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Vanuatu, Tanna: Clearing at Port Resolution and the Yasur Volcano

By Starry Horizons — last modified Nov 21, 2017 01:54 PM
This very useful report is taken from the blog of US yacht "Starry Horizons".

Published: 2017-11-04 00:00:00
Countries: Vanuatu

Vanuatu, Tanna: Clearing at Port Resolution and the Yasur Volcano

Authors Amy and David on Mount Yasur

Read full blog post at http://outchasingstars.com/2017/10/25/adventures-in-banking/

In researching Vanuatu, we discovered that the number one thing for cruisers to do is to visit the Yasur Volcano on Tanna Island. The catch is that the customs office on Tanna is in Lenakel, on the west side, while the volcano and the protected anchorage of Port Resolution are on the east side.

You could clear in on a different island, but then you have a beat into the SE winds to get to Tanna.

Or, you can take our boat around the island to Lenakel, and then beat back around to Port Resolution.

Or, take a car the several hour trip from Port Resolution to Lenakel, each way.

Finally, you can advise Vanuatu authorities that you are coming in and would like to clear in at Port Resolution, and you can pay $6000 vatu (roughly $60 USD) to have an officer come to Port Resolution.

Guess which sounds best to us?

Clearing in at Port Resolution

Officially clearing in to Vanuatu at Port Resolution on Monday was – no surprise – complicated.  We buddied up with SY Cheeky Monkey to head into the Port Resolution Yacht Club (PRYC) to meet the officials, only to find out that the Immigrations officer came and went without seeing us.  How were we supposed to know he was there?  Psychic skills, apparently, as he doesn’t have a VHF or other method of informing us he was there.  Customs, however, called us on the radio and we were able to get that done.  Clearing in was $5,000 Vatu, plus $6,000 for transporting the official, which was split between the boats checking in.  Sandy Cheeks came into the anchorage about mid-afternoon, so the officials were coming back the next day, thankfully.

To request the clear in on Tanna Island, we went to the Customs & Inland Revenue website and filled out the contact us form.  We received a response within 24 hours.

Tuesday the customs guy gave us a call – he was back at the PRYC to clear Sandy Cheeks in, and immigrations was on his way too.  We headed back in to finalize our formalities.  Immigrations was $4,800 Vatu.

While ashore we met Stanley, the chief’s son, who acts as a liaison for cruisers, organizing trips and getting us help when we need it.

Note: To clear out, again, you need to pay a split of the cost for the officials to get there ($6,000 Vatu split between six boats).

Be Prepared - there are no banks in Port Resolution

But it has another catch – there are no banks or ATMs in Port Resolution, and while you CAN pay the clear in fees in USD, the volcano tour is organized by the local village and must be paid in vatu.  Thus, while in Vuda, I went off on an adventure with Cathie from Sandy Cheeks to try to find some Vatu.

If I ever used a currency exchange, it was probably at least 10 years ago.  We got in line in Western Union and got to the teller.

“I need a passport and your itinerary.”
“Itinerary?”
“Yes, your flight information.”
“We are on a sailboat.”
“…”
“How about our USCG documentation?”

That works.  I had my passport, which I grabbed last minute, but I didn’t have documentation.  An email to David was answered immediately, and I was able to forward it to our teller.  Cathie didn’t have her passport, but thankfully the maximum cash you can get is $5,000 FJD (roughly $2,500 USD or $250,000 Vatu).  My goal was to get around $100,000 vatu, so I could cover Cathie’s too.

Paperwork is sorted, I tell the teller how much we want and hand her my credit card.  Oh, no.  It has to be cash.  Off to the ATM.

Cathie was smart and brought cash, but it’s in USD.  I maxed out two withdrawals ($900 FJD each, or roughly $450 USD).  Back in we go, handing over our cash.  Lots of counting and calculations ensue, and after quite a few minutes we are informed that they don’t have enough vatu (we knew this might be a problem).  So, I get some FJD back, and our first transaction is complete and we get $48,400 vatu between the two of us…not enough to get four adults up the volcano.

