Goodnight Vila

Trip Start Jul 02, 2003
Trip End Jan 17, 2004

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Flag of Vanuatu  ,
Saturday, October 25, 2003

Finally it's time to say goodbye to Vanuatu. I flew back here from New Caledonia a couple of weeks ago then got straight on to a local flight to the island of Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit) or Santo for short. Santo was a huge base for the US military during WWII and once had 5 airfields and was home to 100,000 US troops. Nowadays it's home to millions of coconut trees and the cattle that roam beneath them. One of their main exports is beef - since the cows just wander freely until they're rounded up for export it's about as organic as it comes.

Anyway, these days there's just a few people living on Santo and it's a pretty relaxed kind of place. The main reason people visit is to dive on the S.S. President Coolidge, the largest (210 metres) easily accessible shipwreck in the world. The ship was a luxury liner but was converted to a troop carrier in the war. At times there were a couple of hundred ships anchored in the natural harbour by Luganville on Santo during the war. There are 3 entrances to the natural harbour and the americans had mined 2 of them against enemy ships. Unfortunately this message didn't get through to the captain of the Coolidge and she hit a couple of mines as they entered the harbour. The captain ran the ship onto the reef in the hope that it would stay there while everyone got off - in the end everyone jumped off the boat - well not literally, they slid down ropes down the side and an hour after being run into the reef, the ship slid backwards into the deep water where she now lies for divers to explore. Because they were so confident that the ship would stay where it had been lodged on the reef, there was no attempt to unload any of the stuff on the boat at first - they thought they could come back to it later. Some stuff was salvaged but there's still loads of stuff in the ship.

I did a total of 6 dives on the ship - enough to get a feel for it but I could easily have spent a couple more weeks exploring the wreck. The first dive was to the cargo holds - they're down at a depth of about 30 meters and as you go in you swim over the top of an upturned tank, the cargo hold is still full of jeeps, trucks, tanks and big guns. It's quite scary swimming through to the next cargo hold - I assumed you'd just swim in, swim out and round to the next one but no, you squeeze through holes in the ship's structure to get from one hold to the next where there's more military equipment. The next dive was to visit the ship's medical supplies. Most of this was salvaged as the military needed the malaria treatments they had on board but there's still little bottles of white powder (morphine?) and various potions floating around in there. Another dive we went to the first class dining room and saw "The Lady" - a bas relief statue of a lady on a unicorn which was supposed to look after everyone on the ship. My last dive was a visit to the beauty salon past the old barber's chair and down to the swimming pool. We had to swim a lap of the pool down at 54 meters (my deepest dive yet!) - it's still full of water after all these years. After each of the dives you have to do a series of decompression stops - quite scary to think that you can't just go to the surface. Apart from the fact that you obviously can't when you're deep inside the ship, if you went straight to the surface as you came out you'd seriously risk getting the bends. So instead you hang out at a variety of depths waiting for the nitrogen in your blood to come off. The last stop was the best as it's a little 'garden' with a wall around it full of anenomes and loads of colourful fish.

Any of you divers who want to know more should try the following two links - I didn't take any photos myself as the diving was too deep for me to risk taking my camera:-
Aquamarine Diving
Allan Power Diving

I stayed at the Deco Stop lodge, a very nice place that had a backpacker type dorm located 5 minutes out of Luganville overlooking the bay.

Deco Stop Lodge, Santo

Tam Tam Slit Drum, Vanuatu

After taking a day off from diving I was back on a plane back to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu and went to a place called Moso Island to stay at the Tranquility Island Resort - a very apt name as it was so peaceful and relaxed. There was only me and one other guy staying there and our hosts Scoot and Angie and Momo the dog. We stayed in huts that the locals had built - even the beds were made from old branches from trees - all very eco-touristy. I did 4 dives there and they were all very nice but nothing really special. I'd heard bad things about the fish population there because there's been a massive export of tropical fish, especially with the Finding Nemo film and there are claims that there's hardly any fish left there now. Fortunately this proved not to be the case well certainly in the places we were diving.

Tranquility Island Resort, Moso

Hat Island, on the way to Moso Island

The beach at Moso Island

Anenome Fish, Moso Island

Swim through, Moso Island

Crocodile Fish, Moso Island

Random Fish, Moso Island

Anenome Fish, Moso Island

Random Fish, Moso Island

School of Baraccuda, Moso Island

Swim through, Moso Island

Anenome Fish, Moso Island

On Tranquility Island they were also running a turtle sanctuary where they get turtles as they hatch, keep them for a year till they're big enough to fend for themselves then release them to the wild. If left to their own devices, a great number (as many as 90% or more) of young turtles will die within their first few hours as they find their way to the beach. This way, a much larger number should survive - well that's the theory anyway.

Baby Turtle at the turtle sanctuary, Moso Island

Next I spent a couple of nights at the Erakor Island resort which was quite an upmarket resort but they had a backpacker dormitary - there was hardly anyone there so I had a room to myself and just chilled out for a couple of nights. Managed to meet up with a bunch of medical students doing their elective - they seem to get everywhere in the South Pacific but apart from that it was pretty uneventful and very relaxing.

Overall, Vanuatu has to be one of the most unspoilt places I've been to. There are loads of pristine white sandy beaches, the sea is the most incredible turquoise blue colour and on land, everything's incredibly green. The volcano on Tanna was amazing, the diving some of the best I've ever seen and the people incredibly friendly. Tipping is culturaly unacceptable, there's no pressure to buy anything and you don't feel that anyone's trying to rip you off all the time. It will be a shame to leave but now it's time to go to Fiji. More soon.
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Where I stayed
Deco Stop Lodge
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