Tues 21 July 1:23 AM (Sola on Vanualava Island)

After an action packed Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in which we transported the new medical team from Losolava on Gaua to Vureas Bay, Vatrata and Waterfall Bay on the west coast (sheltered side) of Vanualava, it was again time to set sail.  This time for the south east corner of Vanualava and the main provincial centre of Sola.  (That sounds grand, but I think I heard Jo suggest, after a visit ashore, that Sola makes Santo look cosmopolitan)

This trip was always going to be a challenge.  Not the first 30 minutes down the protected west coast, rather, the next hour or two.  Largely because we would be rounding the southern tip of the island into a 25 knot headwind and 2-3m sea.  Not that we’re talking Cape Horn here…

It all began around 6:00am, (that’s up at 5:00am, for a 6:00am pickup) in something akin to a military operation, with Chris heading off in the dim light of dawn in the dinghy to first, pick up the bags off the beach, plus medical volunteer Tim, then the remaining 7 volunteers in the second trip.  Meanwhile, like a well oiled machine, Chimere was efficiently moved from the sheltered end of the beach to a position closer to the landing point, with the transfer of people and gear occurring in the sheltered waters of the bay.

The calmness of the morning was in stark contrast to the wild and woolly weather of the night, where squall after squall descended from the nearby mountain range.  Sometimes howling from the north, sometimes from the south, then from the west.  So much for the steady south east trade wind.  Fortunately the sea was slight, but we did maintain an anchor watch from 3:00am, to be sure, with the chartplotter (Ray) showing the extent of the boat’s movement at anchor.

You may hear from different quarters that the 3-4 hour sail around to Sola was something akin to a “near-death” experience. This might be a slight exaggeration, so I’d like to present my side of it.  On the good side, we had favorable wind for maybe half the way, but then on the negative side the waves were a bit a “lumpy”, I’ll admit that, which some appreciate even less than others – no names or pack-drill.  But all arrived at the destination safe and sound in time for lunch.  And let me just put in a word of endorsement here for the restorative qualities of lemonade, when all, in particular last night’s dinner, and that bickie which passed for breakfast, appears lost.

On the way, as we bounced briskly through/over the waves, Chris came good in the fishing department, landing a very big Dorado.  How happy can one man be!!  I know this hapless fish will grow in size over the coming years and months, but suffice to say, it was a very big fish (and extremely tasty)

Sola is in a bay called Port Patterson and it is here that the only known population of crocodiles exist in Vanuatu.  there’s a bit of a story, or more to the point, many stories surrounding these animals, so you might find it interesting to do a Google search on the matter.  Chief Graham, (not to be confused with Dr Graeme) from Vureas bay told us that the crocodiles were “safe” because the Bishop who brought them (as pets?) over 100 years ago, had told the crocodiles not to attack humans.  And how big are these crocodiles?  “6-7 metres maybe”. Came the reply.  Glad they don’t attack humans, something that big could really hurt you… (Sorry, I could help myself there)   Like I say, there are many stories.   Not that we doubt the power of Bishop Selwyn all those year ago, but me might just hold off swimming for a bit in these parts.

After the trip around from the other side of the island, a rest afternoon was declared.  I must confess I took in a few zzzzs, while Mike, Jo, and Chris checked out some shore issues – mundane things like water, petrol and internet.  (managed to solve 2 out of 3)  Apparently we are hiring a local boatman on an island further north to ferry patients to our clinic and part of the payment is that we give him 30 litres of petrol. Plus, after all our movie nights and long distance dinghy use, we are getting low.)

Graeme went ashore to do some work at the clinic, and takes up the story ….

“We are all well – except for poor Jessy (Ni-Van) who came down with malaria, of course. I have never diagnosed malaria before. It’s strange experience not having access to even basic blood tests and Xrays. The rapid diagnostic malaria kits we had were great.

Today we had to fix a young boy’s broken arm.  We offered to take him around to the clinic by boat, but he chose to walk the 3 hours + across the island.  He and his father arrived at Sola clinic this morning, before us.  Not a bad effort for a young boy with a broken arm

No Xrays but we could all see it was bent. He had a fall (diving we think) 2 days before and the local Aid Worker had applied a simple hand carved splint. Iain (surgeon) took my local anaesthesia and injected straight into the fracture sight (are you still reading this?) and after it had some time to work he straightened it as best we could (again without Xrays!)

We rummaged through the “hospital” supplies and found only one role of fibreglass plaster – just enough. There had been 3 other rolls but they had been ruined by being opened accidentally! So the one plaster roll was enough for a below elbow plaster, and a sling was made out of cloth. The boy was cooperate and brave, and had a big smile afterward.

Its been quite tiring, with v little time for rest. We are having to get up early for a clinic or sail to another village, try and get some washing done, clean the dishes, sort out the medical equipment boxes each (before and after) each clinic. The clinics are busy. I did not have a nurse to help for the first week, so I was doing all the patient screening – blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate, blood sugar test, deal with any other problems they want solved, write any pharmacy script and present them with the tablets! So its like being nurse, registrar, doctor, pharmacist all in one.

At other times, esp when we arrive at a new village, the discussion sounds like a script from Dr Who.
“Are you doctor?” “Yes I am the Doctor.”
“Where you come from, Vila?” “No I come from a long way away. Do you know Australia?” “Ah yes.”

So tomorrow we take a medical team a couple of hours to the island of Mota.  Another team will run a clinic here in Sola.  Then the next day, we go a short distance to Mota Lava, and the day after that Uriparapara.

I should mention that Simon, our German (electrician/mechanic) backpacker who was offered a trip on our boat back in Santo by the local Ni-Van health worker on the condition he’d have a look at the generator at the hospital here in Sola, (which didn’t work, and hasn’t for some time) did indeed go to the hospital, with Dr Graeme and Chris, to inspect said generator.  While Graeme et al did work on the poor lad with the broken wrist, Simon and Chris attempted a diagnosis on the, “long time kaput blong mota”.  The shed housing the machinery was eventually located in the scrub some distance from the hospital, then there was the issue of the starter motor – which was found and said to be the problem.  What about the battery?  Well that’s flat.  Where is it?  At Public Works Department Workshop 3km away.  Can we get it?  Oh, it’s after 5:00 o’clock… but that’s their truck over there.  Can the battery be charged?  The saga continues!

Time for bed.

Smooth sea, fair breeze and every day a new island

Rob