“What about some of your other branches, do they have more vatu?”

Our teller tells us to take a seat and she makes some calls.  One of the staff comes out with a backpack and he’s going to run to the other branch for us to get more vatu.  He brings plenty back and we are able to finish our transaction, with enough vatu for the volcano tour and any incidental spending we will need to do in Tanna.

Now, most of this was our fault – we didn’t know what we were doing and the staff was very helpful and patient to get us what we needed. But the conversion rate was OBSENE:

Cathie’s exchange:

 

  • USD:  $400
  • FJD:  $787.25
  • Vatu:  $33,400
  • Western Union conversion rate USD to VUV:  83.5
  • XE exchange rate:  108
  • Fees paid:  roughly $98 USD (25%)
  •  

    My exchange:

     

  • USD pulled from my account:  $891
  • FJD:  $1,800
  • Vatu:  $76,338
  • Schwab conversion rate USD to FJD:  2.02
  • XE exchange rate USD to FJD: 2.04
  • Western Union conversion rate FJD to VUV:  42.41
  • XE exchange rate FJD to VUV:  52.62
  • Fees paid:  roughly $184 USD (20%)
  • This exchange has really highlighted for us how AMAZING it is that we have Charles Schwab bank accounts.  Most of the time when we need cash, we just pull from an ATM.  We have no fees from Schwab, a minimal conversion fee, and all ATM fees are refunded.

    In 2012, living in Houston, we withdrew money from an ATM twice. In the past 12 months, we pulled cash from ATMs TWENTY FIVE TIMES. Granted, Tonga is really behind the times with credit card machines. Pulling cash out of ATMs costs us virtually nothing. Using a credit card often results in a 2.5% to 5% fee from the merchant, so having cash is definitely better.  We’ve gotten back over $200 USD from Schwab in refunded ATM fees over the past 2 years.

    The are other major perks for the world traveler.  There are no account fees whatsoever to have a Schwab checking account.  Transfers can be made online instantly.  The Schwab app allows us to deposit checks by simply taking a picture of them.  Schwab has an international number to call 24/7 when you need some help.

    Going up the volcano

    Friday night the weather was forecast to be fairly clear, and thankfully it held out for us –  at 3 pm, 15 cruisers met at PRYC and piled into two trucks to go see the Yasur volcano!

    The early truck, with the crew of Starry Horizons, Cactus Island, Sandy Cheeks, and some of the Danish boat Veritas‘ crew, went first past the volcano to the black sand flats on the northwest side of the volcano. The view was stunning as we looked over the plains and up at the back of Mount Yasur.  George went for a run up the sand as far as he could and we all took the opportunity for photos.

    Back into the truck we piled, and rode to the visitors center for the volcano.  Our understanding is that this attraction is having rapid changes and we were visiting somewhat in the middle of the changes.  It used to be that you paid the local village a set fee per person (I think $20 USD??) to get a guided tour up to the volcano.  Now, its being run by a tour company called Entani and the site is under construction, building a visitors center and handicraft market.

    We paid ($19500 Vatu total for two people, roughly $195 USD) and continued on to the cultural presentation.   About 50 tourists sat on stumps around a clearing that had enough seating for over 100.   There was a very brief kava presentation followed by two performances of traditional song and dance by a local village. The songs were beautiful, with hand clapping and feet stomping, and the dancers skipped and jumped around which was fun to watch but compared to other cultural shows we’ve been to it was a bit short.  But that’s not what we were there for.

    Back into our trucks, we piled in to make the drive up to the volcano.  The trucks stopped at a flat just off the volcano and we hiked the rest of the way up.  There are several viewing stations to look down into the volcano.  During the day, you can really only see the smoke coming out and perhaps some lava bubbling up from the very northern most opening.   The volcano actually erupts every 15 minutes or so, with a loud boom, a splash of lava, and a black smoke cloud.

