As I write this note the MSM website informs me that Chimere is making good progress southward on the start of its return journey home.
Without a doubt living aboard a 53ft yacht – OK, 54.5ft if you add Barry’s addition to the stern – with 10 other people is enough to test anyone’s patience & endurance. To the credit of each, and everyone doing their ‘bit’ and putting others first, we have survived surprisingly well. And dare I say it enjoyed the whole experience immensely. Except maybe for those bumpy rolly bits.
And so when the Team broke into two – crew and medical team – today there were mixed feelings of regret, joy, and amazement. We had survived a busy 16-day program and achieved most, if not all, our goals. To visit as many island, enjoy the company of every one we met, and provide much needed dental, eye, and medical care has been a privilege. To work with such a great team is an unforgettable experience.
We woke as usual around 6am with the sun already up, and ate a more leisurely breakfast before final packing of bags and last minute tasks – referral letters for patients, on board photo shoot, copying of our photos, etc. Today all the medical team and Desal Dave are leaving.
And then it was off to the airport to catch the midday ‘milk-run’ flight that includes most of Banks and Torres islands, or at least those with runways.
Now when I say “airport” I mean a grass strip extracted from a jungle clearing with a small building that doubles as checkin counter, arrival and departure lounge, luggage storage, control tower, etc. Each has its obligatory business class club lounge in the form of a soft patch of grass under a nearby shady palm tree.
Getting to the airport was a novel experience and a first: ‘water taxi’. The crew had to sail Chimere around the top of the island of Loh to the east side where the runway was sited. The swell decided to add its farewell in its own generous way!
To quote Rob we found a parking “bay” and dropped anchor only 500metres from the runway. The dinghy ‘water taxi’ was loaded with our bags and sent ashore were a helpful bunch of local lads carried them the last 200m to the terminal building. Next, we were transferred to dry land having bid our farewell to Chimere.
It’s not often you need to sail to catch a plane!
Our small twin engine aircraft arrived on time and gear was stowed aboard and final tears and farewells were shared amongst crew and team.
Our flight took us over many of the islands we had recently visited. Loh where we had spent the last few days; Toga where Ruth and Nancy and Graeme could retrace their bushwalk of the previous day over the jungles of Toga; then the extraordinary shape of Ureparapara with its towering semicircular nest of mountain peaks and verdant jungle. Further to the south we crossed over the ‘Reef Islands’ and landed on MotoLava.
“Can we hop out and stretch our legs?” Ruth asked the captain. And so we did. A truck/ute pulled up. “I recognise that ute” said one or two of us. Sure enough it was Patrick and his unreliable ute without brakes or starter or radiator or door handles, that we had met several days prior! Patrick informed us that his radiator was now fixed. “But still no handbrake?” enquired Barry. “No”.
We flew low over Motolava and the adjacent island of Rah where we coud identify the villages and anchorages we had attended. Then a brief low level flight across to Sola where the airport is situated near to the small Torba Province Hospital where we had run a clinic one week ago. From Sola we flew over Losalava, and Dolap and finally over the Segond channel and Santo where our journey with Chimere had commenced. In 2-hours or less we had covered much the same route we had taken two weeks to complete! A memorable way to revisit our route.
On arrival in Santo we gathered our bags and preparf for a 4-hour hang over until our next flight. Graeme wanted to book in the luggage so we had time to make into town to visit Rob’s pamplemousse slurpee cafe, but we were offered seats on the earlier flight to Port Vila leaving now. Yes please; lunch can wait. Better to arrive early. Graeme rang Tony, our friendly bus driver in Vila, and cousin of Richard Tatwin. Yes he can pick us up at 4pm when we arrive.
Our first task upon arrival was to exchange money at Fung Wey where Tony said the rates were best. He took our dollars and exchanged them for vatu, the local currency. 88vatu to the dollar. Then on to our hotel for our first long shower in 2-weeks and a night out at Chilli Restaurant down on the waterfront.
Farewell to all and keep following the blog.
In heaven there are smooth seas, fair breezes, and no more farewells.
Off-duty Cub Reporter (AKA Graeme Duke)