Vila is a terrifying place. I don’t mean unsafe or crime ridden. I mean that when you’ve been living on an island of a few thousand people and are all of a sudden in a town of 35,000, it is a bit overwhelming. There is traffic. This is weird. There are crowds to dodge on the street. This is weird. There is ice cream. This is good.
When we come to Vila for official Peace Corps business, like trainings or meetings, we get put up in one of a few different hotels. Each hotel is checked by our Safety and Security person before we are allowed to stay there. There is Coconut Palms, which has wifi in the rooms, a swimming pool and a nice sized kitchen we can use. It also has 4 people to a tiny room, rooms that are about 100F at night shared bathrooms and very few kitchen implements to cook with. There is Pacific Paradise which has wifi in parts, in-room kitchenettes and private bathrooms. The downside is the lack of communal space, a small shared kitchen and a 25 minute walk on a busy road to get there. The other current favorite is Whispering Coral, but I haven’t stayed there and can’t speak to it’s charms. If all of those are full, there is Formulae Holiday Hotel, which has great showers and the slowest internet I’ve ever encountered in my life. Peace Corps had some kind of a break with those guys, I’m not sure what happened but we don’t stay there often.
The Peace Corps office is divided into three parts. The “office” part where all the admin staff work is on the second floor and has private offices for the higher ups with half-wall cubicles for the support staff. The Volunteer Resource Center (VRC) is next to it, though there is no connecting door. Most of the staff aren’t supposed to have access to our room and we aren’t supposed to have access to the office when staff aren’t there. The VRC has four computers and four couches. I don’t know which I like more. There is also wifi, which puts Jason’s vote firmly on the couches. We each have a mail cubby and there is a tiny kitchenette in the back. The last part of the office is on the ground floor and firmly separated from the rest of the place. The medical office has lots of confidential stuff that no one should be allowed to see. We follow American HIPPA and privacy policies. In the medical office there are two offices and an exam room with the same tiny kitchenette and bathroom as the VRC. They also have the strongest AC. It is a good excuse to go story with the Peace Corps Medical Officers, aside from them being fun to story with and generally good people.
Night life in Vila is limited to a few bars, a casino and some night clubs. And the request million kava bars. There are no closing laws which makes for late nights or early mornings depending on how you look at these things. The clubs are unofficially broken up into the “ex-pat,” “tourist,” and “Ni-Van” clubs. The PCVs frequent all three kinds, sometimes in the same night. The casino is a strange place but has a great happy hour. It involves free food, anything that involves free food in Vila is great. The bars almost all have happy hour specials with happy hour ranging from 4pm until about midnight. On Sundays, the town shuts down. I can think of one bar open on Sundays and it closes at 5.
There is a pretty good variety of food. We can get pizza at several places, a few decent and not too expensive burgers, solid “asian” food (it’s a blend of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese), sushi and a variety of French-esque cuisine. This was a French colony, kind of. Of course, any of the food is incredibly expensive to my poor Peace Corps budget. The going price of most restaurant food in Vila is about what you’d expect from a mid-line restaurant in Minneapolis. Except, you know, in a third-world country in the South Pacific. Jason says the beef here is exceptional, which makes sense since it is all free-range, grass fed and organic just without all the labels. There is a significant lack of local dairy. They let the cows run around and never bother to milk them. It is a sorry state of affairs. It also means real milk is non-existent and cheese, yogurt and shelf-safe box milk are very expensive. Ice cream is still totally worth it.
That is at least an overview of what life is like in Vila and why we always seem to be in shock while we’re there. It is a happy and full of ice cream kind of shock.