Vanuatu: in the spirit of adventure

By Paul Ellercamp

Under the listless palm trees behind the beach at the beautiful Aore Resort, in northern Vanuatu, a gentle, middle-aged Frenchman seems to be asking, in broken English, how to get to Pentecost, to watch the original bungy jumpers.

The Frenchman stands out on Aore, among a pack of tourists dressed in budgie smugglers, who'd just completed the 2.7km Espiritu Santo Aore Swim, dressed as he was in a light blue, long-sleeved business shirt and long, beige chinos.

There is plenty of interest among visitors in the Pentecost land divers. Not long ago, one of them died during a display jump, because the season wasn't quite right and the vine's suppleness wasn't quite there. But it was incongruous: the land divers put their lives at risk with every jump. This aesthete sought to consume his adventure like westerners consume culture - as passive observers.

This is a western phenomenon. We pay people to produce our culture, and these days we pay them to produce our adventure, too.

In Vanuatu, there are plenty of opportunities for adventures of many kinds.

The Jungle Jim Adventure - Millenium Caves
Glow-worms? A nice walk through the dark with torches? Not likely. A couple of hours bumping in a minibus through the bush, then schlepping on foot for another hour or so.

We stopped. Light rain fell. Our leader painted our faces with a mud and paint mixture, to attract the protection of the spirits. We climbed down the almost vertical face of a gorge, so steep they'd cut ladders into the muddy face. At the bottom, the river heads underground for a kilometre through the mountain. There's no track, just the fast-flowing river rattling in the dark, every now and again a shaft of light betraying a pothole in the earth above.

Water drips on to our brow. Bats hang from the ceiling.

You feel the torrent of the river around your legs, all cooling and soothing; the rolling of the rocks beneath your feet; the roar of the river through the cave; an occasional kerplunk as you stumble into a deeper hole.

The Dr Livingstone Adventure
As we wind our way along Santo's east coast, it feels like we're following an epic expedition. It's a rugged road. From just north of Luganville, the road is unsealed, potholed, rough and tumbly, but winding through deeply verdant countryside.

Over an enormous hill, there are two beaches - Champagne Beach is smaller; Lanok, around the point to the west, has rustic accommodation.

The water at Champagne is glorious, so clear, so balmy (29degC), and the bottom is peppered with coral heads and little reefs.

As we near the beach at Lanok: the water cools, and freshens, thanks to a stream rushing down from the hills and apparently emptying into the sea underwater.

The Cultural Adventure
Nakamals are a kastom (custom) institution, the main house of the village where the men live. In the towns, they're kava bars, where ni-Vanuatu and expat blokes alike gather at the end of the day.

Port Vila has an enormous number of nakamals. We've tried Ronnie's, Richard's, and several others. Up in Luganville, there's the Green Light, which actually is a red light, and there's a relatively new one on the sea front, called Sea Front. But our favourite is Maewo, high on the ridge overlooking the back lagoon in Port Vila.

Vanuatu kava is renowned as better and stronger, because it's greener, made from the ground green roots of the pepper plant.

Traditionally, the roots were mulled by male virgins, before being mixed with water and served in a half coconut shell. These days, it's more mortar and pestle than virginal grind.

Punters arrive in the growing dusk, and sit on bench seats around the curtilage of the nakamal, often hidden behind bushes. They talk in low tones.

The atmosphere is punctuated by the clearing of throats and the hacking of remnant kava into surrounding bushes, often from directions in which one had no idea at all that anyone was sitting.

How to get to Maewo? Hop in a bus and tell the driver, "Maewo (my-wo) nakamal, plis, closeby Mangoes resort!"

You should get stuck into the adventures on offer in Vanuatu. It's a get-stuck-into-it kind of place.


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