After almost a week in this idyllic paradise, we have finally forced ourselves to make the decision to leave this delightful bay and continue north. Our Vanuatu clock is ticking as we were only able to get 30-day visas when we checked in and there is so much we want to see.
Anatom Island was once populated with as many as 12,000 natives but diseases brought by Europeans in the seventeen- and eighteen-hundreds decimated the population to less than 10% of that. The climate is cooler here than the rest of Vanuatu but the thick forest completely covers the island. An abundance of fish and lobster provides the local people with plenty of food and drought conditions are almost unheard of - it rains a lot here. The junior high school attracts students from the neighboring island of Tanna and the students live in very simple thatched dormitories. The students get to return home about every three months or so. High school is only offered in Port Vila, the capital, on the island of Efate, almost 200 miles away.
There are a couple of ironies on Anatom Island, though. The first one is that cruise ships now call on Anatom Island frequently and the influx of wealthy passengers has had an impact on this primitive island. When I say primitive, I mean that it has no electricity and running water is only available from a few strategically-placed spigots throughout the village. Homes are small single-room, thatched affairs. Sure, a few homes have gasoline-powered generators but from our view in the bay, no village exists at all when its dark. Many of the residents are ferried out to the nearby Inyeug Islet (Mystery Island) when the cruise ship calls and they set up stalls to sell trinkets as the passengers never actually visit the village itself. Mystery Island is a low-lying, coconut palm-cover islet that's well groomed and it's protected lagoon is an ideal place to swim and snorkel. Its been well developed with modern restrooms, picnic tables and thatched roofs to provide shade. Once the cruise ship leaves, the islet is deserted. Regardless, the contact between the local people and the ship's passengers is having a dramatic impact.
The other irony is the fact that the island now has cell phone service. You can't buy a cell phone here (the nearest place to buy one is the island of Tanna, almost 50 miles away) but a sturdy steel tower provides service to the entire island. When I asked Kenneth, who is married to Natu, one of the teachers at the primary school, how this has affected the island, he shook his head sadly. "All the children want to do is play with their cell phones now. They no longer have any interest in school. It is very bad," he said. Later that same evening, Ruthie was talking with Natu when her eleven-year-old daughter walked up and said something in Bislama. Ruthie said that Natu replied somewhat crossly. When Ruthie asked what her daughter had said, Natu replied, "She wants a cell phone."
I wish I could post some photographs but we still have no broadband access. This post must be pretty boring to read without photos. We have beautiful pictures of the clear water, the dark green island and the kind, friendly people. Once we get to Tanna we'll be able to buy SIMs for our iPads and computer. And our cell phones.
At 9/24/2012 9:40 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 20°08.36'S 169°48.29'E
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