It was a couple of years ago now, but we met Chief Dani Rusa (at least that's what he said his name was, communication was not easy) at the Sunday morning market in Luganville, the major town on the
Vanuatu . A
wizened but still wiry and proud old man with a long white beard and twinkling
eyes, he told us he had walked two days to reach Luganville from his home
village that was deep in the mountains and had no road access. island of Espiritu Santo
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In deference to the more sophisticated locals, he had wrapped a piece of pink cloth around his lower extremities rather than the leaf he traditionally wears to preserve his modesty.
Accompanied by a younger assistant chief, whose name was not disclosed to us, he had made the trek to the big smoke to resolve a dispute with another tribe, a complicated affair involving a native plant being used to place a curse on the local courthouse.
The chief was confident the contretemps could be resolved the next day, after which he planned to return to his mountain people, who were renowned for shooting at US aircraft with wooden bows and arrows during World War II.
Speaking bislama, the local pidgin language, through an interpreter, he told us that he was no stranger to conflict. He smiled as he told us how he fought with notorious rebel leader Jimmy Stevens in the Coconut Rebellion back in 1980.
It was a would-be coup that made worldwide headlines at the time. "I was one of Stevens' main men," the chief proclaimed.
Stevens is remembered as the leader of a ragtag band of leaf-wearing rebels who staged a coup on Espiritu Santo before the New Hebrides, then jointly ruled by
Britain and France,
became the independent nation of . Vanuatu
The leader of the Nagriamel movement, Stevens declared the independence of the “State of
June 1980 and referred to himself as the prime minister. Vemerana
was granted independence in
July, Prime Minister Walter Lini deployed Papua New Guinean troops and the
revolt was crushed without serious bloodshed. Republic of Vanuatu
Stevens died in 1994 but his followers, like Chief Rusa, still wear arm patches signifying membership of the rebel organisation.
On this day, however, Chief Rusa, also wearing a Boston Celtics beanie and a
necklace, was more interested in shopping than
rebellion as the two mountain men perused the yams, pineapples and other fruits
and vegetables on offer in the simple market (below). New York, New
Life here moves at a slower pace; there are a handful of places to stop in the Santo capital of Luganville, with the hilltop Deco Stop Lodge a pleasant place for a stay, or for lunch beside the pool.
Accessible only by water are the Aore Resort and Bokissa Private Island Resort, both great for lovers of water sports, particularly scuba diving.
Wherever you go in
but most particularly on Santo, you’ll find links with World War II. Vanuatu
James Michener was inspired to write Tales of the South Pacific while he was stationed on Santo.
The island is the home of the world's best dive wreck, the SS President Coolidge, a cruise liner turned troop ship that was sunk by the US military’s own mines with 5000 troops on board,. All but two survived.
|World War II wreckage|
She lies intact on her side and is easily accessible, as is the USS Tucker, off
. Malo Island
Just down the road from the Coolidge is Million Dollar Point, where the Americans dumped jeeps and other heavy equipment into the ocean at the end of the war. Our guide also took us to the wreck of a World War II bomber slowly being overtaken by the foliage.
Given the sleepy state of Santo today, it is hard to believe that it was once the second-largest US base in the Pacific after
and was home to over 40,000 troops at
any one time. Those
troops included Michener and future president John F. Kennedy, while Eleanor
Roosevelt visited in her role as ambassador for the Commander In Chief. Hawaii
is the land time forgot, which makes the 83 tropical islands that make up the nation ideal
for getting away from it all. Service can be slow, or haphazard, but you just
have to go with the flow. Vanuatu
On Tanna, you’ll find the amazing Yasur volcano, a still fiery cauldron that angrily hurls rocks and lava, and islanders who still live the traditional way, wearing little more than grass skirts and penis sheaths.
It’s also home to the John Frum Cargo Cult, devoted to US servicemen who visited in World War II, and another tribe who, somewhat bizarrely given his disdain for anyone not wearing a suit, believe that Prince Philip is their saviour.
|Room with a view at Breakas Resort|
Here you’ll find duty free stores, a daily market and a handful of top-line restaurants and resorts.
Breakas Beach Resort and Villas offers lovely bungalows and villas and there’s a very good on-site restaurant next to the main swimming pool. www.breakas.com.