Friday, October 10, 2014

Queen Hortense's Cave

Queen Hortense was married to a local chief and during some inter-tribal wars in 1855, she escaped and hid out in a huge cave. We decided checking out this cave would be our Friday adventure. It had been grey and rainy for several days and we were feeling pretty boat-bound. But the sun came out this morning and we knew it would be a good day to go exploring. The cave is about 25 kilometers from the boat past the town of Vao. We walked to the main road to Vao and stuck our thumb out and the first truck picked us up. John Baptiste was the driver and gave us a great tour along the way. Our French hasn't improved much, but he had decent English so we could understand. He dropped us off at Vao – about 6 kms down! We walked a bit to the intersection and started up the road to the "Grotte de la Reine Hortense." There isn't a lot of traffic on this island, but the people are quite gracious and if a car or truck has room, they usually stop. If they are full, they express their disappointment that they can't offer a lift. We managed to get several rides up the road – the first, a hotel van, gave us a lift a little way; then a husband and wife took us a little further; and finally, a French woman and her friend and daughter actually stopped for us when we weren't even hitching (we had decided to walk the last few kilometers). She said it was too far to walk and took us right to the road even though she wasn't even going in that direction!

To get to the cave, you walk through a very lovely tropical forest. The path is next to a small stream that people use as a wishing well of sorts as there was lots of coins sparkling in it. There was a huge sound of buzzing bees and we hoped it wasn't an angry hive! Never actually saw the bees or insects but you sure could hear them. At the end of the path is the cave.

The cave is part of a giant limestone cliff and has lots of swallows darting around – we had hoped for bats but didn't see any. This cave was huge and very dark. The floor was quite slippery and uneven with giant holes that Michael almost walked into! Giant stalactites grew out of the roof and the shapes and angles in the cave were very interesting. We spent some time exploring and then headed back.

As we trekked up the road from the cave, a car came along and the gentleman who "ran" the cave, stopped and picked us up. He took us all the way down the road and we stopped at little restaurant, "Snack Kohu", for lunch. It is a charming place with outside tables amongst some interesting carvings and totems. Jon Marc is the proprietor and after we enjoyed a tasty lunch, he came to chat with us. He brought us some chunks of pumpkin to take to the boat – two types and told us a few ways to prepare them. Then he came back with another bag for us – it included a lobster and three pieces of fresh fish. Wow! Is that generous or what?!? We walked down the road with our treasures and made it to Vao where again, we got a lift by a family to a hotel – where we could just walk along the beach back towards Kuto Bay and Astarte.

We covered a lot of territory through the kindness of strangers and enjoyed exploring an interesting sight. We came back to watch the mega-yacht anchored nearby put its helicopter in the air. It's always fun to watch them takeoff and land on these boats. Maybe we'll get a dinner invite??? Oh wait, we already have lobster!

We'll start thinking about leaving this island soon – but its been a good place to sit out the icky weather we've had. There is lots of boats coming and going as well as the weekly ferry and the big delivery ship.

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