2015 Vanuatu, Espiritu Santo, Port Olry
Videos from this trip
Sometimes we have great plans and … out of the blue … nothing is left of them. And instead of it something unplanned happens, and maybe even more interesting. I travelled from Ambrym to Port Olry on the Espiritu Santo island with a clear and half a year ahead prepared plan. I was to meet my local friend Jeff and a few other men from the village there. The rifles and ammunition were ready, some bags of rice too, matches and of course machetes, without which no real Vanuatu man ever goes out. We were heading for a several days long march through the jungle and mountains beyond the Big Bay in the western part of the island. Jeff’s relatives live there in a village hard-to-reach, still following the old ways in bamboo huts, dressed only in grass skirts and nambas. One of the few people who still live their own way. And we were going to visit them.
I am landing in Luganville. Nobody waiting for me on the airport. I am getting to Port Olry by my own means and learn that Jeff had to sail down to Tanna island. All at once there is nothing left of the plans to spend the Christmas and January in the heart of the jungle. I am finding accommodation at my old friend, a hearty Italian missionary Father Morlini and think of how to spend the free month I have here. I pass the Christmas and the New year helping out on the mission. Father Morlini is a courageous man, but years of service for the mission are heavy on him. For a few days I become his right hand, indeed both hands, during a dozen of repairs that were needed.
The second day of January a motorboat reaches the shore of the mission, coming from the other end of the Big Bay, from a Catholic annex of Pesena. With its jolly “captain" I arrange that I will accompany him on his way back and will spend at least a night in Pesena. After a few hours of navigating back we finally see a mountain range rising from the sea in front of us. It is the larger of the two peninsulas of the Big Bay. The evening sun shines through scattered clouds and a sheer feeling of adventure is emanating from the jungle-covered hills in front of us. We land on a rocky beach and I promptly connect with the chief of this tiny village. One of the first buildings that I see from the beach is a Catholic church. From its architectural style it is clearly a work of Father Sacco, who was working for years even on “my" mission on Tanna. Immediately I feel more at home. I meet with the local men in the nakamal. The homegrown kind of kava, “boroko", is served and I come to know closer the famous locally made pipes from river stone and the home tobacco. We share on many things long into the night and I realize that it is not the only night I am going to stay.
The following days are filled with walking in the jungle, chasing birds, diving in the river, riding a horse, listening to the local legends and endless evenings in the nakamal around the kava. In the village I find even a very unlikely neighbor. One young man from Tanna has found who knows how his way to this remote corner of the archipelago. To his great surprise I address myself to him in his own language and explain, that it has been two years I have been living on his home island.
The weather gets bad. Riding a boat through the Big Bay back to Port Olry is impossible. Instead, I take a speedboat and follow the coast southwards to an even more remote mission station of Tolomako. We take there some supplies, among others half a bottle of sacramental wine. Father Lino, an ever smiling Tongan priest who serves in Tolomako has not a single drop of it anymore and jokingly threatens that he will serve the Holy Mass with kava next time. From the time of the foundation of the mission its accessibility has barely improved. It is still one of the most remote ones. The following few days I am spending with Father Lino and with the locals. The only hard buildings around are the school and the mission building dating only from the last year. Until then missionaries were living in a bamboo hut. The life flows here calm and steady, same today as long ago.
Time to get back to the civilization. However, the sea is very bad in the last few days. On the other side of the bay the waves are reportedly “as big as houses". And we cannot follow the shore on foot. We would not pass the flooded river Jordan and a couple of others. We are waiting for another day and then we set off on a small speedboat following the coast. The sea is worse and worse. Near Matantas we are attacked by waves a few meters high so badly that we even have troubles to approach the beach. On the middle of the mess the motor of the boat cuts out. Our “captain" quickly opens it and fiddles with its internals. The boat turns along the waves and one by one they are just about to roll it over. Luckily another speedboat appears near us and after a few failed attempts we manage to join the two with a rope so they can drag us against the waves again. After a few endless minutes our “captain" manages to kick the motor on again and we approach the beach carefully. The waves are breaking there dangerously and flood our little boat. We are ready to jump off and to swim to the shore to save ourselves despite the raging sea. At last in the space between two waves our “captain" manages to drive the boat to shallow water and we drag it, all drenched, out of the sea, before the next wave sinks it completely. On the shore we collect our soaked belongings and try to save and dry what we can. Some hours later in Port Olry I take the first real shower in many days and clean off myself the sea salt, too. Unplanned adventures are indeed the best ones.