We’re bobbing up and down in the cross swells on the leeward side of Aneityum and the mist shrouded peaks of this mountainous island are disappearing slowly in the distance. Soon we’ll be catching the cool and resolute winter trades here in the higher tropical Southern latitudes, and before their rocky white horses will wipe away our memories for good, let me sieve through the remaining morsels of remembrance, leftover traces of our initial meeting of the Vanuatu people. Our direction of travel takes us from the outer islands towards the capital, a great privilege reserved to seafaring voyagers here in this island world, allowing us to see the gentle first and then the harsh. From the very day we arrived in the wide bay of Anelcauhat we were taken under the wings of Kenneth who just couldn’t keep his fascination with our unusual vessel under wrap. He jumped on board and told us with pride that he had built a traditional canoe himself with the same type of sails as our big crab claw sails. As we soon found out during our first visit ashore he has good reason to be friendly with foreigners. He is in the hospitality business and is the proud owner of a little island resort at one end of town right along the beach, where a half dozen small huts huddle around a carefully manicured coral walkway, and guests can stay and relax while on the island on business or holiday. His friendly and generous ways we hope to see more of as we move up the island chain.

The source of the apparent wealth of the town folks with their rows upon rows of sizeable fiberglass skiffs powered by high horse power outboards parked all along the beach became clear the second day after our arrival. A shoe box shaped colossus had parked itself just beyond the reef at the entrance of the bay in the wee hours of morning and by the time I had clambered out of bed a steady stream of orange water taxies was ferrying Australian and Asian tourists to the little island to the South, which at their very service had been re-baptized from its traditional name of Island to the non-descript moniker of “Mystery Island”. Another steady stream of locals in those same fiberglass skiffs was flowing across the bay to the left and right of us to meet the onslaught of pink and yellow skinned cruise ship denizens in search of the ultimate South Sea adventure. A veritable amusement park had been created around the grassy airstrip on that coral island with prices marked in Australian dollars on brown cardboard pieces. On offer were snorkel tours, transparent kayak rentals, short sailing stints on traditional outrigger canoes, hair braiding, relaxing massages and a special photo opportunity for the tourists to look out of a staged island cannibal cooking pot into the eager camera of a loving family members or the trigger happy smartphone of a jittery honeymoon co-conspirator. 
Once or sometimes twice a week this spectacle unfolds and must inject a good deal of cash into the coffers of local households, not only of this little town, but as we were told also of the many smaller villages up and down the coast. In the evening the traffic flowed in opposite directions and right before sunset after having hoisted the couple dozen water taxis antlike up along its vertical sides the cubistic behemoth belched out a hollow horn blast across the rippled waters, cranked up its anchor and soon disappeared into the freshly falling darkness. Once back on their home turf the locals seem quite happy to continue living in their palm thatch covered houses with their woven bamboo walls and continue to tend their beautiful gardens, where cassava, taro, yams and kumaras grow in between banana and papaya trees transforming the dark volcanic soil into nutritious food as it has for thousands of years before. 

It’s hard to put a wrap on the sustainability and the overall carbon footprint of this economic interchange between the first and third world. On the surface it all seems astonishingly benign and maybe the Vanuatu people are blessed with a natural happiness that allows them to bridge the gap of arrogant wealth and humbling poverty. The smart phone and selfie craze that has certainly gotten the better of them seems less stringent here than in other parts of the modern world. The bright white smiling teeth in the dark and fuzzy haired faces does much to soften the sting of our egocentric malaise with the ecological collapse luring just around the corner.

One Response to “Aneityum”

  1. Don Says:

    Great to read of your travels and adventures
    Safe voyaging

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