Vanuatu and the friendly face of Officialdom

Thu 27 Jun 2019 00:55

Andrew Saleagae – A Friendly Face of Officialdom

I should have twigged when Andrew signed off the VHF with the words “so you can come and pick me up” that he was coming by road and would need a lift to the boat. Soon a uniformed figure was leaning against a palm tree on the resort frontage and Rob and I dashed through the process of unpacking and inflating the dinghy and lowering the motor onto the stern in a quarter the normal leisurely pace. The repaired motor behaved itself too and Rob sped off at a new found speed to the beach.

I didn’t know until he stepped aboard and introduced himself that he was the chap who replied to my email from NZ enclosing the Inward Docs and wishing us a safe voyage.

“Would you like some water?” I asked,

“Do you have any coffee, I haven’t had any breakfast?” So while he tucked into his bowl of daddy bear porridge, Arnott’s Kingston choccy bics and a mug of coffee Rob and I listed the school stationery we had brought with us and called up Steph of the Sharm Foundation to see what she wanted doing with the three boxes that were literally blocking up the forward heads. Steph wanted to check them on to customs in Port Villa so they will be crewing for us for another month.

When we heard their destination is Naone on Maewo Island just to the east of us, remember the booby’s circle of islands, Andrew’s ears pricked up, “That’s where my family are from!”

Passports checked we chatted about this and that and he enquired about bio goods that we might be carrying, and at that point I thought a little distraction was necessary, “Em just some cheese for supper, did you go to the school there? What a coincidence that would be.”

“No, but possibly my grandfather did.” The cheese, mayo and garlic were safe.

He told us where to find the Immigration Office painted blue and white and lacking a sign, but it’s through wire gates first and then his Customs Office in the compound just beyond, both at the far end of the main street, Boulevard Higginson and on the right hand side, channel side of the road. He omitted two essential facts which I will explain later.

Getting ready on board as the sun was reaching its zenith the intensity of the heat could be felt even from where I was sitting at the time on the loo.

“We could wait until this afternoon darling when it’s not quite so hot and there’s more shade?” Rob wanted to walk into town you see.

“No I want to go now,” came the unusually petulant reply from my man boy.

Our first sortie ashore lacked the grand uniformed nature that would have surrounded it in Cook’s day, with flags, Tricorn hats and golden epaulettes catching the sun’s rays as the Endeavour of Resolution relaxed in the bay, there were hats though, Tilly Hat and wide brimmed straw hat.

Tilly and Straw whizzed ashore, “Wow she’s nearly on a plane Rob,” he replied,

“Yes and that’s a first in a while.”

We made ourselves known in Reception at the resort and the kind lady gave us some brochures and resort details, all in French, no problem good for the translation skills and it was out into the courtyard with its pretty border of flowering tropical plants, the fuchsia coloured hibiscus in particular was a picture.

A rough track led to the road along the side of which was a narrow foot worn path and there was plenty of traffic, mostly pickups, lorries and taxis.

“Flag down a taxi,” the reception lady had said, “It’s only 200 vatu.” (140 vatu = £1, in 1998 it was 175. Tilly insisted we would walk, “We need the exercise and we’ll get to know the area.” Straw agreed with that bit but only mad dogs and Englishmen & a few locals with skins that protect them go out in the noonday sun. Straw remembered being in this situation at least twice before in Bahia and Suva, “I will do this once and only once, OK.” She can be forthright at times!

Thirty minutes later our hats crossed the bridge over the surprisingly wide and pleasantly clean Sarakata River and started to absorb the atmosphere of the busy street. 75% of businesses in Luganville are Chinese owned leaving the 24 hour fresh fruit and veg market, the Independence Park next to it, the administrative offices, local craft shops and tour operators in local and national ownership. Vanuatu gained independence from a confused mix of British and French Governance on 31st July 1980 and is now a republic.

Tilly drew some money out discovering that various banks charge different transaction fees and the best we found to be BSP (Bank of the South Pacific) in a green logo building on the left side of the road. You may have gathered I am giving some detail for cruiser friends who might follow us.

Two hats reached the end of the buildings and asked American Grey cap if he knew where the Immigration Office was. Grey cap advised its location and the fact they would not be back from lunch until 1.30. So Tilly and Straw get together and come up with a plan. 1) Umbrella 2) Lunch.

The road is in essence a dual carriageway and the only way to cross is to get to the middle and play on the kind hearts of the motorists coming to one’s right and they usually flash their lights to confirm you can cross but beware of the vehicle coming along the curb-side who might not have seen you.

