New Hebridean Loss Becomes Our Loss,Too!: Friday, 17th August, 1979

Alas! Our first international holiday together, concludes today.

Having donned the clothes that I had worn on our flights from Australia, I began to carry our suitcases upstairs to the first floor. Once there, there was the walk along the corridor that led to the hotel’s foyer. Leaving the suitcase there my job was to descend and repeat the process, this time with our second case. My third transferal of our remaining belongings also involved that of Tiki as her limp remained noticeably quite severe.

I sat her down on the lounge and placed her leg on an attractive, polished table, in the hope that this might ease the pain that emanated from her left knee. However, when the pair of chain-smokers arrived, I moved away. The couple had been on our cruise of the lagoon, a week ago.

When the time came for us to depart for the airport, I made sure that our suitcases were loaded on to the utility by personally handing them up to the native gentleman who stood in the rear of the vehicle.

Upon boarding the minibus, along with the smokers and others, it soon became evident that space was at a premium. So much so, that one woman complained about the lack of it and moved to sit in the aisle.

It was then that the large native driver offered her a seat near to him, only to have her nastily reply that she couldn’t be bothered. “I’m sorry I asked!”, he retorted.

Our vehicle ascended the rocky hill of dirt, for the last time, as far as we were concerned, and deposited us all at Port Vila’s airport at approximately twenty-five past five. I led Tiki to a seat, prior to taking care of the usual formalities. The official, behind the desk, neglected to charge me the two hundred New Hebridean francs in tax upon our departure, and I was certainly in no mood to draw his attention to the oversight.

As dawn was breaking, at six o’clock, a Fokker Friendship departed, also bound for Noumea. Half an hour later our 737 twin-engined aeroplane, that bore the livery of ‘Air Nauru’, did likewise, with us seated about half of the way along, on its port side.

Our bags had not been searched to any degree, but a native man who appeared to possess a square hand, did move a metal detector about my body, as a woman did the same to Tiki.

Once aboard, Tiki occupied the seat by the window to my left while a native chap occupied the seat to my immediate right and next to the aisle. The pilot’s accent sounded as if he were an Australian. The hostesses, in their uniforms of yellow, served each of us with a plastic cup of weak orange cordial in addition to a sweet, wrapped in cellophane, that came to my aid as I sucked on it during our descent in to La Tontouta Airport, which is located some thirty-five miles to the north of New Caledonia’s capital and largest town, Noumea.

We obtained quite a clear view of that part of the island, which appeared to be mountainous while possessing a swampy coastal plain. The mountains could be described as generally being relatively barren in appearance with their coverage, at best, being scrubby and stunted.

Our flight had only just managed to arrive before that which had departed from Port Vila half an hour beforehand. The pilot, obviously aware that there was a couple of Aussies on board, had performed a sweeping turn of one hundred and eighty degrees, which provided us with an ample view of the small barren islands that lie just off the coast.

During our check-in we were allocated our seats for the considerably lengthier flight to Sydney. Owing to the fact that Tiki was finding it more difficult to bend her injured knee, we were afforded about a metre of space in which to stretch our legs aboard the considerably larger DC-10 of the French carrier, U.T.A.

We hadn’t been in the New Hebrides for long when we were informed, hopefully in jest, that the airlines initials were an acronym for ‘Unlikely To Arrive’. As if that hadn’t unnerved Tiki sufficiently, all DC-10s had been grounded globally, just a few months ago due to concerns in connection with their reliability.

Prior to inplaning, we had decided to wait until the queues had disappeared and only then walked through the gate and slowly made our way across the tarmac, a distance of perhaps two hundred metres. I supported Tiki as she struggled to climb up the front stairs of the aircraft only to then find that we virtually had to locate our seats without assistance.

The aeroplane ascended above the clouds and into the dazzling sunshine. The flight was to be a smooth experience and possessed a longevity of two hours and forty minutes.

A diminutive French steward. with dark hair, had somehow extracted my table from the right-hand side of my seat, whereas he poked a tray into the holes of Tiki’s to my left.

Breakfast consisted of a bowl of mixed fruit, followed by a serving of corn flakes, another of bacon and fairly watery scrambled egg, and a bread roll that would have given a rock a run for its money, a bun and a French fruit roll that was served in the shape of a discus. I literally ate the jams, namely orange marmalade and cherry, from the two, flat, small containers, with a spoon.

Despite what might appear to be a fairly scathing critique on my breakfast, I must say that I found it to be a satisfying one!

Afterwards, I helped to pass the time by looking through a copy of Britain’s broadsheet newspaper, ‘The Guardian’, which, in this instance, was dated as Wednesday, the fifteenth. Its headlines were dominated by the wild storm off the English county of Cornwall, that had claimed seventeen lives during the prestigious Fastnet Race. Yachts have to reach the rock of that name before returning to from whence they had come. Australia happened to win the race this year and in doing so, the Admiral’s Cup of yachting. In stating this, I in no way wish to detract from the gravity of the disaster.

A man, not far from us and shortly prior to the plane beginning its descent, took it upon himself to light a cigarette, in spite of the area in which we sat having been designated as being for non-smokers.

Sydney’s smog, despite us not being in the best position to observe it, appeared to be ashamedly dense.

As we had moved through the cabin en route to the exit we passed through an area where the stench of body odour was so intense that, should we have been seated in that vicinage, we would most assuredly have been induced to vomit!

I was the last person to remove suitcases from our allotted roundabout. “Mum” awaited our exit from customs, at approximately 11.30 a.m., and, as she drove us home, complained of how she had not been able to park her yellow ‘Rover’ in our driveway because birds had eaten purple berries from three of our trees and then proceeded to deposit their similarly coloured droppings on her car.

This afternoon, I walked to the bank where I attempted to exchange our remaining four hundred New Hebridean francs for some usable notes, only to be informed that because the French-British condominium is due to receive its independence next year, here, they are tantamount to being worthless.

It would appear that the New Hebridean official’s loss at the airport, this morning, has become our loss, too!

 

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