Vanuatu – Ambrym. Probably the best travel experience until now

27/3 it was an early morning. The bus driver was from Ambrym! Small plane. Exciting. Can see everything the pilot does. I got off the first stop. That was the wrong place, Epi. Then Ambrym. First impressions: airstrip in grass. Building very basic. Just a few people there. Black soil. Two Dutch guys were there. Freddy was there. No paved roads. Walking to guesthouse-bungalow, using airstrip and a through the jungle cut path. See village Malver and hot pool at low tide in the sea. Go to Craig Cove through main road – dirt road. Starts raining. Pause in next village. Rain stops. Craig Cove is just a meeting place, nobody lives there. After a while walking back alone, airstrip totally abandoned. Had a rest. Lunch. Swim. Talk in village. Hot springs. Sleep.

28/3 leave Malver. Freddy is too expensive for me. Buy food at market Craig Cove. Walk to Port Vato to John Taso, on a dirt road. First accompanied by Willy from Pentecost until Sisevi. Works at Bhp. Camelot. Have to look that up. Then walked with some school girls to Port Vatu. Samantha, Marie and Cathalin. I gave them the clothes I no longer needed. They gave me fruits and brought me to John Taso, his wife Sessi and his family. It felt good from the start. Rilen, their 4y old daughter stole my heart from the beginning. And later her sister, Jane/Ellen, did the same. Anyway, I pitched my tent and rested. Kava, diner and more resting.

29/3 I spent the day in Port Vatu. It’s interesting. Could grow old here. No jobs, no stress, no money. Life like it could be. They eat from the trees, drink from the well, play volleyball, cook, eat and sleep. But then again, I couldn’t live here. I would get bored to death. Even today I wished I had brought a book. Or three. But I swam in the sea and played with the children of the village. I brought colored pens and asked them to draw something in my notebook and them let them have the pen they chose afterwards. One girl had a badly healed wound on her foot. infected. And later I saw others with the same problem. It looked so bad. Hygiene is so poor here. No dishwashing liquid, soap sometimes, eating fruit with dirty hands and running noses, and then giving it to their little sister/brother. and when their fruit falls on the ground they just pick it up and continue. And at some point I saw one child taking lice out of the hair of another and killing it with his nails…
And them finally, what I have wanted to do the whole time, already since in Efate, Port Vila: playing volleyball in the evening with the locals! It was funny, everybody was laughing and I was amazed by their skills, especially from the little kids. Somewhere in between we had to take a quick shelter from the sudden heavy rainfall, and then continued 1 minute later… It was an unforgettable day but in the mean time I wonder how they can stand this slow life. Time goes so slow and there is so little to do. I would feel so useless…

30/3 To the camp site near the volcanos, through the jungle. Getting up before 7, packing my bags and tent, have breakfast and off we went. We is my guide John (with his jungle machete), his cousin Dick (barefoot without backpack accompanied by 8 dogs), and me. Started in the sun, and somewhere along the way it started raining. On the way John saw footprints of a wild pig with piglets and after a while Dick came back with a little piglet in his hands. He had just caught it. It looked so afraid and cute. But I kept my feelings for me as I’m a guest in their land. They were going to take it back to the village and keep it. I opened my first coconut by myself, woohoo! 🙂 while three meters further was a snake. We arrived at the camp somewhere after lunchtime and had lunch. They burned/smoked the piglets nose hairs. They said that is how you tame it. Little did I know. They strapped a little rope around one of its legs and let it run around a bit. I saw it was shivering from the cold so I covered it with a peace of cloth. I felt sorry for it. The dogs were snuffling at it. Anyway, I pitched my tent and rested just as they did. When I went back to their place for dinner they said one of the dogs had killed the piglet, so they were boiling it. I felt a strange feeling, but I didn’t refuse to eat it. It decided it was part of the adventure. In our past it also must have happened like this. I was just time traveling. And this is normal for them. But for me it was the first time I ate an animal I actually had known alive. It feels different.
Looking back at it, the story about the piglet was probably more an adventure then the actual walk. 🙂
In the night there was a storm. Thunder and lightning, and everything else. Alone in my tent I was afraid and counted every second between lightning and thunder and switched off my mobile phone for I don’t know which reason (I didn’t have connection anyway) and lied down. I counted first 15, then 20, later 25 seconds. Relief. But for a moment I was even afraid that the storm would wake up the volcano…

