Halo from Vanuatu!
I got a bit excited on the first day of the cruise when they said you could buy unlimited premium internet access on the ship for just $99, little did I know they meant limited unlimited access. I’d love to have given you an update of our adventures before now but internet reception has been dismal. We’ve also been catching up on some much-needed sleep, I don’t think we’ve ever been so tired…The last week in our house was like a scene out of The Block. We were packing for the cruise, packing and organising the van and preparing the house for our much loved friends who are renting it for the next five months (you really don’t realise how many things need repairing until someone else is about to come and live in your house!). Going from a 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house to a 17 sqm cabin with just one bathroom has been interesting to say the least. I don’t know about your family but I always notice how out of sync we are the first few days of a trip. It has been wonderful to reconnect with each other again though.
After two and a half days at sea we woke up to the beautiful shores of Luganville, a major export centre on the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. I was really sea sick the day before and therefore SO ready to get off the ship. Unlike other times we’d cruised, I had no idea what we’d be seeing on Santo. We are not ‘follow the crowd’, ‘shore excursion’ travellers so hadn’t booked anything. I cannot think of anything worse than queuing to get on a bus with heaps of other tourists only to take us somewhere that we can visit on our own, for half the price. We decided to take our chances, catch a taxi from the port and see what the day brings. We negotiated a flat rate for the day and probably paid more than we should have, but we figured $140 for the whole day was pretty good value as there were four of us and could take our time exploring. Our awesome driver John did not disappoint us. The people on the island were incredibly inviting, kind and just loved the tourists. The island’s inhabitants are very poor (in the money sense) but evidently rich in other ways. We passed three schools which were all extremely basic, some of the classrooms didn’t have windows. According to our driver, basic education isn’t subsidised after year 7 and parents need to pay for high school education which is very expensive, resulting in many kids not finishing their educational journey. This made me incredibly sad and I wondered how they could improve their future outcomes without this opportunity.
There are potholes in the roads, dogs roaming the streets, the sweet smell of smoke coming from fires in the little houses and the washing lines are simply ropes strung out from a roof to a nearby tree. Coconut plantations abound and cattle in the fields inland, Santo is world famous for its beef.
The Riri Blue Hole
We’d never visited one of these before so didn’t really know what to expect. When we got to the end of the dirt road we found a few of the locals sitting in a little thatched hut, we paid our $5 per person entry fee and made our way down the man-made path through the forest. The first sight of the water almost took our breathe away. It was almost transparent and very inviting with water warmer than I had expected. There also weren’t swarms of tourists around so it made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. A giant rope swing hung in the distance and we couldn’t resist. This thing is so big you needed a 6m wooden pole to grab the rope from its resting place. My husband went first and made it look easy with his upper body strength! Our son was next but got the jitters. I decided to be a good role model and ‘have a go’, it was AWESOME! I felt like a child again. And…it worked! Our son went next and then five times more! We were late for our driver but it was totally worth it!
Lope Lope Lodge
Our next stop for lunch was recommended to us by our driver and we were so glad he did. As we drove through the gates of Lope Lope Lodge we caught a glimpse of the turquoise waters that lay ahead and we knew we were about to experience something wonderful. A rare little hideaway tucked away behind a high wall. A nearly 180 degree view of crystal clear blue water with the reef lying about 100m offshore. The open-air restaurant sits right on the water’s edge and the live music and warm hospitality made us wish we could stay here longer. We vowed we would return one day and even checked out the accommodation while we were there (they have but four cosy little villas that sit on the water’s edge). A tiny little piece of heaven. After a snorkel and a bite to eat we headed off to the next stop.
The cultural village
Having visited many cultural villages around the world before, I found this one to be truly authentic and definitely worth a visit with only a $10 per adult and $5 per child entry fee. We got to step into the men’s hut where they make the famous drink, Kava. They pound the root of the Kava plant (which looks a bit like ginger) and mix it with a little bit of water. It’s pretty potent so they only give you a bit at a time to try. My husband agreed to be the dummy and have a taste, he said it tasted ‘earthy’ and made his tongue tingle and go numb. After some dancing and singing we headed over to the pool for a water music show with a difference. This involved the local women stepping into a half-filled pool and making the most amazing music using drums and the sound of the water as they hit it with their hands. A couple of the little kids from the village climbed in too and I couldn’t help but notice how happy they were. They seemed very connected to their families and their traditions.
Million Dollar Point
Our final stop in Santo was ‘Million Dollar Point’ which had a $5 per person entry fee. If you’re interested in history then this is a definite point of interest. During World War 2 the Island was used by Allied Forces as a military supply and support base. At the end of the war the American forces dumped most of their equipment here. Wrecks are strewn across the ocean floor from 1m to 15m below water level. The wind had picked up and the water was a bit choppy but we decided to snorkel it and see if we could spot anything. There was tons to see here and the marine life was abundant. The boys swam through what felt like a bait ball of fish and I was lucky enough to spot a Lion Fish.
We loved Santo and would really like to return to explore more of this unique island. It’s one of those places that transports you back to a time when life was a little simpler and more carefree.
Our next stop is Port Vila. It will be our fourth time there and we are keen to see how it’s all changed, it’s been nearly six years since our last visit.