Vanuatu – Where is that?

Wow what happened – a blink of an eye – and now its 4 months later and lots of stuff to catch up on. 20180101_161933Almost a yearly tradition we rung in the New Year with our friends the Sudore’s in Fishlake. We were lucky and had snow this year and Mike motivated us to build an Igloo, which you can see turned out amazing but took 3 days to build! 20171230_162807Funny story though…we all worked so hard on the 31st on the Igloo hoping to finish it up, that some of us – who will remain unnamed, fell asleep early in front of the TV watching the “Rocking NY eve’s show” and other’s barely made it, and when the “ball dropped” said good night and fell into a deep well earned sleep. The yummy Raclette casserole that we made from the left overs from our Christmas Raclette (see last post) contributed to a very relaxed, satisfying and sleepy feeling. groupfotoWe got it finished in a nick of time the next day to take one group picture inside the Igloo but then the Sudores had to leave and so Mike and I spent an evening in the Igloo drinking champagne, marveling at our beautiful construction (including skylight) and then headed home the next day. I have to thank the Sudore’s that they stretched out their stay on the 1st as long as they could and even got stuck in the steep icy driveway to help us finish up the Igloo. 

Then it was time to face reality or as we say in German: “Schluss mit Lustig” and business brought me to New York. I haven’t been to New York in a looooong time and I have to say after the last visit, I am not sad that I am not more often in New York. 20180115_122721I think New York is one of those cities that you either love or hate, I wonder if there is an in-between. Maybe I am just too old to like this noisy and overly crowded, dirty city. I mean they have  Broadway, theaters, shopping, museums and a TON of amazing restaurants but that all can’t outweigh the beauty of living in the pristine wide spread clean Northwest. Clearly I am not a city girl anymore.

I did though had a really great dinner at a restaurant called “Craft” near Union Square. I went for the below Tasting Menu and every single course was amazing. IMG_1515982560309I was also fortunate enough to meet one of my former colleagues during the NRF show in New York and we hung out for a little bit at an Irish Pub near Time Square (Rosie O’Grady’s) catching up on life. These little moments make a business trip away from home worthwhile.Julie and DunjaAnother New York restaurant “icon” to visit is Tao – the original one is in NY and I was lucky enough to also visit their Las Vegas location. Amazing Asian Fusion food with one of the menu favorites being the Chilean Sea Bass Satay with Miso Glaze. I liked it so much, I ordered the same dish also in Las Vegas. 20180116_211806Back from New York it was time to prep for the Party of a lifetime – my very special 29th birthday vacation. I have no idea how the Sudore’s pulled this off and left house, work and family to spend my big birthday with Mike, Vanessa, Tristand and I in Vanuatu. Now you might ask – Where is Vanuatu? A typical question that was asked when we shared my birthday plans. So here a little bit about Vanuatu (from Wikipedia):IMG_20180128_051447Vanuatu, is a Pacific island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is 1,750 kilometers (1,090 mi) east of northern Australia, 540 kilometers (340 mi) northeast of New Caledonia, east of New Guinea, southeast of the Solomon Islands, and west of Fiji.kid.jpeg (2)Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian people. The first Europeans to visit the islands were a Spanish expedition led by Portuguese navigator Fernandes de Queirós, who arrived on the largest island in 1606. 20180131_125226

In the 1880s, France and the United Kingdom claimed parts of the archipelago, and in 1906, they agreed on a framework for jointly managing the archipelago as the New Hebrides through an Anglo–French condominium. An independence movement arose in the 1970s, and the Republic of Vanuatu was founded in 1980.20180206_104418.jpgMike and I like picking remote vacation places and are accepting of long travel times, in this case 30 hours of travel time. We started off in Seattle flying to LA and catching another flight to Nadi/Fji. After landing in Fiji at 6:00 a.m. we walked over to the Fiji Gateway hotel in hope that this will be a nice airport hotel where we can take a shower and catch a couple of hours sleep prior to our final flight leg to Vanuatu. Once we checked out the room, we immediately turned around and checked out again – it was a bad “day room” and we decided to make our way to the Westin Danerau to meet our friends Sam and Sam who have already flown in to Fiji a couple days prior, waiting for us to pick them up and fly together to Vanuatu.IMG-20180204-WA0066Once landed in Port Vila, the capital of Efate, we grabbed our rental car at the tiny tiny not air-conditioned airport and tried to find out way to our villa which was not easy to find. Most of the roads on the island are dirt roads with huge potholesdirt roadand there are pretty much no street signs, the directions literally said turn right at the Banyan tree…hm..by now it was already getting dark and all trees looked the same to us, but eventually we made it to the house, dropped off our luggage and went for a late night dinner (almost) next door to Ripples (best banana curry I ever had) before falling into a deep sleep exhausted from traveling over 30 hours.20180127_052735

