On Thursday, I went on a walkabout. Alexandra and I thought we’d head up to her village to pick up some of her stuff. We’d been trying to do that for the last two weeks but kept getting stymied by things like rain storms. Finally, we had a few days to go and come back while the weather was clear, so off we went.
We left from Vansemakul. I’ve taken the trail to her village from my village exactly once and that was back in January. I wasn’t confident I knew the road, I just figured we’d find someone along the way to point us in the right direction. So, at 10:15, off we go.
The beginning of the road is an hour long ascent. Vanuatu is basically the tip of a young mountain range, the rest of the mountains are just submerged, so when I say ascent, think up a mountain track. We stayed on the truck road which is a switch back and only passable by truck when it isn’t raining. We got about halfway up before the rain started. By then, we were grateful for it because it cooled us off.
There are some stunning views from the road. At each switchback, the view opens up and you can see out across the ocean to the neighboring islands or across the bay to Melsisi. When not admiring the view, it is hard work to huff and puff up the road.
We got to Lesube in about an hour, which is not great time but not bad time either. I saw a trail that seemed likely. We followed it for about ten minutes before it disappeared into a family’s compound. No one was home to ask directions of, so we backtracked on ourselves and got back to the main road. A bit further along, we came to a coconut plantation I recognized. I threw a stick at a lemon tree until it yielded enough lemons for lemonade that night and we continued on. (Throwing stones or sticks at trees is common practice to get fruits.)
Another half an hour plodded by and we were still going uphill. I kept recognizing bits and pieces as we walked. I’d catch a glimpse of a taro garden or a certain dead tree and know we were on the right road. Once in a while, I’d get something better like remembering a place we stopped to rest or where a turn off went. Finally, we got to the point where I thought it was time to turn down hill.
The hills are really ridges or “keels” divided by creeks. So, though we’d been going steadily uphill, we needed to be one creek bed over to get on the right outcropping for Alexandra’s village. That meant finding the right creek bed and the right crossing on it. It is complicated and I can’t draw a map, at least not an accurate one.
We started down a likely looking path towards the creek bed. We got about three minutes downhill and found a garden, not a creek crossing. We turned around and went back to the main road, which given the steepness of the hill was now five to ten minutes away. It had been raining off and on for long enough that it was more like ten minutes. We did that twice more, each time we’d start down a nice wide trail only to have it peter out into nothing or into a field of taro.
We rounded a bend in the main road and I found another concrete marker. The last place we’d rested on the road in January was under a giant mango tree that had one root jutting out to form a natural bench. The root is quite distinctive. I recognized the place. We rested there and ate the simboro that a mama had given us in Vansemakul. That spot also marked the end of the main trail. It was all foot paths from here in, though we still needed to find the turn off down into the creek.
We carried on and took a few more scenic detours. Finally, we found a main path that felt like a main path, not another garden trail. We got to the creek and I was utterly lost. We’d taken a turn somewhere that put me someplace I’d never passed through but Alexandra thought she knew where she was.
It took about five minutes for her to realize that she also had no idea where we were.
We did the perfectly logic thing when lost in a jungle. We kept walking. We were on a main path, which meant that at some point we were bound to find a village if we just kept going. The other option would have been finding the ocean again, but we were hoping for a village not the ocean. We were supposed to be in middle bush area, not a coastal area.
We did find a village about half an hour later. We were even lucky enough to find someone in the village. He’d just come back from the garden to cook cabbage for lunch. He invited us in for a late lunch and some time to storian.
About an hour later, he was ready to head back to the garden. He said he’d show us the road on his way, so off we traipsed again. We’d already been walking for over three hours. He led us down some trails neither of us would have considered wide enough or well-used enough to be worth following to a village until it came to a fork in the road.
He gave us directions to stay on the path, don’t take any turns and follow the keel. Then he looked at Alexandra and told her she’d recognize the place. I’m amazed he still had that much faith in us. We’d gone an hour or more out of our way and he still thought we could be trusted to walk about on our own. Not the same protective attitude we’re used to, but a pleasant change.
We followed the trail and it did indeed pop out in Alexandra’s village. If we’d missed his village and kept going, the next stop is East Pentecost. That is a long ways to be walking in one day.
The morning after our adventure, we packed about fifty pounds of stuff into our packs and hiked back down the hill. We left Lengali at 7:00 and reached Melsisi at 9:00. We rested an picked up mail and were in Vansemakul before 11:00.
The lesson here? Take some one with you, know where you are going or get ready for an adventure.