Noah’s Ark

The sun was out, cruise ships were in and the idea of a getaway to a remote tropical island sounded too good to be true.

It was hot outside and Vila had become a steaming mess of  Westerners with corn-rows and t-shirts advertising beer.  Tourists flush with alcohol and sun jostled along the main street, clammering for the latest pirated dvds.

As sweat trickled down my brow I was bailed up by a bus driver. “1000Vt yu go wea?” At close to  6 times the standard fare, it was the final straw. I made the call.  We were going to Santo.  A place we were told would be saved when Armaggedon hit.  I figured this was as close as it got.


Towoc Guesthouses = best. Ever.

When you ask people about Santo, they swoon.  As the largest island in Vanuatu, Santo is home to exceptional beaches and a lesser known cult.  This group say the tectonic plates that rise under Santo are a sign that it will be the last place left on earth. While I’m sure that idea is bulletproof I went into the whole thing a bit skeptical.

Armed with backpacks we made our way to a little bungalow on Champagne Beach, the third best beach in the world (CNN says so, so it must be right…).  Janet welcomed us with a big smile, thrusting menus into our hands and assuring us she made “nambawan aelan kakae (food)”.  But with the light fading, we decided to first put the beach to the test.


Our pad.  Home to us, and it seemed one agitated chicken…

Flanked by cows, chickens, pigs and dogs, we made our way down to the water.

In Vanuatu animals roam freely through villages, and even in some cases streets.  On any given day you can be greeted by a pig at breakfast, trailed by a cow at lunch then harranged by a chicken at bedtime.  There are no “farm” animals. Instead animals eat, sleep and play at will, often with hilarious results.

My general approach to this is live and let live. I go about my business, and the animals go about theirs.  It was going well until one particular animal initiated a showdown in Santo.


Good morning…


Our cute little bungalow, also home to chicken’s eggs…

It all started with the chicken.  I’ll put it out there. I don’t like chickens.  I’m not going to explain why (mainly because it’s not overly rational) but I will say that I am not happy if chickens approach me, enter my personal space or look at me with their beady little eyes.  I don’t eat alot of chicken and I don’t really like eggs.  As a general rule I keep a wide berth of all things poultry. But the chicken just wouldn’t leave it alone.

First she cornered our bungalow, patrolling the door while I clung to a plastic chair waiting for her to leave. After marking her territory she strutted off, content that I was no competition.  It was hours later as we peered into the darkness with our solar-powered lamp, that Janet said “Yu harem wan noise, i stret”. After some miming and broken bislama we realised what she was saying.  No worries about any noises in the night….the chicken is roosting an egg in your bungalow.  Live and let live.

We managed to lose the chickens at the beach.  The cows however were a different story.  The stunning vista was dotted with cows that waned away the hours, basking in the sun and breeze.  Looking out over the water, just us and the cows on the 3rd best beach in the world.   Then, as the long shadows of sunset stretched across the sand, the cows slowly made their way back to the paddocks while we took shelter in our little bungalow by the beach.

It was an awesome sight that got me thinking about the rising plates on Santo.


Cruising with the locals, next stop Champagne Beach.

As dogs barked, pigs forraged and those damn chickens cackled knowingly, I remembered that story you hear as a kid, the one about Noah’s Ark.  Something about a big flood that wipes out everyone except for the animals on the boat.  Looking at the quiet confidence of the animals on Santo, I couldn’t help thinking maybe, just maybe, that cult is onto something after all.

Some pics of Santo – click here.

What a difference a day makes

So now it’s proven.  Whether it’s too much rain or too little, the weather can really mess with your head.

It was a week ago and we were marooned in our apartment yet again.  The rain was falling hard, hissing and roaring as it pooled in the gutters. We were stuck.  No food. No car.  No way out.

I resorted to the internet.

Search term: “bad weather bad mood”.

Not surprisingly the results were phenomenal.

Researchers in Australia say extreme weather events can affect your mood.  After 8 weeks of relentless rain in Vila, I’m pretty sure most people here would agree.

Taken just a week apart.  They really are the same place….

That was of course, until we experienced Saturday.

