Maskelyne Islands, Vanuatu


Andi Cross
Marla Tomorug & Adam Moore
July 20, 2023
5 min read
Audio generated for accessibility using AI. Intonation does not express the true level of awe and stoke.

One of the most stressful and rewarding aspects of the expedition life is when the plan completely derails. And given how remote and outrageous some of the locations we’re exploring are, this tends to happen quite a lot. If I’ve learned anything so far, it’s an openness and eagerness to throw one plan aside for a new one when the occasion calls for it. It’s to expect the unexpected with open arms. And this is exactly what we had to do when trying to get to the Maskelyne Islands in Vanuatu.

First off, we had almost missed our flight from Espirito Santo (one of the more popular islands in Vanuatu) to Malekula (one of the least popular). Known for its dense population of dugongs, we were to learn about the conservation and protection from the local stewards who have been observing these creatures for lifetimes when on the islands. This was the only flight for a whole week, so missing it wasn’t an option. 

After some serious begging, the pilot agreed to let us on the plane that looked like it could fall apart at any given moment. Of course, we made a grand entrance onto the plane, apologizing to everyone for the hold up. Touching down in Norsup, a tiny village in the north of Malekula, we realized next was a three hour commute on the back of an open truck bed through dense jungle where there were no real “roads.” Psyched that I got to repetitively say my favorite quote from Back to the Future in an actual real life adventure scenario, the rollercoaster ride proceeded on into the night.

Crossing rivers, getting smacked in the face by tree branches, wheels hanging off cliff sides with drops right into the ocean, and using the full moon as our main light source, this was one of the coolest and most deadly rides of our life. And it wasn’t over yet. Towards the end of our off-roading adventure, a few kids jumped onto the truck back to inform us that the rest of the passage was entirely blocked off due to recent storms. So, we had to travel by boat to make it the rest of the way to the islands.  

The operator of the hand-made vessel that was going to take us to the Maskelynes from the mainland was a man named Sethric. He was the owner of Batis Bungalows, the waterfront eco-homestay that was our expedition base for the next week. The hour and a half boat ride in genuine darkness was one of the most wild we’d experienced, soaking us right to the core. 

That was the first of many hectic rides out to sea with Sethric. 

Besides seeing countless dugongs over a week of freediving in this scarcely visited region, the absolute best part of the Maskelynes was the people. Those who live on the islands and also those simply willing to venture this far out on the fringes. One day, we decided to make a trek around Peskarüs, where the base was located. Walking through dense jungle, it didn’t seem like we’d ever escape the vast green entanglement. Until what seemed like out of nowhere, we stumbled out of that green and onto a thriving village.

Curiously following the path that led right into the heart of town, we stopped to play games with local children, learned about leaf weaving and checked out the colorful catch of the day. Everyone was friendly and eager to show us their way of life. Randomly bumping into the Chief of Peskarüs and striking up a conversation, we found ourselves invited to a coveted “kava ceremony.” 

Kava, scientifically known as Piper methysticum, is a plant native to the South Pacific islands. It has been used by Pacific Islanders for centuries as a ceremonial and recreational drink due to its “special effects,” made from the plant’s root. 

The special effects vary from person to person. If you haven’t tried this before, it's like getting as high as you are drunk, without losing control. In some instances of kava overconsumption, you can feel disoriented and fall right to the ground. But for the most part, you’re in a good mood, you either don’t want to talk as you’re taking it all in, or you won’t shut up. I’m sure you could guess which route I went when drinking kava… 

The ceremony included meeting the kava producers, learning how it was made and obviously getting to sample the potent drink. After our tastings, we ate some fresh seafood to cleanse the palate and then repeated the process over again. The thing about kava is, once you start, it’s hard to stop. And the more you drink, the more the effects naturally take the wheel and steer. 

Having what I think ended up being 5 kava drinks, we found ourselves on quite the quintessential island bender.   

Stumbling back to Batis Bungalows, which was around a 45 minute walk, the talking was nonstop. Having made a few new friends along the way, it felt a lot like college days—subtract city high rises and insert jungle palm trees. Everyone we met was happy that we took to kava the way we did. In fact, the incredibly kind, fun-loving, bungalow chef named Philip was down for another round upon our return to base.

Besides the kava, we had the pleasure of experiencing the island’s delicacies alongside Philip. One of which was giant clams plucked straight for the aquafarm outside of our bungalows that went straight onto our plates. While Sethric and Philip were harvesting the clams, we asked if we could hold the mantle—the soft, fleshy part that comes from the inside. Adam had been sleeping for a few too many hours, so Marla and I had the brilliant idea to rub our clam hands all over his face to wake him up. 

Moments from actually doing it, we decided that we’d spare him from our evil prank. Instead, we walked back to the village in search of delicious coconut cookies that we were eating by the dozens. Getting all fat and sassy by eating desserts before dinner, this island was starting to feel a lot like a comfortable second home. 

But every great bender must come to an end. The boat ride from Peskarüs to mainland Malekula was as somber as it was shallow due to an extremely low tide. Carrying all of our oversized bags over our heads in waist deep ocean for close to 100 meters (300 feet), was how we made our farewell. We were all genuinely sad to be saying goodbye. 

The Lamap airport was a landing strip that was cut out of lush, dense Malekula jungle with nothing else around it. And given our charter pilot was on island time, we had a 2-hour wait in the middle of nowhere. Commissioning local children to find us the best coconuts on the landing strip, we got fat and sassy one last time together. Philip busting out his machete that he carried everywhere in case there were rogue coconuts to be eaten, we relished in the perfection of coconuts found at “the airport.” 

We exchanged “I love yous” at the end of our time together, hugged and even cried. We all were wondering if and when our worlds would collide again. When it comes to having experiences this special, it's not a matter of if, but when. 

To be continued …


What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

No items found.