Ah, Vanuatu, what a land of contrasts you are.
My son, Joel, and I were Vanuatu-bound to celebrate Liam’s farewell party after five and a half years there. At check-in, we snaffled emergency aisle seats, a must given that we are both tall units. Then after a final smoke (not, thank god, for Joel who is also a teetotaller) we did the right thing and breezed through immigration and onto the strange mix of bargains and bullshit that is the duty-free precinct.
I say strange mix because the prices on certain things are, well, sometimes no better than you can get outside this supposed fantasy land of bargains.
Given that I’m no stranger to wine shops (regular readers will be only too aware) I reckon there were more than a few drops that were priced as much as, and sometimes more, than I could have got them at several places.
No matter. I wasn’t buying vino. I was, however, buying a couple of litres of vodka for the party and some tobacco and papers.
I grabbed the vodka, then a five-pack of Champion Ruby and made a beeline for the checkout, where the till man did his thing. I handed him my debit card as he scanned the vodka (20 bucks a litre) and then one pouch of tobacco. He then said to me: “Is that credit of savings?” I thought he said that’s incredible savings and I agreed with him. Joel choked back some laughter as I paid $17 for five 50-gram packs (about $200 in the outside world). Score. Had it been a stallholder at the local market or a shopkeeper, I would have pointed out the error of their ways. This time, no, I took the goodies and ran.
With the 60-odd bucks in perceived savings, I decided to buy a Swatch watch, something that would handle the rigours of camping and being dipped in rivers, etc. Done.
A good Thursday night flight with Air Vanuatu (they usually are) and we were scheduled to touch down on time … at 2am in Port Vila … which would be drink o’clock regardless of how I felt.
Joel and I managed to be in about fifth spot in the queue in Immigration. This is gonna be a breeze, we thought. Not so, on so many counts.
After about 10 minutes standing there waiting, finally someone appeared to explain, aided by a huge, pearly white smile, that there were no immigration staff available and would we mind waiting for five or 10 minutes. I asked him somewhat grumpily whether we had any choice. Pretty sure the F word slipped out.
It seemed that they’d forgotten there was a plane coming in and had sent the staff home. It was half an hour before someone finally got their arse into gear and an unpleasant half hour it was, given that all the ceiling fans in the area were switched off (maybe they forgot to pay the bill, who knows?) and everyone was hot, especially under the collar.
Finally we got through Immigration, I collected my case (Joel’s had gone missing) and through Customs to light a welcome cigarette after giving Liam a hug. Joel’s bag finally made an appearance after 20 minutes; it was (I think) found on the plane … of course, they’d forgotten to take it off the plane.
We did the only sensible thing and headed to Liam’s house for a few hours of catch-up chat and some strong drink before being pillow bound by about 5am. Yeah, it had been a long day.