|This is the Tina 1. It is a cargo ship. Not a passenger ship.|
Traveling in Vanuatu is like playing roulette, sometimes you’ll get lucky and hit it big but most of the time you just lose money and waste time. Last time I traveled, I didn’t hit it big.
After our trip to New Zealand, I thought I would catch the Efate Queen back to Pentecost. The Efate Queen is a new-to-Vanuatu passenger ship that runs between Santo and Efate by way of Pentecost and a few other islands. The people on Ambae are convinced you can set your watch by it. I, personally, prefer that my watch is right more than twice a day, or in this case once a week. It has been a reliable ship, by the standards of Vanuatu, which is to say it shows up about three weeks a month.
I chose the wrong week to try to catch it.
We arrived back in Vanuatu on Sunday morning. I’d thought to catch the Efate Queen out of Vila Sunday evening and be back on Pentecost on Monday before lunch time. I’d been thinking maybe I’d stay in Vila another week anyway, but that decision was out of my hands when I found out the Efate Queen had gone to the Solomons. Why? Who knows, this is Vanuatu.
I went to the office of the Efate Queen and asked when the ship would be back in Vanuatu. I was told it would be running its normal route the following week, which meant out of Vila on Sunday. I figured that was no big deal and spent a week in Vila. I went back to the office on Thursday to double check. Word in the office was still that it would run on Sunday. On Saturday, I went to buy my ticket and was told to wait and pay at the wharf. In the US, this would be a red flag, here it is just someone trying to make a little money on the side or someone being lazy. Either way, I showed up at the wharf at 2 pm the next day. I looked at each of the ships anchored there but didn’t see a passenger ship. I read each of the names, none of them were the Efate Queen. I went back to the gate and chatted with a few other people sitting there. They, too, were waiting for the Efate Queen. We waited together and tried to call the engineer, the contact person for the office and the office without success. Around 3 pm, we gave up and went back to town. Even if it came into port then, it would still take three or four hours to offload the cargo and wouldn’t leave port until the next day.
Eight am on Monday morning, I was in the office again. They told me the Efate Queen was in customs in Santo because it had gone to the Solomons. It would be inspected early in the week and make its normal run north to south and leave Vila on Sunday.
I’d lost faith. I called Tina 1. Tina 1 is a cargo ship, not a passenger liner and was new-to-Vanuatu when the first Peace Corps Volunteer was in Melsisi. Jason is the fourth there. Since I’ve been on Pentecost, the Tina 1 has broken three times for about a month each time and recently has been “running slow” due to engine trouble. Its sister ship the Brisk is in no better condition.
I boarded the Tina 1 around 7:30 pm on Wednesday evening. Because the Efate Queen hadn’t been running and the Brisk had been broken, the Tina 1 was full beyond full. They normally max out at 50 passengers but had been given special dispensation to take on an extra 20. We had 70 people board that ship as well as a full load of cargo that included 5 tons of cement. The passenger hold was so crowded there weren’t enough seats. We were sitting on the backs of the benches, on the coils of rope, in the crew quarters and in the crew galley. We weren’t allowed to sit on the cargo because there was breakable stuff in the piles. Too bad, we needed the space.
I was “adopted” by a family from south Pentecost. The couple was about my age and they had a one-year-old with them as well. The kid wasn’t afraid of me, so I had someone to play with. After a few hours, a 4-year-old also decided I’d be a good playmate, so I had plenty of entertainment. The family was great about taking care of me, including watching my bag, giving me food and chatting on the way.
We got to about 9:30 at night and I was tired. I go to bed early, I have no electricity and there isn’t a lot to do at night besides read and write blogs. I finally managed to claim some sleeping space on a bench. I had to keep my legs curled up or I would kick an old man in the head and if I reached out in front of my own face more than about six inches, I would poke the 4-year-old’s mom in the eye. The 4-year-old himself was asleep on the floor under my bench and beyond my head was another woman’s legs. The papa of the other family was sitting on the back of the bench to give his wife and I room to sleep. We were a mite crowded.
I did get a few hours of sleep in half hour increments. With that many people jammed into that small a space, it was the best I could hope for. I took a wander of the ship around 3 am and watched the sun creep over the horizon at dawn. Shortly after that, the toilet broke.