As time passed on our fortnight-long health mission to Tanna Island, the days started to become more alike. We worked hard, going to a new village each day. The places, from the kastom village Iakunauka to Greenhills to Iounanen, became more than just names. They were places we knew and where we had made a difference…and memories.
But hard work aside, as the end of the trip grew nearer, I became more excited about the last few clinics in northern Tanna, at Lavis and Hebron, because that was where we would swim in Blue Cave.
Googling the place before we left had me really keen to dive through the crystal clear water into the incredible blueness of the cave, and see the light streaming through a large hole in its roof.
To get to north Tanna, we once again poured ourselves into the back of two utes, and crawled along a road which was incredibly steep in places, and sometimes had a steep drop off just inches away. The truks sometimes lost traction, but the gorgeous view out to the shimmering blue ocean made up for the odd scream.
Before we went to Lavis clinic we dropped our luggage at Daniel Talap’s Blue Cave accommodation. It sits on the cliff above the cave, and comprises a hut, with four rooms and a balcony, and a small kitchen nearby. The view was stunning, framed by an expansive garden.
We unpacked and headed to Lavis aid post for what was probably our most uncomfortable clinic. The post was neat and tidy, but small for our purposes. I was set up with the massage (ultrasound) table in a room with Dr Keen,which I enjoyed because I got to watch her gentle doctoring skills.
Daniel had advised us to get to Blue Cave before three o’clock if we wanted to swim in easily. When the tide gets high you have to duck dive to get in.
At 3pm I still had a couple of patients to do and most of our team had already left for the cave. I resigned myself to missing out and hoped maybe I could sneak down and swim in early the next morning.
By the time we got back to Daniel’s, it was well past four. Dr Keen and I headed down the hill to find the cave, led by Miriam, one of the locals. It was a steep climb down, with several sections of home-made stairs/ladders.
We got down a way – and there was the rest of our team. They had only got halfway down before getting stuck. The stairs had broken and the alternative path was confusing. I hadn’t missed out after all!
Miriam showed us the way – over some pretty dodgy planks and stairs, and we made it to ocean level. But then we had to edge our way around several rocky curves, with crashing waves coming in. Images of Survivor contestants being washed off rocks ran through my head.
Three team members hadn’t made it down the stairs. The remainder weren’t keen on braving the waves, but Miriam said it was ok, so I decided to trust her local knowledge and followed her around the rocks until I could see the cave entrance, which was totally covered with water when the swell came in, then a head-sized hole was exposed when it receded.
I went back and told the others it was good to come around.
While they were dodging the waves, I dove into the cave and had a few amazing minutes all by myself with the gorgeous blue water and the sun streaming through the hole in the roof so far above.
Back up the hill, bonfire preparations were well under way. Everywhere we went, we were officially welcomed by the locals, and presented with leis, but this was going to be one of the most spectacular times.
People dribbled in and sat around under the trees as the sun went down. A huge pile of sticks was tee-peed off to one side, ready for a bonfire. I sat with some locals and was drawn to the hugest pair of eyes looking at me in the dark. They belonged to little Davina, and I chatted to her mother.
Someone had brought glow sticks for the kids, and colour streaked through the trees as they did what kids do with glow sticks.
The welcome began, and girls presented us with natural leis (in some places they were made of artificial flowers), followed by the men singing.
While they were entertaining us, the fire was lit. And did she go up! We were seated fairly close, and the singers were in danger of losing some hair. Then the sticks started collapsing and we had a great spark show, as we beat a hasty retreat and the locals laughed.
We ate, salads at first while the fire died to coals, ready to roast fish-on-a-stick. And it tasted amazing, even if we lost some eyebrows getting it cooked.
I snaffled an outside bed on the hut veranda, and had a blissful night’s sleep in the open air.
The kettle for next morning’s coffee was boiled on the remains of the greatest bonfire ever, before we headed to our last clinic.
But plans were afoot for a boat to be procured for those who had not been able to get to the Blue Cave by land…
So not only did I get to visit Blue Cave, I got to do it twice. And it was just as good the second time.
A team dinner at a resort that evening rounded off a wonderful few days – even if we got there on “island time’, ie an hour and a half late due to transport issues.
The next morning was a ‘free day’, with only some packing up to be done. But during breakfast I started to feel a bit nauseous and soon after, while helping carry water to wash out the inside of the previously floating container, I had to lie down. Half an hour later, the vomiting and diarrhoea started.
There went the nurses’ plan to take me to the hospital for an enema – they had all been most concerned that I hadn’t pooed properly for a fortnight. Well, I was making up for it now. Two other team members became ill as well.
By the next morning I was fine again, and ready to fly back to Port Vila.
Our two weeks in paradise was over, but the friendships and the memories will live on.