Waking up to the sound of ocean waves is almost as good as falling asleep to them. It would be a lot easier to get up for work every day if this was outside my door.
I slept with my bathing suit underneath a sweater and pair of leggings, so it’s easy to strip down and dive straight into the ocean for a brisk and refreshing morning dip. I haven’t showered in 5 days so this also doubles as a bath. Am I really here right now? In this beautiful place, without another soul in sight? It feels like a dream.
I’m so happy I decided to stay another night instead of waking up at 6:30am to catch the “bus” back to town. It’s the sunniest it’s been since I arrived so perfect for a beach day. I walk out to a small island at the most northern part of the beach, which is connected by a shallow enough stretch of water that you can easily walk across. It’s cute, and I walk inland enough to find some people have set up their own campsite (rad) but there’s nothing else here. Back to the main beach I go.
It’s 11am and I’m bored. I didn’t come here for beaches, I came here for culture and adventure. Maybe I should have gone to Tanna. I feel like the grass is always greener, but it’ll be interesting to talk to Elodie when we catch the same flight back to Auckland, and to compare our experiences. I walk over to the village nearby and take a little look around – half curious and half scoping to see if there’s anywhere I can buy a cheaper dinner than what my accom offers.
It doesn’t seem like there’s much available for purchase in the village, either. I do stop into a shop for a bottle of water. Everyone is so friendly and I must say hello 40 times on my walk through. I’m conscious not to get toooo close to anyone’s homes and just stick to the two main streets to avoid being invasive. I can’t imagine the villagers were too excited when expensive bungalows started popping up along the beach – but it’s definitely better than some of the massive modern resorts you find near the major towns. Where I’m staying is clearly the most simple, with just 3 camping spaces available and one epic tree house. The treehouse is 7,000VT ($90) per night, which if you’re reading from home will sound extremely cheap. I assume this is how the family who run the lodge make their money, and then rent out the extra camping spaces to people like me. A win win win situation!
I walk down to the most Southern part of the beach where there are some fallen trees hanging over the water. I try to get cozy by maneuvering my way through the trees to a comfortable shady area, but have to dodge so many massive spiders and webs that I give up. Not worth it. I go back to the beach outside my lodge but it’s gotten crazy windy and too choppy to swim. I’m also worried about the state of my tent.
Okay that’s it I have to get out of here. Champagne Beach is nearby, and it sounds like a beautiful place but costs a whopping 1000VT ($13) just to enter. I hadn’t planned on going because I’m already sitting on a pristine beach, but I’m getting stir crazy. I passed a sign for it on my way up here yesterday and remember it being close. Maybe I can walk? I check the Maps.me app and it estimates 3hrs 45 minutes. Okay nvm.
It’s only 15 minutes by car so I reckon I can just walk up to the main road, try to hitch a ride, and if no one picks me up I’ll return to this sleepy beach and save my money. I should be able to catch a ride back if I time it right with people returning from work in Luganville as I did yesterday. Easy as!
The first two people I see do pull over, but say no to Champagne Beach. A truck passes with a local driver and two tourists, which at first doesn’t look like it’s going to stop but eventually pulls over about 100m in front of me. They agree to drop me at the beach and I hop in the open back of the truck next to a cooler/chilly bin. I notice there’s an empty seat in the back of the car so kinda weird that they chucked me in the back, but no matter, I love it here.
I was expecting to be dropped at the top of the main road and walk down to the beach, but they turn and keep driving. The road just keeps going and going and going. I thought it would be close to the road as Port Orly is, but I was very wrong. This is going to suck when I have to walk back. Had not considered that.
We arrive at the payment gate and I hop out to give the driver 200VT and say thanks, but turns out they’re actually headed all the way to the beach too. Ahhh yes. Makes more sense that they’ve driven me all this way. I pay 1,000VT and the couple each pay 500VT, because it turns out it’s priced by vehicle and only 2,000VT ($25) for all of us. K… a little weird that I paid half between the 3 of us because you’re clearly both rich af, and I’m poor, but I’ll allow it. I thought I’d have to pay this much anyway.
