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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September 6, 2010 - Clearing into Tanna and a long bumpy ride to get there!

We were due on shore at 7 AM to catch our ride into Lenakel where yachts must go on this island to clear in to the country of Vanuatu. Because our dinghy has a flat, Ian and Julia had agreed to give us a lift into shore at 6:30. Frank wanted to run the generator for an hour before we left the boat, so we set the alarm for 5:15 AM. We awoke with plenty of time to enjoy a pot of coffee, grab a cereal bar and pack our backpacks for the trip into town. By 6:15 we hadn't seen any movement aboard Moasi, so Frank told me to hail them on the VHF to make sure they were up. I did that, and roused a very sleepy Julia who informed me it was only 5:15 AM. Well damn! We had forgotten to set our clocks to Vanuatu time. We could have slept for another hour. We were too jazzed on caffeine to go back to bed by now so we read Shantaram until they came for us.

We were joined on shore by an Australian couple (S/V Sunboy) and an Austrian couple (catamaran, Felix). We took the short hike up a hill to the little village to await our transport, which eventually arrived in the form of a small 4-WD pickup truck with a high cage over the bed. The truckbed sides were lined with 2x8 boards that served as passenger seating around the interior. Now the meaning of our friends' warning to "be sure to bring seat cushions" hit home. Kathi and Jeff on s/v Bold Spirit had checked in at Tanna last month and sent us an email full of ambiguous warnings and tidbits of info. I think they didn't want to ruin the total experience for us so they left a little to our imaginations. Julia and I were graced with the opportunity to ride in the cab with David our ni-Vanuatu driver. Frank piled into the back with Ian, the other 4 yachties and Stanley, the Goodwill Ambassador for Port Resolution. Just before we took off 4 or 5 locals hopped in. We were crammed like sardines, and although I had a seat up front it was like riding in a tin can with faux cushions. My hipbone was pressed into the metal frame of the seat, and as we bumped along I felt metal grating bone with intensifying effect. I couldn't imagine what the ones in the back of the truck were feeling. For just over 2 ½ hours, we drove the crude rode into Lenakel. It didn't really bother any of us because the scenery and sights along the way were well worth the pain of the ride and the $4,000 VT per couple: a bargain at any price. One of the guys likened it to getting beaten in prison in front of a window full of bars with a fantastic view! Parts of the road were washed out, leaving just enough room for the truck to creep past a sheer drop. We drove through lush vegetation, past lovely villages and then came to the ash plane of Mt. Yasur. It was desolately beautiful. This side of the volcano looked like a gray, barren sand-covered mountain. We could see coughs of smoky vapor puffing out the top. It was captivating.

Eventually we arrived in town, where our first stop was the bank. There is only one bank. The Lonely Planet guide advised that there are no ATM's on the island therefore; we had taken $500 USD to exchange. Ian and Julia brought their Visa card. No go. No credit cards either. So we shared our Vatu's with them. Clearing in was a long process, taking several hours. Immigration and Customs were housed in the same building, and at each agency the officials were very friendly and helpful. The villagers walking by would wave frantically at us and throw huge smiles our way, shouting "Allo!" They loved seeing white faces in their midst. The ladies all wear very colorful Mother Hubbard dresses, while the children and men run around in western-style t-shirts and shorts. We bought hot fresh bread at the bakery, and munched on it as we walked around town while awaiting the quarantine officer's arrival. They didn't seem too concerned about us walking about before getting cleared by "Quarantine". Already, I loved this little island. The people here are naturally friendly and happy. Mostly, they just wanted to look at us. It is the same in the anchorage - villagers will paddle out to the boats and just sit watching us. They mean no harm; they are simply intrigued by the white people on the boats. I never gave it much thought, but we don't' recall meeting any black cruisers since leaving the USA. Wonder why?
For the ride home, I opted to sit in the back so I could get the total experience. Now I have bruises all over my body to match the ones on my face! I discovered that the cage around the pick-up was intended for a tarp when the rains come, but is also used for hand-holds and the occasional brace for standing when the sitting gets too rough.
Just prior to leaving Lenakel, Stanley announced that he and the lads had a few stops to make on the way back to Port Resolution. The first stop was a local market just outside the largest grocery store, which by the way is smaller than some of our pantries back home. They came out carrying several loaves of bread a 5-kilo block of cheese, and a case of beer. Then they grabbed several large bundles of kava and some greens from the market. Off we went!
During the ride back we made half a dozen stops at various roadside markets where we all had a chance to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables from the communal farms. Cheap too! For instance I bought a large bouquet of broccoli for 100 VT's (approx $1.10). The lads continued to purchase bundles of kava at each market. And making stops along the way for deliveries to villages of the breads, beer and greens. It is quite a system of "community" they have here. Each village helps the other in some way. And at each and every stop, the children would go wild, waving and shouting "Allo!" I took several photos and then showed them to the children, eliciting giggles and laughter and big-eyed surprise with hands over mouths. I wish I could have printed them out on the spot for those kids.
We arrived back at Port Resolution at nearly 4:00, bone weary but happy. We each popped a mouthful of Advil and settled in for a bountiful dinner of fresh Mahi Mahi, green salad and hot bread.

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