Saturday, July 22, 2017

I Ate a Fruit Bat in Vanuatu and I Don't Know Why

When I woke up one of last night's vampires was still passed out in the other room.

The remains of their fried chicken debauchery were here and there.

I can tell it's humid here because my passport has warped itself into an unrecognizable shape.

There weren't a whole lot of street signs around so I took a series of pictures from the Airbnb to the main road so I could find my way back later.

I've been seeing more and more Chinese influence in the developing world.

The first landmark I came upon was the Port Vila Market.

It was a little too crowded for my taste so I didn't interact with it much. I'd like to keep my pockets unpicked.

One thing that was kind of neat about the place was the bags for carrying the produce. They were hand woven out of leaves.

Jill's Cafe looked so kitchy that I couldn't resist stopping for lunch.

I went with the French toast. It was really homemade style.

I had been excited about checking out the Kava Emporium, which sold everything kava, but it had gone out of business since my guidebook was written. I was annoyed that they hadn't taken the damn sign down because I was confusedly looking around in some t-shirt shop until I figured out what had happened. Oh well.

I checked out a local hotel and found a tour for today that hadn't started yet. Awesome! There was all sorts of fun stuff on this tour. The only problem was that this tour was pretty much a total scam and we wouldn't end up doing almost any of these things. I was waiting at the hotel for the tour to start and the booking agent guy came over and mumbled something about there being a race on the main road that would cause some disruptions to the tour. He gave me the impression that this was a traffic thing. I didn't have anywhere better to be, so fine let's do the tour anyway right? 

Had to pretty much jog back to the Airbnb to grab my swimsuit as there was a water portion of the tour. As I approached the building there was a guy standing around. He was like "oh yeah we moved your stuff to a different apartment."

Why the hell would you think that was ok? I walked into what used to be my room and most of my stuff was gone, but a couple things were still there. They hadn't even had the courtesy to complete the job. Whatever, I didn't have time to be mad about it because I needed to get back to the hotel for the tour. Weirdos.

So when we got in the van and drove for a bit the truth was revealed. The real "disruption" was that the whole damn village that we were supposed to be culturing in was either running in or supporting this friggin race. Pretty much every picture on the damn brochure involves this one village that's busy doing some asinine Color Run. Whatever let's continue the tour anyway.

At first I was annoyed that the cultural village was canceled then I thought... I guess I'll make this the do whatever John thinks up tour. We have the van, guide, and we should have the same amount of time. Let's do some weird crap, shall we?

The story checked out at least. There were a lot of people running along the road and there were checkpoints with refreshments.

I was preparing for my jump into Eton Natural Pool, sometimes referred to as the Blue Lagoon, and an Australian lady was like "did someone write on your back?" Back in Fiji I attempted to apply spray sunblock on my own back and failed miserably. I now had red squiggles all over the back half of my body. And a continuously bleeding arm. Vacations are hard work.

My tour guide was also really my only contact with a non-vampire local so I made the most of our drive time and asked him about himself. He said his name is Cliff. I didn't get any indication on whether that was really his name or his "safe for dumb tourists' mouths name".

In Vanuatu village culture men acquire pigs so that they can throw feasts which allow them to gain rank in their village. I think it's a legit "I'm an rank 3, you're a rank 1, so you have to do what I say" type situation.

It used to be that pigs were prestigious but even more so was having human meat at your feast. So you also wanted to be a good warrior so that you could capture enemies to eat in battle as well as not end up on someone else's dinner table with an apple in your mouth.

Things got pretty real in the Lonely Planet description of the pig system. "Grade-taking is a system of ceremonies and pig kills where a tribal man rises in the village hierarchy - ultimately, perhaps, becoming chief. The higher a man rises in his grades, the greater must be the number and value of pigs he kills. To become valuable, a boar is first castrated and its upper teeth removed. Then it is hand-fed - and kept tied up to prevent it foraging or fighting - for seven years, until its tusks complete a circle and penetrate the jaw (very painful)."

