Although extremely far from home and definitely tropical, we still have some feeling of recognition in French Polynesia. Most have heard of Tonga and Fiji (we won’t ask you to point it out on the map though 😉 ). But when in the westernmost end of the Pacific, in Vanuatu and Solomon, we are on shaky ground, and not only in the sense of living on a rocking sailboat or of volcanic craters, which are abundant in this region. We might have heard about the Solomons (or did we mix it up with King Solomon, or Solomon’s song?), but Vanuatu… Hmm, didn’t really sound familiar. Being free from expectations for an upcoming event tends, however, to yield the most positive experiences, and Vanuatu was no exception.
I might repeat myself, but every time we have been very positively surprised on our voyage, this has first and foremost been due to people, which together with stunning nature has been an unbeatable combination for spectacular encounters. This was the case in San Blas, where we got a glimpse of traditional Guna lifestyle, this was the case in French Polynesia, where tattoos and tropical flowers behind the ears was as natural as wearing underwear, and even more so in Vanuatu, where the character of the locals was dominated by one trait that we have learnt to appreciate dearly: humility. It is incredible what smiling, humble people can do to the memories you bring with you. Although we, unfortunately, only spent 2.5 weeks in Vanuatu, and despite being exposed to some of the harshest wind on our crossing from Ambrym to Espiritu Santo, the long Pacific crossing was now justified.
Although similar and obviously geographically close, both being part of Melanesia, there were two different atmospheres in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. They are both less developed countries and each have their challenges, but while these in Vanuatu primarily have a natural cause (earthquakes and tropical cyclones), Solomon seems still affected by years of civil unrest around 2000. Vanuatu is about to crack the tourism code, with Australians and Kiwis travelling here as Scandinavians are travelling to the Canary Islands, while we barely saw any tourists in Solomon. The interest for cell phones and internet is much more developed in Vanuatu than in Solomon: In Port Vila, the Vodaphone store was fully packed, while in Gizo, it was big and modern, but almost empty. The possibility to ”Top up hia”, on the other hand, is everywhere in Solomon, even in the miniature society of Liapari, so it’s not only in Denmark that digitalisation is the talk of the town. We felt very rich, however, when we topped up for 150 Solomon Dollars (less than 20 USD) – seeing that the locals usually topped up for 5-10… being a very good example of the fact that natural economy still prevails in these islands.
Regardless of our preference for Vanuatu, we had very valuable encounters during our prolonged stays in Telina and Liapari, where we got to know the local people in a way that is not possible when you leave a place after only a few days. This can definitely be recommended. If we were to do this again, we would concentrate on a smaller area, having time to truly explore. That’s what everyone says – don’t rush – but you apparently have to live this yourself before you can acknowledge that it indeed is better to skip some to get the most out of the selected few!
Another subject that has come up several times is the big contrasts we have seen when comparing to Denmark, and how lucky we are with regards to our welfare system, well-organised society and small differences between rich and poor. We have become allergic to the moaning that always will be present no matter how privileged you are, and we now have difficulties taking many of the ”problems” that are presented in the Danish media seriously, when we have seen real problems in so many places – where the people don’t seem to moan… As evident from the statistics below (mostly from www.globalis.dk), we ended our journey in one of the poorest countries of the world. Furthermore, by stopping in Singapore on the way back to Denmark, things were really put in perspective, and we were definitely primed to cope with the western civilisation again.
|Area||≈ 28.000 km2||≈ 12.000 km2||≈ 43.000 km2||≈ 700 km2|
|Citizens (2018)||623.281||282.117||5.75 mill||5.79 mill|
|BNP/citizen (2018)||2.163 USD||3.033 USD||60.726 USD||64.582 USD|
|CO2-emission/citizen (2014)||0.34 tons||0.58 tons||5.94 tons||10.3 tons|
|Extreme poverty||25.1 % (2013)||13.1 % (2010)||0.2 % (2015)||–|
|Internet users (2017)||11.92 %||25.72 %||97.1 %||84.45 %|
|Unemployment (2018)||1.79 %||5.41 %||4.98 %||3.77 %|
|Life expectancy (2010)||68.4 years||71.4 years||79 years||81.3 years|
|Human Development Index Ranking (2018)||# 152/189||# 138/189||# 11/189||# 9/189|