Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Port Vila Adventures

It was Monday, and the weather forecast for the day was for showers. Fortunately, today was the day we’d booked for our adventure-type activities.

After breakfast we were picked up by the good people from Big Blue diving to go out in the underwater scooter. We hired a double scooter, and I was duly instructed in its use – how to steer, go up and down, and also basic hand signals to give and receive from our scuba-wearing guide, Alex. We sailed out into the middle of the harbour and jumped overboard and swam around for a bit whilst the crew manoeuvred the scooter into the sea. Once it was in the water, we had to dive under and resurface inside the scooter. As we descended, there was a bit of nose-pinching and blowing to be done to make our ears pop, but otherwise we were in a bubble of air, looking out through the windows. As I’d been instructed in the driving, I sat up front – but in fact I didn’t need to do anything as Alex guided us around the various reefs in the middle of the harbour. We saw loads of tropical fish and coral reef formations. We didn’t see a dugong, but then that’s only if you’re lucky. Nor did we get any pictures – we need to get one of those waterproof camera covers. Or a waterproof camera. Oh well, next time! We were in the water for half an hour before we had to resurface. More nose-pinching was required on the way up, and then once the scooter had been winched aboard we returned to the quay.

Back to the resort for a quick change, as this afternoon’s activity required enclosed footwear. We stopped off at the Jungle café for a bite of lunch, then went back to the Jungle Zip-line kiosk and sorted out our payment. We were then driven into the jungle with another Australian couple from Melbourne, Dan and Steph. Once there, we were equipped with harnesses, hard hats and gloves, and walked out into the forest.

The first step was to climb a tall scaffold into the canopy. At the bottom, we attached our safety harness to the rail – this is attached all the way from now on, so even if you fall, you can’t fall far. Then we climbed up, were given a quick tighten-up by one of the crew, and off we went, one by one, along the zip line. The first one wasn’t very long, and the second one a mere hop skip and jump, but these are really just to get you into position for the final four, long, zip line rides through the jungle, and culminating with a crossing of a deep canyon in the side of the hill. One of the crew, Esikal, had volunteered to take my camera and photograph us as we went along, so he captured all the pictures of us. Steph had a Go-Pro with which to record her trip – unfortunately, when we got to the end, she found it hadn’t been on! So she’ll just have to go back and do it again.

First, climb this...
...then slide!
At the end of the ride, as we were just about to get out of our harness, one of the crew found a large spider, so he set that on Dan whilst we happily snapped away. Of course, we would have been happy to hold the spider as well, but as we’d covered ourselves in insect repellent before setting out we felt that it would’ve been cruel to the spider to put him on our bare arms.

We got out of our gear, then rode back into town with the guys. As we were approaching Port Vila we could see it disappearing in a mist. “that’s either smoke or a really heavy downpour” I said and, sure enough, when we got there, it was coming down like stair rods, in that way the tropics manages so well. We waited around a bit for it to clear, and it did that too –shutting off like a tap rather than gradually petering out – so we caught a bus back to the resort for a well-earned cup of tea.

In the evening we had a quick cocktail in the bar, and met up with Les & Roma, two Aussies who are planning a round-the-island trip on Thursday, which we’re keen to tag along with. They’d also recruited two Kiwis, Dave & Renée, to the cause, so it shouldn’t cost too much. We walked down the road to the restaurant at the next resort, CaféVila, and ordered steaks there. To be honest, they weren’t as good as the one I’d had the previous night. We’ll maybe try a little further afield when we get back from our next adventure, which is… 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Sunday In Port Vila

The day starts early in Vanuatu. At around 3:00am, the local rooster, who clearly has no concept of “dawn”, or “daylight”, starts up. This rouses the dogs, who start to bark. In amongst this, the geckoes, sated by a night’s happy hunting (and thankfully keeping the mosquito population down), give a loud chirrup. At around 5:00am, the rest of the birds decide, against the evidence, that it’s now dawn, and start their chorus. The mynahs are particularly vocal.

Eventually we arose, and after a quick wash in the open-air shower, we head to breakfast. This is a buffet-style affair. Afterwards we went for a swim in the warm and clear sea, then lounging around to get dry.

At 10 o’clock, there was a presentation by the Tour Manager of the resort, Frita, who gives us details on what, and what not, to expect. The island is recovering from the damage inflicted by Cyclone Pam, but one of the consequences was a loss of nearly all their fruit crops for the year, so the full range of fruits isn’t available unless imported. Another thing she warned us about was bus drivers trying to extract cash from tourists. The bus system is fairly basic – private minibuses will pick you up from the side of the road (you don’t need to wait at a bus stop) and take you where you want to go for VT150 (around 2NZD) anywhere in the capital. Out of town will cost you extra. She also told us about the bad review they’d had on TripAdvisor where someone had complained about the gecko poo. Hey, people, you’re in a tropical country - gecko poo goes with the territory. It’s not as if there’s great steaming piles of the stuff all over the place! 