There was zero chance that I wasn't going to ask Cliff the guide all about this pig business. Cliff said he's a level 3 in his village on a northern island of the country. Level one kill 1 pig. Level 2 gets 10 pigs but doesn't have to kill them. Level 3 kills 10 pigs. 

I don't think women were mentioned in the book explicitly pertaining to the level system so I asked about that. Women have no levels. Hid did say that women can drink kava in his village which isn't always the case.

Speaking of local culture the word "taboo" originates in the South Pacific's "tabu". Google says it was introduced into English by the famous Captain Cook, who recorded the first European contact with the Hawaiian Islands. Some notable tabus from the guidebook: "In some areas a woman may not stand higher than a male; nor may she step over a fire because its smoke - while she's standing it in - may rise higher than a man." 

There were stands every now and then with people selling produce. I spotted a stand selling grilled ears of corn. Seemed like a good thing to get our guide to stop for. I liked how the prices were different but the products looked pretty much identical. Locals definitely have the theory of price discrimination down. 20 Vanuatu vatu is about 19 cents US.

The corn went so well that I was like "how about some coconuts to drink later too?" I thought we would just buy them from another of the road side stands. Cliff wasn't having any of that. He just climbed up a tree and grabbed some.

This wall had a lot of inspirational people painted on it. You know, like Obama, Gandhi, and Mike Tyson.

Another of my "whatever crap that John dreams up" missions was to have the van drive us to a kava bar. I've been told, maybe by the vampires, that there are way more kava bars in Vanuatu than alcohol bars.

Although I'd read about the high quality of Vanutu's magical roots compared to Fiji's, I was not impressed. Tasted the same and I think there was less numbness to the mouth. Luna, a girl from China, was the only other person on the tour. She hadn't had kava before so it was fun to watch her face. It's really not very good tasting.

The signage was worth the stop by itself. It was written in the local Bislama, which is a pidgin form of English. Try to read it outloud and it makes a little bit more sense. "Nakamal" is a kava bar. "Kaon" seems to be short for "account" and I think refers to credit. I could sort of understand the gist of conversations I heard in this language without being able to tell you any of the words they had used.

The Vanuatu national anthem is written in Bislama. It's title is "Yumi, Yumi, Yumi" which means "We, We, We". You and me, yumi, makes "We". Kind of fun.

What better than roadside corn to go with one's root drink.

Our guide definitely said we'd drink the coconuts here but that did not happen. Our dude was pretty bad at this I must say. I felt bad for him because he said that he was working for a real tour company but he couldn't make enough money so he started his own company and he's only been in business about a month.

I carried around that damn coconut for a while before my arm got tired and I set it down. It was sad.

When I read about the local restaurant L'Houstalet I really had no choice but to go there. The claim to fame here was the civet de roussette which the menu described as "flying fox marinated in red wine, garlic, and herbs served with steamed rice." Flying fox is a hilarious euphemism for bat. Like a fruit bat. Notice the bat wearing a chef's hat on the restaurant's front sign.

They sure do love pigs around here.

Um, I don't know what to say. Bat is just not good to eat. It made my mouth sad. I used to wonder things like, why do we eat cows and not, say, sea otter? Well the reason is that sea otter is probably horrid. I had visualized bat as being a tiny little thing that tasted like the delicious fruits it ate. This was like the size of two fists and must've eaten a lot of dead moths. At least its wings were no longer attached.

This was like part meal and part alien autopsy. I'm not super familiar with the structure of a bat's body so I didn't know where to expect a bone to be.

After a long day of eating and drinking weird things I just wanted to go back to my sketchy neighborhood and go to bed. I was suddenly concerned that the keys I had may not fit the lock of the apartment I had been refugeed into. Luckily the key worked and I opened the door. A very surprised middle aged Australian couple was sitting at the kitchen table in their underwear. They had booked the entire apartment and were understandably inquisitive about why the hell I was in their space. I checked the room where my stuff had been and there was no evidence of it. I was then worried that I had walked into the wrong apartment. Nope. My charming landlord had decided to move my belongings back down to my original room. Thanks? Why do I keep getting these Airbnb nutjobs? 

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