The official local language. Pretty funny.
Welcome to Paradise!
After dreaming about Paradise for quite some time and how it would be, now we actually went there, after approx 240 days of traveling. To be honest: never heard about Vanuatu before until the planning started on how to cross the Pacific, but that's how paradises are discovered, I guess (or does it have to do with the fact that I failed miserably a 'world topography' test at high school at the tender age of 16? I didn't even know how to spell 'Washington'...)
A wonderful place with breathtaking nature and the friendliest people in the world. This is not exaggeration, the ni-Van people offer such hospitality that we have not experienced anywhere else. Genuine smiles and they greet not only the tourist at every encounter but also each other on the street. As if we were all part of a big family and known each other for ever.
In 2006 Vanuatu was chosen as the country in the world with the happiest people. Over 180 countries were reviewed by a British think-tank. As we learned they achieved this award as they are indeed living a happy life as long as over 70 years on
Only in Vanuatu!!!!
Where else in the world would someone place an ad and asks whether someone lost some money????
average and at the same time they do the least damage to the environment. Indeed, we did not really see plastic cups, bags on the streets, garbage was unknown, they really take care of their land and promote this to their visitors as well. They consider their land as a sacred gift which has to be protected. This is one of the reasons why visitors have to pay small fees for entering beaches, waterfalls, certain forests, the payment is paid as respect to nature.
So this is the place where we spent 2 weeks. After arrival to Port Vila airport we headed downtown to our motel. Most shops were closed as it was a Sunday, a holy day in Vanuatu, it is spent with family and friends. You will later learn that Vanuatu is a very religious place, the missionaries did a "great" job here after the cannibals have eaten too much of them in the 19th century. Apparently when they got fed up with the human flesh they let the missionaries settle on one of their islands and from there the local Christianity started.
From cruiser to troop ship
Next morning we arranged a
Market in Port Vila
Pre-prepared food for sale.
flight to the island of Espiritu Santo, the largest island of the Vanuatu Archipelago. Our big mission in Santo was to dive the famous shipwreck Coolidge, a US troop ship that sunk in 1942 after hitting a friendly mine near Luganville, just offshore. So we went to Allan Power, "father" of the Coolidge with 25,000 dives on it and signed up for 4 initial dives. On the first day we had 2 dives, first orientating this huge shipwreck sunk next to the shore between 20 and 70 meters of crystal clear blue water. At the second dive in the afternoon we penetrated and swam inside the 2 cargo hulls to look at the trucks and bulldozers still sitting there, covered with active marine life. We also saw machine guns, helmets there and some medicine in the "nurse's room".
Next morning we did our 43 meters deep dive to "the Lady", a picture made of porcelain that is still hanging on the wall in the first class dining room of the ship. Yes, this ship was first inaugurated as a luxury cruiser for 2200 passengers, so lots of fixtures are still on. However, during WWII it was converted into a
Local big mammas
Preparing our lunch at the market in Port Vila.
troop ship and it was carrying 5000 troops when it hit a 'friendly' mine and sunk. The troops could actually walk out to shore, it was that close. They were planning to go back to the sinking ship later on to pick up their belongings, but the ship sunk in an unexpectedly short time, in 90 minutes, so most items sunk with it. Only 2 persons died: 1 engineer with the initial explosion and a second guy who went looking for the first guy. The US Army recovered some valuable items after the war was over, but most of the stuff remained underwater.
After our fourth dive we decided to move further as we kinda got addicted to the wreck, there is so much to see!!!
Weekend in Port Olry
After our last dive we took a day break and in the afternoon we hopped on a local bus and went to Port Olry. This is a tiny fishing village North East of Santo, an hour dive from Luganville. There we rented a small beach bungalow from a local guy for 2 nights. As a welcome gesture, our host invited us to the local Kava
Laplap and Coconut juice
Laplap = Local food prepared in underground stoves. Coconut = coconut.
bar to taste the beverage the ni-Van people drink. This is not alcohol, but a drink made from kava roots mixed with water and !human saliva!
Very hygienic as you see, but as you cannot and don't want to turn down a local's invitation, we went for it. The best is if you drink kava quickly as the taste is horrible but after a minute you notice its effect: it first numbs your lips and tongue and later your stomach (if it's of the stronger types). It works as a mild drug, people get very relaxed from it, this is how the locals explain the almost lack of violence in Vanuatu. The men are just too much chilled to start arguments. Oh yes, ladies are not really welcome in kava bars, but tourists are an exception.
Next morning we went off to the island opposite to our bungalow and decided to snorkel around it. This island actually becomes a peninsula at low tide, so you can walk to it without getting wet. The snorkeling was pretty good, we saw big soft and hard corals with nice rose petal shapes and flashy corals but the top sightings were the banded
sea snake and a native turtle. Pretty nice encounters.
