On my journey through PNG and the Solomons, I was trailing a few weeks behind a Bulgarian backpacker named Tihomir taking the same overland route. I found him through couchsurfing, and after exchanging a few emails with him and following his blog, I was able to plan my own trip. It followed pretty much in his exact footsteps, except that he crossed the border in Bougainville a bit differently and stayed with other people, but I would never have made it to Honiara without his help. Only a handful of tourists cross into the Solomons this way, and after being on the move for more than 10 days without ever really knowing how to move or where to stay, I looked forward to arriving in Port Vila and staying put for a while.
Vanuatu isn’t a stranger to tourism, so its okay to just show up with no plan and wing it. It’s an archipelago of 80+ islands and islets, and 65 of them are inhabited, with ferries, boats and little planes connecting everyone. The international airport is on Efate Island (the 3rd largest and home of the country’s capital city Port Vila), which is only 160km around but sustains 65,000 residents and a couple cruise ships a week. Its a bilingual place, with colonial ties to England and France, but its been independent since 1980. Now the largest ex-pat community is probably Australian, and they’ve managed to keep a few touches of European culture alive. The food, wine and coffee culture was an especially nice surprise, but my favourite hobby was horses. They had horse farms, horse breeders, show jumping competitions and trail rides, and I found the biggest herd at Club Hippique.
The owner there, Heidee, became my best friend instantly. I could talk to her for hours about horses, Iceland, life, or love. I basically moved in with her and her family for a week, and spent every day between the stables and her house. Her huge Great Dane and her cuddly cat took turns sharing my bed, and I have to stay I prefer the cat, since she liked to sleep on my feet and only weighed a few kilos, whereas the dog weighed 55kg and took up most of the mattress (she was always on my side of the bed!).
The farm sits on a big saltwater lagoon, so I could chose between kayaking or swimming with horses off the beach, or riding through a tropical forest covered in trails and coconut trees. I rode every day, I taught her lessons, and I trained her (recently gelded) stallion. At night we cooked dinners of steak or prawns and paired them with wine and champagne, and if I ever needed to go anywhere, I could drive her purple scooter (it only happened once – why would I want to leave that place?).
My visit to Vanuatu was a total breath of fresh air – slowing down the pace of travel and actually calling somewhere home for a while. I miss all the people and 4-legged animals that became my temporary family, and kind of wish I had stayed longer. I barely thought of doing any reading, writing, or researching for my upcoming trips, since I really felt as though I wasn’t traveling anymore. But now that I’m on the move again, I feel a little homesick and slightly disorganized… but hey, that’s all part of the package, so keep calm and travel on.
If you’d also like to live and work on Heidee’s farm, or just visit as a regular tourist, you can contact her through her facebook page, or apply to volunteer with her through Woof.