Friday, February 5, 2010

Vanuatu: Dancing to the beat of an island haven

Chief Nelson is waiting on the beach. You can't really tell from this distance that the diminutive figure in a blue Hawaiian-style shirt with missing front teeth is the big kahuna at this village on the waterfront of a sandy bay so beautiful that in my eyes it blitzes the competition.

As our small cruise ship, the Island Passage, had motored closer to Asanvari Bay on the island of Maewo in the remote Vanuatu chain of volcanic islands, we had seen a glimpse of an idyllic golden sand beach flanked by steep banks of jungle tumbling down to the water's edge.

Then we had caught movement to the left of the sandy beach and realised this was Asanvari Bay's own spectacular waterfall, also right on the water's edge and, we found out later, a waterfall which is apparently inhabited by small, hairy, evil spirits.

Although no one admits to having seen one of the spirits, the word is everyone knows someone who has seen one.

Chief Nelson is not the only one keen to welcome us. It seems the whole village has turned out.

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A string band is in full force to welcome us. There are a couple of guitars and a harp-type instrument of a single string and a bendy piece of wood.

Every now and then the band stops, then starts up again with the same thumping, twanging beat and young men singing in harmony "we welcome you, we welcome you, we welcome you, to Asanvari", then they start over.

This is the Island Passage's first tourist visit to Asanvari Bay and we are honoured to be receiving the full welcome.

After a while Chief Nelson gestures us to the yacht club. Did I say yacht club?

Turns out Chief Nelson is a bit of an entrepreneur and has built an open-sided yacht club, complete with flags from around the world, for yachties sheltering in the bay to come ashore for a cold beer.

The band starts up again and leads first Chief Nelson then the honoured guests (us) to the yacht club.

We sit in green plastic chairs arranged around the edge of the building with a bit of a tattered map of the world on the wall and the flags which on closer inspection look a little worse for wear but of which the chief is very proud.

The band strikes up another round of "we welcome you" and Chief Nelson keeps a keen eye on the singers for no missed beats.

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