Flying with Air Vanuatu is, as I’ve said a few times before on this blog, one of life’s great flying pleasures. I rocked up to check-in the other night (it was a 10 o’clock direct flight out of Melbourne) and the beaming girl, after the usual “did you pack your own bags, brush your teeth, wash behind your ears and use deodorant, etc”, said: “Right, I think I have one more emergency aisle seat left. You’re a big man, you’ll need it.” Praise be. I mentioned that I’d asked for one when I was booking and she told me that they like to see the people first. Guess they don’t want any short arses getting comfortable in the tall person’s rightful domain. Just the fact that she offered it was worth the price of admission. And talking of price, there was no charge, unlike Virgin, which I reckon would charge rental on a life jacket or a cleaning fee for using an oxygen mask should anything untoward happen. I probably shouldn’t even mention those things. It may give Mr Branson ideas, and anyway, I reckon he still owes me five bucks from my one flight with his mob (See Richard Branson owes me a fiver somewhere else on the page). By the time we’d ditched terra firma and settled into the right height, speed and whatever else pilots need to do to get the show on the road, it was time for the staff to offer libation (and a small packet of manioc chips. Really tasty things but the name is a little too close to maniac for me). The girl got to me first (I was on the centre aisle) and said: “Would you like a drink, sir?” The bozo sitting next to me jumped straight in and said “Yeah, red wine and scotch on ice for me mate”. No please, no thank you, no patience. She politely gave me a glass of red and then attended to the others. Just as she was about to push off, my left-hand man held up his glass and said: “I’ll have another one.” Oh, I thought, this is gonna be good. And it was. By the time the meals came around, he’d had (I think) four drinks. Our little emergency-aisle crew all opted for the beef tenderloin and mash, with vegies, caramelised onions, a good salad, some chocolate cake and a partridge in a pear tree. The beef was very good. The boys next to me went one better: One said: “I went to a steak restaurant in Lilydale last week and paid 42 bucks for a steak that wasn’t this good.” Yeah, right. They managed a couple more drinks during the meal. By the time the meal trays were cleared away, the bozo next door tapped my arm (I was listening to music on my iPod to drown out the noise of his infuriating doof-doof collection, complete with hand actions, pumping, etc) said: “Wanna go the tall it.” Right. I got up to let him out for the first of three trips designed to make room for some more red wine. Again, no please, no thank you. Once he got settled into his seat, he buzzed for service. The stewardess arrived quickly and said: “Yes sir.” His only response was “Red wine”. It was about this time that we hit some mild turbulence and bozo weighed in: “There’s turbulence. It always happens,” he said knowingly. “Anyway, this plane’s too small. I reckon it’s a Qantas reject.” That’s worth knowing, I thought, glad we got that sorted. Then his mate chimed in. “It’s $4 for spirits all day on Sunday at the joint we’re stayin’ at.” Bozo responded with: “You gonna sit in the pool and drink all arvo.” When his mate signalled the affirmative, bozo gave out with an emphatic “Grouse.” It wasn’t until we were about 10 minutes out of Port Vila that bozo said something that didn’t include the words dunny or wine. “How long ya staying?” he asked. I told him seven nights and he said: “Great. We’ll probably catch up with you on the flight home.” I told him how great (that should read grate) that would be and how he should have a terrific break, by which time the good skipper had done the right thing and put the bus down on the bitumen. Gladly, it was into the heat and humidity and that tropical airport smell of diesel that is Port Vila, even at two in the morning. After clearing Customs, it was another joyful reunion with my son, Liam, who had been in Melbourne two days before for a friend’s wedding. We did the honourable thing and threw my gear into the back of his ute (think Mel Gibson and the truck he used to pull down the South African embassy in the film Lethal Weapon 3, or was it Lethal Weapon 11?) and made a beeline for his new digs, about 20 minutes out of Port Vila. The house is on Devil’s Point Road in downtown Bakura … and about the last 4-5 or so kilometres are on the dirt, a task that didn’t trouble the ute. Mind you, I thought that sitting on 40 it seemed to be making short work of the trip. It was only then that I realised it’s a Ford Yank tank and the speedo is in miles per hour. It was hard to get a feel for the house and its surroundings … OK, it was dark … other than that it’s on a decent chunk of land (it’s an acre). I threw my bag into the room that was to be home for the next seven days and then divvied up the duty free goodies … to wit, a couple of litres of vodka, a 250mm lens for Liam’s new camera and a new pocket-sized speaker for my I Pod. It’s probably inappropriate at this time to mention my supply of L’Occitane hand cream. Oh, and there were the three good reds that I’d packed in my main luggage … a 2005 Clonakilla shiraz-merlot, a 2005 Bobbie Burns shiraz and a 1977 Taltarni cab-sav. Well, who wants to get caught short when it comes to good reds? The next step was a given. It was after 3am, which meant that it was at least beer o’clock. We settled on the back porch to catch up on each other’s comings and goings, the whole time serenaded by the waves crashing into the cliff face that is the edge of the property about 30 metres from the door. Beer o’clock soon became French cab sav o’clock and by about 4.30 daybreak had started to do its thing. We each got our cameras and started taking pot shots of the