It’s a beautiful view of turquoise sea, coral lagoons, and rich green rainforest as we come in to land on the small grass airstrip on the island of Moto Lava. I am in the far north of the group of islands that makes up Vanuatu. But this is not my final destination. Moto Lava has only one “road” and two vehicles – both 2 wheel drive utes. One is at the airstrip to meet the plane so I jump in, lucky to get a seat in the cab and not on the back tray.
The next 45 minutes we drive to the other end of the island, over a narrow mud track, often a foot deep in water and mud, rainforest brushing high up both sides of the ute, slipping and sliding, in the hands of a driver who only ever has one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding his mobile phone in case he picks up a signal. And somehow it all works perfectly.
With much fishtailing and bouncing we make it to the white sand beaches at the other end. From here I jump onto a small outrigger canoe, my suitcase balanced precariously on one of the struts, as I am transfered to Rah, a couple of hundred metres away over a shallow lagoon. I meet Rachel, the matriach of the village family who runs the handful of bungalows for visitors, and she shows me to my lovely traditional bungalow, on the edge of the beach, with this view:
Before I can draw breath I am devouring a beautiful lunch of coconut crab and fresh pamplemousse (the sweetest grapefruit I have ever tasted), while some of the woman of the village prepare to perform custom dancing for me. A strong tradition in Vanuatu, each island has its own custom dances and outfits, which differ between the men and the women. Today is not the best day to visit, as it is Mother’s Day on Rah (one week after the same day in Australia) and all the women have the day off to relax, while the men cook and look after the children. Luckily for me some of them were prepared to interrupt this day of laziness to perform the custom dances, which are quite hypnotic to watch, their feet create great percussion. And two of the young boys of the village create their own custom dance outfits from the local leaves, wanting to be just like Dad, until they realise that Dad isn’t dancing today.
And then begins a long lazy afternoon on the beach and in the blood warm lagoon, accompanied by a tribe of the local kids. Not surprisingly they can swim like fish, but I have fun teaching them how to breathe through a snorkel. Little by little I lose a mask to one, a snorkel to another, a fin to a third, the other fin to a fourth. So I finally retire to my hammock under the palms and watch. And yes, one of them does swim around and around in circles with his one fin on. As the afternoon sun starts to wan, Rachel’s ten year old son Dimitri proudly shows me the fish he has caught for my dinner, using only his hands, no nets or lines. Sure enough Rachel serves it up to me deliciously spiced and steamed in banana leaves a bit later.
I have planned to be here for 4 days/ 3 nights but the vagaries of Air Vanuatu have intervened, turning this into a short one night stay. So I don’t get the chance to go fishing with the villagers, or learn basket weaving from the woman, but it is still well worth the effort to get to Rah, the very definition of an unspoiled paradise. I hope I get to run away to Rah for longer next time.