31/3 Around 6am I woke up. I asked the guys about the storm and they said it was only a little storm. And they had so many storms here. And the storm wouldn’t wake up the volcano. After breakfast I checked my second battery for my camera and… It was empty! I recharged it in Port Vila at Clements place, and now the battery was low? I hadn’t even used it! A bit disappointed I was, but I had a small chance I could squeeze one or two pictures of the lava lake out of both batteries.
We left the camp for Marum and its lava lake. Somewhere in the middle we put on gas masks because of the sulfur and the acid rain, and Dick walked back to the camp from there. John and me continued. When we arrived at a lake (of water) it was still raining, I asked John if there was a chance to see the lava lake. John said the chance of seeing the volcano was none or very small. So we went back for 10 meters, and then decided to try to go between the two smaller vulcanos and see how things are there…and that was a good call. The sky was clearer on he other side, no rain there, and John said I would be able to see the lava lake. Happy happy joy joy! And coming closer we could already hear it, like the waves of the sea against the cliffs. We arrived up the rim and… the lake was in the fog. And after several minutes I started thinking that maybe I wouldn’t see it… But I did. It was impressive. And I took several pictures. I tried a video but that didn’t last long (battery low).
On our walk back John told me that he guided Gandalf from LOTR there a while ago! And even Brad Pitt has been one of his clients. I was his 40th client this year and his 190th something ever.
When we arrived back at the camp, we couldn’t find Dick. I assume he went hunting for a wild pig again…? Now John is looking for him and I’m actually writing this while waiting… To be continued… 🙂
Yes, they had caught a pig. A big wild boar. Diner for the village tonight. They carried head and front legs and left the rest hanging for in two days. And we started hiking back. Rain again… The way back always takes longer then the way in…
They called the village for help to carry the meat. And halfway back two other boys of the village arrived and there they were, cutting the meat to pieces and, using anything what the nature provides (branches of small trees and the core of huge fern leaves as rope) they made “backpacks” of the meat.
Oh, and a while later one of the dogs suddenly came back with another piglet… Hard life for those poor things…
Almost back in the village I also tasted the inside of an old coconut. One that just started growing a tree. Very delicious and a bit sweet. First time for a lot of things, this track!
And when I came back, tired, I sneaked to my place next to the guesthouse to wash and rest, but the girls of the village came running to me and asking them to do the acrobacy tricks again that I learnt them some days ago. I figured that’s how it must be to be a mum, with kids always asking for your attention and energy… I signaled them to wait a bit until I washed, but they just stayed there, doing handstands and other things we had done together the other day. And when I pitched my tent they were standing there helping where they could. And when I told them that I was going to sleep a while they just stayed there in the entrance watching, whispering and giggling. What else can you do but smile as you try to doze off…?
For diner we had Laplap. It’s preparation reminded me of the Maori hangi, making an oven of about 1 square meter with hot stones under and on the big 1 square meter meal. Inside was kumala maniok sweet potato taro and… the wild boar’s head. The whole family joined the meal. At least 10 people were there. Very cosy.

1/4 I learned to weave wristbands. And I taught them to weave the flax flowers I learned to make in nz. A while later I helped Sessi weave a mat for Rilen. I’m acquiring skills here…! Then there was the story of the mermaid. They showed me a clip on their phone about a mermaid that was lying dead on the beach. I had to tell them a mermaid didn’t exist… And there was a Belgium-Beijing confusion.
My flight has been delayed for one day.
I was thinking this village’s way could be the key to distress: be more self sufficient, grow vegetables and fruit trees so you don’t have to pay for that. Live closer together with others (here family but could be friends) And… Just don’t want too much. Less is more. Oh, and keep a pig and chicken…
I’m bored.
Many people along my travels have told me I’m too hard on myself. I wonder if that’s so. And many people tell me I’m strong. I don’t wonder 🙂 But I realized I always want to keep challenging myself, want to see how far I can go, what else their is, what more I can learn, and how much more I can squeeze out of this life. And yet here (and not only here) people are satisfied with “just” their family, their household, their village and maybe also their neighbouring village… Something challenging to learn, one day.

2/4 Sessi made fried banana in the morning. I exchanged my pancake recipe. Then I walked to Malver, Craig Cove, again. Spotted a handsome ni-van sport teacher on the way 😉 I decided to walk partly barefoot. An 18y old boy with dog who reminded me of a childhood book “Vasco” joined. He climbed a coconut tree to take a coconut for me to drink and eat. He was working at the coconut plantations. (Ambrym’s only economy is producing and selling copra). I compared him to my students in Belgium who were the same age but different. People here seem to care more about each other. Whoever it is. Known or unknown. I can’t imagine meeting one of my students on the road, picking an apple for me. (I know, it’s not the same really) Anyway, after our ways split, 3 others, about 25y old, joined my way and then the same thing happened. The boy got 4 coconuts for all of us. A little later they were gone and then Marcel joined my walk. Until Baiap. Walking is so much fun, meeting all those people 🙂
Back in Terter Bungalows I rested. I bathed in the hot pool sea, washed, did laundry. And I gave a name to the baby that would be born next month. The woman prepared the food. Simboro, prepared with banana and something else wrapped in green spinach-like leaves. And in the evening I read in my book. A lot. Oh, and left my K-mart tent to Sandy from Malver.

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