beautiful new day. As the sun got up and about, the view that unfolded was a cracker … looking back across the water to Port Vila. So was the rest (read the house and surrounds) of what hopefully will be (it depends on the bank) the new Chateau Liam. He’s planning to buy it and do it up. The bones of the house are really good … four bedrooms, a big living area, a small cottage at the front of the block, a decent back verandah, an infinity pool that is right at the edge of the cliff, a deck (at the cliff edge) with built-in barbecue and a tennis court … but it’s been vacant for about a year and has been let go a bit although it’s very liveable. Just the sort of challenge needed for a young builder. The holiday was always going to be pretty much a house-bound deal … lots of time eating, drinking, soaking up the amazing views, spending time with Liam’s girlfriend, Dan, and her kids Emmy and Tahlia and the occasional trip into town for necessities. Day one late in the afternoon was to attend the company’s Christmas party held at the storage yard. There was kava aplenty, lots of beers and the makeshift barbecue was doing a roaring trade in bits of chicken. There are about 60 NiVans working for the company and I reckon I’ve met most of them before. Gabby, a big unit, walked up to me straight away and said: “Good to see you, mate, shit you’ve put on some weight.” Yeah, thanks Gabby. The boys made short work of the drinks while they were getting their final pays for the year, The woman who does the pays was obviously in Christmas mode because she missed a few. Liam, to his eternal credit, dipped into his wallet to make sure each of the boys got their right whack. And it was a decent quid he had to shell out. After the pays, most of the workers took the time to make a short speech, each one a great lesson in humility, despite the overindulgence in kava and beer. It was all heartfelt – such as “Thanks, boss, for everything this year. Without your support, there would have been no food on the table for my family.” As the light faded, we headed home for a dinner of tuna steaks and salad, a few beers and most of a litre of vodka. We were both a bit shabby by the time midnight rolled around, so we headed to the pool for a refresher. It worked, because the next morning it was clear heads all round. Day two involved driving into Vila to the biggest supermarket in town, aka Bon Marche. Given that it was Christmas Eve eve, the crowd there was thicker than a Collingwood supporter. No, really. OK, maybe a Man U supporter. I reckon most of Port Vila was there shopping for last-minute stuff. Those who weren’t were on the road stuck in the shit fight that is traffic in the capital. We were shopping for the next two days and there were some friends, Katie and Alex and their kids, as well as Dan and the girls coming for lunch. I got an idea of the cost of living in these parts. Because had let all his cash go the night before paying the workers whose pays were mixed up, I flashed the plastic. It was 36,000-odd vatu plus another 2100 for three packets of Winnie Blues on the way out. By the way, the exchange rate is roughly 100 vatu to the dollar. You do the maths. Mind you, the start of lunch was a more-than splendid affair on the deck beside the pool to start. Lots of olives, artichokes, onions, and three of the best cheeses I’ve had … a huge slab of not-quite-runny blue, some very runny triple brie and another, the name of which escapes me. Also, we had some grapes, beetroot pickle (delicious) and lots of crackers. Some Tuskers (the local beer) helped the cause no end. Lunch was meant to be chicken salad and fresh tuna salad, but it seemed everyone was so cheesed out that they became dinner, by which time we opened the Bobbie Burns, which was, as usual, a bloody fine drink. It was great to meet new people and catch up on their world … they live on the harbour in Port Vila and came there via Melbourne, to where they came via the UK. Is it my imagination, or does the torrential rain (which is falling as I write) really flatten out the ocean? Yes, I think it does. And it’s certainly topping up the pool. Not that it has taken away from the view. And there’s that wonderful smell of rain and greenery in the air. Ah, the tropics.
FOOD FOR SPORT
There’s an indoor sport in Vanuatu that I never tire of watching. Nothing untoward, mind.
It’s watching the geckos on the walls and ceiling in the lounge room … and their never-ending task of keeping down the bug population.
These little fellas … they’re about 6-8 inches in the old money … scurry along the walls to within a couple of inches of a moth or whatever and stop. ‘Spose they figure that the bugs just can’t see them. And then the lurch forward and make the catch. It’s seriously good sport ... all that’s missing is an excited commentator. Gone, got him.
The other good sport in these parts is watching Liam’s dog, Angus, a really intelligent fella who likes to push the envelope and get himself into trouble. He knows all the rules but just can’t help himself. Even when he’s in the back of the ute, it’s one bark for pedestrians and cars, two barks for a four-wheel-drive and maybe three for a bus.
There are lots of crab holes in the lawn and Gus likes to stick his nose down there to try to catch them. “I’m just waiting for the yelp,” said Liam. Occasionally, Gus will try his hand at digging them out. Still no luck while I’ve been here.
His other great sporting pursuit is, at low tide, wandering down the steps cut into the cliff and trying his luck fishing in the rock pools on the expansive rock ledge below. He wanders from pool to pool, sometimes getting excited because he’s spotted something trapped in there.
Dunno whether he’s actually managed to land anything yet, but he gets full marks for perseverance.
ME IN A NUTSHELL
- G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.