I think we were talking about the weather when a colleague calmly worked into conversation that 60 children had been missing for 5 days in the Efate mountains. I was a little taken aback. Um, kids roaming around in the jungle and everyone is ok with that? After a daring rescue that included one helicopter and 20 air lifts the youth group arrived safely back in Vila to a remarkably non-plussed public.
I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty active imagination. A slight bout of turbulance can leave me mapping out my escape route, selecting potential buddies (we’ve all seen Lost: there are some people you just don’t want to be stuck with on an island…) and thinking of which items to smuggle off as the hosties bark “leave everything”. So what would you do if you were stuck in the jungle of Efate?
The answer I came up with was eat. In the newspaper they said the youth had survived on fruit and coconuts after exhausting their rations. It made me think of the recent walk Toby and I did with a local guide. We were keen for some exercise so we met with Henry, a ni-Van guy who is the equivalent of a Kalahari bushman.
Machete in hand, Henry led the charge as we descended into the thick humid jungle.
This is his tough face. I purposely didn’t include the photo of him handing Toby a dainty sliver of grapefruit, it didn’t go with our idea of the hardened jungle warrior…
We walked for about 20 minutes before Henry darted off into the bushes, emerging with a handful of the most incredible berries. That was the beginning of our bounty….coconuts, sweet grapefruit (who knew?), paw paw…a decisive slice of the machete was all it took.
Organic fresh fruit coupled with the most extraordinary scenery…starting to see why the public had so little sympathy for the kids? The water was so pure you could drink it, and the local vegetation was a handy mix of functional and delicious.
Toby sporting a bush umbrella, a giant leaf that is said to be the best way of combatting tropical downpours.
Even I could give Bear Grylls a run for his money in this environment. No poisonous snakes, no lethal spiders, no deadly sharks. They say the jungle is so safe you can walk barefoot (bear in mind they also say you can sell fireworks to kids…). We paddled in a clear rockpool, explored untouched caves and hiked up sun drenched mountains dotted with brightly coloured fresh fruits. It was so much like a postcard I had to keep pinching myself.
Now I’m not saying children stranded on a mountain is akin to hiking with a seasoned guide, but I do see where everyone was coming from. Organic fruit, fresh water and warm weather. If you are going to be stranded anywhere the Vanuatu jungle is a pretty good option.