Monday 2 November 2015

Secrets of Melanesia: Santo Supreme

From editor, Roderick Eime, aboard Heritage Expeditions 'Spirit of Enderby' in Vanuatu

Sunday 1 November 2015. Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu.

Arriving at the largest island in Vanuatu, Espiritu Santo (or just Santo) was like a return to civilisation. Champagne Beach was an unusual sight without hordes of cruise ship tourists cavorting all over the place and with motor vehicles, roughish roads, its own substantial produce market and cellphone coverage, the provincial capital, Luganville, is a genuine frontier town.

Built in 1942 as a US military forward supply base, Luganville is the setting for James Michener's famous semi-fictional account, 'Tales of the South Pacific' with many of the landmarks still identifiable after all these years. It would have been a sprawling, bustling tropical hive of activity during those years with aircraft, ships and thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen coming and going constantly.

The great monument to the waste of war and the ludicrous machinations of politics, Million Dollar Point, was one of our stops. While didn't get to see the piles of debris beneath the surface, the rusting axles and vehicle bodies strewn along the beach is sufficient reminder of the enormous amount of machinery, vehicles and stores dumped into the sea when negotiations with the returning British/French administrators collapsed.

Our cultural enrichment came at the local Magic Water Cultural and Music Experience where a glimpse of traditional ni-Vanuatu life was demonstrated. Kava, open fire baking and kastom dances were performed. Most intriguing, however was the 'water music' where women wade into a large plunge pool and create music by thrashing around in the waist-deep water. After several visits to Vanuatu over the last decade, it was the first time I'd ever seen this peculiar recital.

A fitting finale to the day's events was a visit to the glorious 'blue holes' a series of spring-fed, gin-clear streams that have a mystical rejuvenating effect on those who swim there. I certainly left with a big smile on my face.

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