We weren’t staying on Vanuatu’s central island of Efate, site of the international airport, but on the neighbouring island of Erakor. At the end of our lovely holiday there, we took our leave of the staff and boarded the little outboard tinny to take us back across the lagoon, where we had arranged for our driver Marius to pick us up.
Oddly, he wasn’t there, and wasn’t responding to text messages. Ten, fifteen minutes passed by, and still no Marius. Our time margin to the airport, originally quite relaxed for the short journey, was now looking a bit slim.
One of the resort employees pointed out a bus driver lounging on the dock, an islander who had rather comically bleached a ring of beard- and head-hair in a complete circle around his face. He agreed to take us to the airport (a Vanuatu bus is not unlike a taxi, except that anybody can hail it in transit and the route changes to suit). Just as we were loaded on, a boatload of Japanese tourists arrived at the dock from their lunch on Erakor, eager to return to their cruise ship. Our driver wandered down to the dock to see if they needed a lift, assuring us that it would only take a minute, but immediately became involved in a long and animated discussion as the minutes ticked by and we got later and later for our check-in. It looked like the tourists were only asking for directions, but it was at least another five minutes before they set off walking in the indicated direction and our driver returned to our bus.
He didn’t make it far before they hailed him once more and he was embroiled in another arm-waving discussion, until finally they all climbed on board and, with a screech of tyres, we set off in a now fully loaded bus.
“We’re late for our flight!” we pointed out. “Their stop is on the way”, he soothed.
Of course, the cruise terminal was on the other side of the bay, and the clock ticked on as he decanted the Japanese ladies onto their gangplank, then burned rubber back up the road to the airport.
We had originally intended to stop for cash to pay him, but now we were so late that the driver agreed to wait while we used the ATM at the airport instead.
Leaving Bronwyn and Berrima to unload the luggage, I ran inside to find the ATMs. There were two of them. I put my card into the ANZ machine and it slowly began to ask it’s innumerable questions. What language, Bislama, French or English? Will you need a receipt? And then that stupid question that makes no sense at all, Which account do you want? The one attached to the card, you stupid machine.
Eventually it got around to asking how much money I needed, and then rejected 2500 (the taxi fare) because it didn’t have 500 notes. Good grief. 3000. Whirr whirr connecting connecting… rejected.
The tannoy started announcing, “Will Berrima Reading please report to the check-in desk?” Pretty impressive, her first tannoy announcement and only four years old.
I moved to the second machine, a local one which ground even more slowly though the same questions, before it too smugly announced… card rejected.
Back to the first machine, with a different card.
“Last and final call for Berrima Reading, Bronwyn Reading…”
Whirr… connecting… connecting… please take your cash!
I sprinted back to the taxi, pushed the notes into the window, abandoned my 500 change and ran for the check-in desk.
Thankfully there was nobody else in the queue, and after pointing frantically up at the increasingly urgent tannoy speakers, we swiftly received our boarding cards, but then there was an intricate Vanuatu exit card to fill in for each of us… then customs… and then finally into the crowded departure lounge.
There was only room for two planes on the tarmac. A much-delayed Auckland flight was announced, many people cheered, and the hall emptied. The few remaining travellers peered uncertainly at each other and at the sweating late arrivals; the plane was clearly going to be half empty. It was going to be an easy flight home.