Harry, the driver and guide in charge of revealing Espiritu Santo and some of the best blue holes from Vanuatu picks us up at the entrance to the capital's Deco Stop Lodge, Luganville.
We got into his old van and prepared for a long, bumpy journey north. A few moments of chattering later, we realized that he wasn't exactly a native of the island but that, while he lived there, he was more than fit for the mission. “I am from Pentecost”, he informs us and leaves us immediately ecstatic.
“We're going there in a few days, you know? already jumped in Naghol?” (initiation ceremony in which young people throw themselves from towers made of logs) we asked him anxiously. “I jumped once, when I was 19 years old and it arrived. That's not for everyone or for every month. although now it seems that some boys jump more often, poor things.”
A three-hour journey between coconut groves and dense forest awaited us, on a road parallel to the east coast which, by road, would only have the title. Harry roamed it over and over again. He barely felt the turbulence left by the rainy season, but he was aware how much the bumps affected the passengers' spine.
Since haste was relative, in an eccentric and exotic end of the Melanesian world like this, everything and anything else dazzled us. Under the slightest pretext, we interrupted the trip for short thematic and photographic stops.
By the coast of Santo Above
We take Canal Road. We passed the Santo-Peko airport where we had landed from Port Villa. We advanced along the Bay of Palikulo until we came across Surunda. By the time of Saraotou, the canal was long behind us and the road no longer deserves even a name. Or a code at all.
The assorted vegetation gives way to large coconut plantations planted with geometry. A few kilometers later, a smell of cooked coconut oil fills the atmosphere. Needing to unwind our legs, we worked with Harry on the ingenuity that generated the smoke and the odor.
Harry leads the way to a semi-open, basic warehouse devoid of artificial lighting. We climbed a shabby wooden staircase. On the upper level, we see a vast expanse of coconut nut, already separated from the shell and drying. Harry meets the factory worker and he welcomes us.
He explains to us that they process both copra – the resistant fiber produced from the husks – and pulp, in this case, for different food purposes.
The conversation flows but Harry prevents it from overextending. Satisfied by the unexpected company, the worker washes some pieces of coconut and offers them for the trip. At that hour, between breakfast and a distant lunch, the gift is very well received. Add in three times.
We say goodbye. We leave you to your toil. We return to the coastal road of Espiritu Santo. Here and there, the Pacific Ocean forms sandy inlets that fill and ebb with the tides. Harry had in mind that we could relax in an even better pond.
The Possible Revivalism of the Pacific War
Before that, it takes us to see one of the many legacies left by the Americans when World War II raged against the Japanese across the Pacific and also in these parts. "Notice that despite the past decades and the encroachment of vegetation, this track is in much better condition than the road we were on, we wish the Americans had built more things," says Harry.
The track was limited to a vast expanse that, even though it was a mixture of concrete and asphalt, some tropical shrubby vegetation had already invaded. It had a mainly historical interest that Harry had little or nothing to explain to us.
In practice, Vanuatu and Espiritu Santo, in particular, proved to be decisive in the success of the United States in blocking the advance of the Japanese. As part of the Americans' logistical effort, forty cinemas, four military hospitals, five airfields, a torpedo boat base, workshops and barracks were built on the island. A small part of this infrastructure continues to benefit the island.
The Japanese army remained inexorable until 1942, when it conquered the territories of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. It was finally stopped in the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway and forced to retreat.
For three years, until September 1945, on certain occasions, around a hundred ships and more than half a million soldiers waited, in Espiritu Santo, for their turn to participate.
One was James A. Michener, a writer who took advantage of inertia to write “Tales of the South Pacific”, a sequence of stories and adventures part of them lived in Espiritu Santo. This Pulitzer Prize-winning work inspired the famous musical “South Pacific”.
The conflict ended, several shipwrecks including the USS President Coolidge – a huge converted luxury liner that crashed into a “friendly” mine – and the tons of war material sunk in the so-called Million Dollar Points, still contribute to Espiritu Santo's growing diving industry.
On Demand of Blue Holes
On the same road he knew by heart and skipped, Harry deviates and leads us to the Blue Hole of Matevulu. We walked through a patch of denser rainforest. After some time, an opening in the arboreal profusion reveals to us a lagoon with crystal clear water, a dark turquoise blue dotted with yellowish leaves.
