Reaching country no. 200: Welkam to Vanuatu!!
Day 3,298 since October 10th 2013: 200 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Signed, sealed, delivered.
Unbelievably we have reached 200 COUNTRIES IN AN UNBROKEN JOURNEY COMPLETELY WITHOUT FLYING!! I write “we” because this has always been a collaborative effort. From cheering on social media to “opening doors” we are many who can claim a part of this success. Thank you.
Last week’s entry: Leaving New Caledonia and M/V New Guinea Chief - passenger no. 1
I left you on day two of cargo operations in Prony Bay. Prony Bay is particularly known for nickel mining in New Caledonia and you can read much more about that in last week’s entry. After three days in Prony Bay we were ready to continue towards Luganville on the island of Espiritu Santo (Santo) within Vanuatu!! We were ahead of schedule and I was being treated well onboard. Under the command of the kind Captain Fang I had been quartered in a spacious guest cabin and was adhering to Swire Shipping’s COVID-19 guidelines for new joiners. Honestly, I don’t know where we would be without Swire Shipping?!? In the face of the pandemic, they have chosen to help and support the Saga as we have gone from one tropical country to the next here within the Pacific Ocean. Don’t get me wrong, I have great admiration for every shipping company which has assisted Once Upon A Saga in the past nine years – and there have been many. The good ship New Guinea Chief was the 33rd container ship which I have had the pleasure of traveling onboard. Once Upon A Saga turned nine years on October 10th 2022 which coincided with World Mental Health Day. Rather fitting I must admit. The Saga is tough in many ways and most definitely from a mental aspect. I haven’t always been cooping well with the stress and pressure of it all. Something you should know is that seafarers have had it rough ever since the pandemic broke out. Even today I have not experienced a single ship this year where shore leave was permitted. As such the seafarers join a ship and do not leave it again until their tour is over some 4-8 months later. No mental break from being onboard. Thank goodness for seafarers. They are such special people.
Swire's motto: "Esse quam videri" (to be, rather than to seem).
Cargo operations in Pprony Bay. Can you spot the green Swire container?
Three meals per day. Delivered straight to my cabin.
I was very happy to participate in the Extraordinary Travel Festival via this web call. I was invited to join the others in Yerevan, Armenia, but couldn't for obvious reasons. Some of the worlds most traveled people attended. Several of them friends of mine. It would have been a blast!! Maybe next year :)
Captain Fang knocked on my door several times to hear if all was well and if I needed anything. I wasn’t completely quarantined but for the first seven days my meals would be brought to my cabin and I had to wear a mask if I left it to stretch my legs. Swire Shipping has for years been limiting plastic waste onboard their ships and a reusable plastic water bottle is handed to all seafarers. The ships fresh water generator is regularly serviced and there are water stations where you can refill the bottle. The nearest station for me was on the bridge one level above my cabin. I was only onboard for seven days in full, so I only experienced the COVID-19 protocol. As such I truly spent most of my time in the cabin reading, listening to podcasts, watching movies, managing social media, sleeping, and resting up. Swire provides its seafarers with 1gb of internet on a weekly basis. That is in my experience quite generous at sea as the WIFI signal onboard comes from a satellite uplink. The internet speed is pretty good for emails, text messages, and uploading the occasional picture to social media. It took a while to download my daily news podcasts.
The ships steward, Mr. Paula Masirewa from Fiji, serving me a meal :)
There isn’t much more to say about the voyage. I was treated really well and enjoyed being onboard. I had a few kind encounters with some of the crew but mostly stayed in my cabin when I wasn’t collecting water on the bridge or exercising out on deck. We reached Luganville on Monday, October 17th, just before sunset. I had asked to stay onboard one more night and to disembark the next morning. The next morning, I had breakfast at 07:00am as usual and then waited for my phone to ring. Eventually I was told to bring my bags downstairs and meet with customs. Customs did a thorough check (more than usual) of my luggage while Tony from tropical Agency Ltd (Swire’s agent in Vanuatu) and I stood by. After I was cleared by customs, I said farewell to Captain Fang and the good ship. For some odd reason I did had trouble falling asleep the night before, and my stomach was in knots. I wasn’t sick – but this was going to be country no. 200 since I left home!!
