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Travels in the South Pacific.
Let me tell you about a land far away over the distant horizon. A land you may wish to visit. Perhaps you will. Through these pages you surely will. Think of a place where the ocean colours itself with a hue that makes the bluest sky jealous. Think of a place where the fish teem in ever more amazing colours, shapes and transformations. Think of a jungle, giant, silent, listening; emerald ridged leaves dripping moisture to create rivulets of pure clean water; over furry creature-like roots and tendrils of vines whose beginnings are far off in the inner denseness of mountain forest. Giant leaves, giant rocks, giant cliffs, giant volcanic mountains, giant fish, giant depths. Think on these things then let me take you there.
The first part of our journey begins at an airport, as is usual with many journeys. Saturday morning; tired passengers arrive and file past the others, us, who are filled with anticipation of the trip ahead.
A big pot of chamomile tea to calm the nerves is on the tiny table along with a crowd of coffee cups, mobile phones and documentation. Those who are going and those who are saying goodbye sit together in a sense of community; of “This time it’s your turn”.
The flight arrives and a buzz of excitement speeds up the conversation. Those who are going collect their documents, say final goodbyes and pass the magic doors where only the travellers may go. On the other side waits a brief process of queuing, passport stamping and juggling of onboard luggage, prior to more waiting. A quick visit to the duty free shop precedes more waiting. Another overpriced coffee and minimalist snack precedes more waiting. A quick trip to the toilet and at that moment the boarding call over the loudspeaker speeds things up.
Down the carpet, into the plane, store the hand luggage, click and zip the seatbelt, generally ignore the “In the unlikely event…” presentation and feel the gentle bump of the wheels taxi to the runway. The wings bounce and are eager to fly. The engine answers with a powerful surge and we are off! Away! Airborne! Yay!
The dull old city spreads out below looking far more interesting from this vantage point. Freeways create a network of ribbons over and under the flow of cars. The river reflects the bright sky until clouds dash past the window with a ghostly flicker and the view below disappears into the past.
Ladies in brightly coloured uniforms hand out yet more documentation prior to handing over the real goodies; coffee, hot chocolate, muffins, little bags of Jatz 'n' cheese.
Theoretically one may be able to spy a hint of red from a distant volcano during the flight over outlying islands but after many such trips I have not managed it.
The tail wind is our friend and a luminous frill of islands indicate the nation of New Caledonia is below us. This means we are a mere half hour away from Vanuatu, our South Pacific destination. The engine slows a little and we begin our descent. A few slight bumps as we pass through the clouds and the tiniest waves spread endlessly below. As we glide closer the ripples become real waves with white caps and the occassional sailing boat. Slowly we descend toward the runway. We seem to be hardly moving yet the moment we touchdown we seem to be at great speed. The engines roar in reverse and the plane instantly slows allowing for a gentle momentum to take us to the end of the runway where the Bauerfield Airport stands proudly bathed in garish green.
Unclick. Grab the hand luggage. Try to think of something different to say to the charming flight attendants but offer the usual sheepish smile and grab the handrail to walk down the steps and onto the tarmac. The warmth of the earth rises up through our feet and the scent of cooking fires, tropical fruit trees and oversized flowers create an exotic perfume that relaxes our spirit and brings forth a sigh of bliss. After many such trips it is like returning home. For some of you it will be your first visit. How will you and the dusty gem that is Vanuatu's main island get along?