After five months of being no further than 44 feet from my dad, I needed some space. Pauline had been traveling through Vanuatu for the last month so we decided to rendezvous and explore some of the islands together. I had wanted get my AIDA Level 2 free diving certification since diving in Niue and there was an instructor on the island of Espiritu Santo. Pauline loves free diving too, so we booked flights and headed north.
We checked in at the airport and we saw our seats were in row one. I joked that we were in first class, but in reality, the plane was a twin otter with only six rows. I was nearly in the cockpit. Pauline had the window and enjoyed stunning views of the islands, while I had the middle seat and could watch the pilots fly, occasionally into small clouds that engulfed the plane. I would have been happy to pay for the flight just to see the scenery and return to Port Vila, going to another island was just a bonus.
We arrived 55 minutes later and took a cab to the Matevulu Lodge. It was a beautiful Eco-resort with solar power and several bungalows. Ours was beautiful and spacious with a large deck, bean bag chair, and several steps leading to the beach. It was paradise. The lodge had just opened so only one other bungalow was rentable. We met the other guests, an Australian couple who were our age, in the shared dining/kitchen structure and left to explore the area.
The lodge offered free kayak rental so we borrowed two and paddled towards one of the nearby blue holes. We started in the sea before turning up a narrow river that cut through the jungle. After ten minutes The river opened into a shallow lake where we spotted a sea snake and some small fish. There was no wind, so the lake was glassy. If there were crocodiles in Vanuatu, I would have expected to see them there. We crossed the lake and rejoined the narrow river. After ducking under several low hanging branches and not entirely sure we were on the right track, we arrived at a bridge. The current was ripping through it, but we thought we could out muscle the flowing water. We paddled as hard as we could, getting to within six feet of the calms, but every time the current swept us back to where we started. Eventually we beached the kayaks and carried them to the other side.
After the bridge, we soon reached the Riri Blue Hole. Sunset was quickly approaching, so it was deserted. There were two rope swings, a few wooden structures for shade, and several flying foxes soaring over us. Flying foxes look like bats the size of geese, and they added to the mystical ambiance. We tied up the kayaks and went towards one of the rope swings, only to get swarmed by mosquitos. Pauline grabbed one of the ropes and swung, launching herself with a big splash, while I decided that the crystal clear water was a safer place to not get eaten and filmed from below with my GoPro.
We brought our freediving masks and unused to swimming in fresh water, enjoyed how easy it was to swim to the bottom without fins. Resurfacing was challenging, but we played for an hour. I walked on the muddy bottom and chased fish, while Pauline tried to take pictures of our reflections from underwater. It started to get dark so we began paddling back and watched the sunset from our kayaks.
The next morning, after a breakfast of fresh bread with homemade tropical jams like papaya, soursop, and banana, we started our free diving course. The instructor, Edouard, met us on our deck and we began with theory. Then, we worked on breathing technique and dry breath holds before taking a break for lunch.
After lunch, we got in the water and did our first water breath holds, learned about other free diving disciplines, worked on body position and technique, and practiced rescues. It was a big day and we went to bed early because we were exhausted. We both passed the first part of the course by holding our breath for more than two minutes.
The next day was beautiful. Clear skies and little wind, perfect for our open water dives. We took a boat out of the lagoon to the deep water. Visibility was over 20 meters (65 feet), which coincidentally was as deep as we were allowed to go in the course. In order to pass we needed to dive between 16 and 20 meters (52-65 feet). I did a warm-up dive, caught my breath on the surface, and I made my first deep dive. As I steadily kicked, I watched the line pass and counted the colored bands marking every five meters. I couldn’t remember if I had seen two or three when suddenly, I saw the tennis ball which meant I was at 20 meters. I turned slowly and began ascending. As I approached the surface, the air in my lungs expanded and carried me faster towards fresh air. I just finished my deepest dive and felt great. Pauline went next and successfully reached 20m too. We both went again, this time practicing the buddy system. We felt like we could go deeper, but were happy to complete the deep dive portion of the course on our first attempts.
The last section of the course was called dynamic apnea, which was swimming just below the surface for 40 meters while holding our breath. Again, we both passed on our first try and I did 60m on my second attempt. We finished before lunch and returned to the beach.
After a lunch, we were out of food so we rented a spear gun and went looking for dinner. I had never spear fished, but we successfully killed four small fish. There was not much selection since the locals overfished the area, but we were happy with our haul and knew the species we shot would not give us ciguatera poisoning. Two hours later they were scaled and frying in a pan with a side of plain noodles, since that was all we had left. It wasn’t gourmet, but it was enough. We retreated to the comfortable bungalow, took long hot showers, and had a wonderful sleep. We would have appreciated it a little more had we known that in five days we would be living on canned tuna with crackers while sleeping on a volcano, but at that point we didn’t know what we were doing the next day.
We left the next morning, low on cash, and ready for the next adventure.