Christmas in Northern Vanuatu, Day 10: Unleashing our inner Tarzan at Riri Blue Hole

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

At 8:30 this morning, Frances and I sought out a truck to take us to Champagne Beach. The task isn’t simple. The method is that we go to the local gas station (seems like the most logical, as cars need to fill up) and ask around. We just need to find a truck that has a red T on the license plate, indicating it is a public truck.

So off we went to the Luganville gas station and asked some people who were sitting around the benches outside. One man took interest and off he went to a truck parked nearby. He quickly returned and informed us that the task was done; we had a driver, Morrison, for the day. It was 10,000 vatu for the entire day. That was easy.

We loaded up and hopped in, picking up Annalisa and Sydney to go to Champagne beach. I stupidly didn’t bring my arsenal of bandanas, so my hair flew around in the wind, despite being fastened into a ponytail, and I knew later today I would need to cut out the small wind-created dreads that were now atop my head.

Champagne Beach: Tourist City.

Champagne beach was the first beach we’ve needed to pay for here on Santo (2000 for a truck of any number passengers), and it was a shame, as we’d arrived on the same day a major cruise ship arrived. Therefore, it was like Ohio Street beach on Memorial Day weekend: absolutely packed. We asked Morrison to park under the shade until we planned to come back to him around lunchtime. We managed to find a spot in the shade, very close to the blankets and towels of strangers, and spread out our things. The girls immediately ran to the water while I retreated my ghostly white skin under as much shade as possible.

Tourist stalls

Just behind the white sandy beach was a long row of stalls, bustling with business from the Australian tourists paying for hair braiding, dresses, mangoes, pineapples, baskets, and drinks. Coming from a village perspective, we could easily see how tourists were being overcharged for everything, yet tourists are oblivious to the costs. For example, a mama in my village will sell five coconuts (plentiful in the bush) at the market for 100 vatu. Here at these stalls, a tourist will buy a single unhusked coconut with a straw and a flower poking from the top for about 300 vatu. The prices were all in AUD, and when Sydney and I “window-shopped” the stalls and spoke bislama with some mamas, they were pleasantly surprised by our knowledge of the language, not realizing we were local volunteers. We asked for prices of dresses in vatu, and the mamas paused, contemplating. They’d only calculated prices in AUD. After some calculation, they presented prices in vatu (1000 for a dress) and we ended up purchasing them on our way out.

Sydney was intent on finding a pina colada, despite knowing she’d be overcharged. However, the only drink offerings were Tusker beer and bottled Fanta.

Minimizing my time in the direct sun so as to require less sunscreen, I hopped in the water towards the end of our stay here, enjoying the crystal blue waters, but struggling to keep up with the effortless wading that Eve and Sydney managed while in the deep waters.

Around lunchtime, we hopped on the truck again, this time to Riri Blue Hole. There are many blue holes, or freshwater swimming spots, here on Santo, and this one came highly recommended.

Walking into Riri Blue Hole

We pulled up to a shack in the woods to pay the entrance fee, but the woman inside told us to just pay when we got to the water. Our truck pulled in the road a little ways before parking under the shade. We walked under the shade of tall trees along a little bridge before coming to a shelter beside clear blue waters. We’d arrived at the hole, a quiet, almost private, swimming paradise.

The large blue freshwater pool has one side bordered by the vines and greenery of the bush and the other bordered by a concrete platform between two wooden diving planks. Beside each plank is a large rope hanging from the tallest of branches, inviting visitors to unleash their inner Tarzan.

Annalisa passes the rope to Sydney

And that, we did. Sydney was the first to try it, apprehensive at first. She climbed the rickety wooden platform, haphazardly nailed together, as Annalisa stood on the concrete platform, lifting an exaggeratedly long bamboo pole to push the swinging rope towards Sydney. Sydney grabbed tight and gave her best monkey-like yodel as she dove deep in the water. After she tested the rope’s structural integrity, we all felt confident to give it a try. We also tried the higher, more difficult rope on the other end of the pool, on which you have to jump to get a good grasp.

The "high" rope

After bopping between the two ropes, we convinced our driver, Morrison, to jump in and join us, after some successful goading. We watched a handful of local children do fantastic flips and daring dives while swinging from the ropes into the water. After the children tired, they took some little handmade wooden boats tied to VHS film tape and led them across the water along the concrete platform.

Gone fishin'

We took turns taking underwater “mermaid pictures” in which I always looked like a drowning victim. While I had no grace in any water, salty or not, I relished a bit in the fact that Eve was struggling with buoyancy in the freshwater, just like I do in her natural habitat of the ocean. We all felt heavier in the unfamiliar setting.

After tiring ourselves, we headed off in the truck again to go back into Luganville, about a forty minute drive. We first dropped off Sydney and Annalisa at LCM, the major grocery store, and after gathering our belongings at Eve’s, the driver incorrectly assumed we needed to pick up Sydney and Annalisa from LCM and proceeded to drive up over the curb, against traffic and onto the sidewalk. As I gripped onto the side of the truck as it heavily rocked to and fro, Eve hilariously commented, “I’ve seen this done, but never been part of it.”

Canal View

After nearly mowing down a handful of pedestrians, we headed to Sydney’s and returned to Canal View nakamal once again for a couple shells of kava and the delicious washemaot of manioc fries.

We return to Sydney’s with a couple expat friends of hers and enjoy a twist on pina coladas (after all, Sydney has been craving them for quite some time) with coconut ice cream and freshly chopped pineapple. After enjoying our delicious island treat, we headed to bed.

Tomorrow I’m off to Malekula.