We changed some of our cash into coins so that we’d have the right change for the bus, and, after a quick lunch by the pool, decided to hop on a bus and explore the capital, Port Vila. Vanuatu is quite a traditional country, and most of its commercial activity ceases on a Sunday. However a few shops were open – mostly of the “tourist accoutrements” variety, and we were able to pick up a couple of items we’d neglected to bring with us – a useful day pack, for example.

We also found Big Blue Dive, and arranged a twin diving submersible trip for Monday, as well as a journey into the jungle to do the jungle zipwire experience in the afternoon. Tomorrow will be a day of action!

We stopped by at the Nambawan Café for a refreshing drink, then toured the rest of the capital’s mostly closed business precinct, before stopping another bus nd getting back to our resort. Neither driver tried to swindle us. I felt cheated.

Back at the beach, the tide had gone out, so we wandered up and down the edge where sand and rock pools had formed, observing the wildlife. There seemed to be some gigantic struggle going on between a sea slug and a hermit crab. A sea urchin then crashed the party. It was all very David Attenborough, but we didn’t hang around to see who’d won.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Arrival In Vanuatu

We set out early on Saturday morning for the airport, pausing only to pose with the dragon in the Departures hall and grab some breakfast. A short flight to Auckland and then we boarded Air Vanuatu for our flight to Port Vila.

Our flight was sparsely populated. As you are no doubt aware, Vanuatu was hit by Cyclone Pam in March of this year and is only now back on its feet in terms of tourism. Many of the buildings that were damaged were made with traditional materials, so rebuilding them largely consists of finding the constituent parts and putting them back together. The most obvious damage that still remains is missing tin roofs, which have been replaced with temporary plastic coverings until a new roof can be installed. The damage to the trees was apparent as we flew in to land. Unfortunately there’s not much they can do about that – it’s not economic to harvest the wood, so they’ll just be left to be grown over.

On arrival, it appeared that a full planeload of Aussies had landed minutes before us, so there was quite a queue to get through Immigration. We eventually found our way to the holiday rep, who presented us with a shell lei and a bottle of water. We then boarded a minibus to our resort, with the driver cheerfully explaining as we drove through Port Vila how there were no speed limits, no traffic lights, no drink-drive laws, and precious little else in terms of rules of the road. One group of Kiwis on our bus were amazed at how the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the bus, and they drove on the wrong side of the road!

We checked in and were taken to a “garden view” beach hut which would be our home for the next 7 days. Garden view means “not directly facing the beach” but we’re less than 100m from the beach, so not too concerned.

In the evening we went to the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail (Nicola) and beer (me) – well I was thirsty and wanted to try the local brew. It’s called Tusker, and has the slogan “Bia blong yumi", which means “our beer”, or, more literally, “beer belonging to you and me”. The local language is called Bislama, which is mainly pidgin English with a few other words thrown in.

We’d arrived too late in the evening to order the seafood platter, which had sold out, so settled for a ceviche-style fish salad followed by prawns in chilli & garlic sauce, which was adequate. There is an economic argument for the standard of the food – why cut into your profit margin by providing an outstanding meal, when your audience is largely captive, and your restaurant is full anyway?

Starting during dinner, and continuing afterwards, was a dancing display by Ni-Vanuatu dressed in “traditional” costume. This also involved some audience participation which we chose not to take part in, largely as we were still eating our dinner.

After dinner we went to find our hut in the darkness, and fell asleep to the sound of geckoes chirruping.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


It’s non-stop round here, innit? Last night we went to see Success, a new play about, you guessed it, success, at the BATS Theatre. We grabbed a quick pre-theatre dinner at  Muse On Allen, which was unremarkable in its perfection. They know how to do stuff properly there.

Success is a New Zealand play written by Stephen Sinclair, known for his authorship of The Two Towers screenplay in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. It had its world premiere in Wellington at BATS theatre before transferring to Auckland, and from there, who knows?

The show opens with Carl Evans, played by Jeremy Elwood, doing a stand-up routine, before we cut to the flat and see how life has panned out for his former partners.  He is returning for the first time in four years, and goes to visit his former partners, who are still flatting together in Aro Street. Whilst they still continue to do comedy gigs, one is unemployed otherwise, whilst the other teaches.

