Sunday, May 3, 2015

Espiritu Santo

The island nation of Vanuatu is a popular holiday destination for Australians. Most Americans have never heard of Vanuatu (us included before we made the move Down Under), a country made up of 82 islands a few hours east of Australia. At some point in mid-2014 I checked a book out of the library about Vanuatu and shortly thereafter decided that it should be on our list of places to visit. The hard part was deciding which islands to visit, and in the end we chose Espiritu Santo, Tanna, and Efate.
Just a few of Vanuatu's islands!
We departed Australia on December 16th on a flight bound for the island of Santo. Our intinerary included a short layover in Brisbane before heading to Luganville (the main town on Santo). This was the first time we had flown Qantas domestically in a looooong time, and we had forgotten how good it is! Usually we fly the likes of Tiger and Jetstar within Oz, and while those carriers are okay, they are just not as good as Qantas. The flight from Brisbane to Santo is less than 2 hours, so overall it was about a 5 hour trip from Melbourne including our layover.
Vanuatu is just east of New Caledonia and west of the Fijian islands
Upon our arrival in Santo we hired a taxi (really just a guy with a truck!) to take us to our accommodation for the next 4 nights, the Hibiscus Attraction Centre. There we met Marie and Lois (the lovely owners), and also an energetic single traveler, Floui, who we would spend a lot of time with during our time in Santo. Our room was basic but clean and a good value for about 35AUD/night. The location was within easy walking distance to town and the market, where we grabbed delicious fruit and veggies along with freshly baked kumala (sweet potato) chips.
The streets of Luganville
A hibiscus flower at "le motel"
A map showing the east coast of Santo, most of our destinations are labeled on the map.
Ladies at the market. Floui took this picture, along with a few others in this post!
A Ni-Van and his knife, used for just about anything except violence.
A Ni-Van woman setting up her food stall
On our first full day in Santo we decided to join Floui on a trip to Fanafo Village. She had recently met a local Ni-Van (the name for people of Vanuatu), Hollingsworth, who helped us get a lift out there and knew some people in the village. Floui, Hollingsworth and Erik rode in the back of the truck on some bumpy roads. I got to sit in the cab of the truck, seeing as I was just over 12 weeks pregnant at the time. :) The people in Fanafo were very friendly, welcoming us into their homes and waving hello as we walked by them. It was a VERY hot day, so we headed down to the river for a swim, which felt amazing. Unfortunately during our swim it started to downpour. A local family was incredibly kind to us and provided us with a dry place to sit, fed us banana and some other local fruits, and built us a fire so that we could keep warm.
Fanafo locals
These Fanfano residents were hamming it up for the camera!
The river where we cooled off with the locals.
That night we headed to a local kava bar. Kava is a plant and the root is used to make a drink that is said to have some sedative qualities. The kava root is chewed up and spit back out and the drink looks like a bowl of mud! I thought it was bit risky for me to try the kava, but Erik was a trooper and had enough for both of us! At the kava bar we met Ernest and Gen, a couple from Montreal who were in Santo for a big scuba diving trip. We all ended up at a market stall for dinner (stall 8 to be exact), where we chowed down on beef stew and fish for about 3AUD per dish!
Doesn't look very tasty, does it?!
Erik, Floui, Gen, and a doctor doing placement on Santo who was staying at Hibiscus
The next day Erik had arranged to dive the Coolidge wreck. The SS President Coolidge was a luxury ship (complete with a swimming pool!) that hit a mine off the coast of Santo in 1942. Originally when we planned our trip I would have been diving too, however, I felt diving could potentially not be safe while pregnant, so I made alternate plans. Floui and I took the free ferry to Aore island, where I splurged on an amazing fruit smoothie (the fruit in Vanuatu was unreal!) while she had lunch. We snorkeled there for hours, as there were tons of fish and we were the only people in the water.
Erik took this picture on his dive as he knew I would love it!
Approaching Aore island. A 10 minute ferry ride from Luganville.

My delicious fruity drink!
Erik loved his time spent swimming through the Coolidge and decided to do both a morning and an afternoon dive, so I tagged along with Floui to the Matevulu blue hole, where she planned to do a dive. While she was diving I got the chance to snorkel and swim in this stunning blue hole.
An eel swimming around in the blue hole
Amazing colors!
Floui getting ready to head underwater
We ended up at the market again for dinner, stall 7 this time, and tried an omelette (which was delicious!) and beef stew.
Our cook is missing, but she served us through the window.

We decided to rent a car the next day and invited Floui and Hollingsworth to join us while we explored the east coast of the island. Our first stop was at RiRi blue hole, where the colors where breathtaking!
The hubs and I after a swim!
You could catch a ride from the RiRi blue hole down the RiRi river.
An Instagram-edited shot of Erik's last look at RiRi blue hole
Our next stop was Oyster Island for lunch. In order to get to the island you must bang on a dive tank to get a boat to come pick you up, ha! We had some amazingly good pizza for lunch (topped with famous Santo beef).
Boarding the boat to Oyster Island
Empty beach after lunch
Interesting trees on Oyster Island
Hard to say goodbye to this spot!
Further north we skipped the more popular Champagne Beach and stopped at Port Orly instead. There was not another car in front of or behind us for this entire trip up the coast! All we saw was coconut trees and cows for miles (or kilometers) and it was beautiful. We enjoyed a good swim, snorkeling with fish and a handful of turtles, and some drinks at a beach bar (not me, of course!) before heading back to Luganville. There was actually a little bit of traffic on the way back into town, but it was mostly people walking along the roadside and they were always waving to us as we drove by. The Ni-Vans are such friendly people!
Port Orly paradise
Our last stop of the day was at Million Dollar Point, which is a prime snorkel spot for an interesting reason. During World War II, Santo was a military base, and when the war ended the United States tried to sell their military equipment to the British and French, who were occupying Vanuatu at the time. The British and French would not agree to purchase the equipment, as they thought the Americans would just give it to them anyway, since they would not want to take it with them back to the States. Instead, the American military lined up all of the expensive/valuable equipment and ran it into the water, where most of it remains today, hence the name "Million Dollar Point". Snorkeling amongst tanks was pretty cool!
A version of the Million Dollar Point story
We spent our last evening on Santo hanging out at Hibiscus and enjoyed a leisurely morning before heading off to our next destination, the island of Tanna.
Erik and Marie, one of the sweet Hibiscus owners
Luganville airport

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