Potential Dangers

MALEKULA HIKING TRAIL 

Malekula is lucky because it does not have any fatally poisonous snakes, insects, or animals.  In fact, the most dangerous form of wildlife you are likely to encounter (actually I guarantee you’ll encounter) is the mosquito, and the two types of malaria that are present on the island.  But with proper preparation this too can be easily avoided. 

At the same time, Malekula is unlucky because of the lack of medical resources, facilities, and rescue services.  It is very important before coming to Malekula to be prepared, researched, and adaptable.  If something goes wrong you are on your own and you will need to count on your own skills and experience.

Here are some of the dangers to look out for when hiking on Malekula:

PLANTS

1. Nangalat – This refers to a variety of stinging plants that thrive in Vanuatu.  Most of the time along well walk routes there is very little because villagers will cut it back as they walk to and from their gardens.  In other areas not so much.  The best I can describe the leaf is that it is a large ovular shape, glossy, and has a dark red vein running down the middle.  The plant seriously looks like it wants to hurt you, so I doubt you’ll be picking it for any bouquets.  It is best to get a good look at in person before walking, so try to get someone to show you.  Also we’ll try to get a couple photos up on here next time we can update the site.  Inevitably, someone is going to tell you the story that the plant is rumored to have given Malekula its name, when a Frenchman wanted to find a good leaf for toilet paper, choose poorly, and ran around screaming, “Mal a cul!” which means “pain in the ass.”

INSCECTS AND ANIMALS

2. Black Ants – These are found mainly around rotting wood.  If you are walking barefoot and happen to stop walking for even a few seconds in an area with a lot of rotten wood they can start biting.  The bite is surprisingly sever.  A lot more than I expected at least, and it lasts for a couple minutes.

3. Hornets – I’m not exactly sure if they are hornets or wasps or what, but you get the idea.  Be careful and on the lookout for nests.  In general they will not bother you, but if you come across one of the nest you could get stung.  Apparently it is way worse than the ant.

4. Centipedes – Most of the time I see these when I’m in Port Vila or Lakatoro, where they do not have a ton of animals running around eating them.  They hang out mainly in piles of old wood.  Their bite is very serious, as it was described to me by an old Aussie rugby player, “it’ll make ya jump mate, it’ll make ya jump…”  That was enough to scare me.  If you are bit and symptoms persists, it is wise to seek medical attention.

5. Wild Animals – These include pigs, cows, dogs, and I’ve even seen a small wild cat.  Most of the time you will not be bothered by these and of them pigs are the most dangerous, but usually only if they feel threatened or you are between them and their offspring.  Pigs aren’t the greatest climbers in the world so run to the nearest tree and hang out until it has cooled off.  If you take a guide that likes to hunt don’t be surprised if he and fifty dogs suddenly go tearing off through the bush after a potential meal.

ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS

6. Trail Conditions – All of the trails on Malekula were made by Man-Malekula for the sole purpose of getting from point A to point B.  This means at times the trails go straight up, and straight down.  Sometimes these can be very narrow with a large fall on one side.  Walk slowly and if something cannot be passed, then turn back.  It is almost inevitable that everyone will fall down at least once, so don’t be ashamed at going down hills on your backside.

7. Weather – It rains in South Malekula a lot, which does not help the above mentioned trail conditions.  Most of the time it will rain for a small time and then pass.  However, there are times of very heavy, torrential downpours that can last days.  Also, Vanuatu is prone to cyclones, more prominently from November to April.  It is best to do all of your weather research in your country of origin, or in Port Vila, before coming to Malekula to attempt any hiking.

8. River Crossings – As mentioned sudden downpours can occur at anytime.  After any substantial rain many large rivers, such as the Pankumu and Matanoi, are going to be impassable.  Even smaller rivers after a large rain have the power to spin a truck (as I just saw recently near Lakatoro).  In general you do not want to cross a river if it is above your knees.  If this is impossible, make sure your belongings are secure and dry, and look for a wide shallow straight stretch of water rather than a bend.  Please get local advice before trying any river crossing you are unsure of.  There are sharks near the mouths of the larger rivers!!

9.  Terrain – In addition to soft mud, there are also sections of the trail that go over coastal rocks.  These can take a toll if your footwear is unsubstantial.  A cut on the bottom of the foot can be anything from irritating to crippling, and will certainly spoil your experience.  A small cut can turn in to a big problem if it becomes infected.  Wear appropriate footwear and walk slow, picking a landing spot for each step in problem areas. 

10. Drinking Water – Water in the villages along the trail is usually either collected rainwater or collected from local streams.  If you are not a hundred percent sure the water is safe take the time to sterilize your water, either by boiling it, filtering it, or with a proper chemical agent such as iodine.

11. Sun and Heat – When the sun is out, it is blazing so proper precaution should be taken to limit your exposure.  Sunscreen should always be worn, as well as a large hat.  Also protect your eyes from UV rays with sunglasses, especially when walking close to the water.  A type of itchy rash called prickly heat can affect new travelers just arrived in a hot climate when excessive perspiration is trapped under the skin.  There are powders that can combat this.  Dehydration is potentially the most dangerous (and preventable) condition caused by the heat.  Make sure to drink plenty of fluids and load up on water when it is available.

12.  Falling Coconuts – This is not a joke!  Be careful especially when meandering through coconut plantations.  Coconuts are heavy and they fall a long distance before they strike the ground. 

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

13.  Natural Disasters – Vanuatu is the number four prone country in the world to natural disasters.  These include: earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, landslides, bush fires, and flash floods.

14. Taboo Areas – Any area that is blocked off or marked as a taboo area should be avoided or treated as the locals do.