Rah is a tiny island in the Banks group (North Vanuatu). It’s close to Motalava which is a much bigger island and which the people on Rah call the “mainland”.
The two islands used to be much further apart and the lagoon between them was deep enough for big ships to pass through. But having been drifting towards each other for a long time, they are now so close and the lagoon so shallow that you can wade between the islands at low tide.
The big island is Motalava, and the smaller one to its right is Rah:
The main way for interisland travel in Vanuatu is by plane. To go up North, it’s a matter of getting onto a Twin Otter and then hopping from island to island until you reach your destination. It’s small planes, small airstrips, and the fuel comes in big barrels. Refuelling (on Gaua Island) is a manual thing:
For my arrival on Rah, Mayumi, the travel agent who I had engaged to book our travel, had arranged for a little welcome by the village:
Of course you have to pay for this, but it’s still really nice. I was impressed with the women’s strong singing voices and their confidence.
I spent most of my week on Rah not doing much at all, reading a good book that made me think (which was exactly what I wanted), and learning a bit of Bislama, the national language (a form of Pidgin English).
Then there was the food… excellent and in huge amounts. Ruthie and Cecil my hosts catered so well for me that every meal was a little feast. The vegie and fruit mostly came out of their garden, and the fish straight from the sea, as is the norm on the outer islands.
Here’s a photo of Cecil, Ruthie and their little baby daughter Tracy:
One of the things I did apart from lazing around was climbing the rocks of Rah, a few massive volcanic boulders. From the top, you have a nice view of Motalava:
Together with the handful of other tourists on the island, I watched the snake dance. This is Rah’s kastom dance about the black and white sea snake. The dancers paint themselves black and white and it’s a stunning view with the white beach and blue sea, even on an overcast day:
It wasn’t always cloudy though during the day, with bright mornings and lots of sunshine. Here’s the the little boat that runs between Rah and Motalava, powered by Phillip the ferry man:
There were also some really nice evenings, with soft warm light:
Just before I flew out again, Cecil took me to some mysterious remains of villages long gone. They only were discovered about 10 years ago when the villagers opened up new areas for gardens. The whole area was cleared of bush and a researcher actually came to study it.
Cecil told me that it was a very beautiful sight, where you could clearly see that this once had been a village, the function of the individual houses, e.g. the chief’s house, or the nakamal (the men’s meeting house).
The big mystery is that the foundations of the houses where made of stone, whereas nowadays, the houses are built entirely from wood. They do not know where the stones came from, and in particular how those people cut them into the neat slabs when they only had clam shell knives back then.
The area has since been reclaimed by vegetation, but you can still find something if you know where to look for. Here’s the remainder of a wall that was part of a house:
Then it was time to say goodbye and off to Santo. On the way, in the Torres Islands, I gave my book to Whiteley, who was my host there in August 2010. He was waiting for me at the airport and it was nice to have a quick chat with him before I had to get back on the plane.
The Torres islands are a really special place and the most remote place I’ve ever been to. One of the things that make it so special is that it’s probably about the only place in the world where coconut crabs, an endangered species elsewhere and a culinary delicacy, are plentiful.
So from Torres, there was some unusual hand luggage on board:
Torres and Rah, one day I’ll be back again!