Vanuatu and I go waaaay back. The first time I went there I was nine. My dad had been there a year or so before after (I presume) being prescribed with a severe case of executive stress and was ordered to go somewhere were there is nothing to do and no distractions (something he is not very good at.)
Vanuatua, or the new hebridies at the time turned out to be perfect for that. No television, no radio, no fast lane just slow moving folk operating on 'island time' a tiny capital city sporting a clutch of shops and restaurants and as much azure blue water in the forms of perfect coconut fringed beaches and lagoons as you can handle.
By the time I made in there in 1980 not much had changed. Well the country was now called Vanuatu (which means the eternal land) the locals had got rid of the colonial French and British and had themselves a new new and a new flag. I remember the guys at the airport in uniforms so new and starched they looked like they could shatter, reading carefully from their instruction books as they stamped us in to this old/new land.
First impressions? Coconut palms, banana palms, green lush vegetation, a kind of sweet almost slighty rotten smell that is so common to humid hot places. I remember dark skinned people with afros, quite diminutive in size and a little shy but not shy enough not to wave as our bus went by. The ladies were wearing lairy flouncy mother hubbard dresses covered in lace and ribbons (a legacy of those pesky missionaries who popped up in the 1800's to save the native people's souls supposedly) while the men got about in shorts and flip flops.
When we arrived at our hotel I remember being amazed at this long, glassy, glittering lagoon. To say it was blue would not do it justice, it was multi coloured, striped in wide swathes of pale aqua, sea green in the shallow parts grading down to cobalt, aquamarine and cornflower blues where it was a little deeper sliding into a rich navy and an almost indigo in the deepest parts.
Fat skin coloured starfish with red and black spots dot the edge of the shore, some more red others more skin toned, all plump looking and although they are covered in pointy spikes, totally harmless.
Local people glide across the stripey lagoon in outigger canoes loaded with food and shopping from town as they head to their village on the other side.
I visited again another four times with the last visit in 1988 - my first overseas trip at the age of 17. It was very exciting to be 17 and ordering cocktails in the bar and exchanging travellers cheques, spending all our money on diving lessons and having to nick paw paw fruit off the trees to eat. I remember watching the landscape disappearing as we flew away on our plane and I wondered when I would be back and what I would be like then.
It took 20 years but here I am. While I might have changed a lot the place hasn't a bit.