Collar the Dog is the first mountain bike event of its kind on the remote and exotic island of Malekula in Vanuatu. Circuiting the island’s renown ‘Dog’s Head’ discover the raw beauty of Malekula’s coastal wilderness and lush tropical bush. Enroute catch glimpses of daily life of the Big Nambas and Small Nambas tribes as you free-wheel through seaside villages.
This article shares the experience of Stephen Taylor as he rides the route in preparation of the event. Stephen is an Australian Volunteer for International Development (AVID) based at the Malampa Tourism Office as the Tourist and Marketing Officer.
After the plane taxied to a halt outside Bauerfield International Airport, Port Vila and I’d stepped from it, our adventure was underway. Maybe it had started a few moments before when we’d swept in low over some hills, skimming the tops of palm trees and other jungle vegetation before leveling off for touchdown. Unfamiliar landings often make me feel life is an escapade, a risk in someone else’s hands! Out on the tarmac, the humidity hit hard, the sun’s radiating heat warmed and glistened the skin, beading perspiration.
During the airless wait in queue for immigration, I reread notes for getting from the airport, through ‘Vila’ onto Vanuatu Ferry and away to Lakatoro, Malekula. We didn’t want any island hassles at this early stage. The notes stood us in good stead other than for the minor chaos of downtown Port Vila amongst roadworks and the stop start speed of traffic – stop for anything or anyone, starting whenever it was ready.
Malekula Island, in the heart of Vanuatu’s archipelago, is renowned for its cultural diversity and colorful kastom (custom) culture. My expectation from earlier research led me to believe that this bike ride we’d signed up for, Collar The Dog, would prove to be more than a three-day bike ride. Apparently, we would encounter some of the richest cultural experiences in the South Pacific. Little did I know how true this would be!
We were straight into the bike odyssey leaving the Lakatoro Mama’s Market where we were left salivating with the sight of fresh papaya and mandarins. We headed off with our local guide who warned the roads we’d traverse over the coming days were all public roads, unsealed and of mixed gravel quality. The difficulty, he said, ranges from easy to very difficult. My companion shook her head and muttered “How difficult, I wonder?” For me, I’d let my legs decide.
Within a kilometer, we were among palm plantations, alongside the local Aop Beach gazing curiously at local swimmers cavorting without a care in the world, but then it was Saturday. Not much happens Saturday or Sunday. A short distance further, traditional houses of bamboo and palm thatch scattered among more modern buildings with concrete floors, some brick walls and thatched or corrugated iron roofs surrounded us. These were to become common sights. The riding was easy, except for the potholes and stony surfaces. They were shaking the daylights out of me!