Finally in Santo

Trip Start Jun 12, 2007
Trip End Jul 05, 2007

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Well I finally made it to Santo a little wiser. Lessons learned--reconfirm flights the day before (should have known better) and always pack the bathing suit in the carry on (what was I thinking?!?!). I managed to pick up the bare essentials (toothbrush, bathing suit, sarong) in Vila so the trip can continue without the bag for a while. After my bag had a short holiday in Fiji without me it did finally show up in Santo a few days after I got there.

The main attraction here is diving on the USS Coolidge. Originally it was a luxury liner but converted during WWII for military use. As it was coming into the bay in Santo it hit a friendly mine and sank within 9 minutes. Only two lives were lost with the sinking of the ship. One, the dude in the engine room when they hit the mine and the other, one guy who went down with the ship trying to get everyone off. Since it was originally a luxury liner there were loads of fancy things to see--the formal dining room, promenade deck with all it's windows, chandeliers and fancy light fixtures, etc. The highlight was "The Lady." When the ship was converted for military use, fancy things that could not be removed were covered with plywood, including the lady. The lady is a 1m x 1m porclian wallhanging of a lady on a unicorn. When the ship sank, she was forgotten. In the 80's as the plywood began to rot away the lady started to reveal herself. She was originally in the first class smoking lounge. When she was discovered she was removed, restored and put back in formal dining room. When you see her the tradition is to kiss her. I didn't want to be cursed so I did indeed kiss the lady! The ship was huge, the biggest wreck I have ever dived on. I did 7 dives on it and saw different things every time. My favorite dives were when I saw the Lady and the engine room.

I ended up diving with a couple of other ladies, Marieke and Stepanie, who were staying in the same place I was and we did a couple of day trips together. The first one was trekking through Millenium Cave. First it was about a 30 minute walk to a little village. There were bridges made of bamboo along the way.

After hanging in the village for a while we walked a bit more and then had our faces painted to respect the nature there.

After that the serious trek began which included very steep and slippery trails with muddy bamboo ladders and climbing over huge boulders.

Loads of bats and guano in the cave, but it was beautiful. There was a stream that ran through it that we waded through/swam along inside the cave.

After we got out of the cave we got to float down the river gorge and it was beautiful! Cut deep into the rocks towering on both sides with rain forest above. A very relaxing afternoon, nothing like my Kolombangara experience!!

Another day we did a trip to a local blue hole with brilliant blue water.

After we swam there for a while we went to a couple beautiful white sandy beaches including Champagne beach.

On the way back that day we stopped and saw the remains of a B-17 that had crashed here after a mission in the Solomon Islands during WWII. I was amazed at how much of that plane was just lying there for the pickings of anyone who wanted and so much of it remains there. Here's a shot of what remains of the tail and an engine.

In the evenings a popular activity was to drink kava. It is made by grounding the root of a local plant and then boiling it I think. The kava bars turn on a light outside when their batch is ready and turn off the light when they run out. It tastes like muddy water, but the effect is so worth the nasty taste! First your tounge and throat go numb, then before you know it you can't even walk. I have a huge gash in my big toe to attest to this!

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