The last three weeks have been action packed with visitors, weddings, Independence celebrations, Children’s day, Volcano trekking and the Arts festival that we have been promoting. To help get over this crazy time we are currently catching up on some R&R, and exploring the underwater world on Santo!
Warren, Wilson and Ben are three good mates of Matt’s and they came to share our lives for a few weeks on Ambrym….and boy did they fit a lot in while they were there.
Waz is still here with us on Santo, and we’ve decided to draft him as our guest travel blog writer. Here goes…..
We got to Ambrym on thrillseeker airlines making aerobatics look easy, Pip’s brother, Nigel was at the airstrip with a warm greeting and helped us lug our packs to the boat at Craig Cove. We said our goodbyes to Pips mum and brother as they were heading the other way. The boat hugged the coastline for more than 2 hours, passing dolphins, dugongs and flying fish. Douglas was our boat driver and bungalow owner and casually trolled a line out the back hoping to pick up dinner. Ambrym has stunning coal black beaches, over looked by ever rising mountains of lush vegetation.
Matt and Pip made a great welcoming party. It’s always too long between seeing good friends, especially these two. Ranon reminded me of Gilligan’s island “No phone, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury”….. well nearly. Actually, the bungalows were simple but comfortable, with Kero lamps and mosquito nets (not really necessary at the moment). It felt like most walking around Ranon requires uphill exertion, but you do quickly adapt after a few walks to the phone hut at the nearby village of Linbul, an extremely important task to stay in touch with loved ones left behind in Oz.
Us boys started with a couple of local tours. We have learnt how to live off the land and between us guys we should be right as Spybee (Ben) was excellent in building a house, I was great at making fire, Matt can easily snare a pig and Wil was extremely adept in weaving women’s dresses and headbands.
(Left to right; Wil, Ben and Warren on the survivor tour)
Pip was not sure who the kids are around here as we played games with the young pikininis and Matt grassboarding down a hill on a coconut tree frond really showed those kids up.
We went to a triple wedding and put great thought into a present (box of Omo and a bar of soap with a Koala souvenir clip). The wedding was fairly traditional with a white bride and the groom in a monkey suit (god knows where they got them from around here). Anyway, the interesting stuff starts after the ceremony; the bride, groom and parents get lined up and seated on show to all. A never ending parade of relatives passes by kissing and dumping gifts at the bride and grooms feet. What was a tad odd was the bride, who bawled her eyes out the whole time, the groom looked sadder then at a funeral and the parents weren’t that overjoyed either, but the string band kept cheerily playing on. Pip and I gave our presents (she had a better present than us) and we got dumped with talc powder and deodorant. I guess they thought Pip was a bit pongy.
(The parents, bride and groom recieving gifts)
The highlight for me was the twin volcanoes (Mt Marum and Benbow); this was truly up there with the South west coast trek of Tassie. It was bloody scary, just ask Wil. We teetered on the edge of the biggest hole I have ever seen, as if peering down into Hades itself, with sulfur steaming from fissures and a small cone spewing lava into the air.
We tracked around the very rim on a hard slippery surface that simple dared us to make one fatal step which would send us to either hell or an arse skidding 100m down the volcano side (dramatic hah). We trekked several hours over a lifeless landscape, expecting a wookie or R2D2 to appear any time. Everyone but me found really good lava bombs (Pip was thrilled by nerdmania) and eventually we camped between the two volcanoes in current Melbourne weather conditions (cold).
(Mt. Marum looming in the background)
During the night we woke to a volcanic eruption off shore (we were at about 1000m above sea level). Lava from the island of Lopevi flowed down its side, branching in finger like streams before entering the sea. I was a hardly daunted by the fact that we happened to be sleeping between two volcanoes, while nearby another was putting on a great pyrotechnic display.
After a an absolutely shocker of a nights sleep, squished in with Ben and Wil in a one man tent (least it felt like it) and a bed of sharp scoria, we had a tin of chorizo and lard (Ok only us boys) for breakfast. After packing (in more ways then one) we summoned up our energies for the second volcano assault. It was a short but difficult climb, first advancing up a series of ravines and then a very steep ridge to the rim. We walked along the rim on a track angled at 45o to our feet and some unnamed individuals said they felt lucky they had a crap before they left; otherwise they would have added plenty of nuggets to their jocks. The crater of Benbow was mostly shrouded in acrid clouds of smoke but the glimpses we got were awesome. Anyway we survived being up on top of the world and have got the lava bombs to prove it.
(Mt. Benbow Crater)
(Mt. Benbow Crater)
We hardly had time to catch our breath before the two day North Ambrym Arts festival kicked off, but I’ll let Matt and Pip talk about that in Part II of this blog.
Matt, Pip and I were also invited to Pikinini day (Wil and Ben had left) at the local primary school at Ranon. Here in Vanuatu they have a public holiday every year for the kids, which is a bit like Mothers day in Australia. The kids were very cute as they all marched up carrying hand made Vanuatu flags with balloons atop.
We were made special guests for the day and lined up to be presented with a salu-salu (type of lae). Matt and Pip presented a soccer ball to the school which was going to be a quiet affair until they were ordered to shake the hand of every school kid (150 of them) in front of around 200 onlookers. We were privileged to sit and listen, while songs were sung, speeches were made and a rousing sermon made by the local preacher. Lunch was kindly provided by Sandy and Krema who had been so nice to us all during our stay on Ambrym. After a traditional lunch (including Lap Lap) the children’s games followed. The pikininis rotated from game to game and they all looked like they were having fun. The biggest highlight for the locals was the dog with a coconut leaf tied around its neck. We couldn’t quite see the amusement in a frantic dog running all over the place, chased by locals (and the leaf tied to it) but we may have just missed the punchline. All in all we were very lucky to be invited to a local festival with other locals from all over northern Ambrym and get a real taste of Ambrym village life.