    As the sun set behind us, we climbed further north and peered into the darkening caldera.  Our location on the rim was completely determined by the wind.  As the wind shifted, the smoke from the volcano blew over the paths, making them inaccessible.  The whole visit, we could smell the strong sulfur and ash surrounding us, and I can practically smell it again as I type this weeks later.  At one point, we were the furthest we could go, and we all stood mesmerized by the eruptions until the wind shifted and we coughed and choked on the smothering clouds, working our way back down.

    Other Delights in Tanna

    Don't miss lunch at Chez Leah. For $850 vatu ($8.50 USD) we were served about 10 platters, family style, of local Vanuatu food.  Dishes included a cabbage salad, chicken curry, rice, cucumber salad, steamed choko (what we would call chayote), roasted sweet potatoes, and a platter of cooked produce including two kinds of taro, a banana/plantain hybrid, and cassava.  Dessert was fresh papaya slices and Tanna coffee.  Anything we finished, Leah brought out more. The whole meal was served with what Leah calls lemon juice – basically lemonade, but slightly different – not as strong on either the lemon or the sugar flavors.

    On our way back to the beach, we stopped at the local school to talk to the headmaster and to drop off some donations.  We got to see the computer lab and a few classrooms.  I met Paul, the new school teacher who will be in charge of the computer skills program.  Paul and his partner are cruisers – they sailed their boat through the Coconut Run this year and decided they needed to stop and smell the roses.  They are now volunteer school teachers, getting room and board for their work over the next year while their boat stays anchored in Port Resolution.

    As we were starting to get our dinghy together, a guy approached us – Martin – who said he had a local friend, Mowi, who was putting on a small show and would we like to come along?  We said yes, and Marie and Gerald from Cactus Island joined us.  Mowi is trying to start this as a business.  Martin said her husband left her with 6 kids and no income, so she’s trying to start up a cultural show.  Mowi and two other women were dressed (somewhat) traditionally and were prepared to make laplap, a traditional Vanuatu dish.  This worked out pretty well because I’d been wanting to try it.  The ladies used sticks to grate banana and taro, which was then mixed with shredded coconut and folded into a banana leaf.  Then, the packet was put into a halved coconut husk.  Then, hot rocks were put on top of the packet and the other half of the coconut was used to close the “oven”.  The heated rocks cooked the laplap and 20 minutes later, we tried a taste.  It was very similar to the lovo bread Alifreti made for us in Fiji.  The banana flavored one was a big hit.

    While the laplap baked, the ladies showed us how to weave the dried plant into bracelets, and their kids ran around playing, screaming, and hamming it up for the cameras.  Mowi asked for a contribution, and we gave her $500 Vatu and then were offered papaya and bananas.  It was a small little thing, but I enjoyed it!

    Two things we missed out on in Tanna that are worth knowing about.

    Every Tuesday afternoon there is a village market, where the women sell produce, laplap, and handicrafts.  After the market is a women’s council, where they decide on a community service project for Thursday.  Thursday at 9 am everyone meets at the yacht club to work on the project (whatever it is).  Afterwards, the ladies all stop for a picnic lunch, and the day we saw this, the village ladies also provided lunch at the PRYC for the cruising volunteers.  We didn’t know about either of these activities until it was too late.

    See photos of our time spent in Tanna at http://outchasingstars.com/2017/11/04/visiting-tanna-island-part-2-fp-regatta/

  • Related content
    Lenakel
    Port Resolution
    Golden Glow
    Golden Glow says:
    Oct 08, 2018 12:02 AM

    IMPORTANT UPDATE.
    We cleared immigration at Port Resolution in August with no problem, but customs had to be done in Port Vila when we got there some weeks later (the officials in Tanna told us not to worry about the delay and officials in Port Vila also had no problem with that).
    Friends who tried to clear Vanuatu immigration into Tanna EITHER in Lenakel or Port Resolution a few weeks ago however, were told it is no longer possible. There was a sign on the door in Lenakel saying go to Port Vila.
    So folks, check the currrent status before you go. Stanley in Port Resolution May have the answer +678 68791

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