The sun was out, cruise ships were in and the idea of a getaway to a remote tropical island sounded too good to be true.
It was hot outside and Vila had become a steaming mess of Westerners with corn-rows and t-shirts advertising beer. Tourists flush with alcohol and sun jostled along the main street, clammering for the latest pirated dvds.
As sweat trickled down my brow I was bailed up by a bus driver. “1000Vt yu go wea?” At close to 6 times the standard fare, it was the final straw. I made the call. We were going to Santo. A place we were told would be saved when Armaggedon hit. I figured this was as close as it got.
When you ask people about Santo, they swoon. As the largest island in Vanuatu, Santo is home to exceptional beaches and a lesser known cult. This group say the tectonic plates that rise under Santo are a sign that it will be the last place left on earth. While I’m sure that idea is bulletproof I went into the whole thing a bit skeptical.
Armed with backpacks we made our way to a little bungalow on Champagne Beach, the third best beach in the world (CNN says so, so it must be right…). Janet welcomed us with a big smile, thrusting menus into our hands and assuring us she made “nambawan aelan kakae (food)”. But with the light fading, we decided to first put the beach to the test.
Flanked by cows, chickens, pigs and dogs, we made our way down to the water.
In Vanuatu animals roam freely through villages, and even in some cases streets. On any given day you can be greeted by a pig at breakfast, trailed by a cow at lunch then harranged by a chicken at bedtime. There are no “farm” animals. Instead animals eat, sleep and play at will, often with hilarious results.
My general approach to this is live and let live. I go about my business, and the animals go about theirs. It was going well until one particular animal initiated a showdown in Santo.
It all started with the chicken. I’ll put it out there. I don’t like chickens. I’m not going to explain why (mainly because it’s not overly rational) but I will say that I am not happy if chickens approach me, enter my personal space or look at me with their beady little eyes. I don’t eat alot of chicken and I don’t really like eggs. As a general rule I keep a wide berth of all things poultry. But the chicken just wouldn’t leave it alone.
First she cornered our bungalow, patrolling the door while I clung to a plastic chair waiting for her to leave. After marking her territory she strutted off, content that I was no competition. It was hours later as we peered into the darkness with our solar-powered lamp, that Janet said “Yu harem wan noise, i stret”. After some miming and broken bislama we realised what she was saying. No worries about any noises in the night….the chicken is roosting an egg in your bungalow. Live and let live.
We managed to lose the chickens at the beach. The cows however were a different story. The stunning vista was dotted with cows that waned away the hours, basking in the sun and breeze. Looking out over the water, just us and the cows on the 3rd best beach in the world. Then, as the long shadows of sunset stretched across the sand, the cows slowly made their way back to the paddocks while we took shelter in our little bungalow by the beach.
It was an awesome sight that got me thinking about the rising plates on Santo.
As dogs barked, pigs forraged and those damn chickens cackled knowingly, I remembered that story you hear as a kid, the one about Noah’s Ark. Something about a big flood that wipes out everyone except for the animals on the boat. Looking at the quiet confidence of the animals on Santo, I couldn’t help thinking maybe, just maybe, that cult is onto something after all.
Some pics of Santo – click here.