Working our way north from Vanuatu’s island of Tanna, we made an overnight stop at the island of Erromango where we stayed long enough to see some of the village and take a long hike to a high plateau where we found the island’s airport. The grass runway sits in a jungle clearing and has a small, stone “terminal” building nearby which was boarded up when we were there. Air Vanuatu flies commuter-type aircraft to most of Vanuatu’s islands several times per week even though, based on the limited tourism and rather primitive conditions in what most people live, it’s hard to imagine much demand for the service. It’s quite conceivable that someone arriving by air would then walk 7 or 8 kilometers to a village or complete their journey in a leaky, hand-carved dugout canoe. While the airport lacked the fences, security guards and metal detectors that we see at commercial airports in the US, the grass strip was recently mowed and, by Idaho, back country airport standards, would have been a piece of cake to land at. Mark couldn’t help but imagine how different his job might have been had he flown for Air Vanuatu instead of American Airlines.
While in Vanuatu, we have been so impressed by the warm welcomes we receive from the friendly people we encounter. We have not, in any way felt any concern for our safety or security. Shortly after going ashore at Erromango though, with friends Jon and Heather from the yacht “Evergreen”, we watched two young men paddle their canoe toward “Blue Rodeo”, “Evergreen” and another boat, “Victory”, who was anchored near us. From a distance, we watched the canoe disappear behind “Blue Rodeo” and could then see the canoe reappear with just one person aboard. We stood in amazement wondering what they could be up to. As is our routine, whenever we leave our boat, we close the hatches and lock it up but occasionally leave fishing or snorkeling gear in the cockpit. Were they up to no good or was is just innocent curiosity? I guess we’ll never know. But later, we learned from friend Jon-Bart, who was aboard “Victory” at the time, that he yelled at the men saying that they were not allowed aboard without our permission. It stands to reason that there are likely to be a few rascals within every group but we’ll continue to enjoy, what we feel, to be this safe and crime-free tropical paradise.
Port Vila, on the island of Efate is Vanuatu’s capital and biggest city. It is also a popular port of call visiting cruise ships. For these reasons, the town has pretty much everything one might need including an amazing fresh produce and craft market, several well-stocked grocery stores and dozens of assorted shops and restaurants. Also, because it caters to the cruise ships, it has a number glitzy duty free stores in case a traveler might need a new Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton bag to go with their cheap bottles of Absolute vodka. We small boat cruisers are often entertained by the spectacle of hundreds of pasty-white and overfed cruise ship passengers being disgorged from a ship and completely changing the dynamics of these rather small tropical towns. As we did our errands and wondered about, we couldn’t help but notice how different our travel style was from those from the big ship. We also took it as a bit of a compliment when merchants would remark to us: “ You are not from he cruise ship are you?” What clues had we given them? Was it that we appeared more healthy (we hope)? Or, was it that we appeared more weathered and smelled a bit of diesel and mildew (we hope not)?
After nearly a week in Vila where we re-provisioned and sampled a few of the local eateries, we sailed around to an anchorage on the west side of Efate near a recommended dive spot. Our excellent dive there would be the first of many in the coming weeks that made feel so privileged to have the mobility and opportunity to visit these amazing spots that are well off the normal, beaten path.