In addition to leafy trees, it is surrounded by one of the pale green walls of morning glory so characteristic of Vanuatu. We examined the blue hole for some time. With the afternoon at its end, the sun at its peak, roasting our skin, we didn't resist for long.
We strip off what little clothes we bring. We set foot, just as a discharge of conscience. We entered each one at their own pace and decompressed bodies and minds in that enigmatic SPA in the South Pacific. We floated, swam. We're back on the float. We inspect the roots covered with roots and, in vain, the distant bed that we never see.
At one point, Sara is bitten on a finger by some hornet-looking insect. The pain doesn't spread much but it intensifies. It becomes enough to interrupt our delight. Anyway, that wouldn't be the last Blue Hole in Espiritu Santo we would dive.
Enigmatic and Irresistible Water Springs
Santo's Blue Holes are formed when subterranean water tables originating from the western mountain ranges of the island emerge as powerful springs.
These springs shape their way to the surface in the soft limestone rock. As a rule, they carve the circular or almost circular ponds that are very abundant. At the same time, in its underground path, the water is filtered by limestone. It becomes pure and crystalline. The depth and incidence of light make it blue.
Forty kilometers north of Matevulu, but still in the province of Sanma, there is also the Blue Hole de Nanda, prepared by the Ni-Vanuatu tribal owners to welcome visitors, with walkways, a bar and swing ropes. Riri's is only a few kilometers to the south.
As long as the tide is high, it is also accessible by traditional canoe, along an inlet flooded with mangroves and on which damp lianas hang. From the shores of Espiritu Santo where these adventures begin, we glimpse the silhouette of Ambae that inspired the fictional and unreachable island of Bali Ha'i, also a literary creation by James A. Michener.
New Day, New Scenarios: Bokissa and Malo
Until the end of that afternoon, we went to the champagne beach and we returned to Luganville. The next morning, we moved to Bokissa, a small island south of Espiritu Santo. We are located in a monopolistic resort, run with an iron hand by an austere Australian owner.
The hotel itself is of little interest to us. Instead of dragging ourselves there, we left early on a kayak route, discovering the surrounding canals and mangroves.
To the east, we have the island of Tutuba. To the west, that of Aore. rockys the guide in vanuatu of this undertaking, he informs us with a big white smile, how much target it could be, that we were going to set sail towards the southwest and that the distance was too long, so we would start by boat.
From the Open Sea to the Cerrado Mangrove
No sooner said than done. We boarded a speedboat, accompanied by Katie and Jamie, a happy Aussie couple on their honeymoon. We sail at great speed over a cyan and smooth sea that seems to be squeezed by the almost lilac of the damp sky.
For a long time, we don't see a soul. Without expecting it, we passed a yellow boat that looked more like a recreational seagull, one of those on pedals.
The boat follows the pine cone. Slow and unstable to match. Accustomed to traveling in those arrangements, the passengers greet them with the joy and goodwill that no ni-vanuatu needs to simulate.
From the open sea, we reach a point where Aore and Malo almost touch and form a channel. Rockys brings us closer to the sandy coast of Malo, in an area where the island appears torn apart and has a small sub-island off to the side. The boat is anchored there. We took out the kayaks.
We continue the journey up the river Malo, this time by paddle. We advance through a tight mangrove shrouded in dense jungle, so intricate that the scrub stops our progress.
At spaces, the channel reopens. In one of these open sections, the “yellow seagull” that we had crossed, passes by us and greets us again as if for the first time.
Malo's Stealth Blue Hole
Rockys leads the tour with enthusiasm. We realized that you like that evasion. From the open sky, we return to a new claustrophobic vegetal grip. "Prepare for what's coming!" let the guide know."
After a final set, we entered a large lake with waters similar to those of Matevulu but surrounded by a huge wall, lush with morning glory. We take a slow walk to rest from the effort and recognize the place.
Soon, Rockys invites us to follow him. It takes us to a huge tree with trunks and branches unfolding horizontally. The guide takes off his t-shirt and shows off his portentous Melanesian physique.
It reaches a strategic end of a log and dives into the blue of the lagoon. The four of us didn't even hesitate. We surrender to gravity and plunge into the water.
Time also played in our favor. We swam, splashed, floated and talked in that other blue-hole until the skins shriveled us up.