I love the fact that I don’t know what day it is, or at least that I don’t have to refer to the proper names of the days of the week. It is not a Saturday or a Tuesday anymore. It is either a Lifou or Port Vila day. Perhaps, for most people, it is only a normal working day. Its not my intention to make you feel a darker shade of green towards my current lateral and longitudinal position on this planet, but while you are most likely going to sit in traffic today, or go trough any of the many possible monotonous routines you got so used to, I am basking in a shallow colorful reef pool – the salty ocean lukewarm on my skin while the immediate aqueous surrounding is shimmering a brilliant turquoise. In this pool in the South Pacific on this Vanuatu day, also known as a Wednesday, I have a feeling that is similar to the one you get when you decide to skip lectures for the day on the way to University to go surfing – Freedom from the system.
I bet you didn’t see something like this on your way to work this morning
While I cycle to the beach the local people are waving and smiling at me. I haven’t seen any other foreigners cycling here and I guess that must be why the locals are waving, because they wont really be doing that if you were to be in a taxi. There is something liberating about cycling around an unfamiliar place and because I have all the time in the world, I stop to speak to this guy blowing on his conch shell. He doesn’t speak any English and I don’t speak Pidgin, but the fact that neither of us is wearing a shirt on this gloriously warm day allows us to have something in common.
No, that is not a homemade bong, and yes I did try to blow the conch
On Port Vila day the previous week, the surf Gods presented me with unbelievably idyllic waves breaking in both directions over the shallow coral reef. I was frothing like a rabid dog and when I saw the lone surfer pulling into a barrel, I had to find myself a board somewhere. I almost start panicking; because I just would not be able to forgive myself if I cant join the one-man line up. I didn’t bring a board with this time, seeing that most Airlines are so friendly and generous with their excess baggage fees. At the check in counter my argument that together my surfboard and I weigh way less than a quarter of the overweight- heart attack -waiting -to -happen -gentleman, didn’t go well. I might as well buy a small car for the price of a board in Australia. I’m boardless in paradise. It’s the same as having no sunshine and lots of sunscreen, or being strapped for cash in Vegas. I ask around and low and behold I find a little place that has boards to rent. To make my withdrawal worse, the lady tells me I can’t use any of them because they don’t have leg ropes on. I tell her I surf without leg ropes all the time, but she doesn’t buy any of it. I decide to swim out to the wave to get as close as I can, perhaps even catch a bodysurf. Before I know it though I’m caught in a rip and the reef drops off into the abyss. After praying in ten different languages, the current carries me back to safety. For the rest of the day I mind surf that wave better than Kelly Slater can.
Little do I know…
No surfboard? Lets find other ways to play in the ocean
Seven days go by before we have another Port Vila day. I haven’t been to a surf shop yet but I have some rope in my bag. I feel prepared. When I cycle over the hill and get a view of the reef my dreams are dashed and I start thinking of other uses for the rope. It is onshore and the surf is non-existent. I decide to cycle a bit further than I did the previous time, and about fifty metres from where the lady before told me I cant use the boards, I discover any surfers dream. I see a shack that has more than a hundred surfboards stacked like dominos. I marvel at them, in complete disbelief that I didn’t go further the previous time to find a board. There is a sign hanging from the rustic roof saying: “ No usem before askem pleeze, you breakem you fixem”. There is a 5’8 funboard that catches my eye so I go patrolling to find the owner of this remarkable collection. I knock on the rustic door while a chicken scramble under my feet and Uncle John comes out of his humble house and asks me to come sit down with him on the wooden bench to talk some business.
My guess is that Uncle John is in his sixties, but I have also learnt that when a black man has a full head of grey hair he must be really old. His once dark eyes may have turned blue from the many years in the sun but the firm grip in his handshake suggests that he is as fit as a fiddle. He tells me how the boards belong to his son, a promising up and coming surfer who is winning competitions all over the South Pacific. Immediately I realise it was his son I saw the week before pulling into the tube. I explain that I am interested in the board but that I would only be able to return with the cash the following week. Uncle John makes me an offer I can’t resist. He says I can stay there at their place for as long as I want for a minimal fee. “ We go catchem fishes with em spear and makem the rice. You stay here we lookem after you”.
If I was travelling on my own and if I had my passport with me, I would have stayed, without a doubt. But my things are on the ship and I would have to organise a visa first. So, with the thought in mind that I could spend seven days in Vanuatu living with a local family at the edge of some of the best waves in the South Pacific, I say goodbye to Uncle John. It is clear to me that this man also doesn’t care about which day of the week it is and I look forward to the prospect of staying there in a few Lifou day’s time.
No matter if em onshore or offshore playing in em water will always be fun