Part 7: Vanuatu: Blue Holes and Revelations
Bislama word/phrase of the day:
Mi stap lukaot boks masis – I’m looking for a box of matches
If you were to visit Vanuatu and in particular Espiritu Santo, everyone you meet will give you a list of the four or five things you must do whilst you’re here. One of them is the ‘blue-holes’. I must admit, when we were first told about them I thought in my arrogance, ‘really, are they that good?!’ and ‘how can they possibly compare with the cenotes of the Yucatan?’. However, on Tuesday morning we set out from our temporary home at Turtle Bay to find this so called blue-hole and see what the endless fuss was all about.
You can get to it by car but in our infinite wisdom we chose kayak as our mode of transportation. Now picture this: Chris and I slathered in sunblock, perched precariously and inelegantly on a small double kayak which is really little more than a plastic raft. You may find the situation even more ridiculous if I point out at that I don’t like boats. So off we set with some vague directions from our host as to the location of a river mouth up which to paddle. We have no idea how long it will take, we’ve not packed a lot of water, it’s swelteringly hot and we’re both excessively unfit. Marvellous. As we begin paddling across the bay, past a stunning wooden ship that smacks of Pirates of the Caribbean, Chris and I realise that perhaps we have bitten off more than we can chew. Chris is clearly not feeling it, breaking the not so rhythmic paddling rhythm with ‘are we nearly there yet’ and ‘I’m just feeling quite tired today’. We eventually get into the swing of things and when we finally come across the river mouth and make our way up it, our laziness is forgotten and is replaced with awe.
We are not the only people to have kayaked up this river, yet the calmness of the water, the wildness of the vegetation either side and the jungle noises from within the forest fosters a real sense of intrepid exploration. Here we are, imagining that we are great colonial explorers stealing our way through forbidden amazonian waters in search of a mystical blue hole. The beauty that surrounds us is staggering. Trees twist their way out of the water into great clumps of root and vine reaching up to the midday sun supporting outstretching canopies and cascading green leaves.
At times the individual trees are indistinguishable as roots and trunks knot together as though they are all part of some primordial gloop that raised up out of the river and petrified. The water is crystal clear and we can see the silty river bed as though we were sitting on glass. Below us are the occasional fish and the abandoned trunk of some kamikaze tree that lies peacefully amid gentle drifting lilies. At some points in our journey we reach an impasse where water-cress has grown free and wild and covers the river surface. Our paddles soon cut through the vegetable soup and we delve further into the interior until we notice that the crystalline water has begun to show hughes of blue that do not reflect the greying sky. Before we realise it, we reach a dead end where the water is now very blue, toilet duck blue. It looks unreal and chemical and it feels achingly cold.
It is, however, a natural phenomenon, apparently the result of sulphur forcing its way up out of the river bed and into the water. I have no idea how this works and I hope to find some science nerd of some sort who can explain it to me. Alternatively it could just be an OCD local who thought that putting a metric tonne of toilet duck in the water would keep their water clean. I’ll keep you posted.
In lieu of any explanation we were quite happy dipping in and marvelling at it’s colour and clarity until we got too cold and had to jump out to warm up. It was worth a visit indeed. Was it a patch on Quintanna Roo’s cenotes? Not quite. As Chris, the master of eloquent, elegant expression said, ‘well, it is just a hole. That is blue’. Brilliant. Vanuatu is clearly going to have to try harder to appease his lordship. The other famed E.Santo sight is the ‘Millennium Cave’ but similarly Chris is not too bothered about visiting ‘another hole’. This hole was worth braving floating plastic for, if for nothing else than for the exquisite views along the way and the sense of exploration.
We took our time paddling back, visiting a little island across the bay and pottering along the edge of another. The storm clouds loomed overhead and the distant thundering threats became more and more frequent. Realising that our oars were metal poles and imagining a cartoon image of our skeletons flashing like x-rays as a bolt of Thor’s lightening hurled its way through us we whipped our gun-less arms and squishy backsides to attention and began to paddle with superhuman speed (no exaggeration). We dragged our broken bodies onto the shore just as the heavens opened. Phew! No death by Pike (my fear of boats stems from a fear of Pike lurking beneath waiting to eat me), no death by exhaustion and no death by lightening. In all, a good outing.
To top our day off, we ‘accidentally’ agreed to take part in a circus skills lesson given by Matt. Today’s topic: handstands. Brilliant. So the girl with spaccy shoulders with no functioning ligaments and the boy with spaccy wrists that can’t bend, won’t bend, attempted to stand on their hands. Why do we need this skill: Will it help me if I get caught speeding? Will it help me understand basic maths? Will it get me my dream job? Unlikely. But I did so love learning how to do it. Even if it was knackering and embarrassing attempting to haul my legs into the air whilst upside down, even if it hurt like hell and even if my trousers did fall down and I didn’t notice that I was bearing my pants to the class. We even managed to do a handstand on a chair! We rock. Chris did amazingly well and there’s photographic evidence of his achievements (watch this space). When we set off for our honeymoon, we certainly never thought we’d be standing on our hands in a circus tent with two professional jugglers and three ni-Van children.
We got chatting to a local who described a yearly natural phenomenon that takes place at the blue-holes. Vanuatu sits on the same series of fault lines that effect the whole South Pacific. Therefore, roughly once a year there is a gentle earthquake that forces boiling hot mud to come shooting out of the porous bed of the blue-holes. It explodes up to a few metres high and comes crashing down again giving the river bed a smooth silty covering. Since witnessing this event, our friendly local refuses to go for a dip in the blue-holes no matter how innocent they look, for fear of being boiled alive. Great. Glad we found that out AFTER swimming in them.
**Photo stuff: These photo’s were taken on a small Lumix LX5