I’ve met some nice French girls at my hostel who are hitting the blue holes today (which I’ve already done) but are kind enough to give me a ride to town. I’m kicking myself because I haven’t made any strong decisions yet. I’ve kind of been puttering about trying to figure out what I want to do, and I’m really just wasting time.
I thought it would all be much simpler, but it seems like getting to any of the good stuff takes planning and money. So today I’ve decided to hit Million Dollar Point and then catch a bus to Port Olry. This is on the North East side of Santo, and takes more than an hour to get to. Someone told me it would cost 10,000VT for transport, but if I wait until 3pm when everyone working in the town catches the bus home, it will only cost 500VT. That is very worth the wait.
In town I hit the bank because there are only a few ATMs on the island and everything is dealt in cash unless you’re at a fancy resort. I meet a Kiwi who has been living here for a year, running a coffee shop. He says I should be able to get a taxi to Million Dollar Point for 300VT. Rad.
I cross the street, hail a taxi, and find Ken, my driver from yesterday has just pulled up. What are the chances?! I get in without really discussing a price cause we’re cool now and he didn’t try to rip me off last time. He drops me at Million Dollar Point and offers to wait but I suggest he leave and come back again so he can do more trips during the day and make some $$$. I need to catch the bus to Port Orly at 3pm, from the same gas station where I waited for a ride to the blue holes and met Ken yesterday. This is the “bus station” but looks just like a regular petrol station.
Again, I am the only person here. But to be fair it’s only 9:30am. I pay the 500VT entry fee and ask to rent snorkel gear. It’s 1,000VT for the gear so I say actually forget it (my boyfriend will read this and laugh because he knows I’m not much for snorkelling anyway) but then the guy changes his mind and says I can have it for free. Interesting. I’m clumsy af and try to pretend like I know what I’m doing but I’m falling all about trying to get my flippers on, which are actually way too big for my feet. I know you have to walk backwards in the flippers so at least I get that right.
Million Dollar Point is famous for being the dumping site of American military gear after the war. They just parked up and ditched all their shit on this beautiful beach. I’m talking full on ships, trucks, bulldozers, shipping containers etc. I guess it was a million dollars worth of stuff, but don’t quote me on that cause I’m not sure. Not cool America… but I’ll admit it looks interesting now. The water fades from teal to dark blue, looking out over some neighbouring islands. The beach is rocky and clean despite a few old metal bits and pieces dug deeply into the sand, but I guess that’s just part of the aesthetic now.
I can’t dive because my ears are trash and way too sensitive to changing pressure. I have cried as an adult on international flights because the pain is too much. I’m also not really a great swimmer, and I hate the sound of breathing underwater. It’s just not for me, k? So without an oxygen tank I don’t get to adventure all the way down to the sunken ship, but I can see a bunch of rusty other stuff that’s now covered in rock and coral beneath the waves which is pretty cool. There are some crazy fish down here too, shiny rainbow guys, long nose boys, baby sharks (I think, but I’m hoping I’m wrong) and sea snakes (also hoping I’m wrong, but I saw what I saw). It’s cool and I splash about for a little longer but after the snakes I’m feeling all paranoid. I check when I get back to shore that there’s nothing dangerous out here and the guy at the bar assures me everything is harmless. What I saw was in fact a shark, but small and apparently not dangerous. The snakes are meant to be harmless too but he hesitated on that one so I’m not convinced. I think the sketchiest part is probably the threat of tetanus with all this rusty old metal stuff, so I’m happy my giant flippers didn’t slip off.
I return my snorkel gear and head back to the beach when some divers arrive. They go all the way down to the actual ship and say it’s amazing, but they’re only out there for all of 20 minutes. It seems like an expensive hobby. I relax and write for the rest of the afternoon. I get a bowl of chips from the bar because it’s the cheapest thing they’ve got at 500VT.
This is honestly such a beautiful place I can’t believe no one is here. There’s another giant Bayon tree, even bigger and more wild than the one I saw yesterday at the blue holes, whose limbs and branches intertwine in ways I don’t understand. Did it grow from the ground up, or the branch down? It looks like 600 trees all growing together. Just epic.
I expected the beach to get way busier but it’s just me, the divers, and two English girls who arrive by bus later in the day. I ask them what they paid for the bus, and it’s only slightly less than what I paid for my taxi at 200VT. I offer to share the taxi back to town, because it’s one thing getting here via bus but I don’t know how easy it would be to get one back. It’ll also lower my cost.
By 3pm buddy has not shown. I’m getting nervous I won’t make it back to town in time to catch a bus, and I’m feeling guilty for telling those girls I’d get them a ride. One of them even has a SIM and I text Ken, but no reply. So we start walking. We are absolutely cooking in the sun but no buses pass. There’s construction to improve the roads so we’re walking past machinery kicking up dust and knowing that for at least this stretch, there’s no hope of finding a vehicle. We get so far that we’re approaching the airport – at least there we know we’ll find a bus. But even better, a group of divers is coming back in a big van and invite us to hop in. At last!
Once in town we each offer 200VT but the driver insists we don’t pay. I am in awe. I may even cry. Thank you sir!
I speed walk over to the “bus station” and let the guys know I need a ride to Port Olry. I can hardly say the name of this beach. As a kid I had trouble with Rs and I don’t know why I’m struggling now but I feel like a child when I try to pronounce it. It’s weird. Anyway. I wait for 15 minutes before I start to wonder if I’ve missed my window and am going to have to go back to Hidden Lodge, defeated and hoping a room is still open. But then someone whistles and I’m directed to the back of a pick up truck (or Ute, as they say in New Zealand). I climb in among 8 others and try to get comfortable for the hour long journey ahead.
The driver goes speeding off and we’re all bouncing around in the back. A boy of about 8 years old is standing up and refusing to get down. His mom tries to convince him a couple times then gives up. I put my sunglasses on purely to shield my eyes from the wind, coming at me 80km in a 30km zone. One sign says “15km over bridge” and the driver definitely speeds up.
The guy beside me loses his hat and we come to a halt so he can jump out and pick it up. We pick up two guys carrying machetes. I’m having the best time. We drive through farm land, villages, and fields planted with coconut trees as far as the eye can see. The sky starts to turn pink as the sun is setting and the 8 year old boy laughs at me when I take a picture.
I jump out at Port Olry and get a move on to sort out my accommodation like, real quick. The side road leads me to some fancy bungalows where the Australian family with crying babies on my flight up here is enjoying a meal. I ask them about camping, which is obviously not here in this luxury beach side accom, but they know nothing. I start walking down the beach, considering where I might sleep if there’s nothing available. Could I sleep on the beach? It’s safe enough right?
But I come across the neighbouring establishment and see some tents. Yes! Please have one free please have one free please have one free. And boom! They do. 1600VT ($for the night. Big success. The sky is literally turning dark as I crawl into my tent, which is about 20m from the beach. A miracle. So happy to be here. Happy to be alive. Life is good. I can’t wait to wake up here!
I sit in the common area where I meet a spanish girl, a couple from Germany that live in New Zealand, and a French couple. The French couple don’t speak the strongest English, but they do speak Spanish so I get to play translator…even though my French is hella rusty. I love having mixed language conversations even when I don’t speak all the languages. After a chicken curry dinner and some conversation I crawl back into my tent and fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves at my door.