Port Vila is one place we knew what to expect. In 2014 we visited with friends John and Denise BCP (before Cyclone Pam). We spent a very relaxing two weeks seeing the sights, with our friends showing us Efate by road (many of which we remember being in a state of disrepair as well as being very bumpy). John and Denise had been caretaking a small boutique resort and restaurant called Vila Chaumieres, so they were quite at home in Port Vila.
Port Vila also represented a slight feeling of “we are on our way home”, as a visit to Immigration was required regarding our trip back to Australia. Visitors to Vanuatu are initially given a 30-day tourist visa, so if we wish to stay even one day longer, we require an extension. The extension is a 90-day visa, so we can therefore stay in Vanuatu for up to 4 months. The extension requires filling in an extensive form and of course paying another fee, 6,000 vatu ($70). However, with the weather becoming a bit unpredictable in November (both here and on the Queensland coast) and the fact we have been away from home since April 23, we always planned on a 30 day-ish stay here in Vanuatu. We will be island hopping north and departing for Bundaberg, Queensland, from Espiritu Santo, mid October.
As we approached Port Vila, it was a somewhat comforting feeling knowing we had been here before. All our paperwork was in order as we had already checked in to Port Resolution. Unlike our Rally predecessors who got caught up in the Vanuatu red-tape and somewhat ‘bungling’ and of course, the ‘island speed’! All we had to do was drop our Port Resolution check-in paperwork to Customs and organize our visa extensions and one-way crew letters. Sounded simple!
The harbour here is very protected with Iririki Island one side, and with temporary moorings for visiting yachts through Yachting World at 1600 vatu ($18) per night, we are enjoying not worrying about weather, winds and anchors. Numerous yachts are here, all from various parts of the world. We are right near the waterfront, shops, vegie market (huge) and numerous restaurants. We have eaten out three nights in a row! All western menus with good quality beef a feature (none in New Cal) but reasonably expensive too. And, we did re-visit Vila Chaumieres for a lovely meal.
Port Vila is quite a bustling place. As well as roosters squawking all day, music is often playing from charter cruises, houses and restaurants, and there’s a constant stream of minibus “taxis” on the main road, all beeping for trade. At 150 vatu ($1.60) per person to go anywhere in town, they are cheap! They are everywhere. Just pick the ”B” number plates. There are signs of rebuilding after Cyclone Pam but there’s also boat wrecks we saw in 2014. No money. It is also quite humid here, but no rain!
Unfortunately, the Sans Souci and Easy Tiger crew came down with a gastro bug as we arrived here. It was either Donald’s “pot luck” meal that did the damage back in Eramango, or a 48-hour bug that we hear is going around. Both boats have been out of action for a few days. We are crossing our fingers!
So, with chores on the list – fuel (Neville is a bit over carting jerry cans back and forth from service stations via dinghy, hard work in humid conditions), a gas refill (can be tricky finding somewhere, but we were sent to the right place, it was just lacking easy access, with a broken down ‘jetty’ and bank climb the only way up and in) … and Customs and Immigration (visa extensions and one-way crew letters). Not to mention sorting our local SIM card data problems at the Digicel shop, money and provisioning! And free Wi-Fi!
Unfortunately, we have all become internet junkies. Every boat is the same. I’m the only one not suffering from Facebook withdrawal! We had all purchased SIM cards in Lenakel, Tanna. We’d been warned by earlier Rally boats that the internet in Vanuatu is slow, signal strength dodgy and purchasing mobile internet is data based. In New Caledonia you purchased time – 1,000 francs for 1 hour, 4,000 francs for 24 hours. No data limits! With good reception generally, we didn’t realise how good it was until we got here. Our first 4.5 gig of data at 4,500 vatu ($50), which we thought would last a few weeks, simply just disappeared. We have now purchased another 7 gig of data (the max we can purchase) at 6,000 vatu ($65) and with a few tricks offered by the salesman (they do speak English) we will keep our purchased data on board and use the numerous Wi-Fi cafes to get our ‘hits’ while here. Finding strong signal strength is a challenge as the internet is so painfully slow! If you are reading this blog post, I’m at my secret Wi-Fi spot … not telling anyone else!!
Next stop, customs and immigration. Customs involved simply dropping our Port Resolution check-in papers. The Customs office is a dinghy ride way down to the industrial end of the bay, where the cruise ships come in. Fortunately, there wasn’t a ship in dock, as I’m not sure how we would have managed the cruise ship crowds, or tied up. As it was we tied our dinghy to a tree root, clambered up some dodgy concrete steps and found the Customs office at then end of a dirt road, fortunately open. They had just reopened after their lunch closure (common practice here but we still aren’t used to it). A few more forms were filled in, all done.
The Immigration office was next; it was back in town. All three boats were feeling pretty good, as earlier boats who had checked in to Port Vila had spent the whole day (and beyond) sorting paperwork – Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Bio-Security. Finding offices (they rarely have signs), sourcing the correct advice and forms, understanding the receptionist and avoiding lunch breaks … are all challenges!
We have visited Immigration on three separate days now. The first day, they ran out of visa extension forms, we only needed one more. After politely insisting we really needed one “today”, we were told (with a sigh) the photo-copier was broken down (we did see four guys climbing all over it). But it was the cashier that ended up being our main hurdle. No credit cards, have the right change and if you find him ‘open’ you feel like jumping for joy! He closes not only for lunch (no sign, so you don’t know when that is), but any time he pleases we think. Between our four boats here, we have all had examples of walking those few paces from Immigration to Cashier, only to be told “he is closed”. “When will he be back?” “Don’t know.” Three days on, we all have our completed forms, stamped and done!
I am off now to my secret Wi-Fi spot to upload this blog post before we depart Port Vila in the morning.
PS. We are sitting here, listening to music as I type. We can’t believe it … everywhere we go they are playing Hotel California. This time it’s in Spanish! This song sticks. You find yourself singing it constantly in your head and I don’t even know the words! We are banning it from the beach fires.