The plane from Australia had taken us to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu on the Island of Efate. Talua is on the Island of Santo so we had to get onto another plane. We flew into Luganville (the town on Santo) on a 15 seater plane, it is so small - you can hear the propellas in the body of the plane. The airline has counted Joshua and I as 1 adult so we have to share a seat and a seat belt. There is only a net which separates the luggage from the seats. Someone has a pair of live chickens in a woven basket as a piece of their luggage.
Out of our window we can see clouds below us, and below that water. Ever now and then there were dark smudges of islands in the water. We suck lollies to help our ears pop and stare at the horizon to help air sickness.
As we land we can see the airstrip and field standing out amongst the coconut plantations and dense bush. The Talua truck is at the airport to meet us. In Australia it would be called a ute, just a simple 4 wheeled utility with a closed in cabin that seats 3 people and a open back. But in Vanuatu it’s simply a truck.
In the back are two rough wooden benches, one against each side. All of our luggage is piled in the middle and we sit on the benches, and drive into town and then onto South West Santo.
If I could go back and inhabit my six year old body I could paint a picture of what it is we must have seen and smelt and felt.
I could tell you how the air is dense and smells of moist earth and deep green foliage. You can see glimpses of the sea on one side and hills of green on the other. The steep road up to the hospital disappears to our right. The LCM general store where we can buy everything from out-of-date breakfast cereal, to fabric for Island dresses to sweet bread. The open air market where people from villages all around came to sell their produce.
But I was six then, and six year olds see things differently to someone in their twenties. So I didn’t notice any of things. Instead Joshua and I cling tightly to anything in the truck that doesn’t move and love the fact we don’t have to wear seat belts.
Then there is a bridge over the river at the edge of town and from then the road is dirt, full of chunks of coral and pot holes; just wide enough for 2 trucks to pass each other. Technically in Vanuatu we drive on the right hand side of the road. But once out of town we drive in the middle of the road or which ever side is best to dodge the pot holes.
We learnt our first lesson about riding on the back of a truck that day. If you need to get the drivers attention yelling is fruitless. The sound of the trucks engine and the wind rushing past will drown out even the loudest scream. Instead you pound on the top of the cabin. This tells the driver that you want him to stop.
We had to do it when Joshua’s hat flew off his head and went racing down the road. Ian stopped the truck for us and Dad jumped off the back to go retrieve it. Then with another thump on the cabin of the truck we were off again among the fields and fields of coconuts and cattle.
It always seems ironic to me that despite the fact that Talua is one of the most important places in the world to me I have absolutely no memory of seeing it for the first time.
At one point in time we didn’t live in Talua; and then, quite suddenly, we did.
Photo courtesy of NikyFern