Luganville, Espírito Santo, Vanuatu. Easter Sunday, 20th April 2014
We berthed this morning at Luganville at about 8am, but no hurry, let all the passengers on tours get off first, and so after a light breakfast in the Neptune Lounge, we head ashore at 10. We have never visited this island before, and YM and I think it probably a good idea to hire a taxi and explore the sights. On the wharf, during the ritual process of
haggling negotiating prices with some local pirates, we bump into Al, a charming young(ish) Texan guy who we seem to always bump into onboard the 'Oogivesadam'. He has just finished his negotiations, has it down to just $5 a head, and asks if we want to join him. After enquiring where he intends going… “The Blue Hole” (a popular swimming spot in the jungle, where the water, which comes from a natural spring, is so crystal clear that it appears to be 'blue'.) he tells us, and without hesitation we agree . “OK, meet over there” Al points, and when we reach the 'taxi' (an old 'people carrier' sort of vehicle ) we discover he has been negotiating for a group of nine others. We don't think there'll be room for us as well, but Al insists, and so we all squeeze in. The other passengers, a couple of whom we have met before, are all a good deal younger than either YM or I, and it turns out to be a good good fun trip.
We drive along into the interior for about 20 minutes, before we reach a bridge over a river, where we make a stop. This is obviously not the famous ' Blue Hole” and the driver informs Al that to get to the 'Hole' we first have to pay an 'admission charge' of $10 each. Even Al's great charm, and superior skill in bargaining, wasn't good enough to sway Aole the driver. At that point we were approached by another local who pointed to the river bank where there were some 'outrigger dugout canoes' waiting. The deal was they would paddle us upriver to the Blue Hole for $10 each, and that would include the entrance fee to swim in the lagoon as well. That seems like a fun trip, so YM Al and I get into the first canoe and with the local guy paddling it, off we go.
It took our canoeist about 10 minutes of paddling up the river, past amazing scenery, the water crystal clear, and the only sounds heard being bird-calls and the soft lapping of the water against the wooden hull. It's close to idyllic.
When we reach the 'lagoon' or 'Blue Hole' we quickly change into our bathers and leap into the water for a swim. A hot humid day and cool clear waters made for an excellent combination. A rope 'swing' had been rigged up, and we all had a lot of fun on it, swinging from the platform and across to the other side, before letting go of the rope and splashing down into the lagoon.
We amused ourselves like this for about an hour and half, before making the return journey downriver, where our driver was waiting to take us back to the ship.
When we arrived back on the wharf, YM and I discussed what our next move would be, and after a quick bite to eat onboard, a trip into the town seemed like a good idea. I'm not such a good deal-maker as Al, and after haggling with some taxi drivers on the wharf, the best I'm offered is a $5 return trip. We've agreed that that includes him waiting in the town for us for a while, while we take a gander around. As it's now hot and humid I can't be bothered haggling any more, and even though town is no more than a mile away, accept this price. (Memo to self; It's probably a good idea to check the condition of a cab before getting in) The cab is a bit dirty, both inside and out, but the drive seems a decent sort. Before we have reached the port gate he asks if I want to go for a sightseeing tour. ” no thanks, we have already been” says I “Just take us to the town”. ” What about Million Dollar Point, you seen him?” No, I haven't seem him as it turns out, but I have heard about him. During WW2, this island, after Hawaii, was the 2nd largest US base in the pacific, and at one stage over 200,000 troops were based here. Once the Japanese were defeated, what to do with all the heavy artillery, the guns, the tanks, the vehicles, etc, now redundant. It would have been far too expensive to ship them back to the US, and anyway would have driven down prices even further. So the Yanks decided to drive anything that could be moved, and anything that could be carted, along a road that went to the waters edge……. and when they reached the end of the road they drove,pushed or pulled all that equipment into the sea. Millions of dollars worth of it
“Ok, that sounds good mate, but how much?” ….. He didn't reply but immediately braked, did a quick U-turn, and took off rapidly in the opposite direction to the town. Now I guess it's not such a good idea to negotiate a price while the taxi is already moving in the direction you want to go….. you lose the 'upper hand' so to speak. “only ten dollar” he says, and I instantly agree, as that sounds reasonable. YM shoots me a withering look that means 'you idiot' ! The road out to the $1,000,000 point doesn't appear to have been repaired since the Americans left in '45, and is badly potholed…in fact there are more potholes than road. As well, it isn't a 'sealed' road, and the truck in front of us is kicking up a dust storm. This means we have to close the windows, which also means it gets hotter than hell inside the cab…. no aircon naturally. Both vehicles twist and turn, and zigzag their way along the road while trying to avoid the holes. Oncoming traffic use the same method, and it is better for the nerves to not look out the windscreen. I mention to the driver that perhaps a 4wheel drive would be a better option for these road conditions, and he agrees, and tells me that he will soon have enough money to buy a new taxi… ” 4 wheel drive mister.”
