The less said about Sunday, the better. Hangovers are not something I tremendously suffer from unless a) I drink more than my bodyweight in alcohol the night before b) it’s stinking hot or c) I’m on a ship.
As on this occasion boxes a), b) and c) were most definitely ticked, I attempted to sleep all day until I felt better, or at least until my mouth didn’t feel like the Atacama desert. I lasted until 7pm and then puked my guts up.
The ship had left Tuvalu around 3pm and we were on our way to Wallis of Wallis and Futuna fame. By fame, I mean abject obscurity. Funnily enough, Martin and Corinna and the other German guy had come to the Southern Pearl looking for me the night before and had ended up drinking Kava with the crew. Oops. Oh well, we’ll probably see them again in Kiribati.
So anyway, Wallis. Wallis, when not hanging around with Gromit, is a volcanic island located somewhere between Fiji and Tuvalu. We were going back on ourselves somewhat, but this was the most sensible way of doing things. A damn sight more sensible than grounding ourselves on a reef because our ship was too heavy, okay? It’s too dangerous to enter these coral atolls or coral-fringed islands at night, so Captain Don planned for us to enter the lagooooon at daybreak on Tuesday. This meant a repulsively early wake-up call for me to film the action as the Southern Pearl picked its way though Wallis’s maze-like lagoooooon much in the manner of one of those steady hand games that buzz when the loop at the end of your wand touches the fat bendy wire.
Only instead of buzz, it would sound more like a metallic ripping noise and the black oily death of a thousand seabirds.
We safely ported in port around 7am and after breakfast I headed out onto this most forbidden of isles to see what was going down. And that was very little. Wallis is a French island, so it’s technically part of the EU. It’s also incredibly quiet. Like, eerily quiet. Like Twilight Zone quiet. Like just-before-the-zombies-attack quiet. For miles in any direction there was nobody about, no shops, no bank, no nothing. It was the diametric opposite of India. There wasn’t even any rubbish. A few unfinished houses perhaps, but jeez, this place is quieter than a photograph of a mute swan.
Well, I guess if you like to party you don’t come to a tiny speck of land 2,000 miles from the nearest continental landmass. A shame really: I was looking forward to giving my rusty French a bit of a polish. I walked towards the south of the island, but the bank did not present itself, and neither did the supermarket which the Lonely Planet had promised me would offer internet access. Like on Tuvalu, my phone was only useful as a paperweight, and I have a feeling that Twitter accounts self-destruct if you go longer than a week without telling an indifferent world exactly what you’re up to.
After a good couple hours of hiking along an empty road, I reasoned that I had come the wrong way. Well, given that there were no street names, the landmarks that did exist bore no name and signposts were a thing for other islands, getting lost on Wallis wasn’t too difficult. But then an empty bus stopped in front of me. I tried talking to the driver in French, but he insisted on talking back to me in English. I told him that I wanted to go to Lake Lalolalo, not just for its outstanding name, but because it is an almost perfectly spherical crater lake that apparently has to be seen to be believed. The driver agreed to take me over there. Hell, it’s not like he had any other passengers. Eventually, he dropped me off at a junction and told me it was 500 metres along the gravel track to the lake. It was more like 2km and by the time I got there I was running dangerously low on water.
In the sweltering noonday sun, I was sweating like a nun in a field of cucumbers. Mosquitoes – nasty ones with stripy stockings – were buzzing around my face. I walked towards the lake and there it was: a perfect hole in the ground half a mile wide and over 100 metres deep. It was a good 30 metres (straight) down to the waterline. The locals reckon that the American military threw their equipment down there at the end of WWII. It’s worth noting that Wallis and Futuna was one of the only French colonies to support the collaborative Vichy government, so they got 6000 invading Yanks for committing such a moralistic faux pas.
Before then, I’m sure the locals would through ne’er-do-wells and Twilight novels into the lake: because once you’re in, it doesn’t look like there’s anyway of getting out. Having said that, I did find a path running downwards. Being what clever people would call an idiot, I decided to investigate. On my own. On a seemingly deserted island. In the middle of the Pacific. When my phone wasn’t working. Wearing an old pair of Vans that lost what little grip they had around the same time that people stopped using Betamax.
But I was so hot, and the water looked so cool… so inviting… so deadly…
I scrambled down and was doing fairly well considering how loose the soil was and how moist and covered in moss the rocks were. And then, with the water still a good thirty feet below me, I lost my footing, slipped onto my ass and started sliding inexorably towards the edge of the precipice… a precipice that would have almost surely ended in broken bones: if I was lucky.
Speaking of being lucky, do you have a lucky pair of underpants? The ones you wear if you think you might get laid? I don’t. But I must have been wearing my lucky underpants today because the elastic waistband caught on a twig and, like the living cartoon character that I suppose I am, I was rescued from the clutches of the Grim Reaper by the virtue of a damn well-stitched pair of boxer shorts which refused to rip all the way round. Yes, last night a wedgie saved my life from a broken arm…
Seeing the error of my ways, I continued to grapple down alone and unaided only to give up about fifteen feet above the waterline as the path – such as it was – disappeared into a confusing mess of jungly jungle. I’m all for following a well-beaten path, but I’m no pioneer, and anyway, I left my whip at home. Bah. I climbed back up to the top (it took a while) and upon returning defeated along that gravel track I discovered I was now out of water.
