If it had been left up to the Europeans they probably would have given all 83 islands in Vanuatu holy names. Take Vanu Aroaroa for instance. That’s the name the natives gave to their island until a Frenchie, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, sailed by on May 22, 1768. Since that day also happened to be the feast day of Pentecost (or Pentecôte in French), he decided that’s what he would name it. To hell with the locals.
The same thing happened with the largest island in the chain, Espiritu Santo, or Holy Spirit, which picked up its strange moniker when the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, working for Spain, spied what he thought was a southern continent in 1606 (the full grandiose name was La Austrialia del Espiritu Santo). And then, of course, Captain James Cook came by in 1774 (that guy was everywhere) and named the entire archipelago New Hebrides after the northern Scottish islands. Because…well, who knows.
Ever since then, the ni-Vanuatu, as the islanders are now called, have been doing what they can to mess around with the place names they inherited. Here on Ratua, for instance, which is just a 30-minute boat ride away from the Holy Ghost island, they’ve come up with a spirited cocktail called Espiritu Diablo—Devil Spirit—which, I’m afraid, I’ve gotten quite fond of.
Every evening about five, after I’ve had a swim in the lagoon and then showered off the salt, I make my way down to the Isa Bar at the Yacht Club (this is all very much tongue-in-cheek, by the way, since Ratua’s yacht club fleet consists of several outrigger canoes and a small motor boat) and slip into one of the very comfortable cowhide chairs in the lounge and not two minutes go by before Claire, who I think I am going to have to take home with me, comes over and hands me a frosty Espiritu Diablo with a wheel of lime in it. All without a single word being spoken between us.
It’s a unique drink not least because the base is neither rum nor vodka, as you’ll find in most South Pacific libations, but tequila of all things. The modifier to the tequila in this case is orange curaçao, similar in taste to cointreau but with a little more spiciness to it (curaçao being flavored from the dried peel of the laraha citrus which is a small, bitter descendent of Valencia oranges). But the key to the drink is the topper: Bundaberg ginger beer. This is an Australian brand that is fermented and flavored with real ginger root (by the way, the Australians call ginger ale “ginger beer” and most of them are just a blend of carbonated water, sugar, and artificial flavors and colors; a real fermented ginger beer or ginger ale has much more of a spicy bite to it).
The thing to do is to get your Espiritu Diablo and find a comfortable chair facing due west, ideally looking out over a nice body of water such as you’ll find here in Vanuatu, and take slow, infrequent sips as you watch the sky turn all purple and orange as the sun goes down. And then order another one as you wait for the stars to come out so that you can search for the Southern Cross (if you happen to be down under). If not, any constellation will do.
In a tall glass half filled with ice, add two shots of silver tequila, one shot of curaçao, and fill to the top with a good ginger beer (or ginger ale). Garnish with a lime wheel.