GUEST ARTICLE: On our first day in Port Vila on Efate Island (Vanuatu) we decided to rent a car (I would highly recommend it!). While at the Discount Car Rental office in downtown Port Vila I noticed they also operate a small airline specialising in private plane tours to a number of the surrounding islands.
One tour in particular caught my eye; it was the original vine bungee jumping (land diving) on Pentecost Island. This traditional event called Naghol only occurs between the months of April and June.
Being such a special event I could only assume that all tours were probably booked out months ago. I was right on that but on this particular day luck was on our side, two people had just cancelled!!
The price was hefty ($800AUD for two) but seeing as this was one of those once in a lifetime things and that the moons just happen to align for us, how could we not?
The next morning we met at the domestic airport and boarded our little 8 seater plane. One hour later after flying across some of the most beautifully brilliant coloured reefs, volcano and deep green jungle we landed at the little Lanonore Airport at the Nangol site in Pentecost.
The weather was brutally hot and humid, not a place to forget the sunblock and water. After meeting our tour contact we made our way into the jungle to the revered bungee sight. I had watched this marvellous event on the National Geographic Channel but there really is nothing compared to the real thing.
The giant bungee tower looked truly magnificent in the small clearing with a back drop of jungle, brilliant blue sky and the structure itself accompanied with fully garbed tribal bodies preparing for the jumps.
The tower was a crude structure with 5 bungee levels made out of native wood held tightly together with homemade ropes made out of liana vine. It was situated on a slight slope and the ground in the front was freshly tilled to help break the fall of the jumpers.
Traditionally the jumps are for males only and they signify acceptance into manhood, to ensure a good yam harvest rite and never to be tricked by woman again.
It is said that this tradition started because of a woman who was beaten by her husband and then ran away up a tall tree. Her husband told her if she came down he would then only beat her only a ‘little’, but if he had to go up to get her she would be sorry.
In the end the husband ended up going up the tree after her but just when he was about to grab her she jumped from the tree, he too followed but she was saved because she had tied liana vines around her ankles. So the story goes.
We nestled ourselves among a few other small tour groups and locals and anxiously awaited the first jump. The first jumper was a young teenage boy decked out (if you could say that) in nothing but a tiny native grass thong and both ankles liana vine-bound.
He tentatively inched his way out onto the first platform (about 20ft up)and with a large group of native tribes people singing in the background, he swayed his arms over his head, looked up to the sky gave a few loud “whoop-whoop’s” and dived.
It’s hard to watch the dive, many potential tragedies run through your mind … did they tie the vines tight enough, is there too much rope?… but before you know it he’s bounced back just in the nick of time and everyone’s rejoicing.
We watched this incredible event 6 times as they got higher and higher. Although I have to say that the last jump, the one from the very top was nail biting, I’m not quite sure how high it was, maybe 60ft?
In any case it was high enough for me and the suspense when his face just grazed the dirt was heart stopping. It was a glorious sight to see this very old tradition still being practiced, to hear their traditional songs and to see the tribe dressed in their traditional wear.
It was truly an honour and I will no doubt cherish this memory for the rest of my life.
This travel diary has been written by Rob Gower, a friend who enjoys taking the road less traveled!