Crossing the Line
27 August 2017
About a thousand years ago when I was gainfully employed I had the good fortune to visit Egypt for a few days to win some new business. For a myriad of reasons a few days turned into over a week, most of it in the five star Mena House Hotel, just a couple of miles outside Cairo and a few hundred metres down from the pyramids of Giza. I didn't know it when I stayed in the Mena House but Winston Churchill and Roosevelt met there to discuss strategy during the last unpleasantness.
Anyway, one of my abiding memories of Egypt was that you couldn't take a step outside the hotel without someone trying to scam you. And that was long before scamming was commercialised.
En route between the Lau Group and here in Pentecost, Vanuatu we crossed the Date Line. It seems we've also crossed another line. I'm going to call it "The Shirt Line".
Back in the Lau the villagers welcomed you with open arms, asked for nothing, had little but would give you the shirt off their backs.
Here in Vanuatu it seems that if you weren't paying attention they'd swipe the shirt off YOUR back. And probably charge you for the pleasure.
While I'm not a religious chap I think it's interesting how the culture between the two island groups has changed as the influence of the church has diminished, or even vanished.
"Want to see our famous jumping tower?" says chief Sam. "That'll be 1,000 each". Now, fair enough, they've a right to leverage their few assets so we coughed up; well, Anne and Sven pinned me to the ground and forced it from my death grasp.
In Home Bay, they have what is said to be the tower that gave rise to bungy jumping. Sam led us on "a half hour guided walk" through the fairly tattered looking village, through what can only be described as a check-in hut, or indeed a shearing pen, a small square shack with a one person door at entry and exit and benches on either side. I think this is where the P&O visitors get fleeced. Us? We were traipsed through the muddy, or was it cow patted field, along a bit of a track for less than ten minutes before being stopped, just out of view of the famous tower, to be parted from our tourist dollars.
Was it a coincidence that at this point three other machete carrying guys appeared? The enforcement team? Whatever, paying seemed wise. Running seemed even smarter.
We stepped over the barbed wire and, there it was, the world's first bungy jump. Unlike New Zealand the structure is built of bamboo, liana and twigs.
It's quite high, maybe 60 or 70 feet. Enough to give you a sore head if things go pear shaped. I've a feeling it was fully tested on passing missionaries.
"Oops! Better shorten that rope a bit. And him? Well, just put him in the pot!"
The youth of the village prove their manhood by jumping off with tree liana tied round their ankles. To date they've only had a couple of fatalities. Apparently these were because the jumpers hadn't been focused, had taken stuff and the spirits weren't right.
My guess is the "rope" broke.
On the way back to the boat we were passed by a few locals.
Shaved mohicans, plastic earring, Arsenal soccer shorts and machetes. They wouldn't have looked out of place in gangland '60's Glasgow. Anywhere else you'd cross the road pretty smartly. Here, the ominous "vibe" is lessened by the Jesus Saves song coming from the Boombox one of them is carrying. His hard man image was further diminished when Jesus finished and "Country Roads" started.
Nonetheless, I haven't taken to this island. You want to take photos? That's extra. You want a grapefruit? That's a another thou.
You want to sleep soundly?
Pull up the drawbridge, lock the companionway and switch on the VHF for a listening watch. That's the first time we've done any of that in months.
Moving on soon!