Due to COVID protocols we couldn't afford a crew photo. But I did get the pleasure of this photo together with Capt. Fang from China (next to me), and 2nd off. Aranas Jr. from the Philippines. Great guys! I wish fair winds and following seas to all onboard.
Tony and I walked down the gangway and entered his vehicle. I gave a last wave to the ship before I got in. Then we drove away. It was official: Vanuatu had become country no. 200 in what I can only describe as a very long and comprehensive journey. Not the final country, but certainly a milestone. I cannot help to wonder upon how this project will be remembered by people, if remembered at all. I live in a bobble with tremendous support and tens of thousands of people cheer me on. This is by any stretch of the word a historical journey. Unfortunately, “historical” is a word which is being watered down as it applies to so many things these days. Historical profits, historical sporting results, historical takeovers, historical hunger, historical drought, shortest historical tenure for a British Prime Minister... Most of my days are spent outside the bobble where I meet everyday people who have no idea about who I am or what I have done. Nobody within Vanuatu’s rich history of several thousands of years has traveled as far as I have to reach these pristine islands. It has been more than 340,000km (211,000mi) since I left home. The furthest point from Vanuatu on this planet is about 20,000km (12,500mi) away. You would have to have come to Vanuatu from the moon to beat the distance.
Tony the friendly ships agent from Tropical Agencies Ltd.
At a safe distance from Swire’s good ship, Tony and I made a stop to grab a selfie. Tony lives in Port Vila which is Vanuatu’s capitol some 274km (170mi) away. Tony flies to Luganville to service the few ships which arrive each month. Afterwards he flies back again. Our first stop was at the Tropical agency Ltd office where I got to say halo (hello) to the staff. Tropical Agency Ltd. had purchased my ferry ticket to Port Vila for me as a welcome gift! Tuff tumas (good stuff). We then proceeded to an ATM where I could draw some local vatu and then a store where I could get a simcard. We are batting 99.5% of 200 countries in which I have had access to internet. Welcome to the world we live in. Tony gave me a bit of a tour as we drove down main St. Luganville is a small but very charming town. Our final stop was at Tropicana Motel & Backpacker where I was going to spend the night. Tropicana was lovely relaxed. I had booked my stay in advance and needed to move my arrival one day forward: no problem, welkam. When I asked what time I had to check out the following day I was told not to worry about it and just leave the key in the room, welkam.
They speak more than 130 languages in Vanuatu and were simultaneously colonized by the French and the British until independence in 1980. As such two of the three official languages are French and English. The third is Bislama which is out of this world charming. If you speak English then you have a good shot at understanding a lot of it. Its not unlike the pidgin English found elsewhere around the world. As such it is almost like discovering you know a language you weren’t aware you knew. It’s not that simple though. I have certainly been saying “what?” a lot :)
It was emotional to have an online celebration off 200 countries together with Lars Andersen, CEO of Ross.Dk and Founder of GEOOP! We go back many years. He was calling in from a geothermal conference in Berlin. He popped a small bottle of champagne and I opened a Vanuatu beer. I'm so privileged to be a part of #TeamRoss! They have supported for nine years and will continue to support to the end!! That is outstanding!! Please visit their websites and feel free to send them a message of thanks for keeping the Saga alive.
I have a sad feeling that Santo is the place to be!! I say that as I’m writing you from Port Vila. There’s nothing wrong with Port Vila. It’s just that Santo warrants so much more than 36hrs. Vanuatu’s highest mountain is on Santo. It is the majestic Mount Tabwemasana towing at 1,879m (6,165ft) above sea level. That would make it one of the highest mountains in the Pacific Ocean and if you know anything about me then you also know why I find that attractive. Besides the mountain Santo is just famous for culture, fresh produce, a laidback vibe, natural beauty, and amazing meat. Vanuatu as a whole is famous for premium quality meat and within Vanuatu Santo is at the top.
Kava bar just outside Luganville.