After just 10 minutes we reach our destination, where we are informed by Josep, for that's his name, that we have to pay a further $10 each if we want to go into the 'park' and see the attraction. Well, we have got this far, so what the hell. However, there is no one manning the gate at the park entrance so we drive in. It looks like we may not have to pay after all,as it's a public holiday 'Easter Sunday', and the park officials are possibly all at church. We have gone just a few metres down the track into the park, when Josep fails to manouvre around a particulary large 'pothole', the car lurches to one side, emits a loud screeching noise, then stalls. We all hop out to see the damage, and it appears that the crankshaft ( I'm only guessing it's the crankshaft, I'm not a mechanic, and I wouldn't know what one looks like, but even I can see that whatever it is, it's large, and quite probably an essential part of the engine) has broken off, and is now hanging below the chassis. I express my doubts about his ability to get this car out of the hole, and even if he/we did, to get it started again, and Josep agrees. “Samting ia hemi bugarap” he says. Which is pijin english for something is wrong. “How will we get back to town? ” I ask and he tells me that he will find another driver to take us. Reassured ( sure!) YM and I walk the remaining 100 metres down to the beach, to look for any remains of the rusty tanks and jeeps left behind by the departing Yanks. In the carpark, where we almost made it to, I see what looks to be a branch meeting of the Bob Marley Appreciation Society taking place. A bunch of locals, all dressed in conbinations of Bob Marley's favoured colours of red, green, black and yellow are “hangin' out” and chillin'. ( to be fair,the Vanuatu flag also has these colours, so not sure if they are just being patriotic or really fans of the reggae king …. but by the clouds of 'pungent smoke' rising around them, I'd hazard a guess and say both!)
One of Bob's 'brothers' spotted us, and made his way towards us. ” Hi”…..”Hi”….. “Where ya all goin' ? “…. ” “Just having a look at the relics”……” goin' for swim?” …..” Naa, just looking” …… ” Cool mon, but ya gotta pay park fee, ten bucks each mon” ….. ” What, even on a Sunday?” …. “yeah, every day mon, every day, wot 'appen to you taxi? ” When I tell him that it's broken down, he enquires about how we are going to get back to the ship. ” I can get you you a driver, he tells us, ” but first you gotta pay me twennee' dollars, park fee”. Not resembling anything remotely like any park ranger I've ever seen before, not even in Jamaica, I decide it's better to pay him than argue….and besides, we dont have any means to get back to the ship without some help. “Thanks mon, go take a look around, I'll see what I can do” he says, while pocketing the 'twennee' ( no receipt given, and I dont ask for one either!)
Now I'm not sure that Million Dollar Point is worth the 'twennee' dollars admission fee, but it is quite interesting. It was a bit of luck that it was 'low tide' as we could see that the beach was still littered with bits of rusting engine parts. Amazing really, that even after almost 70 years had past, that so much still remained intact. Had we brought snorkelling gear, we were told that the relics underwater, and visible out further were even more amazing.
After a while we'd seen enough, so approach Bob Marley's Fan Club again to see how our 'help' is going. Our original driver, Josep, was sitting with them, and informed us that he'd found someone to take us back, but that we needed to pay him for bringing us to Million Dollar Lookout, half, and then pay the new driver the other half. That seemed fair enough, so I handed Josep five dollars, which is what I'd calculated it to be. ” No, you 'ave to pay ten dollar” he said . When I told him that that was half of the ten dollars we'd agreed on initially, he replied that, no, he meant ten dollars EACH! OK, Josep, you win, we are a long way from home, and surrounded by local versions of the rastafarians, who wants to argue. ” Good luck with the new 4-wheel drive” I tell him ” and glad I could help you pay for it! ”
Our new driver, a well built, fully fledged 'rasta', with tattooed arms ( and I'll bet, others hidden from view) has taken his love of 'Marley-dom' to a new high ( appropriate phrase eh!) and his 'motor' car was decorated with much Marley regalia, including a fantastic ceiling. ( see photos).
We now had to re-negotiate with Nabu, that was his name, and Nabu wanted….. yes, you guessed it, ten dollars EACH to take us. “OK” I agreed, and the look of contempt I got from YM this time, was far deadlier than 'withering'. I'll say this for Nabu though, he was a much much slower driver than Josep, who'd taken us out to the point. Whether or not his 'slowness' was due to the after-affects of the 'ganja' he'd been partaking of earlier, or maybe he was just an extra careful driver, I dont know. ” What do you want to go into town for anyway” he said ” it's Sunday, nothing is open” … actually ” Wi yu wanna go see sumtin township….he no open, nuttin, nuttin open, all go church, yu go back ship, wi not” No Nabu, I really do
wanna want to see the town . ( That was our original plan, if you recall) ” Oki Doki, yu boss” says Nabu, and he drives us past where the ship is docked and a then a mile further on into the town. It doesnt take too long to realise that Nabu is right after all, nuttin' nothing is open ….absolutely nuttin'. ' Oki doki, where yu wanna me stop” he enquires. Well Nabu I say, I thought we agreed that you'd take us into town, wait awhile, then take us back to the ship. ” No, that other driver, not me….I just take yu ta town, drop off, twennee dollar ” and with that he stops outside what seems to be the only place in town that is open, and by the look of the place, where the clientele definitely aren't the Church-going type. It's a billiard saloon cum grog shop, and it's where the rest of Mr Marley's 'posse' hang out. This is definitely as far as Nabu is going to take us, as he hops out of the car, and quickly ( well, as quickly as you get around here) heads inside the 'grog shop', in a hurry to spend my 'twennee' obviously. ” Mi Glad Tumus, lukim yu” he shouts back to us ( Roughly translated it means ' Me glad too much, see you later'
YM and I set off for the mile long walk back to the ship, not game to try another Vanuatuan 'taxee'. I'm a great believer in supporting 'local' business's wherever I go, and like to leave some 'handbag' behind….. I think I've certainly achieved that objective in Vanuatu. ” Lukim me”