Vanuatu

We’ve just returned from the most remarkable trip to Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides). 83 islands in the chain, 3 hour flight from Sydney. Where to begin. We took a small plane to one of the outer islands called Tanna. Their tagline is “you name it, we don’t have it: no cars, no electricity, no phones, no shops, no banks, no traffic, no pollution…” It is a Garden of Eden paradise…untouched coral reefs, palm forests, waterfalls, people utterly unaffected by “civilization”. Big broad smiles and complete happiness shone on their faces.

We took a long 4WD trip to Mt. Yasur, 3 hours through the rainforest to a moonscape of ash. A rumbling, trembling, angry mountain spewing lava and ash and smoke. We hiked to the rim at dusk and watched lava spewing 150 meters in the air, molten rocks the size of Volkswagens.

The next day to a village. They blew a conch shell to gather the people for a visit and a dance. I hadn’t realized that the Stone Age was so happy and carefree. With papayas and grapefruits and bananas and coconuts and mangoes and pigs in such abundance, there for the taking, plus the bounty of the ocean filling the lagoons, no wonder they’re so chill. They did a dance, played children’s games, showed us their pigs, showed how they live. They gazed at us in wonderment; and we did the same to them. We reached across the divide and smiled and laughed. I asked them if their dance was about their happy families and their yams and their pigs and the sunshine and the warm ocean….and they said “yes”.

We walked down the track and snorkelled the Blue Hole. Every known shape and form of coral formation, sponge, color, reef, fish, creature, limitless visibility in the Aqua-Velva water. Electric blues and yellows and oranges; quivering and pulsing and gliding LIFE everywhere. A wall dropping off for 100 feet or more to unspecified blueness below. Giant fissures you snorkel through, leading to the wide ocean. I peered back at Keenan at one point and following him, as they would follow any predator, were 22,000 fishes of all kinds and sizes and shapes and speeds in their impossible quantities, patterns, forms…my reaction was to start giggling. A sea snake with a yellow head, trying to make friends with me. Barracudas by the dozen; giant trevally; dogtooth tuna. No sign of Mr. Sharky though I know he wasn’t far away.

Then back to the main island called Efate, we stayed on an island about 4 acres in size, the bungalows had seen better days but the setting was a wonder. Trips to the little town Port Vila, the French influence was there with fine patisseries and tremendous French wines in the shops. Authentic to the last degree, no t-shirt shops, just locals and yachties making a stop on their way around the world. A visit with my NZ mate Scott, his Dad lives in Vanuatu for 6 months per year and was building a house. The workmen cost 1500 vatu per month (about $15.00 US) but they only work 3 or 4 hours, then disappear to eat mangoes and drink kava (the local soporific).

A fishing trip was called for so we showed up bright and early at the tiny little marina. As we left the harbour the mate put the huge lures in the water. “Are you just getting them ready?” I asked. “No” came the reply, “the harbour is 100 meters deep so we catch marlin and tuna in here all the time”. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later I had hooked a 40-pound wahoo. Then Austin got a mahi-mahi…and my mate Scott got a 6-inch tuna so we had a laugh.

That night we had a mountain of wahoo steaks and mahi-mahi with lemon and garlic and fine NZ white wine. The trip home in the warm rain in the back of a pickup truck, bouncing along the dirt roads. We got to our deserted beach, flashed our headlights across the water to our island, and the ferryman blinked his flashlight twice, on his way to fetch us.

Looking out across the ocean, up in the sky, along the coast, and there was not one single light to be seen. No moorings, or posts, or buoys. No cars or houses, and no jets or planes in the sky, no contrails, nothing. But the stars. The swirls and patterns and swooshes of the Milky Way like a giant stripe of diamond dust across the heavens. I lay down on the crushed coral, gazed upwards, and giggled to myself again. I had restored my faith in humanity, and in the world.

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