Thank you god

We left at 4 am. It was dark of course and rainy. We were leaving the UK for two and half months and so the organizing had been extensive, as you can imagine. Not just for the trip but also for all the workshops that we would be running as soon as we returned to the UK in the spring. There had been lists and reminders, downloads and updates, backups on hard drives and backups online. There had been packing and unpacking, adding and retracting, measuring, weighing, switching, swapping and finally throwing it all into the car. 

That’s the point where I realized that I didn’t have my wallet. I mean you don’t put your wallet on a list, do you? It’s so bleeding obvious that it shouldn’t require itemising. It’s your wallet for goodness’ sake, its fundamental. 

Still, we hadn’t left yet so fortunately I had remembered just in time. 

Except that it wasn’t there. It wasn’t anywhere. You know the usual places that your wallet is likely to be, I mean we all have them. Coat pocket, kitchen table, in the bag used last, that kind of thing. But no, it wasn’t in any of them and as we had a plane to catch we had to leave without it. 

I discovered at the airport that it was easy to cancel my cards using the app on my phone, and so after a quick rifle through the luggage (to make certain it hadn’t accidentally dropped into a suitcase), with a heavy heart I froze one card and cancelled the other. 

Thank goodness that Paul had his two credit cards, we would have to manage with those and sort everything out when we got back.  

The flights were everything we’ve come to expect of long-haul cattle class, that is nothing short of torturous. Forced to adopt the same uncomfortable position for hours on end whilst fed a diet of tasteless often unidentifiable vegetarian slush, more resembles battery farming than a 21st C. human transportation system. Quite frankly it’s inhumane. 

Thirty hours later we arrived in Sydney Australia and to our delight sailed through immigration. This bonus however was immediately offset by the forty-minute wait for baggage. Ours, of course, being the penultimate of literally hundreds of bags, rucksacks and packages to trundle down the conveyor belt. Next came a twenty-minute hunt in the dark to locate the superbly hidden shuttle bus bay number 13, and finally the discovery that not only had we just missed a bus, but that we would have to wait another 30 minutes for the next. 

By this time, I could have slept in the bay itself without a care for safety, dignity or indeed consequences. 

The following morning, we awoke at the hotel feeling somewhat refreshed, and eager to take advantage of the free hotel wifi before leaving for the ship. Once on board the wifi is sporadic and expensive and so we were keen to catch up with communications while we had the opportunity. 

Scrolling through scores of emails to quickly sort the legitimate from the spam, my eyes fell on a message informing me that there was a problem with our online workshop booking system. One of the workshops due to run in the spring was refusing payments, claiming to be ‘full’, when actually it had only just opened for booking. 

Fantastic! Just what I need right now, an IT issue! I am literally on the other side of the planet, sleep deprived and about to board an internet desert for 6 weeks, thank you PayPal!

I spent the next hour and a half trying to figure out the problem. And without boring you with the details, suffice to say that despite extensive exploration I still have absolutely no idea what was causing the issue. Fortunately, however, I did find a work around solution that seemed to fix it. Phew!

Feeling relived I jumped in the shower, keen to get dressed and leave for the ship. I opened my suitcase, and rifling through its contents began searching for clean clothes. Shirt, shorts, socks, socks? SOCKS? Damn, no socks! None, zilch, zero. It would appear that making a list is one thing, and actioning it is an entirely different matter. Maybe I should have two lists, one for things to take and one for things actually packed! 

No matter, I could pick up some socks en route. For now, although far from ideal or even hygienic, I could still wear the socks that I had travelled in. Only problem being that I took them off last night in this very room, and now, somewhat mysteriously only one of them remained! Even after I’d dressed and re-packed everything the missing sock was nowhere to be seen. I hadn’t left the room, the door had been locked, no-one else had entered, so how did the sock escape? 

Something strange is afoot here. 

Embarkation in Sydney was surprisingly uneventful, and we were soon aboard the Maasdam and ensconced in our Stateroom (read cabin). Shortly afterwards we had a meeting with the Production Manager, Jeff who helped resolve a few queries that we had about the upcoming schedule. We had picked up our swipe cards on the way in and Geoff was to issue us with the bright orange lanyards that identified us as EXC Presenters. Unfortunately, Jeff only had one lanyard and to our bemusement he suggested that we share it. He added that he was sorry but he had looked everywhere and there weren’t any more. At this point Paul piped up ‘I know where there are some’, so when Jeff looked at him somewhat taken aback, I diplomatically suggested that it was 12 months since we had been on the Maasdam and things may have changed. 

As soon as the meeting concluded though, we headed up to the EXC office where we have access to a computer and stationary. Within 30 seconds Paul had uncovered a whole box full of EXC orange lanyards in one of the cupboards, exactly where they had been this time last year. Obviously, he didn’t waste any time informing Jeff. 

Between then and now we have delivered presentations, talks and workshops which all appear to have gone down well. We have also swum, snorkelled and wandered around a couple of remote islands. We work on sea days (when the passengers are aboard looking for something to do), and on port days we are free to do as we please.

Today we are docked in Luganville and we planned to do a bit of sock shopping followed by either a trip to some WW2 ruins, or maybe a swim in a Blue Lagoon. As soon as the ship had docked we headed out of the port on foot towards the local shops, and within fifteen minutes we had found a shop selling the most perfect socks. They were exactly the right size and style with an attractive pattern and most agreeable price tag. But when we headed to the counter to purchase them our means of payment, either a credit card or a 50 AUD note was politely declined by the assistant. She did however direct us to the ATM where we could withdraw local currency. So, leaving the socks on the counter we walked up to the ATM to get some Vatu. Now, even though the weather is overcast today, the light is still relatively bright. And after Paul put his credit card into the ATM he struggled to read the instructions on the screen. At about the same time I started wondering what the exchange rate was. We had read it at some point but since forgotten how many Vatu to the US dollar, AU dollar, GB pound or any other currency that we were able to reference. When I saw a couple of fellow cruisers near-by talking to a taxi driver I rushed over to make enquiries. One by one they kindly but unhelpfully explained the exchange rate to me in different ways, so that although I perfectly understood the first, by the time I had experienced three perspectives I was completely bamboozled. I returned to Paul who was still engaged with the ATM, and announced that I was sorry but I had absolutely no idea what they had all just said. I suggested that he cancel the transaction while we figured it out. Paul hit the cancel button and at that exact moment the ATM (I think the official term is), ‘captured’ his card. We stared helplessly at the machine in a state of disbelief, followed by a somewhat greater degree of panic as we pressed every button on the keypad multiple times. Finally, but not without reluctance, we had to accept that the damn machine had swallowed the card and it wasn’t going to give it back. 

Turning away we saw the taxi driver still parked by the side of the road. He looked at us and asked if we had got our Vatu? We explained the situation and he most helpfully informed us that we must have taken too long to make the transaction. ‘If you take a long time’ he said, ‘it will capture your card. And as it’s Saturday today the bank is closed, and won’t open again until Monday.’

Thank you, god. 

We shuffled despondently back to the Maasdam, to start the inevitably complex process of reporting this event and requesting a new card to be sent to New Zealand. 

We were now down to one credit card, a most precarious position to be in. 

Furthermore, we would not now be going to the WW2 ruins, or the Blue Lagoon. But more importantly I would have to manage with just one sock for a little while longer.

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