It wasn’t so much of a plane as it was a milk-crate with wings, and this was oddly appropriate, as the airfield resembled a cow pasture, and the terminal a milking shed.
Tanna Island is only 40 minutes from the Vanuatu’s main island, Efate, on the national carrier, and if you thought that Port Vila was sleepy, then be prepared for a coma.
On arrival, we were collected in a minivan by our hotel, and delivered to my room. I was staying in one of the more upmarket resorts, though the facilities were somewhat basic for the price. Nevertheless, we had a great view of the ocean and at night could hear the waves kissing the coral shore. Our fellow guests appeared to be university research students, tapping relentlessly on their laptops and conducting small-scale experiments.
Now, if one wanted absolute peace and solitude, then Tanna is the place to be. I have the feeling that I could fall asleep here one day, and wake up the next fifteen years older, with no memory of the long night between. It’s verdant, and slow, and isolated, and one could live simply here, diving, fishing and swimming.
Fortunately (or otherwise) I had no such luxury. I’ve only got so much annual leave, and a few days is all I can spare this tiny island.
My first activity was snorkelling. The water here is so warm and clear, rich in coral and wildlife, including sea turtles. Our hotel agreed to ferry us by tinny to a blue hole along the north-west coast.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but the absence of snorkelling gear in the boat should have been troubling. We arrived 30 minutes later at the destination, which appeared to be nothing more than a cliff, and one, at that, which was not provisioned with equipment.
A few bare-footed local lads made their way down to us, no doubt in the hope of snaring a bit of cash work on the side, and after a few hasty words they darted off to find some gear, returning ten minutes later with a cache of cheap and poorly fitting masks and flippers. Nevertheless, I was grateful, for it was better than nothing.
The next intrigue involved the location of the blue hole. Our guide directed us to the base of the cliff, and instructed us to “duck underwater and swim in” to the hole.
My wife asked the crucial question, to wit “how far is the swim?” as this information was not provided. Apparently, the distance involved was less than one metre.
I allowed her to swim in first, being a gentleman, and a cowardly one at that. When my turn came, I was dismayed to find that as I ducked under the waves, my board shorts popped open (I have not been quite a vigilant with my diet as I perhaps should have been). This was bad enough, for now I was underwater with my pants relocating, but then, much to my concern, they snagged themselves on the underwater tunnel, and my progress stalled.
Many things go through one’s head at such a time. I pictured the news headline regarding my ignominious death. I wondered whether it was possible to wriggle out of my pants while underwater, and started to make frantic, preliminary attempts. Just as I was about to give up all hope, they freed themselves, and I rose spluttering to the surface inside the blue hole.
Once I had regained my equanimity, I looked around. The site was beautiful. I was inside a cave, a small porthole of light streaming in from above. The water was about 5 metres deep, a delicious blue, and cooler for being out of the sun. Under the surface, channels of light illuminated the sea floor, where small fish darted, heedless of my presence.
I got out my new underwater camera, and took a few shots, before I noticed that its chassis had filled with water, and the LCD screen had started to display unwanted rainbow colours.
Though beautiful, the location was small, and I had explored it in its entirety within 20 minutes, and we were ushered back to the tinny for the return journey. Back at the resort, we questioned our host as to the brevity of the trip. He looked blankly at us before conceding that his agents had taken us to the wrong place, and should have provided us with both lunch and better gear. With a sad face, he agreed to discount the fee.
He reminded us that the following day we were booked in to tour the island’s main attraction: Mt Yasur, an active volcano on the other side of the island. With some hesitation, we confirmed our place.
(Next week – Frightening, and unmissable, Mt Yasur)