There’s also a famous shipwreck, the SS President Coolidge, which was an American luxury ocean liner which became a troop ship during WWII, then hit a “friendly” mine, and sank in 1942. Apparently, the navy thought it wouldn’t sink and evacuated the ship believing they would return to retrieve material and personal belongings. But she sank. She’s in relative deep water and apparently makes for a great dive as you can observe so much equipment on and around the wreck. I walked the 9km (5.6mi) out to the coast close to the shipwreck knowing I would see nothing but water. I guess I was just curious to get close to the famous wreck. I also know from past experience that a long walk like that, in a new place, will fill up all the senses and often present a collection of good memories. It did of course.
Luganville is a charming town. Music was in the air. The day I arrived they were celebrating the International Day of Rural Women in the unity park. The following day the same park was the venue of a: "Climate Change Affect Us All Let's Take Action for a Resillient SANMA" theme. I spotted the Vanuatu Red Cross Society and they looked really busy with press.
School boy trailing behind the other students.
I followed Main St. past all the shops and stores, then out of town and past the industrial port. Copra, beef and cocoa are huge export products for Santo. It wasn’t long before I was surrounded by lush green vegetation. I spotted some bananas growing, a bright blue kingfisher, a few dogs came out to bark at me, a woman at a small store sold me some homemade lemonade in a used water bottle… The occasional vehicle drove by. It was hot and humid. I spotted a kava bar along the way as well as a tiny Thai food restaurant. Then I reached a sign which read: SS COOLIDGE DIVE SIGHT. The properties along the coast all had “private” signs and “no entry” out in front. But I chanced it and walked down a driveway towards the coast hoping aggressive territorial dogs wouldn’t attack me. Man! I’m really not fond of dogs in the Pacific. Most are calm and friendly – but which ones aren’t? Fortunately, no dogs came to meet me but I did meet a friendly Aussie who owned the property and ran a diving company. We chatted for a bit and I got to look across the water which covers SS President Coolidge. A buoy was visible not far into the bay. Below it she lies.
I caught a minibus back to town where I had earlier had lunch at a small local stall. The food was good but flies were plentiful. I’ve had a few meals in Luganville and flies have been noticeable every time. Maybe it’s the season? I had the chance to meet with the Tropical Agency Ltd. Office once more as Anne picked me up to get a group photo with me in it. Anne and I were now in touch and she would keep me updated regarding the ferry. There was no reason to be at the ferry any earlier than 3pm so apart from my walk to the dive sight I could rest and take it easy. Anne picked me up at 3pm and drove me to the ferry at Melcoffee Wharf. They were still unloading when we arrived so Anne and I sat in the pickup truck and talked about this and that and everything. When it was time to board the ferry Anne stood in line with me all the way up until the gangway where I said thank you and farewell. Then I stepped onboard “Big Sista”. The water around us was calm. Would it continue to be calm all the way to Vila?
The lovely Anne from Tropical Agencies Ltd.
Passengers boarding Big Sista.
I asked a crew member where I should go and he said that inside and outside on the lower level I could be anywhere. Upstairs was first class and came at an extra cost of 1,500 vatu (USD 12). I looked around the lower deck which was quite crammed with people, not airconditioned, and the many bunkbeds appeared to be spoken for. It was going to be a 24hr crossover with a stop along the way. I walked upstairs and found a far less crowded lounge which was airconditioned. Yeah – I opted for the luxury and paid the extra costs. You just never know when you might get seasick? For some reason I thought I wouldn’t get sick on Big Sista. We left the wharf and it was a calm voyage and I was in good spirit. After a while I lost my phone signal and decided to lie down and get some rest. And then over the course of an hour I could slowly feel the sickness build up. But very slowly. Somewhere within that hour I opened my medical kit and popped a motion sickness pill hoping it would solve the problem. And for a while I thought it did. The sun sat and the lights were turned off. I was lying down. My thoughts began focusing on if I had a plastic bag or a box? Could I clean my hat if I used it? The floor next to me? Would the smell stay with me until Vila? What if I heard someone throw up or could smell it – would that trigger me? Big Sista was rolling and pitching and I on and off felt okay and not okay.
