Other than the capital city of Luganville, the east side of Vanuatu’s Santo island is the only area that has been settled/developed to any significant extent. Our trend-setting friends George & Erica who put us onto the Marakai Trek recommended this very relaxed part of the island as a good way to “decompress” from the Marakai experience. They spoke of little bungalows on white sand beaches …. they seemed to be making sense. So upon arrival back in Luganville after the trek we stocked up on a bit of food and stumbled onto the taxi guy who picked us up from the airport a week before … he offered to take us and a few others up the 40km coast for a very reasonable rate.
The east side of Santo is all about coconuts and sand. Coconut plantations line both sides of the road most of the way, and as we drove up around 4PM we passed countless folks with machetes in hand strolling back home after a day’s work on the plantation. Coconut harvesting goes in 3 month intervals. Because the objective in this case is just the copra (“meat”) and not the juice or jelly, you harvest what has fallen onto the ground (they’re brown by now). They are husked open on a metal stake (pretty tough job … I did a few in Fiji), then the nut is cracked open and the meat is grated out of the shell into a pulp. That is also a pretty physical task. The pulp is then placed on a mesh grate above a huge contained wood fire in what they call a “hot air dryer” to be dried into a product that is put in large bags and sent to Luganville port for export. There were countless plantations along the route and dozens of these hot air dryers.
Coconut plantations make up most of the paid work along this east side. The other source of cash is low intensity tourism – a few small resorts are scattered around on stunning beaches. We went to the north end of the road to a town known as Port Olry. George had mentioned that this was a French-influenced town, so that had some appeal to us. We found a very modest bungalow right on the beach and loved the open air feel of the place.
Two very lazy days were spent swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing, blogging, reading, and playing cards. Villagers here also all had gardens back in the jungle, because there was virtually no food for sale in the town.
We hired a local women to do our laundry … and what laundry it was, after 5 days of trekking through mud. By the time she was finished, it seemed like every tree branch and line on the beach had our stuff strung up.
We made our way back towards Luganville the next day and on a whim stopped off at Lonnoc beach. Didn’t seem like much going on till we spotted some local kids jumping in from a rope swing on a huge tree at the end of the beach. Pretty soon we were all swingin’ and jumpin’ into the lovely turquoise water.
While scarfing down some sweet potato fries at the little restaurant on the beach we learned that the restaurant and little cabins were part of the island’s tourism/hospitality training institute – it was the practicum component. We felt bad for the waitress there who would have to spend Christmas working to keep the operation going. But she was well trained …she would not complain!
From there we made our way to the Ri Ri blue hole. Both Efate and Santo islands have these blue holes where the limestone surface rock has been dissolved by upwelling groundwater to form these deep inland pools . The colour is exquisite. There were three blue holes to choose from … you probably won’t be surprised to know that we chose the one that had a rope swing!
The water was clear and cool … so refreshing after coming from the ocean on a very hot day.
We arrived back in Luganville in time for dinner. Our favorite place to eat was at the local market. Some of the women had cooking stalls beside the main market area and we could fill ourselves on omelettes, chicken and fish for very reasonable rates while chatting with the cook. This market, like many others we’d seen, was so full of produce and so vibrant. But we did notice that the women looked tired, and you sometimes had to work to catch their attention to pay for something. We then learned that these women are from villages around the island and they travel to Luganville with their garden produce to sell. They literally sleep beside their produce at night, day after day until the produce is mostly sold, then return to their villages.
Post dinner had us packing up once again .. this time to get ready for our flight to the island of Epi the next day. Jake will tell you about that!