Before dawn I emerge above deck to find Steve Quinto at the ship’s wheel, where I left him last night. Steve is a rich American businessman. He once owned an international airline, pioneered low-cost travel across the United States. Steve believes the world I know is in the second phase of certain self-destruction.
Beyond those mountains is Steve’s utopia, an 800ha living ark that he has spent the past eight of his 79 years creating, investing his life’s fortune in the shipment of 300 tonnes of materials from around the world to the very edge of human existence. Paradise. Salvation. A new world for when the old one dies. He calls it Edenhope.
In coming months Ruth and Steve will disconnect themselves totally from the civilised world. “You have found us at an extraordinary moment in our lives,” Steve says. “As we make our transition.” Ruth has left behind houses and cars and furniture and expensive ornaments and jewellery.
The errant baby tomato beneath her feet is more precious to her than any of it. “The world of man proceeds on a suicidal journey,” she says. “We’ve turned all of life into a commodity. Everything has a price. Everything is for sale … and it finally became impossible for us. We couldn’t go on participating in it.”
There is, Steve estimates, room enough on the ark for 23 people to live comfortably. And Australians are welcome. Singles, couples, families, believers. All that’s required is a $300 one way ticket from Brisbane to Luganville and a commitment that means forever.
The turning track straightens to a clearing and there it is: the dream, Edenhope, a new world among the trees, a network of wooden bridges and paths and staircases weaving through manicured garden beds and rolling orchards with fruit trees in the hundreds and a kitchen hut and 10 octagonal bungalows made of high-end red hardwood timbers. The wondrous dreamscape includes wild blue flowers and bird of paradise plants and trees so big their root systems form houses of their own. There’s a communal library; a warehouse filled with endless tools and hardware; a surgery stocked with enough medicines to last two decades.
It’s a staggering work of human endeavour. Steve brought an earthmover and a front-end loader here from Canada. He rallied workers, paid and paid for their services for eight years; organised thousands of nine-hour sailing journeys back and forth between civilisation and sanctuary, hauling floors and sacks of concrete and machinery and miscellaneous goods in preparation for the apocalypse. He walks to a patch of dirt in the centre of his village. “It started here,” he says. “It was nothing but Ruth and I in two hammocks tied to trees.”