One day in Luganville
LAKE MacDONALD, QUEENSLAND I WAS sitting outside a store in Luganville on Vanuatu’s largest island, Espiritu Santo, when an old man with just two teeth, each as white as snow, asked me if I would like ‘‘the big touch’’.
I was hoping I had not heard him properly because if this was the standard of massage in Vanuatu I was staying well away from the local day spa.
Then again, nothing would have surprised me in Luganville, which sounds like the name of a town in a Phantom comic. The day before, a man wearing nothing but a loin cloth and a coconut necklace strolled right by, casual as you please.
Where else could you go overseas, just a 21/ hour flight from Brisbane, and be one of only three tourists in a whole town?
There are no buses, but lots of utes with PT (public transport) on their number plates. You wave down the driver, jump in the back and hang on. I saw a Toyota ute with at least 15 passsengers followed by another with two dead cows in the back. Howthose beasts managed to flag down a PT remains a mystery, as does the cause of their death. I also saw a 1960s truck hurtle past with two guys sitting on the roof of the cab and looking surprisingly nonchalant.
There were up to 100,000 American troops stationed here during World War II and it seems a lot of the stores are still holding items on layby from those days. Faded posters share dusty window space with Christmas decorations (in June?) and you can buy a gas stove, a suit and a six pack of beer all in the same store.
The Chinese restaurant looks like it should be condemned or it could fall down next time a fully laden truck or PT speeds by.
And that is why this place is so fabulous. The food in the restaurants is actually excellent and, in my experience, the locals are always friendly. As well as worldclass diving, brilliant beaches and at least a million palm trees, the town, and indeed the entire island, have bags of character and charm.
And that massage? Not long after I walked away from the store, the old man found me again and showed me a bag of pigs’ tusks. Would I like to buy one? Silly me. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: travel@ theaustralian.com.au. Columnists receive a Logitech UE Mobile Boombox, a portable, wireless speaker that lets you stream music from your phone, tablet or laptop, and doubles as a speakerphone for hands-free phone calls. $99.95. More: logitech.com/en-au/