Naturally, the reunion is not all that it appears, and whilst at first they try to be friendly, the façade soon wears off and they start telling each other what they really think. It turns out that Carl Evans is on the run from the tabloid press, and the law, in the USA. His history of substance abuse and wild partying are also not endearing him to his former partners…he famously went on the wagon, but less famously fell off it shortly thereafter. One of the flatmates is still bitter about Carl’s alleged theft of material, whilst the other tries to play the peacemaker with varying degrees of success.

Added into the mix is the fact that Carl has an outstanding commitment to play a live, televised gig. He eventually persuades one of his partners to take his place, offering him the chance to make it big (and get paid substantially more than he’s used to getting).

As usually happens in these cases, all the plot lines come together and there is a resolution of sorts. Finally, Carl returns to the stage to give a routine from his new show at some indeterminate time in the future. Clearly playing to a much smaller crowd, and having faced his accuser in the US, he’s now older, and possibly wiser.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Carpe Jugulum

Carpe Jugulum is a play adapted from the Terry Pratchett novel of the same name. It was being performed by the Wellington Repertory Theatre at the Gryphon Theatre.

Dinner first. We met up at Annam, a new-ish Vietnamese restaurant that was formerly Arbitrageur. The dining room has been redecorated in an oriental style, and there is a list of cocktails which evoke the Vietnamese style, in particular their use of coffee and tea as ingredients. I tried a lemon ice tea martini, which contained Earl Grey tea (although I couldn't taste any).

We ordered, sat back, and waited. And waited. After half an hour I asked the waitress what was going on. "It's just coming!" she said and, to be fair, our starters arrived a couple of minutes later. The chicken skewers were tasty, the salt & pepper squid less successful. Hot on the heels of the starters came the main course with barely a minute to breathe. The whole tarakihi was good, but it was a whole fish and eventually it defeated me. The beef salad, I'm told, was fairly average. Overall it was OK but I won't be in a hurry to return.

Then to Gryphon Theatre. This is a small theatre that hosts the Wellington Repertory Company, and Stagecraft (who produced The Cat's Meow last year).

So, how to dramatise Carpe Jugulum? One of the issues with this is that whilst there is a lot of humour in the book, this is mostly in the writing. Similar issues have dogged theatrical TV/film versions of other writers, notably Iain Banks and Douglas Adams. If you strip away the writing, what you're left with is a somewhat complicated, and quite dark, tale of magical and interspecies warfare. The play also presupposed at least some knowledge of the Discworld, and the characters who have appeared in previous books in the series.

With poorly-defined characters, some of whom were hamming it up whilst the others seemed to be playing it straight, a plot that wasn't well explained, and plot device that revolved around a woman with a split personality, most of it failed to work. The Igor limped and lisped his way around, Granny Weatherwax was played way too seriously, and the split personality of Agnes Nitt didn't really make sense either. I'm not sure how they could have done anything about it, either - perhaps they needed a narrator or similar to provide exposition, and work in some of the humour from the writing. As it was it fell short both as a comedy, and as a serious play, probably by trying to be too faithful to the book.

Overall a disappointing evening out, with an average dinner followed by substandard entertainment. Still, onwards and upwards! There's another show to see next week.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Servant To Two Masters

Another week, another show…we’re so busy these days! Last week I didn’t even get a chance to write about the play we went to see, so here’s a quick recap.

We went for dinner at Capitol beforehand. It was empty when I turned up, but full by the time we left. Last time we were ate at Capitol there was a bit of a mix-up in the kitchen; this time, I think we just had the b-team on duty, as they seemed to take a while over everything, and we barely got out the door in time to get to Circa Theatre. I’m beginning to consider this place a weekend brunch place only.

We then trotted round the corner to Circa Theatre to see A Servant To Two Masters. This has been revived from the original Italian Commedia Dell'arte-inspired 18th century play Il Servitore Di Due Padroni. Unlike the similar updated revival in London called One Man, Two Guvnors, which is updated to a 20th century setting, this one retains the 18th century Venetian setting, although the language and behaviour have been updated.

The basic premise is that Truffaldino, a servant, decides to double his money by working for two masters at the same time. Hilarity ensues. The play involves a lot of knockabout comedy, and Truffaldino is frequently knocked to the floor, from which he rolls up onto his feet again with a quick “I’m OK” to the audience, before continuing on. 

There is much confusion caused by people giving money, letters etc to Truffaldino and saying "it's for your master". This is exacerbated by the fact that he can't read. Eventually all the plot points are resolved, and everyone gets together with the right person.