It is interesting to observe though how uptight one can be when coming from a Western World and the expectations one has. The house had no air-conditioning, no screens, wasn’t completely up to snuff with our sanitary standards and there were a ton of bugs and it was hot. But after a week or so we finally all settled in and all of that either didn’t bug us anymore (haha pun intended) or we just made due with it. Villa senang.PNGThe ones scary downtown wasn’t scary at all anymore, now that we had experienced how safe the island is and how friendly everybody was and by now we were all experienced pothole drivers and the way in and out from the main road was just a small price to pay to live in jungle paradise. The below picture shows you HOW remote we really lived.villa senang4villa senang6I wish I would have kept a travel diary like I did for our Indochina trip but its harder to get away every day for some quiet time to write a travel journal when you are with 6 people and constantly on the go or even just relaxing in our own reef pool and amazing house and veranda.villa senang3villa senang 2

IMG-20180204-WA004120180202_180335.jpgAs  you can see from the above photo, we decided to sleep outside in this romantic setting with a $1M view and great airflow at night that would keep the bugs away together with the mosquito net.IMG_20180128_001433And here is the first morning, as you can see we all slept on the Veranda enjoying the ocean breeze and Mike was especially happy to see his daughter for the first time in 1 year since moving to Australia. The first morning in Vanuatu was January 27th and my actual birthday. IMG-20180204-WA0074We had a very nice birthday breakfast at Tamanu at the Beach, then relaxed at the house and found and awesome place (Eratap Beach Resort) for my birthday dinner.20180204_173112

 

IMG-20180204-WA0086IMG-20180204-WA0069There were so many highlights on this trip (Vanessa and Tristan joining us from Australia, stopping over in Fiji to pick up the Sudore’ s and re-visiting our wedding memories of Mike and my wedding in Fiji 11 years ago, having our own reef pool, living in the “jungle”, my birthday dinner etc.) but one particular day (well two…the second one will follow later) really stood out for me and that was our Island Tour that was organized by an amazing couple who moved from New Zealand to Vanuatu and built out their “Off Road Adventure” Business. Frank and Dee planned an entire day for the six of us to show us the real Vanuatu and celebrate my birthday with me.20180129_113447.jpg20180129_110823We started off with a cultural village visit where we observed cultural dancing, learned about local medicines and tried some local food. IMG_20180129_114140.jpgThe people from Vanuatu live mainly off fish, root vegetables such as taro and yams, fruits, and vegetables. Sam and I ate Passion Fruits and baked bananas ever day, the fruit on Vanuatu was unbelievably good.20180203_113136.jpg20180203_133633.jpgMost island families grow food in their gardens, and food shortages are rare. Papayas, pineapples, mangoes, plantains, and sweet potatoes are abundant through much of the year. The pineapples were the best we have ever tasted. 20180129_161542Our method of transportation were these little buggies as you can see rom the picture above and so we made our way over to a local chocolate factory, watched the chocolate making process – cocoa grows on the different islands of Vanuatu and the best part of course was the chocolate tasting, I think we – well I – must have tasted 20 different chocolates, they were so delicious that we all went back a couple days later and bought round about 20 bars of chocolates to take back home.20180129_123509Then we visited Nawie Beach turtle sanctuary and look how happy I am feeding and swimming with turtles – another experience off the bucket list. Frank had bought local meats and his team made us an awesome BBQ at the beach.IMG_20180129_143425_499.jpgIMGP0033Speaking of bucket list – have you ever jumped off a waterfall? Given this wasn’t a huge waterfall but it was high enough for me to be a little bit hesitant if I should jump or not but seeing all the local kids jumping it like it was nothing, I had to give it a try and it was amazing. waterfall.jpgTo get to Rentapau Falls we walked through some amazing gardens that a French couple who was running this business had just put in. I am really questioning why I don’t have the guts to pull the plug and just move to an island like Vanuatu and do something cool like that? IMGP0054As if we hadn’t had already an amazing day, Frank and Dee pulled out all stops and invited us to their private beach Etmat Bay where they surprised me with a little party, there were flowers, champagne, gifts and even a cake – I almost cried getting this much attention from strangers – which business does something like this for you?20180129_171257.jpgIMG-20180204-WA0047

