Only a few hours by boat or a few minutes by air from Port Vila the adventurous traveller can experience a world almost completely unchanged from its primitive past. Where volcano gods rule the earth and the ancient magic of island ritual impels island warriors to dive from great towers in the sky. David Adams explores the adventure of travel on Ambrym and Pentecost Islands in Vanuatu ‑ the Islands of Fire and Magic.
I stood on a ridge no more than two feet wide, the knife edge supporting the meagre path and nothing more. Below, the jungle fell away on either side into steep ravines. Close by, a muffled roar indicated a waterfall otherwise invisible beneath the green carpet. Above me the mass of prehistoric ferns and creepers disappeared into the morning mist. For the first time since leaving the tiny coastal village early that morning I could see the island of Malekula, a distant smudge against the turquoise and cobalt horizon. Drawing breath, my nostrils flared at the intake of pungent air saturated with the odour of rotting vegetation and sulphur.
It was just after 9 am but already the tropical sun was intense, the sodden jungle like a steam‑bath. My shorts and shirt were drenched with sweat and I peeled off my top to expose my winter‑white body. It was a toss-up: either I was going to die of sunburn or I was going to melt ‑ the former was definitely the better option. I looked back to Jolo my guide and was met by his wide grin for a moment – I wondered whether it was my alabaster skin colour or my odour which so amused him. But to be honest the smell of the jungle paled to that of myself. On the other hand like all Ni‑Vanuatu (native people of Vanuatu) the smile appeared to be a permanent fixture.