I love days that are forecast to rain, yet against all odds, the sun forces the clouds apart to illuminate the land in a soft glow in glimpses in between rebel clouds. This day was one of those days.
Blue lagoon is the quintessential tourist destination on big-island Efate, Vanuatu. A large, still, almost-neon blue lagoon (hence the namesake) sits amongst bordering trees and grasses within a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entryway just off the main road. As somebody who is ever-wary of tourist traps (having been a victim of them many times in the past), the first thing that caught my attention was the meticulously constructed carpark and “reception area” smack bang at the paved entryway to the lagoon itself. Yes, in fact, you do have to pay to enter the lagoon area – and be aware that it is quite pricey for Vanuatu standards. We did, however have an advantage – being a group of 10 people with local Vanuatu as part of the group, we were able to bargain down the price per person to a cheaper “group” price.
I can’t deny it – the lagoon is beautiful. The water of the lagoon itself is clean and cool in temperature (something you really come to value in the tropics). The mouth of the lagoon is tucked away behind a bend where the waters of the lagoon snake to open into and meet the ocean. As is the rest of the island, millennia-old whitened coral and coral sand lines the bottom and sides of the lagoon, theoretically allowing for snorkelling within the lagoon itself (I didn’t try, but others that were with me did).
Being a weekday, it was a quieter day at the lagoon – however it was hard to miss upwards of 50 Australian tourists and their young families splashing and swimming in the water and lining up to swing from a large tree’s branches via rope swing, in 2 different spots on the lagoons edge. Nevertheless, our local friends found a sheltered rocky outcrop on the water’s edge for us to lay our sarongs, bags, snacks and an entire whole watermelon (as is the norm – who said you couldn’t have a whole watermelon as a snack on the go?).
Although quite obviously a touristic destination, some locals were also enjoying the cool waters on an opposing bank of the lagoon away from the tourist action; themselves having found a fallen tree to use as a springboard to launch into the water and lounging like sleeping cats on the lower branches.
Contentedly sitting on a shared sarong by the sparkling azure waters, I asked my Vanuatu friend Melodie if she had been many times before to this mini slice of visual paradise. A few times with friends, she responded matter-of-factly, before they built it up and started charging for entry. While this news momentarily struck me, a big grin spread across her face and she suddenly jumped up. “Come on, lets climb the tree and jump from it”. Without waiting for me she jumped into the water and started making her way across the lagoon to the tree on the opposing side.
As much as I really, really want to write here that I followed her, climbed to the topmost branches of the tree and fearlessly jumped with her, I didn’t. Instead I climbed half the tree, decided I was too scared to climb the thinning branch she was on, jumped off the “kid’s platform”, and instead floated in the water watching everybody else have a go at the tree.
Let me divert you to an off-track side note for a second: The natural, unforced patience and kindness of the Vanuatu is something to be admired. There’s a reason why they are consistently voted #1 happiest people in the world. Melodie would stand there and wait in the tree for her “turn” to jump from her place in the tree for up to 10 minutes at a time, always waving through the tourists that were lining up for the smaller platform. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I heard her (even from 100m away where I was swimming) call down to them, “no, no, love, it’s okay, you go, I can wait”. She never lost her patience, never rolled her eyes, never sighed at the scared & hesitating children that were causing her to stand on a precarious branch on top of a tree in the sun waiting, waiting, waiting to jump into the water. In a nutshell this is the Vanuatu mentality – selflessness, and universal love for all. Try not to fall in love with that, I dare you. (Back to the main piece).
After cracking open the watermelon for us all to snack on (flies & humans alike), we lazily spread out on the cool rocks, sat in trees & slid back beneath the refreshing surface of the water to escape the days humidity. Yes, even with the shouts, screams & movement of all the tourists around us; for the first time it didn’t bother me and I shut them all out – or, rather, shut us all in, in a sealed little bubble in our corner where no one else mattered.
Serenity was the universal theme for our time on idyllic Efate. Not only did the mere week we spent there feel like months; but the time away from technology and submerged entirely in both nature and in the moment, replenished our energy supplies as we surrendered to the slow-going lifestyle, no-worries mindset and incredibly family-oriented way of living. Indeed, every day morning to bed was spent in the family ‘group’ dynamic – group breakfast gathering & prep, boardroom-like life discussions sipping coffee & devouring sweet local fruit, venturing out for the day to explore, even group-appointed nap time, washing up and the like. I may have already mentioned this (but I’ll say it again anyway), but spending so much time together allowed us to connect on a deeper level with each other than we had done for the years we have all known each other. Conversations were had and stories were shared that strengthened our bonds & friendships in a way that wouldn’t have happened, had we not let go of our material selves & our possessions.
One afternoon whilst walking the dirt track leading from the beach home, we happened by a group of Vanuatu men sitting outside the local Nakamal, and amongst them, a slightly spaced out blonde Canadian man, smile plastered across his face, the effects of his hand-held cup of Kava clearly having had taken effect. His pale skin tone & strong accent were the only factor standing him out from the crowd as he dressed & acted as a local. Too intrigued to keep walking, we asked him how he had come to Vanuatu and what his story was. His answer, he had simply decided one day to retire, sell all his property & belongings in Canada and move his life to Vanuatu. De-cluttered and completely simplified, he now spent his days at a slower pace in the happiest country in the world. It was the best decision he had ever made, he said. Even completely high on Kava I believed him. I had only spent a week here and I found his life upheaval completely understandable, if not covetable.
Whilst I could go on for 10 more blog posts on my time in Vanuatu, I’ll leave you at the post on my front page – sitting on the return plane, pen in hand, completely inspired and ready for change.
Au Revoir Mama Vanuatu – thank you for your lessons, and until we meet again.