Clearly Frank and Dee go beyond the usual business responsibilities, they treated us like family – a day I will forever remember.IMG-20180206-WA0009After so much excitement a little bit of relaxation in the reef pool was needed and the guys of course needed to get in their fishing fix and through pure luck found an amazing fisherman and came home with a bounty of delicious tuna that made for delicious tuna sashimi and tuna steaks. IMG-20180206-WA0011We spent some time exploring Port Vila, poor Sam was waiting now for days to visit the local market and we finally made it and bought some local produce, especially coconuts and pineapples and stopped by a small lunch place where they served food from the Philippines. Vanessa and I weren’t really sure if we should eat “street food” but Sam was the trailblazer and so we all ate it and it was delicious.20180203_112435

20180128_123725Now that we had relaxed a little bit it was time for another bigger excursion to a different island – Tanna. Visting Tanna was the ultimate friendship gift Sam made me…you might ask why? Well how do you measure real friendship? When your friend who is afraid of flying kicks all her fears in the butt by drinking between 3-6 beers in 10 minutes to overcome her flight anxiety and even shares a beer with a stranger to board a tiny airplane – yeah exactly this one – 20180201_123816.jpg20180202_080051to fly with me to a very remote island, so remote that the pilot has to stay over night because it makes no sense for him to fly back – so that I can fulfill another bucket list item, this time truly one that qualifies for a one in a lifetime experience – walking on the edge of an active Vulcano. IMG-20180204-WA0096Tanna houses the Vulcano Mount Yasur – also called “the lighthouse of the Pacific” . The glow of the volcano was apparently what attracted Captain James Cook on the first European journey to the island in 1774. Today the mountain is a sacred area for the John Frum cargo cult. Members of the cult revere John Frum, a deified messenger who foretold the bringing of wealth to the island by American forces, and believe he resides in Mount Yasur with his countrymen. The village of Sulphur Bay, the center of the movement, claims the volcano as part of their territory.20180202_06503520180202_065157When we landed on Tanna, we quickly rushed to our little hotel, dropped our stuff and embarked on the drive to the ash fields below the volcano and changed vehicles to then be taken up to the volcano. Some might say walking on the edge of an active crater is scary – which it kind of is – but yikes the drive up to the volcano definitely also qualifies as super scary. Only possible in 3rd world countries, the would be NO way any insurance in the US would cover this type of road adventure. 20180201_155455

vulcano streetA short but steep walk up to the volcano and there it was …a lot of rumbling and during daylight not so much to see but wow what a sight at night. Ashes and fiery red lava gets thrown up in the air pre-announced by a loud rumbling and gas explosion as well as some sort of eruption pressure wave, also called “gas avalanches”. 20180201_160140.jpg

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20180201_182954_00120180201_17151020180201_18544620180201_185639That wave one time was to intense that it threw up my hair in the air announcing within a millisecond that the eruption was following.  We all really enjoyed listening and viewing the spectacle at night, even Sam thought it was worth the 6 beers to drown the flight anxiety. On the flight back I rode shotgun in this 9 people airplane, that was pretty cool too, considering that I usually get motion sick in planes.

Back in Vanuatu we chilled the last couple days, searching for the “Blue Hole” and the boys surprised us one more time with fresh fish – Wahoo this time.

And as if this entire vacation wasn’t exciting enough, Sam and Sam had a little surprise waiting for them at the Vanuatu airport when they wanted to fly back home. Sam and Sam had planned to leave Vanuatu a couple days prior to us but fate had it that they were deemed to fly back with us since Sam had accidentally booked the return ticket for March instead of February. After Sam’s 1 mile sprint in 100 degree downtown Port Vila to the travel agency, they got booked onto the same flight back home with us and we all made it back home safe with a bunch of new learnings when flying out of a 3rd world country airport on what all to have readily handy, such as your ticket number (confirmation code is not sufficient), checking that your business ticket didn’t get downgraded to a coach ticket (good that we caught that) and that your bags are checked through your final destination so that you don’t have to run with 4 bags 3 miles through the long and busy LA airport (clearly we didn’t make sure of that).  DSC_0597 (2).jpg20180207_124506.jpg20180204_17150720180207_122948.jpgWe are already missing Vanuatu and think we will be back some day and checking out Santos and maybe spending more time on Tanna Island.

Wow – you have stuck with this post now for a long time, so just a quick summary what happened after Vanuatu:

An AMAZING girls weekend trip to La Conner – my girl friends rented a gorgeous house for us, decorated it for my birthday celebration and showered me with love, gifts and amazing food. IMG_6615

Another business trip to Las Vegas which allowed me to check out a couple more good restaurants.

And though I am usually not looking forward to more business trips, the next one will bring me to London and that means a quick pit stop at my parents home in Moenchengladbach and you know what that means – MORE food photos and additional weight gain for me, eating my parents amazing German cuisine.

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