Arrival at Port Vila, Efate Island on14th May.
We dropped the hook near the quarantine buoy.
Saturday at 16:00 p.m. is not a good time to arrive anywhere as it will either
mean paying overtime for Customs and Immigration etc or, as in this case,
waiting until they are operational on Monday morning. We sussed out where we
would need to go for Customs and Immigration clearance, Quarantine would come to
us first so until their inspection and clearance we were confined to the boat.
Sunday and on the shore side
wonderful parades of women were gathering in groups with colourful matching
dresses and plenty of laughter. We are not sure what it was all about but could
hear the procession leaders proclaiming through the town. Later the churches
came alive and the pastors and singing could be heard across the water. The
church services in the Pacific islands always sound so inspiring. It's not as
humid here as Fiji so instead of languishing in the heat we had a really useful
day catching up on jobs and generally tiring ourselves out, followed by a short
swim and cold beer. One of the jobs was to insert mosquito guards over all the
opening port holes and hatches as Vanuatu has malarial mosquitoes so between
dusk and dawn we shall be ensconced in a fully netted boat or covered up and
sprayed with repellent if we go out. We started our anti-malarial tablets a few
days ago, no ill effects so far.
Vanuatu has other risks and we
shall be vigilant when we are swimming as well as asking any locals about their
areas. In Port Sandwich at Malakula Island the wharf clearly states SHARK
ATTACKS. According to our Cruising Guide CD a nine year old girl from a yacht
was killed by a large shark whilst swimming off the wharf there. In1998 up near
the Torres Straight a man from a German yacht dived into the water to inspect
something on the bottom of his boat and was taken by a crocodile, his wife was
unable to do anything. It is said that these creatures were introduced by an
over zealous missionary but they are also in the Solomon Islands farther north
so may have migrated here. Vanuatu also has dugongs, peaceful and non-aggressive
sea cows. However, a tourist who stupidly persisted in getting too close was
grabbed and the dugong conducted an experiment to see how long she could hold
her breath for; she survived . There are also poisonous lion fish and stone
fish, poisonous sea snakes and cone shells the poison of which can be fatal as
there is no antivenin as yet. So, it all happens here!
Monday morning and the Quarantine Officer, Bill, has
given us a clean bill of health, we have cleared Customs and Immigration and
paid various dues. Next marketing which was hilarious as most of the stall
holders lie on mats and coverlets laid out under their long tables: they sleep
there, eat there, feed their babies there and sometimes had to be roused for a
sale. Shopping and gazing in the town was interesting. The infrastructure is old
with rickety broken pavements but it is really clean, no litter or mess. This
was more than could be said of the harbour which was rich in weekend flotsam.
Returning to the boat we took down our Q flag and tootled Gryphon over to
Yachting World to fill with water and 180 litres of diesel. One can't usually
describe a fuel dock as pretty but this one was, the whole place was beautifully
kept. We ended up a little weary so we took a swinging mooring at Yachting World
and swam then later dinghied over to their restaurant for dinner Vanuatu style.
Meeting the Vanuatans has been a
delight. They are handsome people, very friendly with a charming sense of
humour. They are smiley, helpful and always ready with a greeting. Vanuatu has
variously been in the governance of the French and the English, at one time
governed by both as a condominium which we have heard described as a pandemonium
that apparently didn't work! There are 80 islands and each inhabited island has
a number of traditional tribal languages as well as English, French and Bislama
(pronounced Bishlama) which is a combination of pidgin French
and pidgin English now established as the official language of the country
although at school the children learn either French or English, both in High
School. Consequently the average Vanuatan speaks four languages and often more,
Chinese is rapidly taking hold as many of the shops and local businesses are in
Chinese ownership. They thought that we were language poor and were politely
amused by this. A young security guy on the gate at the dock was amused by
Chris's attempt to speak some French, yet he was switching unconcerned from
French to a driver, Bislama with a colleague and English with us. When we asked,
he also spoke his local language and some Chinese! Not bad for education in an
economically challenged country.