– Port Vila is a dangerous place. Be very careful, a kiwi friend warned us when he heard we made landfall in Port Vila.
What does he know? thought we. We are not tourists. We keep our wits about us wherever we go.
Sadly, our friend was right. The second night in Port Vila we were going to understand what he meant. Sorin was woken up in the middle of the night by brutal shouting and screaming coming from the waterfront. With Mehalah being tied to a mooring ball in the middle of the bay, he had to ‘witness’ helplessly the terror giving him shivers. The horror lasted for what it felt like forever. Then it stopped abruptly.
Next morning Sorin gravelly tells me: “Someone must have gotten killed last night on the waterfront.” I couldn’t believe when he was relating what he heard.
Although he had no doubts about the nature of the crime, I found it hard to get my head around the fact that such a horrendous thing occurred in such a close proximity. Until later that day when we walked passed the local police station and the cruel act of violence was confirmed. Someone got chopped off with a machete ending up food for the sharks. Same as in other Pacific islands, the locals do not handle well alcohol, the result being acts of violence of various degrees.
We were planning to stick around for another week until Vanuatu’s National Day celebrations. Once administered jointly by Britain and France, with two sets of laws, education systems, languages, etc., Vanuatu gained its independence in July 1980.
After the night of terror we changed our mind about spending more time in Port Vila. First window we had we sailed south to Tanna (Earth in local language) Island. In Tanna we had a completely different experience.
Remote and most undeveloped communities sparsely inhabit the islands that have survived the attempts of missionaries to subvert the customs rich culture.
Nagol is an ancient ceremony held on the island of Pentecost to celebrate the yam harvest. Every spring, men on the south side of the island put on a land diving performance that inspired the bungee-jumping craze around the world. Diver after diver surrender to gravity 30m above the ground with only a length of vine tied to their ankle. Unfortunately, it was not the right time of the year for us to witness the death defining leap.
Whilst Tanna and Pentecost islands attract a number of tourists and cruising boats, in the outer islands people have very little to no contact with the outside world. Remote communities continue to live as they have always done:- gardening, fishing and hunting. Ancient tribal customs and traditions remain very much in evidence around these communities.
In Tanna island, for example, amongst the many Christian religions practised, we had the opportunity to meet adepts of the Cargo cult. The John Frum cult is the most widely reported and longest lived Cargo cult in existence. This movement started in Tanna before the war and it became a Cargo cult after World War II. Cult members worship Americans named John Frum or John Navy, who they claim they brought cargo to their island during World War II, and who they identified as being the spiritual entity who would provide cargo to them in the future.
Despite being shy, the locals are nice and welcoming. They brighten up as soon as they are approached. They are happy to share the very little that they have with no reservation.
Vanuatu people are great gardeners. They cultivate everything they need high up in the mountains, where the volcanic soil is very fertile and the crops are at bay from the roaming pigs. Most inhabitants walk up and down the mountain every day to attend to their crops, a good time for socialising too.
Once in Tanna, we had to wait for the never ending rain to clear off before we could visit one of the most accessible active volcanos in the world, handsome Yasour (Jesus in local language).
It was impressive. A never ending show of red lights livening up the dark surroundings accompanied by sub buffer sounds that were shaking the black volcanic rock under our feet. The lava was spit out in anger. Its furry was quickly giving in to a graceful dance of red matter filling the black surrounding. Standing on the rim of the mighty crater witnessing the Earth breathing alive… it felt like purgatory and heaven are merging there and then to offer the spectacle of a lifetime. It was a mind blowing experience.
Each explosion was accompanied by a relieve of suffocating sulphurous black fumes. A rare occasion when we happily used the face masks to protect our airways. The spewing lava inspires an acute sense of the dangerous power within. This unique, emotionally charged experience was worth the difficult two hour climb to the crater mouth, accompanied by two local guides.
To visit the volcano from Port Resolution where we were anchored, we had a couple of options. The official option was to get a ride (for 2500 Vatu) with Stanley at the ‘Yacht Club’ on the east side of the bay and pay the ‘entrance’ to the volcano 8000 Vatu. The back door option was to hire a local guide for 2000 Vatu and walk up the mountain through jungle, gardens and gigantic banyan trees to reach a plateau, ahead of the final hurdle:- climbing up volcanic black rock blocks to the crater mouth and be ready to be wowed! As ever, we chose the hard, rewarding and affordable option. This benefits directly the people in the village, rather than some businessman in Port Vila.
In the remote island of Tanna, we had no access to the internet. There was some internet available on the island. Being sporadic and expensive, we decided not to renew our package. What a blessing! The lack of Internet allowed us to be fully in the ‘here and now’, enjoying life as it unfolds in front of our eyes. We had forgotten that life is possible, even better, without access to internet.
We wouldn’t have rushed to leave beautiful Tanna, but the weather forecast had its say once more!