David and Marcie vs. the volcano
28 August 2011 | At anchor Port Resolution, Tanna Island , Vanuatu
A rolly, rolly night and we awoke tired and unrested. The day dawned bright and sunny, however, and we planned to head into the village to confirm our volcano trip later this afternoon. Before we could launch the dinghy, Thompson paddled up in his dugout asking us to copy some movies for him. From a drybag around his shoulder, he extracted a 4GB flash drive. Electronic technology is way ahead of most everything else here.
We threaded our way through the reef and dragged the dinghy up onto a coral rubble beach. The hard packed mud path up the hill was steep and slippery. At the top there were a few thatched huts and a big sign for the Port Resolution Yacht Club which offers a few bungalows for tourists and reportedly a restaurant that we didn't see. We met the young chief of the village, Cyro, who was also an elementary school teacher and odd as it may sound, his generator was not working...could David help? David did try, but a critical part needed replacing, so no luck.
We took a well worn path to the west. It was Sunday and we could hear singing voices coming from an open air church as we neared the village. Stanley was approaching with a bagful of fresh fruit and vegetables just as we located his hut. The fresh produce was for us and yes, the trip to the volcano was on. We had visited the other boat in the anchorage and the South African couple aboard was also game for the trip. In exchange for the freshies, we charged his new DVD player on board.
At 3pm sharp, we congregated on the beach and headed up the path to Stanley's hut. A 4-wheel drive half-ton community-owned truck arrived shortly thereafter. There was room for the four of us inside the cab and at least ten villagers climbed into the back. The dirt track was rutted and almost non-existent in parts, but the driver knew his way and after about 20 minutes of jostling and bouncing, we arrived at the entrance to the park. As entry fees were paid and receipts written, we stretched our legs, took photos and heard the first roars of the volcano still many miles away.
Up, up, up the truck maneuvered along a track reminiscent of a Colorado 4-wheel drive back-country mountain pass. The truck labored as it negotiated deep ruts and steep inclines and finally deposited us about 150m from the rim of the volcano. Mount Yasur at 361m, is touted to be the world's most accessible active volcano with a crater some 300m across. At some point, the path up to the rim had a wooden railing, but it was rickety and in pieces now, more of a hindrance than a help. We clambered up the ash and cinder slope and there we were...looking down into the smoke and sulphurous vapors of Mount Yasur's 100 meter deep crater. We were the only ones up there and we tenuously chose our steps along the rim to the best vantage point. As if to announce its mighty presence, the volcanic rumbling escalated to a sustained, earsplitting roar that startled us all and had us jumping back and ducking for cover. Huge molten rocks and glowing cinders spewed up into the air far over our heads as we watched the show. The roaring barely subsided when another blast began. We could actually see the shock waves before we heard the thunderous explosions. Blue roiling vapors escaped and mixed with white steam and thick brown smoke. Once the sun set, the spectacle was even more dramatic. For nearly three hours, we watched and heard a continuous, deafening display of fireworks that far exceeded any manmade pyrotechnic display we've ever seen. Sometimes the smoke and sulphur fumes were so thick, they nearly choked us and we had to walk away to catch our breaths until the wind shifted. Other tourists had joined us by now. All around us huge volcanic boulders that had been spit out in the past lay haphazardly. Stanley had instructed us that if we saw one heading our way, we should stand still, watch its trajectory and try to dodge it. Hmm! Everyone knows this volcano is bound to blow one day. What are the odds it would be tonight? Is this an experience that would even be allowed in most parts of the world? We could see the headlines now..."Idiot tourists flattened by giant volcanic rock while standing on rim of active volcano".
This rates right up there with one of the most memorable experiences of our travels.