by Nikki Marshall on theguardian.com
I’ve just found my happy place.
It’s been a long time coming. For years whenever anyone told me to close my eyes and picture it I’ve drawn a blank, then spent the next few minutes berating myself for lacking imagination. As relaxation exercises go it’s been a big fat fail.
Turns out I needed to come here, up the Mavutor river in a leaky dugout canoe without a paddle.
I’m on Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu’s largest island, where cattle graze beneath coconut groves and James A Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific. Yesterday I swam in two of its famed blue holes and sunned myself on the bright white sand of the gloriously named Champagne beach.
But this place is something else. For a start, the river is a vibrant, luminous blue. My guide, Patrick, tells me this is “because of the Smurfs”. He later explains it’s down to the purity of the water, which has been filtered through underground limestone caves.
He’s in the boat with me now, steering us the 800 or so metres from a jetty by the coast road upriver to the Riri blue hole. I did have a paddle but he’s told me to drop it and let him do the work.