Posted by: koolwine | December 27, 2017

Vanuatu: Tales from the Torrid Zone

In this scattershot travelogue, British journalist Alexander Frater gushes anecdotes about tropical locales like lava gushes from a volcano. Many of these tales concern Vanuatu, a group of islands in the South Pacific that boast the birthplace of bungee jumping; inspiration for James Michener’s Bali Ha’i; a giant World War II U.S. military dump; and a mysterious lake rumored to transmit faraway images.    

Country Focus: Vanuatu (previously the New Hebrides)

Tales from the Torrid Zone: Travels in the Deep Tropics
By Alexander Frater
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
384 pgs.

Genre: Travelogue

About the author:  Frater’s connection to Vanuatu began with his grandfather Maurice, who served as a missionary on the island of Paama. Frater was born on the island of Iririki, where his father opened a hospital and his mother built two schools. He’s made several television documentaries and written several other books, the most recent being The Balloon Factory: The Story Of The Men Who Built Britain’s First Flying Machines.

World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)

Alexander Frater


Mostly, [Maurice, Frater’s grandfather] just told stories – a favorite being about the night seven new volcanoes erupted on Ambrym. From Paama, a few miles away, Maurice witnessed “a display of fireworks such as is given to few mortals to behold.” (One appeared in the grounds of the mission hospital run by his friend Dr. Bowie; as Bowie ran for his life “fragments of his house and hospital” roared skywards in a column of compressed steam that rose twenty thousand feet in less than a minute.) Maurice summoned Mr. Roxburgh and Herr Grube, local traders who owned cargo launches, then, boarding his own flimsy whaler, led Paama’s mercy mission off through choppy seas.

Approaching Ambrym’s exploding coast, blizzards of hot ash and cinders engulfed them. Moving through a slurry of dead fish and steaming pumice, they saw fiery rock bombs and fragments of Pele’s hair (spun glass) while lava flows tossed trees in the air – visible in the light of the molten magma surging along beneath. Lava entering the sea made it boil. Choking on sulfurous smoke while steering for a beach crammed with refugees, they had to ride scalding tidal waves – a mile offshore an eighth volcano was rising.

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