Modes of Internal Transport - Part 2

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Dugout outrigger canoe; expect to pay a couple of hundred vatu to be paddled from large islands to nearby small islands, like Vao off NE Malekula. Often, you find a strong young guy who takes your money and then rounds up his little sister to actually do the paddling. Expect your feet and butt to get wet. Joining in the paddling is fun; baling is not optional.

Dugout outrigger canoe.

Dugout outrigger canoe with roll of barbed wire and box of staples balanced on top. The Malekula Local Government Council provided the materials to fence cattle out of the spring that fed the village's water supply. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.


Vanuatu's rural coral-surfaced roads are suitable for mountain bikes, the problem being the extreme mid-day heat and humidity. Nevertheless, there was a fabled CUSO doctor on Malekula who traveled far and wide by bicycle. (We traded ours in on a truck as soon as we could afford it.) I would only take a bicycle to an island with plenty of roads, like Tanna, Efate, Malekula, and Espiritu Santo; and only if I was already a regular long-distance rider in very good condition. Also, right-of-way in Vanuatu tends to go to the largest vehicle; my wife was once run off the road for the driver's amusement. Dogs were another problem; she successfully warded one regular attacker off with a hand-held air horn. Expect to pay regular freight rates to ship a bicycle from island to island. I am not aware of any bicycle repair shops in Vanuatu, but I once had a wheel straightened by a motorcycle shop in Port Vila. Bring all your own spare parts.

My wife and daughter on bicycles on a coral road.

My wife and daughter on their bicycles near Lakatoro, Malekula. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.


The chosen mode of travel of most ni-Vanuatu. Anything within three or so hours is considered to be within easy range. Find and pay a guide if you want to get off an all-weather coral road; trails branch off every which-way to people's gardens, and getting lost is inevitable. Besides, the guide will notice that nemele "tabu" leaf that you miss next to the trail, keeping you out of big trouble.

Ni-Vanuatu trails tend to go straight up the mountains that make up the interior of most islands; switchbacks seem to be unknown. After a rain, and during the entire rainy season, steep trails are pretty slippery. Expect to remove your shoes or thongs and dig your toes in. Thongs are useless after the slightest bit of mud gets between them and your feet, as they become impossibly slippery.

A ni-Vanuatu woman and her children walk along a coral-surfaced road.

A mother and her children on their way to a day's work in the family food garden. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.

Man walking through rain forest.

Returning from a meeting with villagers in the interior of south-central Malekula. Our guide is carrying a "nambugi", or funereal figure (wrapped in leaves so no woman could see it), which was a gift from the men of the village. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.

Guide looks on (smiling) while my wife scrambles up a steep path.

My wife entertains our guide as she scrambles up a steep path. She is carrying her thongs in her hands so her toes can gain better purchase. My knee had an encounter with a "nangalat" leaf as I followed her up; it was painful for 2 or 3 weeks after. Photo ©S. Combs, 1987.

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©Stan Combs, 1996.