30 minutes before I fell ill.
Then suddenly I knew it was game over!!! I had to vomit!! I got up and raced around and over the many people lying on the floor sleeping envisioning the disaster of me exploding above them!! I made it to the door and managed to open it but just as many people were sleeping on the ground. I dashed across them, down the stairs and grabbed the taffrail leaning over the side. Would I vomit? For a second I was unsure. Then there was no doubt!!! This was the first round. After vomiting for a while, I could relax. Big Sista was dancing in the waves, it was dark outside, lightning was visible in the horizon, the stars were out and men were laughing like hyenas behind me. Possible laughing at me or maybe at something else. Then round two started building up and I soon found myself leaning over the taffrail again. I worried that I would fall overboard due to the violent cramps of my abdomen and Big Sista moving about. My left hand fumbled on the inside of the taffrail and found a used tire to hold on to. I had spilled my insides during round one so it was just cramps and pain for round two. As round two came to an end I fell back and sat down. Several people came to assist and offer “good advice”. I was exhausted. After a while I got up for round three! Then round four! My goodness the misery. Nowhere to escape it. Someone was patting and stroking my back. Someone offered me some water which I drank but quickly lost again. Someone told me I might get a break at our midway stop at Malekula. We were going to stop there around midnight. I managed to ask what time it was and the reply was 9:20pm. 2 hours and 40 minutes felt like an eternity. I eventually crashed down on the dirty metal deck next to the taffrail. It was moist and pieces of dried paint and dirt clung to my skin. I couldn’t have cared less. The old tire became my uncomfortable pillow. I started to dose off but woke up for round five in which foul tasting bile came out. The convulsions were painful. My stomach was twisting and turning. There was no longer any laughter. I fell a sleep and felt a bit better. Then a wave came across the taffrail and a bucketful hit me. It was warm. But then I was soon cold. I crawled up to sleep on the gangway which was flat next to me. It was wet but the deck now had pools of water moving about. I was miserable. We finally reached Malekula and everything calmed down. A sympathetic man named Paul guided me. I realized he had been the one stroking and patting my back. I hadn’t had any dinner thinking I would buy some onboard. Big mistake. Filthy and wet I made it up to the first-class lounge, changed into some dry clean clothes, took another motion sickness pill and two painkillers, then I fell a sleep and was fine all the way to Vila.
Big Sista arriving to Port Vila.
Mali from Tropical Agency Ltd. Was there to greet me. He is the younger brother of Tony. The kindness was radiating out of him. I was exhausted. It was 3:30pm and I hadn’t had any food for more than 24hrs. Mali drove me straight to the hotel I had booked and offered to give me a guided tour around town if I wanted it? I thanked him for his kindness and we agreed to meet the following day. Then I went up to my room, cleaned myself up, drank some tea, and around 6pm I had dinner. It was a quiet evening at the hotel for me. Ultra-wifey was already airborne. She had flown from Copenhagen to Singapore and from Singapore to Sydney. She was now waiting for her connected flight to Port Vila. I got up the following day, had breakfast, listened to the news, and met with Mali at 09:00am. Mali took me to Tropical Agency Ltd. where I met the team including Mark who runs the show. Tony was out of office tending to a ship. Then Mali and I got back in his pickup and I got the full tour of Port Vila. People say Luganville and Vila are like day and night. People are right. They both have something to offer but differ greatly. Vila looks like a great little capitol and Vanuatu seems like a great little country. Tropical Agency Ltd. are getting ready to receive the first cruise ships since the pandemic broke out. Vanuatu opened up for tourism back in July and is now ready for cruise tourism too. I’ll have two weeks here with ultra-wifey. I’m off to the airport to pick her up. What can I say, Welkam to Vanuatu :)
The friendly Mali from Tropical Agencies Ltd.
I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop
If you enjoyed this blog or find that I am doing a good job then you can support here below. The Saga welcomes funding. Thank you :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - grateful to EVERYONE who has ever help and assisted the Saga!! :)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga