Maw of the Monster
03 September 2010 | Tanna Island, Vanuatu
Slogger: Cooler than Fiji. 80 day/70 night
Maw of the Monster: Vanuatu first impressions.
We officially checked out of Fiji at Lautoka on Wednesday August 18, 2010. It's a long way from Lautoka to the Navulu Pass and the open ocean. More than half the day is shot before we're in the open. Cat's Paw IV is about a mile ahead of us and stretched the lead to 30 miles over the next three days. We're more comfortable with less sail when the wind is forward of the beam and in the grand scheme of things. The minute the breeze comes aft a bit, we take off. No point in banging your head against the wall unless you have to. It all came out even as we both had to time a dawn arrival. I have snail trails for Port Resolution but why chance going in in the dark?
For reasons unknown, Airy, our Aries Windvane was acting up, leaving us with Geraldo, (Yak, yak, yak. Blah, blah, blah) our electric tiller pilot, was forced to carry the ball. This is sometimes a problem in larger seas. Geraldo outdid himself. Good boy.
Arriving at the crack of dawn, we were greeted with an eerie orange glow lighting the steam and ash cloud hanging over an active Mt Yasur. Entrance to the bay is straight forward with no dangers. Anchoring in depths of 15 to 20 feet in volcanic ash over coral sand. As it was Sunday, there was nothing much to do until we could check in at Lenacal, on the opposite side of the island.
There is very little sign of habitation from the bay but a trip ashore reveals several rather large villages. Indeed, Tanna is the second most populated island in Vanuatu. Village life here reminds me of Tonga. Houses built of sticks covered in coconut fronds, chickens running everywhere, little pigs underfoot and children everywhere. English is spoken and for the most part excellent. French is also taught and spoken exclusively by some in some sections of the same village.
Monday was check-in day. This requires a harrowing two and a half hour ride in a 4X4 pickup from one side of the island to the other... over a mountain... on roads more suitable for Off-Road Racing than passenger traffic. Eight of us were crammed in the back, seated on narrow planks bolted along each side of the bed. Handholds are steel bars welded to the outside of the bed. By the time we arrived, everyone's butt was beat up around their ears, but cheer up! There's a couple of hours to recover before the trip back.
Everything in Vanuatu seems to be based on a thousand bucks. A thousand Vatu equals about ten bucks US. Immigration= $3000, Customs = $3000, Ag and Quarantine = $3000. The ride over and back = $4000. Expensive compared to everywhere else in the Pacific, but this is a poor country trying to make it in the world. A dubious proposition if not for the gobs of aid coming their way from Australia, New Zealand and (shudder) China.
Everyone survived the ride over the mountain, so we all decided to hike to and up the volcano the next day and peer into the Maw of the Monster. Mount Yasur. Vanuatu has several active volcanoes and is a hotbed of activity along the Pacific Ring of Fire. We're all acutely aware of the constant risk of earthquake, Tsunami and volcanic eruption to our plans.
No one mentioned that this was six or seven kilometer hike through the bush or that you can also pay a few bucks to ride up. I might have opted for the chicken ride but we learn by experience. The hike wasn't easy for a sixty six year old accustomed to a sedentary cruiser lifestyle, who was coincidentally suffering a mild bout of the flu. I was all out of up by the time I was up but the reward made it all worthwhile.
There are few places in the world where you can stand on the crater rim of a very active, and occasionally dangerous volcano, booming and hissing and spitting ash and flaming globs high into the air. This is National Geographic stuff and we get to be right there, on every page!
Our guide, Sam, told us we had to be off the crater rim shortly after dark as it is difficult to see the molten chunks of lava being lobbed skyward. One could drop in on the unwary tourist in the dark. Roast hiker might have found its way on the menu a few hundred years ago, but has fallen out of fashion these days.
Scratch one off my Bucket List.