We are currently anchored off a small island called Rotua. It's your typical tropical paradise island and comes complete with all of the things you would normally associate with such an island. Palm trees gently sway in the breeze, there are pristine white sand beaches, there is crystal clear warm water that begs to be swam in, and a vibrant coral reef with oodles of colorful fish. It also has something that is not very typical of the other islands in Vanuatu. It has a 5 star resort and a yacht club.

A French billionaire purchased this island a handful of years ago and decided that he wanted to turn it into a resort. He purchased 200 year old bungalows from Bali and had them brought to the island for the accommodations, he had a small airport runway built on the island so guests could get here easily, and he even had a small farm created with a garden and cattle to feed the guests. Being that it's a 5 star resort, you can guess that it's pretty nice.

Since we are on a “yacht” and are anchored out in front of this place, we have access to the yacht club and are welcome to roam around the resort and island, we can eat in the restaurant, we can have foo-foo drinks at the bar, and we can in lounge in covered cabanas while we watch time pass us by. It's a beautiful place so what's not to like?

A few days ago, we hired a local dive operation to take us to the S.S. Coolidge for a couple of dives. On the dive boat we had the owner of the dive operation (a great guy from Australia) and we had the hired help who were 3 guys from villages of nearby islands. One of the helpers is what you would consider highly educated in these parts. He graduated from the local college and speaks fairly good English. His college education may only equate to an 8th grade education in the US, but for here, he has the best education possible. I had a long conversation with this 23 year old kid.

We both had an interest in each others background. He was shocked that I came from an area that had skyscrapers, traffic, and was home to millions of residents because he came from a village of about 40. He thought it was strange that I only spoke 1 ½ languages (English and halfway decent Spanish) because most people here speak at least 4. Vanuatu is considered the most culturally diverse country on the planet. Over 200 languages are spoken here. Bislama is the official language, English and French are spoken for business, and each tribe has their own language as well. He had questions about our boat and how we could live on it because where would we grow our food? When he asked what we did for work, I was a little bit embarrassed to tell him that we were retired because being retired is something that is almost not comprehend-able here...because poverty is real and it's pervasive.

When I asked him about his job and the overall state of employment in the area, I was blown away. He told me he was thrilled to have a job in tourism because the pay was much better than if he got a job in either construction or coconut farming, because the minimum wage here is equal to about $12 US per month, and that is what those jobs pay. Not $12 per hour, or $12 per week, but $12 per month. And $12 per month is if you can find a job. We've routinely ordered our cups of coffee in the morning in Seattle and not batted an eye when those 2 cups of coffee were about $12. I couldn't imagine having to work 10-12 hours a day for 6 days a week, just so I could buy Brenda and myself a delicious amount of caffeine in a cup.

The majority of the available work here is located on the 2 main islands which hold the 2 main towns. Most of the outer islands are villages and tribes that are living off of the land and the sea. Some of those tribes still have topless women in grass skirts and men wearing nothing but penis sheaths as they have done for thousands of years. It's amazing to me that in this day and age there are still people living in tribal conditions when just a boat ride away there is an island with a town, cars, stores, and cell phones. Pretty cool.

My new friend also told me that I was lucky to be here in Vanuatu now. He said that in another 10 years, this place will be unrecognizable. Tourists and businesses have discovered the country and have started buying up chunks of land from local tribes to make vacation homes and resorts. He said that villages don't understand that the sale of their land means the land is gone forever. They don't understand that even though they may get what to them is a huge amount of money, the money is temporary and their way of life is forever changed.

He seemed to be in a bit of a quandary. On one hand he was happy that he had a job in tourism which paid twice what he would make elsewhere, but on the other hand, he saw that tourism was taking away his way of life and culture. But at the same time, he was proud of his country and was happy to be sharing it with me. He told me of some of the things I should see while we were here and also told me he hopes I would come back to visit again. He was really a nice kid and is similar to everyone else we have met here in the fact that he was friendly, warm, inviting, and proud of his country.

The people in general have been a big surprise to us. For people who have nothing, they are willing to share everything with us. Everyone smiles, waves, and says hallow (hello), and on multiple occasions, small children have tried to wipe the white off of Brenda's skin while giggling. In the villages in particular, people come out of the wood work to shake our hand and introduce themselves, try out the words of English they know, and invite us to see all that their village has to offer. It's truly a friendly country.

So back to the resort we are at. On one hand, this resort has given the village on the neighboring island some employment that they realistically wouldn't have. On the other hand, the villagers are paid what I am told is roughly a dollar a day to work at a resort that charges $500 a night for a bungalow that sits next to the ocean. So who is getting taken advantage of, the workers making a dollar a day or the guests paying $500 a night to sleep next to the ocean? I'm not sure. I'm also not sure if I have the authority or the judgment to really even be in a position to take on such a big topic. This will be something that I will be processing as we sail across the Pacific with nothing else to do but stare at the sea.

A big part of me thinks the guests of this resort are the suckers because we are anchored in front of the place with a better view, we can jump off of the boat and swim to the reef for some easy access diving, we have all the benefits of the resort, and it costs us nothing to be here (except for the foo-foo drinks). Cruising through the islands on a sailboat is definitely the way to explore the country. We get to go to the islands and villages that are only accessible by boat, we can see what real life is like for the locals, and we can hang out at a 5 star resort if we like. Not too shabby.

Tomorrow we'll be setting sail for one of the outer islands called Ambae. It will take us a full day to sail there and we'll be covering miles of open ocean.  We'll be in touch when we are able.

Sailing to Rotua
Pulling up to Rotua.  Not a bad spot to spend a few days!

The local fishing fleet in action.


  1. Loving all the stories ... especially about the local people and the countryside. Am learning about foreign countries, sunken ships, coconut crabs, huge clams, and edible(?) bats! What a FABULOUS time you're having! Thanks for sharing! Have fun, stay safe, and keep in touch. Love you both. xoxo


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