Cave of Wonders

alex rust

25 September 2010 | maewo, vanuatu

After leaving Malekula we were off to the volcano island of Ambrym but after rounding its western cape the 15 knot breeze on the beam became a 25 knot headwind making the 20 miles to anchorage not feasible in daylight so we turned the boat north to island of Pentacost where the famous ‘land diving’ ritual takes place. Not making landfall there by daylight meant another night at sea so I fastened up the wind vane and set course to avoid a collision with land. We were now literally just going ‘wherever the wind blew us.’

When I awoke a little before sunrise I calculated we were just 7 miles from a good anchorage on the south coast of the island of Maewo. The winds were piping up so it was a relief to settle in behind some reef in 50 feet of water (so clear I could see straight to the bottom and every fish swimming around the boat) in this natural cove where we could hide from the wind and building waves. I hadn’t seen an anchorage like this since Fatu Hiva in the Marqueses with earth rising several hundred feet straight out of the water with jungle so thick to make one think no human could habitate such a wild environment. Just a few hundred feet from the boat was a cascade of waterfalls with the last and largest being a 60 foot drop into the ocean. The first thing that came to mind is what a good spot that would be to do some overdue laundry so thats the first thing we did, gathered up our dirty cloths and did some laundry at the base of a jungle surrounded waterfall.

After laundry I went exploring up the waterfall chain and noticed a footpath along one of the falls. I ran back to get Isaac then we followed the path up into the jungle until we came upon a clearing with some small thatch huts. Pigs, chickens and the occasional child were scampering about the smoldering fires. A women crawled out of a hut and led us to the chief. The elders were all amazed by Isaac. They had never seen a Native American before (they had heard they were great warriors) and his tales of rock water (ice) that you could walk on captivated them.

The next day we went tracking into the jungle with John Blong. His pace was almost a jog as we went up into the highlands wielding his machete with ease clearing the trail as we went. It was all we could do keep up. We finally came to a cave opening where he led us inside. The cave was massive and within a few minutes we could no longer see the light from the opening. There were thousands of bats inside, so many that when we went from one cavern to the next through a narrow passage they would fly right into our faces. Their constant shrieking filled the caves void as we marched through the sludge of guano. John then took us a corner where there was a pile of multiple human remains. He and his brother had found the skeletons but there was no history of burying humans in caves on this particular island. John had no idea how old the bones were and gave us a sample to try and send back to America to date. We are still working on that part.

Further exploring took us to light up ahead and we emerged at a crack in the cave ceiling. Jungle growth pryed its way in with light at the opening and the beam that shone through revealed a massive hole the size of a couple houses just in front of us. Because it was midday the light went straight down into the hole showing us a rock formation 300 feet down but it was clear that the abyss was much deeper. We took turns throwing in rocks and counting… one one thousand two one thousand three one thousand. We climbed around the side to get a better view down into the nothingness. We just sat and stared trying to soak in this gynormous hole in the earth wishing we had brought rope so we could climb in.

On the way back John took us down the spring river and subsequent waterfalls and pools. While crossing one pool and without stopping in mid stride he swung his machete into the water. He then half turned back and threw me something. He had plucked a four inch freshwater prawn out of the water perfectly decapitating the specimen. It was delicious.

We passed a couple huts with families living way up there in the jungle now far from the coast. John explained the simple lives they live growing kava and yams with all the fresh springwater readily available. He told us we lucky we landed on the south side of the island and about how currently on the north side the ‘hurters’ were running about. Its customary that every year for a period of three months certain men dress in banana leaves and weild clubs with spikes in it. They run from village to village making grunting noises to announce their arrival and if you dont go hide in a hut or safe place and they come across you they strike you. If they dont like you they strike you multiple times. Luckily we had no encounters with the hurters.

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