An old school-friend in the Lucky Country

14 December 1991 Air Vanuatu 163 Port Vila to Sydney

The payment of the tickets for the trip to Sydney constitutes the largest single transaction I ever recall having made on a credit card at one time, exceeding even the trip to Washington DC with British Caledonian in 1987. That was only for two adults, and does not have four further years of inflation added to the price. So we have now an American Express slip for two hundred and twenty-nine thousand, four hundred vatu, and that's a lot of money. However, if you want to travel, you have to pay the price asked, or, failing that, a different price if you can find one. Even so, 229,400 is not the largest figure ever to appear on a credit slip. The hotel bill in Mexico City ran to over one million pesos, and we were only there for a couple of nights.

Another thing I found difficult to grasp was the way the Australians approach immigration. For a country almost totally populated by migrants, visas seem quite difficult to procure. More precisely, visas worth anything. A single entry visa valid for one month for a maximum stay of two weeks was all they were issuing to us. Some have said that this is because there is an over-stay problem from some nationalities, but they do not want to show any prejudice against any of them, so all nationalities are treated the same. How the issue of short-stay visa helps the problem of over-staying is beyond me. Surely the issue of any visa invites the problem. But I digress.

Check-in for the flight was at an ungodly hour in the morning, but travelling with two young children meant that there was no problem at all in getting up in plenty of time for it. Does this mean that children are ungodly? Far from it. Travel with children brings a whole new dimension to the world of travel. This was the first journey of any length we would undertake with two children, but it wasn't too bad. As ever, the worst part of the journey is the queuing.

Pacific countries have a curious outlook on time, somewhat at odds with that of the rest of the world. If the flight arrives late, probably it will leave late. This much is standard. The unusual aspect is that an early flight will probably leave early too. Air Pacific is notorious for this, but Air Vanuatu is not too far behind them on this score. As it was, we left Port Vila about ten minutes early, arriving in Sydney twenty minutes early.

Food on Air Vanuatu out of Port Vila has been described as the best in the Pacific, and although good, I am not well enough versed in airline food to comment.

As ever, Air Vanuatu caters for children well, handing out the in-flight books issued by Australian Airlines. Much of their other stuff is of Australian Airlines origin too, as earlier mentioned.

After getting off the airliner in Sydney, we walked to the international terminal and waited what seemed an age for any baggage to appear on the carousel. It would appear that Air Vanuatu has a lower priority in Sydney than in Port Vila.

Immigration took quite a while too, with the staff taking an interest in our visas because they had been issued in Port Vila. They seemed at ease on hearing that we lived in Vanuatu and we legally entered Australia for the first time.

A week would soon pass, seeing again such things as escalators, lifts and multi-storey buildings. Shopping played a large part in our visit to Sydney, simply because of the favourable prices and choice of goods compared with Port Vila.

21 December 1991 Air Vanuatu 164 Sydney to Port Vila

Discovering that we had bought a large amount of merchandise, and taking note of Australia's strict child-safety laws meant that we needed two trips to the airport to transport all the cases and people. I was in the first load, and after securing the use of a luggage trolley, I was able to walk around the international departures terminal to watch what was happening.

It had been an interesting week in Australia, for there had been a change of prime minister. Robert Hawke was replaced by Paul Keating.

However, following the general election, Vanuatu also had a new prime minister, Maxime Carlot who replaced Donald Kalpokas, who had not had a very long term of office. However, from our point of view, the main news is the demise of Compass Airlines, the new boy following deregulation. Compass Airlines failed the night before we were due to fly back, and I am very grateful that their network was only domestic. Otherwise, the terminal would have been in chaos. This is not to say that half of it was not in chaos, but I think the Qantas area is always like that.

The weather in Sydney was fine as we walked steadily to the waiting aircraft, but there was some turbulence on the flight. Soon it was time for arrival in Port Vila. Immigration for residents took a long time that day, because so many local people had been on the flight. I don't know why. For once, it is possible that the flight contained more residents and citizens than tourists. Our return was marked by heavy tropical rain, which I was told had only started a couple of hours earlier. No matter, for this was home.

These two international flights late in the year result in an annual total for 1991 of twenty-nine thousand, nine hundred and twenty-nine miles, a new record, though not beating 1987 by a very large margin, and still short of the coveted thirty thousand mile barrier.

Just before Christmas, I received news that my contract in Vanuatu was to be extended. Good news for me: a job for another year, as well as another round the world trip.

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