Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
The town of Luganville in Espiritu Santo was our first stop in Vanuatu and it would also be out last after we made our round to some of the outer islands. Vanuatu is an archipelago comprised of 83 islands, but you can only clear in and clear out of the country at a few of them. It is a bit gritty and real. Vanuatu was colonized by both the French and British and in Santo you can observe both of their influences. You can sit in a French bistro along the main street of Luganville and sip espresso while you nibble on your pain de chocolate and parlez francais with the clientele for instance. There is also a surprising melange of people here. While not exactly cosmopolitan one could not call Santo mono-cultural by any means. Next to the French bistro you will find a Chinese store and next to that the Village Craft Centre (boasting crafts from many Kastom villages) and next to that an inn owned by a couple from New Zealand. Voted the happiest place in the world in 2010 – perhaps the word is getting out?!
Luganville or the town that was there before 1942 was a tiny, sleepy little trading post but WWII and the US Navy chaged all that. From a tiny viilage it grew almost over night to a Navy town of 100,000 or more. Among other things they built large paved roads. Really good roads. Roads that were built for military use. During this war the large basin at Espritu Santo made for a massive Naval anchorage as well as air base for bombers and fighters that were campaigning over the Solomon Islands. When the Second World War ended the base was abandoned along with most, if not all, of the equipment. The departing military dumped the tanks and machinery into the sea just off the coast. Remnants of that time can still be found scattered on the reefs and all over the island and make for great hikes and dives. We’ve got a few history buffs and a few avid divers on the crew – all eager to come back and explore.
The Picton Castle anchored just offshore late in the morning on the 11th of October. The Captain, Rebecca, Ollie and I went in on the first skiff in order to get the ship cleared in with the authorities. The crew were given an opportunity to go ashore for two hours – stock up on minor provisions, perhaps send an e-mail or two, have a cold drink and then we were off. The time to explore Santo would come. Vanuatu is rich in culture and natural splendour and we had more islands to visit. We spent the night motor-sailing to our next destination – Banam Bay on the island of Malekula.