But more kava was needed, as we needed to celebrate our "Salade Tahitiene" that we would eat that evening: raw white fish marinated in lemon, served with coconut milk. In other words: a pacific delicacy . We actually had to order it the day before. But after the kava-apero we (ok, I, Chris) figured out that although it ain't alcohol, you still shouldn't drink too much kava, too fast... But the fish tasted good. The weird thing came after dinner, when the cook told us it was made with the best white fish available: Parrot fish. During the day Agi already saw some local fishermen coming back from the sea with their catch. They were spearfishing on reef fish. One catch was a colorful parrot fish...
Blissful Sunday morning
And on Sunday we went to Church, just as it should be done. The northern part of Santo is deeply Catholic and we got treated on a good authentic Sunday service. The reason why we went was actually the introduction of the new bishop. Vanuatu just got a new one, and he was doing a "get to know the
Happy Ni-Vanuatu people!!
Okay, she was happy a minute earlier....
locals" tour across Vanuatu. The Sunday we were in Port Orly he was there as well, so a big service was set up. We actually hoped for big gospel choirs and frantic, sweaty preachers, but all appeared to be 'normal'. A pity, but the good side was that all the ladies had to go to church in the local big dresses. So Agi had to borrow one and she looked lovely!!!
Sunday afternoon went to a local "blue hole": a fresh water pond close to the sea, so with high tide sea water comes in and brings along colorful salt water fish. We had the 'pond' for ourselves and enjoyed it a lot, until ~40 loud, screaming Australian tourists dropped by. Apparently a cruiseship has moored nearby and ~2000 tourist were spreading over the island doing as much as possible in the shortest possible time: no more paradise for us....
Diving for Junk, Engines and the Jackson Five
Good, from the blue hole near Port Orly we headed back to Luganville in the back of a pick-up truck which was loaded with coconuts. We decided to do 2 more dives on the Coolidge and one nearby at
a place called: Million $ Point. M$P is the place where the US army dumped in the ocean all kinds of materials not valuable enough to ship back to the USA: bulldozers, cranes, building materials, trucks, crates, long guns etc etc... So basically it is a junkyard-dive at a depth between 3 and 35 meters: weird. But the 'fresh' corals on top of the junk look actually pretty healthy. In the evening we did a night dive on the Coolidge. Wow, pitch dark, no torches, but all around you are the flashlight fish hoovering. You stretch your arm and behind it all kinds of fluorescent dots start glowing. It really felt like otherworldly. Basically it felt like the video of the Jackson Five: "Can You Feel It" see also:
. Incredible, probably one of the best dives. The final dive was going to the engine room: ~48 meters deeps with very nice squeeze-throughs. You could read all the gauges and switches as they were when the ship hit the mine. Pretty cool. But that was it for the Coolidge: No more diving in Vanuatu. We're off to Malekula.
Horrible boat and cannibals
To save some money and to
get a genuine trip we decided to take a local freight boat between the islands of Santo and Malekula. We left at midnight and were scheduled to arrive 4 hours later. It took us 10 hours.... The 2 hours engine failure, while you could see our end-point, was kinda ok. But the night was SHIT!
The waves are annoying, but still ok. The rain made things worse as we couldn't sleep outside, we had to go into a small cabin with ~12 others. But the worst thing were the continuous nauseating smells of the diesel engine waiving into the cabin.... Think I kept my stomach steady for about 3 hours and then hell broke loose.... Fortunately I was near the entrance. Agi kept her composure and reminded me of it for several days...
But on Malekula after a battle the local tribes would eat the remainders of their enemy. In other words: they were cannibals. Every tribe had their own sacred site (the 'Nakamal'), where the men looked for advice from their ancestors and sacrificed/ate their enemy as a final humiliation. Many are now overgrown by the forest, but on the small island Rano near Malekula is one accessible
Diving the Coolidge
Some cool stuff is still pretty visible
site. So there we went. Pretty interesting. We never knew they first cook the meat in large 'ovens' and served the meat with shellfish.
From Malekula we flew via Santo back to Port Vila (as boats were now considered too unreliable). The planes we took were small 17 person seaters. No room for stewardesses, but the 'shutter' to the cockpit was open. Actually the airport of Norsup on Malekula is great fun: you check in your luggage and you wait at the local waiting lounge: the beach and pass your time snorkeling the local coral. 5 minutes before departure you walk back, sit on the grass and wonder which direction the plane will be coming from that would take us to Santo... In Santo we had 4 hours 'transfer time', so what do you do there? You walk again with your snorkel gear. This time to Million $ Point to do a final snorkeling there. Ok, this walk did take some time, but still. Back in Port Vila we had some time to spare, so we headed off to the Mele waterfalls and the Secret Garden, which is a cultural botanical garden. Just a nice afternoon
Next to the Lady is an unicorn, but only virgins can see its horn.... FYI: As the ship is lying on its side, the Lady is also lying sideways.
and a nice wrap-up of our Vanuatu trip.
Adios and for sure till a next time!
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