In November of 2015, we had to back off the trolling a bit, drop anchor and try some land-based exploring instead. The wind had been blowing 25 knots for the past few days, and while we had done our best to fish in these conditions, the morale of the crew was beginning to wear a bit thin. The bite had been off, due to the full moon, and our hook up rate had dropped to a dismal 20%. We were fishing from dusk til dawn, 12 hours a day , hoping to increase our odds of tagging a Blue. Rough sea conditions are mentally hard on the crew, and physically tiring. It’s tolerable if you are raising and hooking fish. Miserable if you’re not. The bruise on my hip after being thrown across the galley was slowly dissipating. The injury was from a rough sea, not a surly captain or crew…
Late one morning, Garry, Laura and I hopped in the inflatable dingy and headed off for the nearby beach. A tramp across the lawn of a Beachfront Resort brought us to the main road into the town of Luganville. After flagging down a passing taxi, we hopped in the back and rode the 2 Kms to town. The fare was fair, only 200 Vatu (about $2 USD).
We strolled through the fresh vegetable market, stocked up on a few groceries, topped up our cell phones and investigated the local adventure options with a tour operator. Playing tourist for a day would be sure to revive our enthusiasm, and so we picked up a few brochures which described various activities on the Vanuatu island of Santo. Mountain climbing and 3-day camping treks in the bush seemed a little bit ambitious, but dining on Coconut crab in Port Orly seemed like a real adventure in gastronomy. We all agreed to have lunch the following day in Port Orly.
The ride back to the dingy serendipitously matched us with a taxi driver named Johnny, who was also by coincidence, a tour operator! For a small fee, we could hire him and his 2005 Nissan to explore the island for a day. How could we resist? The car had seat belts and air-conditioning!
The next morning, Johnny collected us in front of the resort and, 20 minutes later, we arrived at the Riri Blue Hole. There are several of these amazingly crystal clear fresh water ponds all over the island of Santo. Their brilliant blue color is a result of the purity of the water, reflected against the backdrop of the limestone basins, and the absorption of the red color of the light spectrum. They are incredibly beautiful in color, with diverse flora and fauna, and provide a source of fresh water for the islanders, especially during the dry season.They also provide and important source of tourism revenue for the island. We decided to support the economy and forked out the extra $10 AUS for the privilege of riding in a blue dugout canoe. A short 8 minutes later, we were dropped off in the main pool, where an old-fashioned rope swing awaited up. After a refreshing dip and some cannon balls off the rope swing, we packed up and went back to the waiting driver, who carried us on down the road another 30 minutes to Champagne Beach.
Champagne Beach is Santo Islanders idea of what they imagine foreign tourists might desire in a tropical beach attraction. They’re about half right on this. There is a beautiful white sandy beach, well protected from the wind, with crystal clear warm water, waves lapping gently on the shore. Situated 20 yards back from the shore are several thatched shacks, from which vendors can pawn trinkets, an Australian AID funded cinder-block bathroom with running water and a concrete pier for cruise ship tenders. We could have probably missed this attraction and been none the richer in experience, as we have enjoyed our pick of private, remote beaches over the past few weeks. However, the scenery was nice enough, and fortunately for us, no cruise ships were in port and the vendors had shut shop. We enjoyed the beach to our selves, snorkeling the nearby reef while Johnny slept in the Nissan. The coolest part of the snorkeling was spying 4 teeny tiny cuttlefish floating in unison. Unfortunately, they were not easily photographed.
By now, we had worked up a pretty good appetite. We rousted Johnny awake, and headed off to Port Orly, a sleepy village 30 minutes down the road, located on the east coast of Santo. Johnny knew of a local beachfront restaurant that specialized in Coconut Crab, a local delicacy. These crabs are of the Hermit family and actually eat coconuts as part of their diet. Their strong claws allow them access to the flesh of the coconut, and their meat is flavored by their diet. We were salivating.
We sat down at the beachside table, and our hostess took orders all around. Coconut crab for everyone. (Apparently, they also do a mean crawfish as well). We were invited by the hostess to step out back to the kitchen, (a small grass hut outside) and select our dinner guests. There, we found about 15 live crabs, suspended from the ceiling by twine, awaiting their fates. Their extremely strong claws are capable of opening coconuts and dismembering kittens, so we posed very carefully for photos, staying out of pincer range. After picking out our dinners, the victims were quickly dispatched to their maker, Titan. The cook placed a sharp knife tip into the brain, and the fluid drained out, rendering the crabs ready for the pot. We returned to our table, then took a long walk on the beach and enjoyed the scenery. About 30 minutes later, we were summoned back to the table to enjoy the delicious feast. The crab was succulent, tender and cooked in a lightly spicy coconut curry broth and served with cole slaw and chips (french fries). Whether the meat was flavored by the coconuts the crabs eat, or the coconut milk made no matter. It was so delicious and we lick our fingers clean. Johnny enjoyed his meal, complementary of the restaurant, his “commission” for delivering the tourists. It was a slow day in Port Orly, an I’m sure that we were the only clients the joint had all day. Well worth the $25 AUS for lunch.
I have since learned that Coconut Crab is at some risk, due to it’s easy ability to be harvested. While it is not endangered yet, the extreme age of 50-60 years for the larger specimens makes it a candidate for being a rare treat, and not a part of the daily diet staple.