Saturday, September 21, 2013

Unexpected surprises

We wanted to scout Espiritu Santo Island (Vanuatu), always looking forward to something new and interesting and the unexpected. It's the unexpected surprises that make some of our days the most memorable. So do we catch a rural bus, OR...rent a scooter!?

The small scooter we found had a governor on it so its maximum speed was 50 km/hr - much slower than what we are used to going. Our goal was to travel the 60 km to the end of the paved road at the top of the island at Port Olry and see what we could find along the way.

As we crossed a bridge, we were hailed aside and asked if we wanted to see the Ri Ri Blue Hole. There are 3 Blue Holes on Espiritu Santo. These Blue Holes are crystal clear deep pools, the blue colour of swimming pools and are up freshwater streams fed by springs through the porous volcanic sub-terrain. This particular 1 had been recommended to us.

An unexpected surprise was when the man offered to paddle us up the river in his hand-carved outrigger canoe to the Blue Hole, or we could take our scooter along a dusty road to it. It was a no brainer. We immediately decided to go in his outrigger, and as we had never been in 1 before, this was another first for us!

Shallow Ri Ri River

It was so peaceful being paddled up the blue river lined with lily pads and through the greens of the abundant jungle foliage. We listened to the soft gurgle of the paddle and avian chatter that seeped from the canopy and envisioned being miles and miles from civilization. Me Tarzan, you Jane. The stream they call the Ri Ri River came to an end at the Blue Hole. It was a wide and now more open circular area lined with jungle banks. It was literally the end of the stream. The pool was a deep intense blue.

Our paddler glided us to a set of wooden steps from the water leading up to a platform. A swing rope hung from a high overhanging branch out over the water. Jordan swam out, grabbed the end of the rope, flung it up to me (Jane) on the platform so that he could complete the scene with a Tarzan manoeuver and drop into the deep Blue Hole. What fun!

Tarzan actually does it better

Tarzan Jordan trying out the outrigger

But soon it was time for our return trip back down the Ri Ri River. What a great way to end an unexpected adventure with a hot sunny day and cooling blue water.

Our next stop was Oyster Island where there was a small eco resort. We first parked the scooter and then Jordan hailed the ferry boat by clanging on the loud gong made from an old gas cylinder.

Ferry terminal

The ferry was not what we had been expecting. It was a small, thatched covered, wooden pontoon boat with a bench on each side for passengers.

Ferry approaching with Oyster Island in the background

The friendly operator ferried us across to the Oyster Island Resort and Restaurant. The Island is named for all the oysters in the water and this 'off the beaten path' beautiful resort is fairly upscale. We learned that all of the bungalows were normally all booked in advance.

Now we don't usually include photos of a washroom BUT this 1 was so cute, clean, well decorated, and unexpected that we had to mention it. It was an 'open air experience' both indoor and outdoor with a roof above that opened onto a neat private courtyard. Why not...may as well enjoy your interlude.

Newspaper please!

We had a long relaxing late lunch looking back across the water to Espiritu Santo and the ferry operator traversing passengers. All of a sudden I noticed my helmet was missing! Where was it? Did I leave it back on the scooter? In the 'ferry terminal'? Would it still be there?

We once again boarded the ferry where we discovered that the ferry man had my helmet in safekeeping as I had left it as we disembarked earlier.

Next turnoff we made was to Champagne Beach described by some (don't ask who) as the most beautiful beach in the world. (Did they travel the world to find out, I wonder?) After bumping down a much pitted, dusty dirt road, we finally came to the sign indicating Champagne Beach was just up ahead. But we were unexpectedly stopped by a man who stepped out in front of us and demanded payment. In Vanuatu, land and beaches in most cases are owned by a family or village and they sometimes require payment for use or visit. Such was the case.

First he wanted 1000 Vatu (~$10 Cdn), then after calling out to another man off in the distance he changed it to 2000 Vatu (~$20 Cdn). A mild protest to the effect that we only wanted a quick look rendered no leniency. It was an outrageous price for a quick photo op so we bluntly said no and turned back. (We later learned there is a land dispute over the beach.)

But nearby we noticed a sign for Lonnoc Resort and decided to visit it instead. With the owner's permission - and no charge - we headed to the beautiful, long, fine white sandy beach.

Wow!

An Australian couple staying at the Resort told us that indeed Champagne Beach is spectacular and they sauntered over to it every day along the beach from Lonnoc, but now the tide was too high and it was getting late. Oh well, it's not like we haven't seen some spectacular beaches.

Back to the main road, we next inhaled the heady aroma of cooking copra (coconut). We stopped at the cook shacks - the source of the aroma - and talked to the worker of penury as he stoked the fire with coconut husks.

Jordan at coconut cook shack

Coconuts cooking

Stoking the fire

The smell was tantalizing and we were given a couple of delicious pieces to munch on - just like when we cook it on Sea Turtle!

We next came upon a group of hardy workers - men, women, and children - who were walking back to their homes after working in their gardens or copra fields. Everyone was happy and laughing and pleased to have their photo taken. Ni-Vans are such joyful people.

Take our photo!

Our last stop was at Port Olry at the end of the tar-macadam road (no road circumnavigates or crosses Espiritu Santo Island). The village had an indigent appearance and the few people we saw had a despondent air, unlike the so many we passed previously who would jovially hoot, holler, and wave.

We figured we'd better try to find somewhere to buy petro to ensure we would not run out. Jordan asked a group of men smoking and drinking in front of a house and they declared, Right here! One went inside, filled a 1-litre jug, and then filled the scooter. Problem solved!

Off we went to make a quick return to Luganville. We were still about 45 km away and the sun had set when all of a sudden the scooter unexpectedly quit. Lights still worked but it would not start. From Luganville to Port Olry, we had passed very few places to obtain help so had no choice but to start walking down the road towards a group of houses set off the road a ways. Thankfully it was a light-weight scooter.

We soon hailed down a passing pickup truck. The Paul family agreed that we and the scooter would fit in the back of the truck and they would transport us back to Luganville as they made a few stops along the way. We sat in the back, breeze in our hair, watching to catch fleeting glimpses of the fire flies. We quickly reached our destination with Mr. Paul's fast and efficient driving.

While the men were unloading the scooter at the rental place, I talked with Mrs. Paul and their children. Their daughter Lynn expressed a real interest in our boat and we happily agreed to have the family over for a visit the next day. They finished by giving us a ride back to the beach where our dinghy was waiting.

Well, it certainly had been a day of unexpected surprises.

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