I am now in my Bob Marley Rasta pants and borrow sun-bleached surf tee, inside my cabin on the crew deck of the Rainbow Warrior. I have new epic shells on my desk, another island to add to the “must come back” list, more people to hug when I see them again and a brain-space filled with fresh optimism. Plus I went for a swim. And saw dolphins. Not at the same time. But still.
Amazing doesn’t cut it.
This morning I was woken up by Serkan (I think… it was dark and the accent was full of soothing Turkish assertiveness that reminded me of the Beachouse… so I am guessing it was Serkan.) “Matisse. Wake up. We are here.”
It was 6am and we were at Ambrym. An island in Vanuatu famous for it’s black magic. There was a man on board the ship named Rex Thomas, he is representative of World Health Organisation and we needed to drop him at Ambrym with some emergency tents and other aid relief. But first I needed to interview him. We had chatted at dinner and I discovered Rex had a lot to say. Rex is from PNG, living in Vanuatu, used to live in Tamavua, Suva. He is a Climate Change Activist as well as WHO employee. He believes in Pacific United Voice as much as I do. Maybe more. Because he has lived and breathed the common spirit for decades.
So my dawn was filled with quotes of hope.
Breakfast was also lovely. (I went for both cereal AND toast. It’s Sunday after all.)
We set sail once again.
By 1pm, Steve and I were on the stern watching the next island approach. It looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. Forests tumbling down to the sea. White beaches. Volcanic mountains.
We thought the Captain mustn’t have been paying attention because we seemed to be headed straight for land. Full wind ahead. Then we looked over the other side of the ship. There was more land, a village, aqua chapel and people waiting on the shore. We were in Point Cross Bay. Our second stop.
While the crew did all their crew-like business (lots of ropes and sails and anchors and chatter and laughter and proper enclosed shoes) we had our first visitor. A man and his son had paddled out to us on a traditional outrigger canoe. Made from a hollowed out tree. Captain Mike and I waved from the bow and invited them aboard.
In my excitement for the pair to see the Rainbow Warrior, I offered to sit the canoe and hold it to the side of the hull. But turns out the only thing tough about my hands are the tips of the three little fingers in charge of making G C, D, Em, Am, F (and sometimes if I’m feeling up to it B) chords. Other than that I am a princess.
I ended up letting go off the side and instead went for a little involuntary paddle/sink, with my South African friend Sam. It also turns out my outrigger navigational skills are not what I thought they were. The stern of the ship took a few bumps here and there and I was overheard muttering “Go away Rainbow Warrior.”
This prompted Captain Mike to comment “It is quite obvious that you do not have your license.”
Pretty shortly after this brave adventure we went ashore. Filled the tender with school bags, tents, books, toys and games for the kids. All thanks to love from UNICEF.
On the beach there were about 50 people waiting patiently. Under trees, on the rocks, the kids playing in the coral. Everyone jumped to greet us. The men got to work unpacking and the women got to work telling great jokes. Within 5 minutes Steve was informed by our new friend Mary (the second vivacious Mary I have met on this trip) that she was going to name her grandson after him.
I was told to come huddle with her in the shade because my skin was too white. This inspired multitudes of laughter from everyone, even 4 year old Samantha thought it was hilarious.
Sitting together, chatting under the trees, we began to interview people one by one. Listening and capturing the electric Pacific voice. After the third person had told us about their experiences with Cyclone Pam, their lives and what they love, I turned to (ridiculously talented videographer) Nick Tapp and asked “have you noticed how every single person we ask about being a Pacific Islander, refers to themselves as being ‘free’?’”
Nick agreed that he had picked up on it and couldn’t get over the collective gratitude.
The intrinsic recognition of island life’s beautiful simplicity is running wild in Vanuatu.
It makes me happy. And hopeful. Usually in my heart the two go hand in hand.
As if the day could get any better, I then got handed none other than… a puppy. I mean come on now. The little fluff ball was yet to be named so we appropriately knighted him “Rainbow Warrior.” One of the kids was very happy with this title and repeated many a time until it became “Lamebow Lollier.” I suppose that will have to do.
While we were all waiting for the last trip of goods to make its way to land, a group of ladies and I went down to the other end of the beach to lay in the sand and listen to Fijian music on my phone. Everyone was happily singing totally different lyrics. But we got the tunes down pat.
Mary, the cheeky tiger, tricked me into carrying her sack of bottles filled with salt water. She laughed hysterically as I missioned off like Blinky Bill with the stick over my shoulder. She also gave me the ‘you have so much to learn’ look, when I told her I buy my salt from shops, as opposed to simply boiling sea water in pans. Silly me.
In the afternoon as the last tender was heading back to the ship and we had to say goodbye to our Point Cross pals and pups. Hugs and love distributed all around.
Back on the ship we dove (I actually more plummeted) from the deck into the ocean to cool off. Martti did some engineering like business by checking the propeller with his pink goggles. (I personally think he was just pretending to be a mermaid.) Rosie perfected her sweet cannonball skills. Hettie floated serenely. And I splashed about before sitting in the rope steps on the secret lookout for sharks.
One sustainably short shower, a pair of comfy pants and the world’s best pasta carbonara later…. And I give you… one of the most amazing days of my life. Tada!
Ps. Between writing this and uploading it, I also watched a volcano erupt on the night-time horizon. Are you kidding me.