Fieldwork Journal: Arriving in Port Vila, and A Change of Plans

From the Field posts

Brian Smith, assistant curator in the Department of Ornithology, is blogging from southern Melanesia, where his team is conducting an inventory of birds on a month-long Constantine S. Niarchos expedition. Read the first post in the series here

After 30 hours, a few movies, and five tofurky sandwiches, I arrived in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu.

Our hotel in Port Vila is surrounded by gardens, home to several exciting bird species. Courtesy B. Smith

Our hotel in Port Vila is surrounded by gardens, home to several exciting bird species.

Courtesy B. Smith


The first thing to greet you every time you travel to the tropics is a blast of hot and humid air when you walk off the plane, and this trip was no exception. I quickly made it through customs and met-up with Bill, Mike, and our newest team member, Lilly Fatdal, from the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation.

I quickly learned that our original plans to visit islands in the south of the archipelago had been nixed, but luckily Lilly, Mike, and Bill hatched on an alternative and no less ambitious plan. We are going to spend this week on Efate then head north to Malekula, then end the trip on Vanua Lava and Gaua.

Our original plan had us flying back to Port Vila every week or so, which would have allowed us to recharge our batteries and post regular updates about the trip. However, we will have limited or no access to power once we depart to Malekula next week through the second week of December.

The biggest logistics issue we face in the coming weeks is trying to get all of our gear, which exceeds the weight limits of the small Twin Otter planes on which we will be traveling, to the northern islands.

Mike Andersen, Bill Mauck, and Lilly Fatdal (from left to right) discuss how to get six large bags of gear onto a Twin Otter plane filled with passengers. Courtesy B. Smith

Mike Andersen, Bill Mauck, and Lilly Fatdal (from left to right) discuss how to get six large bags of gear onto a Twin Otter plane filled with passengers.

Courtesy B. Smith


On Sunday, my first full day in Port Vila, we spent the day packing our gear and buying groceries. The city is carpeted in lush green vegetation, and my first impression is that it’s quite easy to get around. The people of Vanuatu, known as Ni-Vanuatu, are easy-going and greet you with a friendly smile as you pass them on the streets.

We were able to gather an ample supply of noodles, canned meats, peanut butter, rice, and for myself, the vegetarian, a six-day supply of canned beans. One slight culinary difference from standard “field food” is that we will be eating Breakfast Crackers every morning. Lilly thought we needed no less than 15 packets for the first leg of the trip.'

Breakfast Crackers are a standard breakfast meal in Vanuatu. Courtesy B. Smith

Breakfast Crackers are a standard breakfast meal in Vanuatu.

Courtesy B. Smith


While we eagerly wait to head off to the forest, the gardens surrounding the hotel have produced a number of exciting birds, including the Grey-eared Honeyeater, Rainbow Lorikeet, Long-tailed Triller, and White-breasted Woodswallow. Island bird faunas are known for having considerably fewer species than the continental mainland, but the abundance of birds here is high.

 

This Constantine S. Niarchos Expedition is generously supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Read the next post in the series here