I am crazy surprised when we arrive to find literally no one. else. there. This is one of the main attractions in Vanuatu and especially Santo, so I expected it to be crazy busy. I can’t believe my luck. To be fair, I’m now in exactly the same situation as I was on the free beach 15 minutes from here… but now it feels like I’ve actually done something today.
The beach is sheltered from the wind so the water is calm and crystal clear. It rivals Maya Bay in Thailand, if you’ve ever been. That’s the beach where they filmed “The Beach” and they’ve just had to close off for tourism because it got destroyed by too many boats and visitors each day. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen here, but based on the patronage today, it doesn’t seem to be in danger of over-tourism any time soon. I float around for ages just staring up at the blue sky and feeling happy to be alive.
I chat to the driver who picked me up and she offers to take me back to the main road if I wait until her guests want to leave. Totally worth it. I didn’t have a chance catching a ride with the 0 other people here, so I would have had to walk and I don’t know how long that could have taken.
Some cows come wandering along the beach as we chat. I also make a puppy friend.
I notice that there’s a ton of shelters that look like they’re ready to house beach guests in the shade, or are being built up as beach bars (though there’s already one and surely that’s all they need). I learn it’s because the cruise ships come in here once a week and it gets absolutely packed. A makeshift market pops up just for one day for locals to come down and sell stuff to tourists. I don’t want to imagine hundreds maybe thousands of people on this beach. Nooooo! I regret what I said about it not being in danger of over population. If this beach gets ruined as Maya Bay did I will cry. Though to be fair Maya Bay was packed 365 days a year.
When the couple come back to their car I try to be friendly and ask them where they’re from. They tell me they’re Australian, and then say nothing more. They don’t ask me where I’m from, we don’t talk about this beautiful beach, nothing. It’s weird af honestly. Maybe they’re mad I hitched a ride but I literally cannot imagine why. Weird vibes.
Back at the main road I hop out and say thanks to the driver (and the driver alone) and start trying to find a second ride to take me to Port Orly. The first car that passes pulls over and agrees to take me. Everyone always pulls over here it’s so nice! Only thing, is that the back of their truck is totally filled with stuff. I climb in among bags of sugar, rice, two big metal barrels of something, and someone’s empty tupperware lunch.
Again, happy to be here.
Back at my accom the wind has calmed down, my tent is still standing, and there are people around again. The older French and German couple I was speaking to last night tell me they went on a bush walk with the family that runs the lodge. I am wildly jealous. When they ask me what I did today I shamefully say “Champagne Beach”. I wish someone had mentioned the bush walk last night because I’d have been 500% down, but alas… I try not to dwell on it.
The power cuts and everything along the entire strip of beach goes dark. We spend the rest of the night sharing a big bbq of steaks cooked over an open fire and drinking kava.
I gravitate towards the French couple because they’re patient with me and prefer to speak French rather than English, and I appreciate having the ability to practice. We have some good chats and after everyone else goes to bed the conversation turns political, but it’s too hard for me to fully express myself in another language so it’s frustrating. Apparently the Spanish girl who stayed here last night had never heard of the #metoo movement, and many of their friends in French Polynesia are the same. Kind of mind blowing.
They also tell me about their first trip to Vanuatu some years ago, when they visited Ambrym. This is where the black magic and volcanoes are and I’m still gutted I didn’t make it over there. Apparently there are still areas that practice human sacrifice and are totally cut off from the rest of the world. It’s impossible (and dangerous) to go there as a tourist. Obviously there are other sections of the island that are totally safe or there wouldn’t be an airport. Even though black magic is mostly confined to Ambrym, the owner of the lodge was telling them today about how afraid they are of being turned into a dog by someone evil. Absolutely wild.