Dr Emilie must have been able to read the disappointment on my face. She says she was very sorry but it seemed nothing more could be done. She was so empathetic.
I asked her “What about online bookings?”, so she came with me to the computer and we searched. It appeared there was a flight but the webpage wouldn’t let me book.
She called Port Agent, and spoke to him in French. He told her there was a 24 – hour cutoff for online flight bookings. I don’t believe that, I think that we were an inconvenience to him and he was getting bored with the communication. She apologised once more to me and had to go on her rounds, but she left me with her two phones and computer, so that I could search every option.
I tried calling Port Agent back. It went straight to voicemail.
I tried contacting the Noumea airport, Air Vanuatu, and the travel agency.
When Emilie popped her head in to see if I’d had any luck, I mentioned to her that I couldn’t get onto Port Agent.
“Oh no”, she said.
“It’s his birthday. He’s not picking up his phone for the rest of the night. He told me this before. I know his whole life!” Cue massive eye-roll. From me. Emilie was far too elegant to do that. But her tone said it all.
I grabbed the business card he’d given me the previous day from my purse. I called another number he’d left me, that of his colleague, the next contact. Nothing. So much for 24-hour support.
Another nurse, another Virginie, started her shift. She was so helpful and allowed me to continue on my tenacious mission to get Rosie and I on that flight!
When I explained the Port Agent situation with the birthday, she rolled her eyes and said sympathetically “What a shit!”. That sentence, that accent, that honesty- together they cracked me up.
I went back to the room then, and cuddled Rosie to sleep. Once she was asleep at around 8pm, I went back to the nurse’s station to continue on my mission.
I decided to contact the Australian Consulate. Of course the Consulate in Noumea was closed, so using Dr Emilie’s phone I called the Consular Emergency Assistance in Canberra. I wasn’t entirely convinced I was in an emergency but once I explained my situation, the man on the phone was very obliging and very keen to help me. As we were talking a phone on the other side of the hallway rang. A nurse came to fetch me. Thinking it was the insurance calling back, with news, I ended my call with the consulate helpline.
I picked up the phone and my husband said “How are you, bubba?”. I should have been thrilled to hear his voice but I broke down. I told him I needed to try and get out of there and I was trying to get back to the ship the following day. He understood so we hung up.
I called back the consulate. This was a tedious process, going through keypad selections and waiting on hold. Finally I got through to the same man.
He patched me through to Medibank Private Travel Insurance care line, and the lady there listened to my dilemma (I felt like a broken record) about the flights and my chance to leave Noumea the following morning.
She then put me through to Flight Centre’s 24 hour booking line.
The person there couldn’t book the ticket. She said there was only one seat remaining on that flight, and that although Rosie and I would only occupy one seat, we each needed a ticket and the system wouldn’t allow her to book it for me.
I burst into tears.
I felt I was stuck, indefinitely, in Noumea.
I actually considered buying that one ticket, going to the airport in the morning, and trying to sort out the infant ticket there.
Which is quite crazy.
I was desperate and had run out of options.
“Hang on,” she said.
“There’s another team I can put you through to, they might be able to help you.”
So she put me through, and miraculously, the tickets could be secured. I paid by credit card, and had them emailed to Nurse Virginie’s email address, because I couldn’t access mine.
Then the Flight Centre worker asked if she could put me through to any other Australian number. I asked to be transferred to my brother’s number in Brisbane. I was so glad to hear his voice.
Then I rang Patrick and arranged for him to drive us to the airport at 5am. What a star.
It was 11pm and I was packing, organising, attempting a shower half-clothed and wearing my thongs and washing my waist-length hair in the baby bath.
I was unable to sleep that night. My mind would not shut off. I just hoped Rosie wouldn’t be sick again. She wasn’t. At 4.30am I woke her and took her downstairs to meet Patrick.
He drove us to the airport and wished us well. As he drove away, Rosie was sick all over herself and her stroller. I couldn’t do without the pram with the luggage and carry-on bag, so I cleaned it thoroughly. I pulled some clean clothes out of our suitcase, to keep with us, and checked in our luggage. I had just changed her clothes when she was sick again. I couldn’t catch a break.
I went to the airport duty-free shop and bought her four ugly tourist t-shirts, two towels to take on the plane and a change of clothes for myself. Just for those items it cost $270. The prices in Noumea are insanely extortionate. I binned all the dirty clothes we were wearing after we’d changed and washed.
Whilst queuing to board I met a lovely guy, similar in age to me, Ben, who was French and traveling with his parents for Christmas from their home in Noumea to Port Vila. They were a beautiful family and we chatted until boarding the aircraft.
Now I should probably mention I’m a nervous flyer. When I caught sight of the plane I was about to board, my honest first thought was “death trap”. I’m sorry but I like aircraft that don’t have stairs that are part of the door, and that you don’t have to duck to walk down the aisle, and ones that you can’t see broken Aircon vents. But anyway, my misgivings aside, it was a good trip.
The guy seated next to me was hilarious, during the ninety minute flight (departed at 8.45am) he downed six beers (he was counting too), and when we flew into weather and hit turbulence, he started drinking faster and ding-ding-dinging his attendant call button with gusto.
Rosie slept the whole flight. Ben and his parents were seated in the row in front of me and they kindly offered to drive me from the airport to the ship as they were hiring a car.
They were such kind people. At this point I didn’t know if anyone official knew I was on my way to the ship or if it was going to be a surprise to everyone!
We finally arrived at the port and Rosie and I thanked this lovely family. We headed toward the ship. We had made it. I couldn’t believe we had managed to wing this, but we had.
We had to meet with an officer who processed our re-embarkation and we were asked to visit the doctor to update him that afternoon. I couldn’t wait to see my family (and have a shower!)
Once aboard, rosie and I were signing some paperwork for an immigration officer from Vanuatu and she was squealing and chatting so loudly that my husband heard her from a higher level. We were reunited!
He had found out that morning that we were on a flight, through the doctor in the ship’s medical centre. Immigration in New Caledonia had called the ship to confirm my onward journey from Vanuatu to Brisbane.
The rest of the trip home was quite uneventful. We enjoyed catching up and swimming in the sunshine. The ordeal was over.
Rosie was very tired, as was I, but we were relieved and happy to be back with our boys.
Thank you for reading along with me over the past few days as I’ve chronicled my experience abroad. I appreciate your warm messages and kindness. Merry Christmas.
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