First shocker of the hols, how much luggage can one girl need - Matina!
The flight from Sydney to Port Vila was like a party bus, Rob tried his luck ordering a beer and a bourbon and coke (well it was free) and was graciously served a very huge glass of bourbon, so it was game on for the rest of the party. Things were in full swing by the time we reached the destination, no one wanted to get off the plane! Air Vanuatu - highly recommended.
As soon as we reached the hotel in Port Vila most of the party dumped bags, donned swimmers and jumped in the pool. The bar staff were again most willing and able with the drinks served in the pool - no health and safety issues here. We went out for a civilised meal, and nearly all made it back to the hotel at a reasonable hour, apart from Nick and Ben who ended up playing pool with the Chief of Police into the small hours. I think they let him win though, as you would in those circumstances. The rest of us saw an amazing halo around the moon whilst on the way back - and no, I don't think it was purely alcohol related.
So, up at the crack of dawn quite literally on Saturday and off to Santo on one of the smallest planes I have ever been on. It was almost a private jet! Of course, the guy that Nick and Ben had met the night before (not the chief of police though) was on the plane, and turned out to be that 'recurring person' you see throughout the holiday and dived with us every day - every holiday has one!.
The resort in Santo was small, comfortable and perfect for divers - no carpets, a wet room and detached bungalow accommodation generously spaced out. The snoring noises barely made it from bungalow to bungalow. I said barely.
On to the dive site that was to become our second home over the next five days. It was so convenient it could almost have been built especially, like a kind of divers Disney world. The only thing missing as we often discussed, was a moving travelator or chair lift to take us up and down the beach with kit on. We split into groups and embarked on the first dive to the Promenade deck, with the charming Charles as guide. The water temperature was just perfect, even Etsuko was warm enough! I think!
That afternoon we moved on to Million Dollar Point - so named as I think the US army dumped at least a million dollars worth of kit in the sea in a big heap. A bizarre sight, loads of trucks, bulldozers etc all piled up on top of each other, and a new microwave, which frankly didn't look very WW2. Heaps of fish, and a potato cod sat in a hole under the wreckage.
The next day our first dive was the cargo holds, with more tanks and bulldozers piled up in the bottom. The viz was amazing inside the holds so you could see loads when shining the torch around. At one point I wondered what the hell was creeping along the ceiling until I worked out it was our air bubbles! My first experience really inside a wreck.
The medical store - fantastic dive, my favourite bit was dropping in through a salvage hole in the top of the ship in skydive position. I've decided already by this point that I'm joining the wreck diver camp - fish are nice but wrecks are much more exciting! Being inside a contained space accentuates the experience of weightlessness. Inside we saw the aircraft refuelling shells which looked just like the egg cases in Alien, spooky.
That evening we set off in the bus again, hired by Pete to take us all to a Kava bar. When I say bar, I mean a tin shack with mud floor, in front of someones house with a single red fluorescent strip light and an attempt at a pot plant. The 'bar' was surrounded with a chicken wire screen, behind which some dodgy geezer was serving the said 'Kava' from an old tin kettle into coconut shells. We all tried to drink as much as we could, but it quickly became apparent it wasn't a tipple one enjoyed for the taste. Only Etsuko managed to swing the body mass to volume drunk ratio in her favour, the rest of us remaining largely untouched. Several people reported miracle cures of old aches and pains though. I don't think going straight off to a brightly lit Chinese restaurant helped the Karma of the Kava either. We must have been slightly intoxicated because we made the mistake of sending the Scotsman to purchase beer, who must have been the only known western tourist in history to have to borrow money from a local to pay the bill. Nice food though.
Day three - The lady. This was the best dive of the week for me. Dropped in through the favourite hole in the top again, down a corridor where the portholes had become the skylights in the ceiling, most still with glass in, allowing beautiful shafts of light down into the passageway. Then we went down further into the dark and gloom, and then there she was, a porcelain statue of a lady picked out with the torches, a strangely thrilling sight. I didn't really fancy kissing her, but it's the done thing to do so I gave her a peck. Matina however, went for it big time, for several seconds, twisting her head either way - she says her mask was in the way, but I reckon she was giving her a snog.
After lunch we boarded two little banana boats and cruised out to another part of the bay of islands to the Tucker wreck. We couldn't find the bouy to moor to which led to an interesting demonstration of advanced boat handling skills which involved being outside the boat in the water and still steering it. The wreck was great, quite broken up but full of fish life and very pretty. Had a nice time hanging on the shot line getting a facial from the bubbles coming up from below. We also got the extended sunset tour on the way back, when one of the outboards failed to start - I wasn't in any hurry to get back as the scenery was fantastic.
It was dark by the time we got back to the resort, and still being in wetsuits what better time for a quick night dive from the jetty! Shouldn't have bothered. It was crap. Fast forward to the bar!
Nick, Pat, Ben and myself got a bit carried away with the late night drinking, and casually observed the staff clearing up around us, turning off the lights and locking up. We were quite happy sitting outside, enjoying the ambience while finishing our drinks, they were quite happy to leave us to it. Everything was cool, until we had finished the drinks and decided to go off to our respective bungalows to bed, and I realised that I had left the key to our bungalow at reception - inside the now locked up building! Panic! Visions of sleeping outside, with the bugs and rain were not appealing. Fortunately Ben's shady background and criminal mind sprung into action, he quickly sized up the entry possibilities and set to work removing slats of glass from the window. Like a flash he has climbed in, swiftly moving the toaster to one side, and is back out with the precious key in hand. Unfortunately, the rest of the team were not so efficient, and raised the alarm by taking photos with flash and a certain amount of giggling. By the time the 'security guard' arrived on the scene (in Vanuatu time - i.e. not very quickly) the glass had been replaced and there was nothing to see! I don't think he suspected anything!
Well, a final dive the next morning to the Captains Bathroom, it had an ashtray in it which I thought was disgusting - whoever smokes in the bathroom!! We made our way out through the library and first class accommodation - doesn't look very first class anymore. Unfortunately my mask steamed up at this point, and that combined with the silt Nick had kicked up and the video lights in my face meant I couldn't see a lot - I hung out for a while trying to work out if everyone else was going up or down, and worked it out eventually when I felt bubbles on my face from below! Came out into the open part of the ship to see Nick sitting on a beam waiting for me looking like a gnome. Cheeky git, well, I've got plenty of air so I'm in no hurry!
That afternoon most of us set off to go swimming in the Blue hole. An amazingly clear spring water pool about 12 metres deep I think - with a McLarish in the bottom! (he took his pony and reg - the man just cannot stop diving...) It was a little fresh jumping in - plenty of ear splitting screams from the girls, but we soon got used to it and it was very pleasant. Fed the fish with bread until they were virtually eating out of our hands. We swam off around the corner where the pool turned into more of a stream. The crystal clear water and fine weeds hanging off the tree roots pulled like wizards beards in the current made it seem very mystical.
That evening we went to the dive shop (for the first time!) and each received our 'certificates' for diving the Coolidge. Aquamarine are a friendly but shrewd operation, they got us drunk on homemade beer on the premises so of course we all spent money on t-shirts, books, stubby holders!
A great break, didn't want to come home, but rain on the departure day made that somewhat easier to bear.