All aboard for the Vanualava Express

Saturday, 18 July 2009 9:50 PM (Vureus Bay,  Vanua Lava Island) – This post received on Island time – Admin

All aboard for the Vanualava express!  That’s 6 medical volunteers – Iain, Ann, Tim,  Jannelle, Rochelle and Helen, plus of course Don and Meg, Plus Richard – no Jessy because she’s staying at Losolava on Gaua and will travel back to Santo for ongoing treatment for malaria.

Then there’s the crew of 6, me, Mike, Terrance, Chris, Jo, plus Graeme who moonlights as a doctor.  Then there’s Simon and our (working, deckhand) passenger and Paramount Chief John.

How many did you count?  I think I counted 17.  No, I’m sure I counted 17.  Anyway we finally headed out of Losolava around 8:30am, due to some unforseen delay with a local boatman, or some other reason which isn’t really that important.  (There is a thing called island time, say no more)

The 20 mile trip from Losolava on Gaua to Vureus Bay here on Vanua Lava was a dream run. Blue sky, wind from the south east and a steady swell.  We thought briefly about putting the sails up, but instead figured that shade on the deck was more important than pretty white sails in the air.  And with no shady clouds to speak of the heat in the sun was intense.

But 3-4 hours later we arrived, around 12:00 noon dropped anchor and started sorting boxes on the foredeck for the clinic here at Vureus Bay and around the headland at Vatrata.  It was a busy time of planning, discussion and scheduling.

It went something like this:

Ok, so we’ll run the first pile of boxes to the beach with some of the first team, then when we come back we’ll take the remainder of the team ashore.

Then, the second team will be taken 5km down the coast and around the point in the dinghy, with the aid of the guide that John Star will find for us ashore.  This will be done in two trips because of the amount of gear and the distance.

Then while you are running the clinics the boat’s crew will run your packs and personal gear ashore to the bungalows where you will be staying.

At 4:00pm we’ll return to Vatrata to pick up team 2, return their boxes to the boat, then run them to shore, along with the Harry Honda generator, movie projector and laptop for Mike to set up for the film night in the village.

Meanwhile team 1 will walk down from the village clinic at the top of the hill to the bungalows where they too will sleep the night.

Dinner will be organised ashore for the medical volunteers, plus Mike and Rob, who are running the film night.

Then after the film has finished, Chris and Simon will return to the beach in the dinghy to pick up Rob and Mike.

In reality, the afternoon went much like the above, however, team 2 was not ready at 4:00pm, (island time again) so Chris, who’d gone the 5km to pick them up had to return empty handed.  They were finally picked up, as the sun sank in the west, around 5:30pm.  When I say “picked up”, in reality it was more like “picked off”, because it was off a rock ledged that was only exposed between each wave as the surging swell retreated and advanced.  The only thing between the dinghy and its contents of people and boxes staying intact and not, was a line of maybe 8 young men, very strong young men, who caught the dinghy side-on each time it was picked up and thrown to the rocks by each breaking wave.  At times they were up to their waists in water.  From inside the dinghy the view was quite simple and very alarming.  To our right, advancing blue water curling in readiness to break, to our left a line of strong men in braced anticipation and behind them a crowd that looked like half the village and in amongst them the 5 timid looking medical volunteers, plus their day packs and maybe 12 boxes, each being held by an eager Ni-van villager, in the fashion of a Conga Line.

It was a novel sight, which brought visions of Antarctic penguins waiting their turn to jump off the pack-ice into the jaws of a hungry leopard seal.  Although in this case it was boxes being throw (yes, that’s right, thrown) at me to catch as I braced myself in the front of the dinghy while Chris took charge of the stern.  When all the boxes and packs were piled high in the dinghy, it was the turn of the passengers.  Each human-exit from the rock ledge was unique in it’s own way and a source of much jollification for the village-audience, who cheered and shouted with joy at the hilarious spectacle. I swear, in one brief lull between the breaking swells I caught, lifted and partially threw to the back of the dinghy, one of the smaller female optometrists (I’ll have all their names down pat soon, but I apologize now to Janelle who seemed at the time to appreciate it) in order to make way for the next apprehensive penguin, sorry medical volunteer.

At the time, we did not share their mirth, but on reflection, now that we are onboard Chimere, it’s good to know we are bringing entertainment as well as much needed medical care – like I’ve said before, “we do more than just eyes.”

In a sense, the running of the medical clinics is “quite straight forward”, to quote Graeme, compared to the challenges which arise in actually getting to and from each location.

Tomorrow, being Sunday, is a day of rest – hallelujah, what a great idea!! However…

Tune in next time for more MSM adventures from the South Pacific

Smooth sea, fair breeze and here’s hoping Sunday is indeed a day of rest.


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