Lovely, life-affirming water.
I followed what I thought was a main road, but turned out to dead end alongside the edge of the encircling lagooooooon. Now of course, there were people about, otherwise I would have totally done a Reggie Perrin, but I didn’t intend to spend a night in the cells for indecent exposure. So I turned around and, under the intense heat of the tropical sun, headed back the way I came from. I mean: a car would have to pass me at some point, wouldn’t it?
I walked for an hour. The muddy puddles at the side of the road started looking good enough to drink. Maybe I could pretend it was Kava. Then I heard the unmistakable trundle of a French car. I stuck out my thumb and he stopped. I asked, in my best schoolboy French, if the chap driving could take me to the next village where I could go to a shop and buy some water, or some Coke, or some Um Bongo. He told me to get in. His name was Pierre and he didn’t speak a word of English. He asked how I got to Wallis and I explained that I was a passenger on the Southern Pearl. He picked his nose through the whole journey… back to the port. Voila! La Magazin.
I guess it was the only one on the island. I returned to the ship to have a shower, chucked my filthy, sweaty, clothes in the washing machine and threw my magic underpants, ripped beyond repair, in the bin.
Wallis had defeated me. I hoped for better Futuna on Futuna.
We left Wallis in the afternoon and headed for the other island of Wallis and Futuna: Futuna! We arrived at Dawn’s crack the next day and, after a bit of fancy manoeuvring (tug boats are for wimps!) we shimmied up against the quayside and gently pressed ourselves again the wooden wharf. Futuna looked great: with high rocky peaks covered in lush greenery thrusting up into the interior of the island, it’s the closest thing to Jurassic Park I’ve ever seen. Well, without the dinosaurs, obviously.
The Southern Pearl is the only supply ship to come to this island, so you might expect dancing girls, garlands, a barbecue or something, but no, our presence was met with the same blissful indifference that I’ve come to expect from France and her colonies.
After the rain stopped, I set out from the dock for a mooch into the steamy interior. If Wallis could be adequately described as ‘dead’, the best description I can think of for Futuna would be ‘like a zombie/mummy/vampire that was dead but then came back from the dead but was then killed again by the hero, ie. double dead’.
To do anything on the island requires readies in the form of French Pacific Francs, but the ‘occasional’ bank wasn’t open today, so no matter what nationalities were being represented in my wallet, none could muster even the measliest form of purchasing power. This meant I could only walk as far as my bottled water from the ship could get me, which since I’m about as fit as Jabba The Hutt these days is a few kilometres at best.
Next to the island’s post office was the biggest goddamn satellite dish I’ve seen this side of Jodrell Bank. I assume that this would be a good place for ET to phone home. But with phone calls costing 1000 Francs per 25 minutes and my general lack of Pacific Francage, I would have to wait a few more days before hearing the dulcet tones of my beloved once again. So I kept walking. I met no fellow wayfarers along the way.
I passed a rather bizarre church that looked like something from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and I learnt a little bit about Pierre Chanel, the patron saint of Oceania. Monsieur Chanel came to Futuna to spread the word of Jesus Christ back in the 1800s. The locals, being cannibals, loved the bit about eating Jesus’s body and drinking his magic blood (which – unlike real blood – gets you pissed! Result!). Unfortunately for Monsieur Chanel, the locals, being cannibals, promptly ate Monsieur Chanel. Did I mention they were cannibals? Anyway, Monsieur Chanel was perceived to have performed some miracle or other (a trick more tricky to pull off in these days of video phones and not everyone being a credulous moron) and was promptly made a saint. Another missionary was eaten two years earlier, but he was a protestant and so therefore doesn’t count. A-ha! In your face, Martin Luther. Or should I say, Martin Loooooser!
The road (there’s only one) runs all the way around the island, but like the cast of Lost, I really couldn’t be arsed walking all the way around the island, not without money to secure me a ride back to the dock. So after a goodly constitutional, I returned to the ship forthwith in order to shelter from the afternoon rains. I considered climbing to the top of Futuna’s highest mountain, but decided against it when I saw the name. Yes, a contender for the most unfortunately-named geographic entity on the planet, it’s called Mt. Puke.
So Futuna, I guess I’ll never see you again, but it was nonetheless nice to meet you just this once. I now totally know where to hide my secret volcano base, far away from the beady eyes of British Intelligence. We left the port that night, heading back towards Tuvalu to pick up our erstwhile containers. As with most (if not all) of the islands we’ll be visiting on the mighty Southern Pearl, it’s too dangerous to attempt to enter the lagoooooon at night, so on Friday afternoon the captain cut the engines we floated on top of a shallow for a few hours to kill some time. The crew, keen as mustard, threw their fishing hooks overboard and the fishing competition was ON!
The red snappers were coming thick and fast, a few big old mackerel and possibly a tuna or two. By the end of the afternoon, the crew had caught enough for their Christmas dinners as well as din-dins for us all on board tonight. See my fishy friends? That’s what you get for not evolving opposable thumbs. Or legs. Do we rock or do we rock? I say we rock. What’s more, we’ll be back in Tuvalu by two past two tomorrow for round two, too. Can’t wait.