Vanuatu: Week 119

Polaroid of a Twin Otter: Tanna, Vanuatu

Sapos yu no respecktim law ia, bae mifala i putum long hand blong ol polis.

Offenders will be prosecuted by the police.

Barret and I were on a Twin Otter aircraft flying between the islands of Efate and Tanna. The small plane seated 18 people, each passenger weighed at the check-in gate like grocery store produce. I should have felt reassured that the plane wasn’t overburdened, but I couldn’t stop reading the flight safety card in front of me and thinking about all the celebrities that have died in small airplanes.

No smok.

The fact that there was no door separating my foot from the faded and worn cockpit was also a cause of anxiety. You see, some things are best left unknown. I like to imagine my pilots are vigilantly scanning the horizon and pushing knobs, but the reality is they aren’t. They actually take their eyes off the clouds for long periods of time to write stuff in old blue binders.

Treetop Lodge on Tanna Island, Vanuatu

The descent towards the small airfield ran along the rugged coast. From up above we could see aquamarine blue holes and rolling jungle-clad hills. While it was a beautiful view, Barret and I quickly realized that Tanna was best experienced by foot.

From our lodge, Barret and I walked two hours to Port Resolution for a beer. The long, dusty road was the only straight shot connecting the east and west side of the island. It was also the local meeting place. Sometimes we crossed paths with an entire village and other times we said hello to kids rolling oranges together; the bruised rinds filled the air with citrus.

Lable on Tusker Beer, Vanuatu

Only one car passed us, going in the opposite direction. It stirred up the volcanic dust that had settled on the ground and squashed lizards. The electric blue tails still shimmered in the sunlight as we walked past. The luckier lizards rustled along the banks of the road and made the dry leaves sound like they had small legs.

On a map Port Resolution looks like a small town, but in reality it is a village of beautifully woven huts. It was the kind of place you’d see in a National Geographic article but you could never imagine living there because heaven shouldn’t require so much dusting.

Polaroid of a hut in Port Resolution: Tanna, Vanuatu

Around late afternoon Barret and I began the walk back. We had about an hour and a half to get to the rim of Mt Yasur in time for a volcanic sunset.

Half an hour into our walk we heard footsteps and a howling puppy behind us. We kept walking but after a few minutes curiosity finally got the better of me and I looked back. Twenty feet away were two young girls and two older women, all with sticks in their hands. The group chuckled when they saw me and the young girl making the barking noises began to whistle. It was the kind of sound you’d make when you wanted your friend’s attention.

“Barret, I think we are supposed to whistle back.”

Barret looked over his shoulder and met the same laughter and giggles as I did.

“You think?”

“Yeah, do it!”

“Why don’t you try?”

“C’mon, you know I can’t whistle! Don’t you have some special method?”

Barret pinched his lower lip, but before he could make a noise the girls beat him to it. Against a chorus of piercing whistles Barret changed tactics and cupped his hands to his mouth. He sounded like a teapot that just couldn’t boil.

Entrance ticket for Mt Yasur: Tanna, Vanuatu

Our audience was still tittering when Barret plucked a blade of grass from the side of the road. He wiped the ash off with his shirt and pinned it between his thumbs. Since we were facing forward we couldn’t see the group’s expression, but when Barret finally made the soggy blade of grass sing, the women erupted in cheers and the two young girls enthusiastically returned our throaty calls.

We were halfway into our rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star when I heard someone call out. I looked over my shoulder and saw the group standing in the road. “Barret, I think I heard them say goodbye.”

“Huh? No, there’s no place to go.” We hadn’t passed any roads or walking paths, just jungle. Barret glanced back again. “Hey- I think you’re right.”

When I realized they were indeed leaving, I was suddenly felt sad. Since arriving in Vanuatu I had become fixated on the idea of needing a talent like juggling, ukelele skills, or really impressive dance moves. In my mind it was an act of reciprocity- a ‘thanks for sharing your time, I would like to share mine too.’ There was so much I wanted to share, but unfortunately the US was represented with a wet turkey whistle.

Polaroid of Mt Yasur: Tanna, Vanuatu

I was at a loss until I suddenly remembered something- “come on Barret!” My boyfriend looked confused but he sensed my determination. “Come on!” I roused him again, “You need to show them your mouth thing!”

As we approached the girls their cheerful expressions turned into bewilderment.

“We want to show you something,” I said before pressing my finger against my lips. “Listen- it’s quiet.”

Under close scrutiny Barret lifted his hand and flicked his middle finger against his cheek. The first few times he did this, the girls still looked confused. After a few more flicks on his cheek they finally heard it- the sound of a falling water drop. Their faces lit up and a big smile spread across their lips.

Mission accomplished. Barret and I waved goodbye and continued on to Mt Yasur.

Mt Yasur erupting: Tanna, Vanuatu

About: Vanuatu

About: Tanna

About: Mt Yasur

How to get around: Air Vanuatu

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Blue Mountains: Week 107

Polaroid of the Blue Mountains, Australia

Sometimes nature creates its own air pollution, a welcome sort of haziness that settles on a warm sunny afternoon.

Jamison Valley, inside the Blue Mountain National Park, is one such serendipitous location. According to the publication prepared for the park’s World Heritage Nomination, “the eucalypt-dominated vegetation disperses fine drops of volatile oil into the atmosphere. The oil drops increase the risk of fire, perfume the air and scatter, with great visual effect, the blue light rays of the spectrum.”

The Clarendon Guesthouse: Katoomba, Australia

In layman’s terms, the mountains and forests look blue and smell nice because of the Eucalyptus trees. It is also only a two hour train ride from Sydney. Barret and I arrived Sunday afternoon at the small town of Katoomba which sits on the plateau overlooking the Blue Mountain National Park. We dropped our bags off at the Clarendon Guesthouse, a 90 year old building with live music and performances and left to make use of the last few hours of daylight.

A few blocks from our accommodation we jumped onto the Prince Henry Cliff Walk. It traced the edge of the plateau and offered plenty of panoramic views. The route led us through string cheese-like eucalyptus forests and past damp tropical pockets hidden from the sun.  An hour later we emerged from our cliff walk near the Three Sisters, one of the most popular attractions in the Blue Mountains.

Polaroid of the Three Sisters: Blue Mountains, Australia

Scanning the valley floor we saw flocks of cockatoos swooping from tree to tree. Their white feathers were striking against the blue leaves, their shrieks echoed against the mustard yellow cliffs of the plateau. Above us a lone rainbow lorikeet called out. The jade wings, blue face, ruby beak, and yellow chest reminded me of the crayon sets given out at family restaurants. They were always the colors you needed least, yet it seemed that everything in the Blue Mountains came in those four electric hues.

When the sun began to set Barret and I headed back into Katoomba for dinner. As we walked I wondered if any of the restaurants gave out crayons and if so, what colors?

Polaroid of the Blue Mountains, Australia

How to get to the Katoomba: Blue Mountains Line train from Central station.

About: The Blue Mountains

About: The Clarendon Guesthouse

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