Glorious is a word I don’t often use.  It’s one of those terms you reserve for a hymn book, or a grandmother, or someone far more proper than me.  That said, I can’t think of a better word than glorious to describe this weekend.

We woke up slowly, listening for the diligent march of raindrops on our roof.

Silence.

No rain.

Mild hysteria set in.  The morning was a flurry of mad packing and crazy laughter as we made our way to a local island.

They practically had our names on them…

Toby in his speedos….he thinks they make him look European….

Pure white. I purposefully didn’t include the photo of my bruised feet, it kind of ruined the effect.

I don’t know how to describe the sheer beauty.  The glassy turquoise waters, the way they lay flat and still like mirrors over the coral. The vivid colours that burst from the landscape.  Rich reds and vibrant blues that washed out every other memory.

I found myself hoping that the moment would never end.  Yet it’s funny, when the clouds rolled in just a little over 3 hours later, I was ready.  If I can have just a few days of sun like that, it makes the rain almost bearable.

Dirty work

It was 4.30am when a polyphonic ringtone pierced the silence.

Sleepy and apprehensive, I weighed up the possibilities.  I could: a) get up to do the Piste Bleue, a 28 kilometre walk that Toby, Bec and I had signed up for or b) go back to sleep and enjoy a leisurely wake-up at a respectable hour.

The answer would have been simple, but with an excited husband and friend who was also enduring a rude awakening, the Piste Bleue seemed to be my only option.

This is 4.30am in Vila.  Jolted awake by my trusty digicel mobile complete with polyphonic ringtone..who needs an iphone, hey? 

Close to a thousand people gathered before dawn as organisers registered and branded runners and walkers alike.  The elderly, teenagers and Japanese people wearing jeans converged at the starting point, eagerly awaiting the siren.

    

Branded and ready to go. I started to wonder why they were at pains to identify us all so carefully….I soon worked it out.

The French MC welcomed us in an almost seamless mix of French, English and Bislama.

“There will be six sexpoints on La Piste Bleue,” he declared. The crowd responded with uncontrollable fits of laughter.

Realising his mistake he clarified.

“Ch-eck points.  I mean check points…anyway bonne journée. Enjoy your bush,” he said, unaware that the gag continued.

We were off.  Barefoot runners streaked past us as we began our walk, bleary eyed and well-prepared with first aid materials, water and walking shoes.  Swept up in the crowd of ni-Van people with little more than thongs and giant smiles we became painfully aware of how precious westerners can be.

The first signs of sunlight soaked the trees and paddocks in a pale yellow.  Suddenly the early start became a small price to pay.  lluminated paddocks, glistening paw paw trees and a silvery sky that hinted at a beautiful day.

Yup, they’re SOCKS, and over to the right they are THONGS.  We soon learned we were the ones who were crazy…turns out toes give the best grip on muddy tracks.

    

A woman and her pikinini made it up that hill at break neck speed. Kitted out with all the mod cons we were a little less hasty.

At the edges of the track locals gathered to laugh at the people who were walking 28 kilometres for fun.  We found it funny too until the silvery sky we’d admired so much gave way to a torrential downpour. Within minutes we were soaked and the clay paths became a slippery, sloppy mess.  As it turned out that was the least of our worries. Barbed wire, river crossings and a pseudo-abseiling episode were just part of the journey.

As I grappled with the rope and slowly edged my way down a slippery ravine, I heard the cheeky laughter of my husband.  A moment later he shot through the bushes sliding on his bum, narrowly missing the shocked safety officer.  Needless to say he got to the bottom first.

You know you’re in trouble when the ambulance gets bogged…3 times.  Particularly when you are the patient in the back being rescued.

I laughed until my stomach hurt.  This was no City to Surf.  We jumped, climbed, waded, dodged and scrambled our way along the muddy track.  It was all a bit barmy but so much fun.

By the seventh hour conversation had died and aches had set in.  Visions of food were our only fuel.  A steakburger with bacon.  Hand cut chips. A wine. It was a sign that maybe gatorade, muesli bars and lollies were not the breakfast of champions.

Hungry, muddy and sore we turned the final corner and arrived – close to 8 hours after leaving – at our final sexpoint, I mean, checkpoint.