Vanuatu: Jeff with a J

I caught a ride back to Luganville with the German couple from Port Olry this morning. Since arriving at 11 I’ve been pressed to find something to do, but it seems most activities start around 8:30. I’ve heard (there’s never any definitive information, everything is word of mouth) that there’s a free ferry over to Aore Island, just a quick trip from Santo. I ask at my lodge for some information or a timetable but there’s nothing – just multiple ferries per day.

Good enough. I walk towards town and catch a ride on an empty bus. Have I explained the bus thing already? It’s wild. There’s no limit to how many people can become taxi/bus/public transport drivers. Then on top of that there’s a ton of car pooling. There’s also no need to pass a driver’s test here. So basically, if you can afford the price of a license, you can become a driver. And if you know someone who knows someone who knows someone on the inside, that person can also get you a license for free. With a population of 275,000, everyone knows someone. So what happens? Everyone becomes a driver and there’s not enough passengers to fill the seats. There’s also not really enough tourism to justify frequent trips to the major sites either, so it’s a strange in between.

Empty bus

I head down to the wharf and ask when the next ferry is. 2pm… but it’s only 12. I walk into town to kill some time and pass a man on a small stage singing “sweet home Vanuatu” – you know, the 1973 hit by Lynyrd Skynyrd? about their favourite Pacific island? It fills me with joy.

Back at the wharf I’m sitting and writing, minding my own business. A giant man carrying two bursting luggage bags sits down next to me, absolutely exasperated and starts speaking to me as if we’ve already been in conversation. He’s wearing a captain’s hat so I’m not sure if maybe he’s a pilot or the captain of this ferry that was supposed to be here 10 minutes ago?

He tells me that he’s had a terrible morning and missed his flight. He was busy “having a yarn” with someone and didn’t realize he was sitting in the internal airport, when he needed to be in domestic. Instead of taking the next flight, he decided to charter his own and won’t tell me how much it cost because “it’s embarrassing” but ohhhhh how I want to know. Apparently he got to fly the plane for a little bit and it was all “an experience” so he’s happy about it. Halfway through his next sentence he stops to ask me my name, and says “HiNaominicetomeetyou, I’m Jeff with a J” and continues on without taking a breath. He’s wearing reading glasses that have a magnetic clasp across the bridge of the nose – he unclips them and they fall around his neck. He then pulls out a pair of white “Raybandz” from his bag. The arms snap to collapse and fold around his wrist like some kind of transformer bracelet; he doesn’t even put them on. He’s covered in various scrapes and bruises from his knuckles to his shoulders, and is telling me about a woman he married “briefly” from Calgary. Jeff with a J has seen some shit.

The boat comes and we try to board, but apparently this ferry is only for people staying on the island resort. Tourists can only go for a day trip if they catch the 11:30am. Well… that’s my plan for the day ruined. I start to walk back to the town, but Jeff with a J calls after me. “Young lady!”, I turn around. “Now wait, let’s just sit here for a minute and figure out what we’re going to do”. We?????? I mean, I have nothing better to do – this is probably the highlight of my day, so, true. I sit with Jeff, next to his two massive suitcases that still have ‘Star Alliance Priority Boarding’ stickers hanging from them. Who is this guy? He pulls out a little cellphone and tries to call his friend, who lives on the island and who he’s on his way to stay with. He doesn’t know the friend’s name. “Dale? Dave? Something like that.” I ask how he knows this guy if he can’t remember the name, and he says they’re from the same small town in New Zealand, but it sounds like they’ve never met. This Dale guy is in for an absolute treat.

Jeff offers to bring me with him to the island when his friend comes with the boat (this friend, whom he’s never met and has not answered his phone) but he doesn’t know if there’ll be space for me at the house. I explain that I wasn’t desperate to visit the island and he doesn’t have to worry about me. He says he likes my attitude and is trying to use this vacation to teach himself to slow down and relax, and while I want to tell him he’s doing a terrible job, I just say I think it’s a marvellous idea. He’s honestly the craziest character I’ve ever met. Part of me wants to get his contact details to see how this saga ends, but I don’t ask. He insists I go enjoy my day and that he’ll figure it out, and I’m absolutely sure he will, one way or another.

The rest of my day is just walking up and down the strip. Luganville is really just one road, and it’s not a very long one. I run into the French couple from Port Olry, whom I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to this morning so it’s nice to see them again. They ask me what I’m doing and I joke that I have no idea but like, seriously tho I have no idea, help me. After parting with them I even stop into the only tourism office for some advice. Even they tell me there’s nothing to do here in the evenings.

Western Union mascot, naturally.

Kids playing on the beach by the market

I visit the market and take a mystery package – something pre-wrapped in banana leaves for 100VT ($1.30) I ask about what it is but the only response I get is “meat” so I guess I’m about to find out. Hopefully.

I unwrap the banana leaves to find a very sticky, wet, doughy textured roll. Kinda like a sticky spring roll. My first bite is only the sticky dough. Is this “meat”? Is it possible I’m eating some kind of straight fat? Second bite I find the meat. Seems like it’s minced meat and onions stuffed into this doughy thing – which I assume is manioc. Not bad, but I could do with less manioc. For 100VT I’d do it again (but I don’t). I’d take a picture but my phone is dead after sleeping in a tent for 2 nights. I later learn it’s called Touloup (not sure about that spelling tho).

I head back to my lodge to get more information on my trip to Pentecost tomorrow. I’ve booked it, but haven’t actually paid anyone or been given any details on when/where I have to be tomorrow. On my way back I hop on a bus with ease. No one has tried to overcharge me recently – maybe I look less lost now.

I meet a fellow Canadian which is kinda fun because almost every other traveller I’ve met here has been French! We discuss how the Raptors just won the Golden Globe or whatever it is for basketball – which makes me even more stoked to visit Toronto over the summer when everyone is still riding that high.

Photos of my lodge just cause:

My bedding

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