It does seem rather fitting that a paper production company hosts a competition to find captivating words and narratives to ink its pages.

And Navigator’s search for literary craftsmanship resumes with its third edition of Navigator Around the World in 80 Pages, a chance for travel writers – budding and veteran alike – to have their stories published in print. 80 shortlisted submissions will make an appearance on the Navigator Around the World in 80 Pages, 3rd Edition anthology, whilst the top three entries and one photograph, as selected by a panel of judges, will be awarded with travel vouchers and a digital camera respectively.

As a member of the contest’s jury, we sifted through the 80 most enthralling, exhilarating, moving and mobilising narratives; no easy responsibility considering no stories are created equal or should be judged equally, but try we did to seek out those words best capturing the essence of the moment and empowerment of storytelling.

It’s our absolute honour to be taking on this mantle once again for the latest edition of Navigator Around the World in 80 Pages – and, through this contest, we would love to hear what stories our dear readers and supporters have to tell us.

So enchant us, serenade us. Beguile our senses and imagination so we may be as though in the moment with the narrator. Whisk us away and bring us back, fuller and better empathising with strangers and little-known parts of the world. Demolish our ignorance and foster our connectivity to our shared habitat.

After all, that’s precisely what a great story is about.

And now, some inspiration

As part of my participation last year, I wrote a short story for the contest website. Here’s a snippet of a treasured recollection from the slippery slope up a South Pacific volcano:

Mt Yasur, Vanuatu

First, there was the sulphur in the air.

It assaulted my eyes, hindered my nostrils from drawing breath. Even if I’d been on the island for over two days and developed a tolerance for its omnipresence, the irritant intensified the higher I climbed. And I needed that oxygen – if I was to take a step, followed by another and repeat, on the loose gravel shifting beneath my feet, as though I was treading on a sloping conveyor belt opposite its direction.

Except it wasn’t just any hill but an active volcano; our destination, the crater, was a beacon beaming onto the darkening skies and staining it red. As we hiked up its belly, we could feel its tremors: a soft rumbling on a lazier, less moody day.

“Old Man Yasur” is the nickname the locals give to the fire pit in their backyard: anthropomorphically it is the oldest habitant –and creator – of the Tanna Island, and it does have the formidable temperament of an agitated senior citizen. That I read about Mt Yasur when I travelled from Port Vila, the capital of the South Pacific archipelago nation of Vanuatu, to Tanna.

Also in the same in-flight magazine did I learn about a peculiar story: once a visitor of the volcano was struck by a molten rock; instead of the hospital he sought a village doctor for bush medicine – he succumbed to his head injury days later. What a thing to inform someone whose main reason to visit the island was to scale its volcano.

But, in the end, with a more tranquilised Mt Yasur, the hike to its fire-spitting mouth wasn’t the most challenging part – it is, after all, one of the most accessible volcanoes in the world. As I gazed into the pit, its eruptions spewing blushing boulders in nature’s own erratic rhythm, there’s no way to appease that conflict of science and mysticism in my head.

Could this be interpreted by the knowledge bank of my geology education, or should beliefs of the supernatural on Tanna have the better say? Shall it make any sense to me, that a man hit by a volcanic fragment thought he had angered the gods and pursued penance rather than medication, or that a nearby tribal cult worshipped and believed Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh to be a reincarnated mountain spirit spawned from this very crater?

Sometimes, the difficult part is letting go of our rationality and simply allowing our perceptions perceive things as what they seem. Like, without the need of explanation, standing in front of a vigorous volcano and appreciating the visceral beauty of forces beyond logic.