A Day About Lap Lap, the Mele Cascades and an Underwater Post Office

20100704Vanuatu-PortVila 023

I woke up to a glorious view over Vila Bay, with blue skies layered with water glistening like scattered diamonds. It was 7 a.m. and already the town of Port Vila was bustling with people, with the Central Market being the center of all activities. There were cafes offering bacon and eggs style breakfasts but the colorful and noisy market was too interesting to miss, so we headed to the end back, past the fresh fruits and vegetables and the occasional rooster in weaved basket, to check out what cooked foods were on offer.

Breakfast Ni-Vanuatu style

I shared a meal of fried bananas on rice and a Ni-Vanuatu dish of Lap Lap with my husband. Lap Lap is a national dish made of taro or cassava roots, pounded into a paste, cooked in banana leaves and topped with meats. It was a little dry but fantastically flavoured, and was devoured in seconds, washed down with a shell full of young coconut juice.

20100704Vanuatu-PortVila 053

As much as the outside world had stereotyped Pacific Islanders, women here don’t do the coconut shell bras. While there were plenty for sale at the Arts and Craft Market north of the Central Market, they were strictly “for tourists only”. The local dress code had women comfortably clothed in loose one piece dress with big puffy sleeves, with large floral prints that screamed summer. Among the brightly colored wearables were trinket stalls that sold souvenirs both handmade and manufactured. I picked up a few items to take home before heading back to the main road to check out our day trip options.

Day trip out to enjoy Port Vila surrounds

We had hired a driver for half a day to explore Port Vila’s surroundings. Leaving ‘Vila Town’, as the locals called it, we headed north east towards Klem’s Hill for the Mele-Maat Cascades. From the car park we walked through the Cascade Botanical Gardens where moist and lush rainforest grounds covered with exotic plants flaunting their bright and cheerful flowers, and waded through ankle deep gushes of the cascade stream to reach the main cascade waterfalls. Another group was already ahead of us, enjoying a dip in one of the natural swimming holes, as we followed the ropes and climbed up a few meters to jump into another.

20100709Vanuatu-MeleFalls 034

An hour into our fun our stomachs started to grumble, so we gathered our things, hopped back into the car and headed back to the coast for some islander-style curry chicken. I asked our driver, Samuel, if he could send us on our way to send a postcard.

“No problems! You have your snorkel with you yes?” He grinned a mischievously.

He sent us on our way on a ferry to Hideaway Island, a quick ferry ride across from Mele Beach. Upon arrival, I asked the desk clerk at the admissions desk where the post office was, he merrily pointed outwards toward the sea. “That way!”

I am sorry, where?

Sending postcards underwater at Hideaway Island

“That way!” He said again, this time with a chuckle. “It’s underwater. You have your snorkel with you yes?”

Hideaway Island has the world’s only underwater post office, attended by a diving staff each day between 1-2pm. Water-proof postcard in hand, I donned my snorkel and fin flipped myself off the coral beach out in the direction indicated by the admissions clerk. En route to the post office, I got distracted by fish of all shapes, sizes and color surrounded me. Following a trail of black striped angels I had overshot the post office by several meters and headed towards the open sea where a wall of coral reef was teaming with life, with eels and baby black tipped reef sharks among corals that splashed blue, red, purple and yellow. I laughed out loud into my snorkel, delighted to have found this underwater heaven, before turning back, free-dived a short two meters and finally popped that postcard into the mailbox.

20100712Vanuatu-HideawayIsland 129

A Lap Lap end to a day in Port Vila

Returning to the hotel that night, my husband and I animatedly described our day’s adventure to the attentive receptionist, who patiently listened, nodded and smiled in acknowledgement, before announcing that dinner was about to be served, would we like to join in?

The air smelled of root vegetables and cooked meat. We followed our noses toward the restaurant just in time to watch dinner being unearthed from an underground oven called uma. A large pile of parcels filled with potatoes, cassava root, taro, meat and fish wrapped in banana leaves were dug out and plated. It was a gigantic version of the Lap Lap we had for breakfast and we were pleased. What a way to end a fantastic day in Port Vila.

Written by Amy McPherson
Amy HuangBased in Sydney, Australia, Amy is a writer stuck in the corporate world. A Business Analyst by profession, she works her life around travelling and has managed to squeeze in postgraduate studies in writing somewhere in between. Amy met her husband in 2006 while working on a community development project in Peru, and the travel-holic pair celebrated their love by getting married in Vanuatu in 2010. Amy keeps a blog on various travel topics at www.footprintsandmemories.com