Rubbish, Wrecks and Retreats in Vila Bay
Before we paddled off in our little canoe we set off along the waterfront on a diplomatic mission, to meet the recently installed British Consulate staff who are snuggling down with the New Zealand staff in their Embassy. Paul Lawrence is the new Deputy High Commissioner and at first he thought we had come along with a problem but relaxed when we said it was just a courtesy visit.
He has worked in various interesting places around the world including Antigua, Tunisia and Thailand, where he met and married his wife and is now intent upon improving life in the South West Pacific for our post-colonial friends especially in the out-lying villages and eighty odd islands of the group with small business projects, the allocation of aid and post disaster relief. There hasn’t been a British diplomatic office here since 2005 and it is with our “exit” in mind that this office has been opened. I liked his diplomatic use of the word “exit” there instead of Brexit, no political bias shown!
He has only been in the office for five weeks and has already arranged a medivac for a British person in need of urgent medical attention.
I told him about the concern of the two village elders over the Chinese large scale investment in a country which has no hope of repaying the debt in monetary terms and he valued the information prior to his meeting these people.
He kindly said he was just an email away if we wanted any doors opened in the countries we are heading to.
Back along the prom we stopped into the village café for another iced coffee and I learned from a young lady, as we chatted by the coconut crab cage, that these giant crabs can only be collected in the Banks Islands now, to the north and must be a minimum size. That’s the theory, these two were so small there was barely any flesh in them and one would only feed one person unlike the giant ones in Fiji that fed a family with leftovers. She was adamant the fines were big enough to act as a deterrent.
A young man from the luxury 171 foot Deniki you see in the picture (3.3 metres draft, I like my details!) was relaxing on the prom just off the stern of this Dutch beauty. He told us of how well the staff are treated by the owners, always included in excursions and valued as essential to the running of the ship. The result is they stay with their job for years, in the case of the captain over a decade and ongoing. Good to hear of benevolence working with wealth.
Enough of that, it was time to get afloat!
I had to include the picture of the beautiful fish we had around our mooring buoy before we set off around the island to which we would not be paying a visit. 2,500 vu (£18 each) just to put ones toe on the beach. The water was beautifully clear in places and we ‘bio-snorkelled’ from the canoe into the world of marine life. A friendly islander called a ‘hello’ as he brushed leaves from the very private beach and another had pulled up on the reef at the end of the island in his panga, probably from Ifira island (just to seaward from where we were paddling) that owns Iririki and was casting his net right off the sewage treatment plant and the solar panel farm.
Just around the corner the rubbish dump spewed into the water amidst wrecks of yachts and commercial vessels dating from well before Cyclone Pam in March 2015 during which 65 vessels sank in this little harbour. The land rights of the indigenous people from Ifira have been closely guarded and they also own a lot of Port Vila itself making them some of the wealthiest people in the SW Pacific.
It was a different story from the tip and sewage plant and wrecks on the town side of the Bay with delightful secluded pre-sixties homes, some original limestone shoreline, rocky cliffs and big shoals of fish. One shoal of metre long blue fish were new to us and another of hundreds of foot long trout like fish with scissor tails and a yellow lateral line stayed around the inshore reef while we were there, streaking past us in a frenzy of escape first one way then the other.
Where yachties land their dinghies near the Waterfront Bar lots of sea urchins live together and migrate around the seabed near the pontoon keeping their spines a short distance from eachother. They are clearly working together because there is not a gap between their individual spines and there is a brave little shoal of small charcoal fish that appear to benefit from the urchins’ eating habits and stays close by them.
That evening after our aborted plans to walk around Iririki and then have a nice cocktail in the bar we went with Mark and Jill to the Waterfront and met a German couple just passing through for supper before setting off that evening for New Cal because the weather for the next two weeks is high winds and a disturbed sea. Jill has the suspicion this is what is called a southern oscillating weather system in place at the moment, so its looks as if we will be here for a few more days yet.
Just by luck there was rugby on the TV and the bar staff were as keen to watch as the four of us were and what a match. The Aussie Wallabies beat the NZ All Blacks 47 – 26 there biggest ever win over their rivals in a fabulous fast and furious game. Actually not so furious because the players were very well tempered with only one tiny exception, well I wouldn’t like it someone rammed my head down on the grass either! It was really exciting and there was sometimes a lot of cheering coming from the pretty little bar in Port Vila our voices amongst them. What’s more we could see the Fire Dance taking place on Iririki Resort beach for free!