Swimming in Paradise
In April last year, our journey to Melanesia was supposed to reach a crescendo of idyllic bliss with a visit to the Isle of Pines. Everybody said that the island paradise was the most beautiful place on earth. However, our day in nirvana was sadly precluded by a wicked wind which, in the judgment of our Captain, rendered tendering unduly unsafe.
It was a cruel blow. To this day, those in our party have called the Captain’s judgment into question, along with his parentage.
On this voyage, however, the Isle of Pines was our first port of call. As so it was with breathless anticipation that we boarded the tender vessels which shuttled passengers from ship to shore.
After all, how often do you get to visit `the most beautiful place on Earth’?
And we were not let down.
The Isle of Pines is, indeed, a beautiful place. Upon arrival we walked along a narrow isthmus with the open ocean to our left and a sheltered bay to our right. The road was lined with imposing pine trees.
After a short walk, we settled on a camp site along the bay, adjacent to a rather formidable looking rock which rose from the sparkling water. A sign stated that the rock was sacred and that climbing upon it was strictly forbidden. The sign failed to mention what sanctions might be imposed should the banned activity of climbing take place; something between being slapped across the face with the tail of a wet fish, one the one hand, and eternal damnation in a fiery hell, one the other, I suspect.
Our happy little band of frolicsome friends spent the morning swimming in the salt water, sun-baking, walking along the beach and snorkeling around the sacred rock upon which climbing was forbidden. We had such a fun time.
The next day saw the Rhapsody of the Seas anchoring off Mystery Island.
We had visited Mystery Island before on our previous trip. Our morning was occupied with more swimming, sun-baking, walking along the beach and snorkeling. The only difference was that there was no sacred rock, so the temptation to risk a slap across the face with the tail of a wet fish or eternal damnation in a fiery hell did not present itself.
Despite some mischievous rain, we enjoyed another fun day in paradise.
For me, however, the highlight of our journey was visiting the Island of Lifou.
Huckleberry B had conducted some extensive research, which revealed that the best location for snorkeling was located on the far side of the island. Getting there involved committing to a semi-arduous trek up a sharp escarpment, along a sun-blistered road and down the other side of the hill. We negotiated the journey in reasonably short order and found an appealing grassy glade, which led down to the ocean. Regrettably, the glade was swarming with other pilgrims how had arrived before us, but I guess you can’t have everything your way… even in paradise.
B was right. The snorkeling at Lifou was absolutely first-rate. Coral of all shapes and colours were clustered in stunning blooms, just a couple of powerful strokes from the rocky shore. I spent the best part of an hour with my head under water, paddling this way and that as I ambled over the reefs. There is something remarkably calming about snorkeling as you lose yourself in your own world, with company only being provided by the fish and the sound of your own breathe echoing in your ears.
The coral was truly spectacular. One of my favourites was mauve in colour and sprung from the rock face like the antlers of reindeer; very appropriate for the season. Other formations were like large, rusty, plates spreading out from the rock. Then there were the vast forests of low lying coral with a thousand little trees stretching out to the submarine horizon. Not to forget the tight blossoms of coral of purple, green or yellow. It was like visiting another world.
Upon arrival at the Isle of Pines, Uncle Y surveyed the pleasing scene and settled down to watch his children at play.
Sitting cross-legged with his straight back against a sturdy tree, Uncle Y looked for all the world like the Chief of the Island. Dark reflective glasses sat below his light brown hair and covered his eyes. He wore a headband of native flowers. The sun emblazoned his dark complexion. All he needed to complete the Islander image was a pipe hanging lazily from one corner of his mouth.
Sometime later, a Chinese family strolled by, glanced at `The Chief’ as he sat quietly beneath his favourite tree, gazing across his favourite bay, before looking for a spot of their own to set up camp.
Suddenly, however, their focus was distracted, as the Chief opened his mouth and solemnly intoned: “Ni Hau. Ni yau yu yong, mah?”
The Chinese gentleman was startled. His wife was aghast. Was that Islander over there really speaking to them in Mandarin?
Seeing their reaction, the Chief asked: “Shi mor shi?”
The Chinese man laughed: “We thought you were a Local! You gave us a shock when you spoke to us in Mandarin!”
Uncle Y removed his glasses and revealed his Chinese features, before bursting into laughter himself.
From that moment on, we addressed Uncle Y as `the Chief’. Before long he even started answering to it!