromage magnifique? Non.

More importantly, the vegetable market didn’t disappoint. There was the usual array of cabbage, carrots, parsnips, egg plant, tomatoes, and miniature bell peppers, as well as rarities like fresh made cassava chips, raspberries, and pamplemousse. The market is open 24 hours a day, closing Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. Such hours yield an exhausted looking work force. Many vendors were asleep at the cutting board, and those that did acknowledge our existence glared with dagger eyes as they sold us lettuce. Well stocked, but not the friendliest market place we’ve visited. We were there Saturday morning, though, so we’re willing to assume the vendors were just really ready for some time off.

Everyone else we interacted with was helpful an cheery. The taxi-buses cruising through town were easy to navigate, and the drivers were helpful. Two fellows working at the ferry terminal along the quay helped us load our wares into the dinghy. The restaurant staff was always convivial, chatting about our families and homes, making sure I had a blood orange frangipani to pin behind my ear. We had two elegant meals on shore: filet mignon wrapped in bacon (the beef in Vanuatu is amazing; they’re a major exporter to Japan), and mussels in garlicky white wine sauce. Both were enjoyed as the sun set over the bay and candlelight flickered against the tablecloth and stemware—two luxuries we just about never enjoy these days, so we savored the sensations and basked in the elegance of it all.

Despite a pleasant long weekend, the best part of our stay in Port Vila was our departure: two tropic birds bobbed in the swell as we left, and a pod of large dolphin provided brief escort to the passage out of the bay.