After a month since my last visit, I return to Ambrym, a volcanic island. Once again, the volcano, always active, is hidden by low clouds. The island looks like any other tropical island. The lush forest, an intense green after heavy rains during the night, reaches up to sea level. From aboard National Geographic Orion, it is difficult to spot the beach where we will land. The black color of the lava sand blends with the dark blue ocean. Today, I will see familiar faces again. It's the best part of my job, coming back and meeting people again. The same faces, smells, colors. Allan is in his place alongside the merchandise he is selling; all objects are strictly handmade by him, from the statue inlaid with wood to the bamboo flute. Allan is the chief of Ranon, the village of the coast. Today he will host his colleague, Bong, the chief of Olal, the village of the mountain. Chief Bong brings us his warmest welcome through dance, which is an institution here. The Rom Dance. Surrounded by a handful of warriors covered with dried banana leaves and their faces hidden by elaborate wooden masks, Chief Bong approaches us between songs, pounding bare feet on the ground and bamboo splints. The Rom is the dance of the Male Secret Society, and we, visitors from a world far away, are honored by this welcome that dates back generations. The dance goes on for 30 minutes under the hot sun of the tropics. When it ends, silence falls between us. We are speechless. We have only respect for these people who welcomed us with their best ritual. We leave the black beach with a bit of melancholy, but we bring with us many of the objects handcrafted by those same hands that we just shook as we said goodbye. In the afternoon, with the echo of the Rom dance still in our heads, we descend into the water for another adventure as we explore the lava bottoms of Ambrym. There is no coral reef, but the dark slope that falls into the seabed is no less fascinating. In its simplicity, we focus on the search for detail, and we are rewarded when a small sea snake is spotted on a rock right at the end of our swim.
Thank you, Ambrym, for everything. We hope to meet again soon.