Holidays from the bicycle: Vanuatu part 1

Open Water dive training 12m under waterAfter cycling several thousand kilometers (also miles), I continued for a while without my bicycle. By bus from Wellington to Auckland and further by plane to Vanuatu. Everything not very spectacular, you would guess but it was a bit different… And it continued with a interesting time under water in the tropics.

Wellington – Auckland: The somehow different bus journey
After a few days in Wellington (thank you Helen and flat mates for hosting me!), I took the night bus to Auckland. The alternative would have been flying but I think I’m already flying more than enough during this journey and changed therefore to the more environment friendly bus. And the night bus was with 30 NZD (around 23 USD) also pretty cheap. I was told, that the seats are pretty comfortable. However, they were more or less just standards seats which recline a little bit (nothing compared to the Cama class in Chile…). The bus was pretty busy but I didn’t have somebody next to me at the beginning. We left Wellington at around 20h. The first two hours were more or less relaxing. But then the bus got completely full and I also got a neighbor. And what kind of. He was pretty smelly, got his alcoholic drink with him in a plastic bottle and continuously talked to me in a very difficult accent. I understood hardly a word. I’m a pretty mellow person. However, that was a bit too much. He also offered me some of his drink and some cigarettes. And he wanted to go to Amsterdam; because of the Marihuana of course… After a break, he didn’t return to the seat next to me. I guess I bored him with my lack of interest… Which was fine for me :-).
We continued through the night towards Auckland. We stopped frequently, the light got on, people out and in; sleeping was not really possible. Shortly after 1 in the night, it smelled like something was burning and the bus was rumbling. Not a good sign. The bus stopped in the darkness. Was it burning? Nothing happened. I took that as sign, that the bus was not burning… After maybe half an hour, we were told that we are waiting for somebody to repair the tire. Ahh, we had a flat tire! No other information was given. At 3.45 (so after around two and a half hours), the bus continued. I guess the tire was repaired.
After several stops, we finally reached Auckland with a delay of almost three hours. No excuse and no information was given. Would I have been in South America, I wouldn’t have been surprised. However, the bus journeys in Chile were actually 1A! I can’t really recommend the Intercity night bus, except if you want to save money. You just have to be aware, that it also attracts certain people (which I forgot). Nevertheless, I booked that into the chapter travel experiences and continued to my hostel. I actually planned to sleep a bit but there was still some stuff to do before flying to Vanuatu the next day…

Auckland – Port Vila (Vanuatu)
The shuttle bus to the airport already arrived at 6 in the morning at the hostel. So nothing with sleeping in and also my lack of sleep didn’t get smaller. Check-in was painless and I was soon with AirNewZealand on the way towards north. The plane was pretty empty. Therefore, more or less everybody had a row for him/herself. As on the flight to NZ, I again watched an episode of Lord of the rings. However,I’m not sure if it was number two or already three. The flight was a bit too short and I didn’t see the ending therefor. Luckily there is again a flight back in a few weeks ;-).
It was raining hard when I arrived in Vanuatu. Not really a surprise, it’s rainy season. I just hoped that it wouldn’t rain that way all the time… Immigration was pretty easy and I got a visa for a month. As in NZ and Australia, they also checked my tent for possible aliens inside. There was nothing and I could take my shuttle to to my accommodation at the dive center. It’s a dorm but I was the only guest… The next thing was shopping through the heavy rain. The first supermarket was somehow closed. At least nobody was allowed to go inside (it was also Sunday). A super friendly woman offered me a lift to the next supermarket, which I happily accepted even when I was already completely soaked.
The second supermarket was really open and I got the most important things. Part of it was also a prepaid SIM card of Digicel for my mobile phone. I wanted to have Internet access again, especially also that I could finish my diving e-learning. There wasn’t Internet access available in my accommodation unfortunately. Mobile Internet access isn’t cheap here but also not too expensive.
It was still raining, when I walked back to my place. I was looking forward to try out the mobile Internet access; it didn’t work sadly. I tried everything to fix it but it didn’t work out. At the end, I called the hotline and they told me, that I have to configure the access point (APN) by hand. I did this, but it still didn’t work. I gave up for the moment and went to bed. I wanted to be fit for the first day of the dive training.