The Natangora Café boasts it is the oldest in town having been around since 1990 and Tilly and now red and white brolly make for its shady interior for a light but quite pricy lunch of consommé followed by fish nuggets, rice and salad, washed down with local Tusker beer. (£32)

The doorway seemed like a filter, locals looked in only and the clientele was mostly made up of business people, and children of professionals, solo travellers and cruising types.

Back along the eastern half of the street our two hats climbed the steps to the office mindful that the banister and balustrade were as rusted as the nearby pilot boat backed up onto a rock. The nice young Immigration Officer was happy to see them but ‘oh’ they didn’t have the green receipt from the green cashier in the green Government Treasury Department nearly opposite the Natangora Restaurant.

Tilly and Brolly stumble back down the steps and along the street on the shady side (!) find the building almost next to the main supermarket, LCM climbed the three flights of stairs and a few moments later climbed back down, 4800 vatu lighter and with Tilly clutching the green receipt in his hand.

Tilly and Brolly are by now well beyond the benefits of the walk, the brolly (which keeps collapsing anyway) and their lunch, they are also beyond caring so progress back comes with the optimism that they are finally getting somewhere and on entering the IO they are almost buoyant with smiles and bonhomie.

They take a pride in their job here and the young man checks carefully on a bit of scrap paper to make sure the ink on the stamp will not smudge on the passport pages. Straw even jokes as she sees the stamp lifted off the page,

“But there’s no volcano on it.” They laugh, fortunately. All done and lots of smiles and ‘Pop’ a blue balloon disintegrates as it is being attached with many others to a lovingly restored blue and white fishing boat down below which is to be used as a prize at a fisherman themed event in the park.

Just a short distance now to Customs along a mercifully tree-lined road where parked up taxi drivers loll in the shade exploring messages on their phones. It was nice to see Andrew’s friendly face again and he took our green inward cards and said he would have our Inter Island Cruising Permit ready for us within the 24 hours before we plan to leave.

Back along the shady shore side track they discovered after the lunch and after they changed the umbrella for one that stays up they wandered past a shoreline of rusting steel harbour wall and concrete blocks left over from the American WW2 activities until they arrived at the market where papaya and bananas filled their bag and a taxi whisked them back to the resort.

The cold showers were bliss. Then Rob noticed the date stamp on the passport said 30 days where Andrew had told us we were entitled to 90 as British Citizens. So the next day Tilly and Straw awaited a passing taxi and witnessed a near disaster.

A white taxi pulled in to a drive back down the road behind us as a pickup truck full with uniformed school boys came toward the drive along the main road. A group of school girls was also walking towards us and the town. A pedestrian was approaching the same drive and the taxi driver was concentrating on getting out before he needed to cross the drive so he didn’t look left. It all happened in a second, the girls (who were watching the boys) and the pedestrian yelled at him to stop, the truck braked and lurched across the road by which time, fortunately the taxi had stopped. All was well but had the truck rolled it would have been carnage.

Back up the concrete steps to be faced with the sign ‘Gone to clear passengers in at airport, back at 4.00pm. So we gave up, decided to check it out on Google and visited two tour offices to get some details instead. This time the market yielded more papaya (we do like it) tomatoes and bok choy all day fresh, organic and inexpensive. Most things like the tomatoes, medium papaya and bundles of bok choy were 100 vatu.

The taxi driver tried to charge 50% more than the accepted fare in to town of 200 vatu but he didn’t expect the reaction he got from Tilly and Straw and gave the extra 100 vatu back. Cheeky man.

A detour into the lovely cool bar for some Tusker (there are lots of feral boar around and the ones with double curly tucks are highly valued in their grade ceremonies, more later) and free wifi, which extends to Zoonie thanks to a boost from the wifi bat.

Yesterday the weather was wet and windy so a restful but productive day was spent aboard. There is a weather system approaching with lots of rain in it. We toyed with the idea of moving across to the other side where we heard there were moorings off the Aore Resort and we would be under the protection of the island but in a chat on the VHF with the lady she suggested there was only one and it is occupied. Rob asked if the mooring would take 15 tons. She suggested we pick up a mooring and go ashore to chat about tonnage etc but of course we need a secure mooring to attach to before we can get ashore. A Catch 22 methinks.

Yesterday I called them up and we got no reply. We are of a mind to trust our anchor rather than a mooring we do not know and if its heavy rain we’re worried about, well every yacht will get a good soaking no matter where it is eh!