The first few dives and the fight for Internet access
At the moment, it’s not to busy here and I had to pleasure to get private lessons with two instructors (Alexa and Damo) for my PADI Open Water training. First we went to the pool for the basics, like removing water from the mask underwater and taking the regulator (the thing you need for breathing) out of your mouth and putting it in again. All pretty relaxed if you are hardly underwater. To make it a bit more interesting, the sealing ring (O-ring) on my air tank started to leak and the air escaped pretty uncontrolled. Still not that bad, if your so shallow. This part of the training was finished just before lunch and we moved out to the sea by boat in the afternoon. Out into the water and down for my first dive. I was a bit nervous but luckily knew a bit how that feels thanks to my trial dive in Cairns. I had to do the same exercises again like in the morning. But this time in maybe 9m depth. That was something different, e.g. if you have to take your regulator out of your mouth and change to one of your dive buddy. Everything a question of training but not so much fun at the beginning. I didn’t really enjoy to take of my mask and put it back on. However, it is something you have to be able to do if an “emergency” arises. And then we went to our first sightseeing underwater. And I had the luck to see already some Clown fish and a Dugong. A Dugong is a several meter long, seaweed eating mammal, which is in danger of extinction. Unfortunately, I was still a bit too busy with my basic diving techniques (like buoyancy control) to really be able to enjoy it fully. Luckily, the free diver James Sandford was on the same dive and he took some pictures and videos. And he was so nice to let me use it as well. Thanks! After a break, the second dive, including some training, followed before we returned to the dive base..
And I wanted to get my Internet access fixed now. Therefor, I went to the local Digicel shop and explained my problem. It took some time but finally they figured out that it was a problem in their system and not on my phone. It should be fixed till the next morning, they said. We will see…

An endless story and a few more dives
I got a call the next morning that it should be fixed now. I said thank you and checked it out immediately. Unfortunately, it still didn’t work… I went again to the Digicel shop and started over the whole procedure because the person I talked to the day before wasn’t there. However, they didn’t really believe me and checked again my phone. It was a bit exhausting to watch that… After around one hour, they finally accepted my suggestion and tried another SIM card. And yes, it worked from the beginning. So the problem was definitively their system and not my phone. The question was now only, how I would get a new SIM card. Because I got the card from a supermarket at the other side of the city, I had to get there to exchange it and than back to the Digicel shop for moving the money. At least I stayed fit that way ;-). And my Internet access worked fine at the end and I could finish my e-learning. So if you ever get a SIM card here, get it from the provider itself.
On the next day, we went out again for dive number 3 and 4 of the OpenWater course (which was finished after them) and dive number one of the Advance course. My ex-co-worker Urs recommended me to do both trainings, because this way you can dive almost everything. I was the only diver that day and had a boat, a captain, and three instructors just for myself :-). Next to several fishes, we saw a water snake and a small plane wreck. After three dives at the same day, I was pretty tired and went to bed early…

A special night dive and the end of the training
For the next day, dive number two of the Advanced training was scheduled. And it was a special one: A night dive. A diver from Luxembourg and a family joined. Already the boat journey into the sunset was worth the trip. And then we headed with some torches down to the dark Konanda wreck. At the beginning everything went the way it should be and we arrived in around 26 meters. Suddenly some heavy bubbling started at the top of Alexas air tank. This time, the seal (O-ring) on her tank was leaky. Pressure in the tank dropped fast and she went up again. That wasn’t all that easy, because you shouldn’t go straight up from that depth. Instead, you should have a break for some minutes at around 5m. For emergencies, there is spare tank placed at that depth. Alexa had that break, went up to the boat, changed the tank and came back into to the water. I don’t know if I would have had the nerves to get back to the water immediately but it’s probably really the way to go. We finished the dive as planned. Definitively a special night dive…
On the next day, I had my last three dives of the course. One was a deep dive which brought us down to 33 meters. The deeper you dive, the faster you also go through your air. However, I was surprised how fast that goes. When I checked my pressure gauge the first time, I still had around 100 bar (around half of the tank). The next time I checked, it already dropped to 50 bar. And we were still almost 30 meters deep. It was definitively time to move up. But also in this case, there was a safety stop at around 5 meters needed. Luckily there was again a spare tank. It would have gotten a bit tight with only my tank… When I was back on the boat, there were around 18 bar left. Less than 10%…
I have seen several times during that course why you shouldn’t dive alone and why there are safety measures like the spare tank. A very praxis oriented training, I would say :-). Now I’m a certified Advanced Open Water diver. However, the most important thing is still missing: experience.

Now I’m thinking about what I should do during my next few weeks here in Vanuatu. One part will for sure be a visit to the volcanic Island of Tanna. The rest we will see.

All the best from Port Vila, Vanuatu,


PS: A few days ago, I got a not so nice message: The English touring cyclist Pete and Mary, which where on the way cycling from England to NewZealand, got hit and killed by a truck in Thailand. I have never met them in real life but touring cyclists are somehow connected in spirit. Very, very sad. RIP Pete and Mary. At least I’m pretty sure that they loved what they were doing. Unfortunately, it is a bit dangerous on the road sometimes…

PS: PS: Something positive at the end: Some pictures from Vanuatu are already online. You can find them in the Gallery.


About Stefan

I'm a telecommunication engineer by profession and like to discover the world by bike. I think, that it is the perfect speed to move but still be in touch with the world and the people which live there. And I'm very happy, that my wife Susanna is joining me now on those adventures. If you are interested in other journeys we did so far, please also check my website Stefan, Switzerland

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