Things That Go Boom in the Night
25 September 2009 | Tanna, Vanuatu
Well, we have finally put Fiji in our wake. After 3 months of nervously dodging reefs, we have said goodbye to this island nation in order to continue our travels through the South Pacific. Next Destination.Vanuatu.
Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides) is a group of 10 or so "large" islands, and several other smaller ones, lying roughly 500 miles due West of Fiji. Because of its location so far to the west, and its reputation for being a tad primitive (the big draw on one particular island is the petroglyph-outline of a missionary that the natives made just prior to consuming him. Talk about being invited for dinner.), we weren't sure we'd get over to Vanuatu. But here we are.
The passage from Fiji was, in retrospect, a good one. I say in retrospect, because a passage is never good while you're actually on it. Large seas, too much or not enough wind, uncomfortable or destructive sailing angles.these are all unwelcome but constant guests on a trip lasting more than a few hours. Throw in some bored kids, and the 3-day ride seemed like it took a week. But our speed was good, the seas laid down after day 2, and we were able to sail all but 5 hours.a victory, in my book.
We made landfall in the Southern portion of the chain, on an island called Tanna. Rugged and remote, Tanna looks just like it must have when Captain Cook landed here 300 years ago. Yesterday, a villager paddled out in a dug-out canoe, complete with outrigger, to sell fresh lobster. Of course, in a concession to modern times, he also asked for some fuel to power a generator so they could watch a DVD later that night.ahh, the romance of far-away places.
As is always the case when arriving in a new country, our first task was arranging a visit to the customs, immigration, and quarantine officials. Usually this involves a short dinghy ride to shore, a brief walk, and lots of paperwork and waiting. While my expectations were met with regard to the paperwork and waiting, the process for actually getting to the officials was more involved than usual. Our anchorage in Port Resolution is on the opposite side of the very mountainous island from the main (and only) town of Lenakel. This is, of course, where all government offices are, so we somehow had to get there. Fortunately an enterprising local named Stanley arranges ground transportation for a reasonable fee. Not so fortunate are the road (trail, really) conditions.
Roughly 2 hours each way, the trip is taken in a 4-wheel drive pick-up. Reasonable enough, you say. Over rough, un-paved, mountain trails. Expected, no? Riding in the back of the bed. What are you, a weenie? Sitting on an un-padded 2x6 bench. OK, I'm a weenie.
But we did get there, and back, after 12 butt-numbing hours. Officially cleared and checked into the country, we were free to roam about. So we sat on the boat for the next day and a half.
Tanna is known for a few things.the "cargo cult", a semi-religious affair supposedly started after the GI's from WW2 left behind amazing amounts of cargo; and Mount Yasur, the world's most accessible active volcano. So, on day 3, our options were to either see some locals, stoned on kava as they danced and chanted, OR take another butt-numbing drive to the top of an active volcano, at night, to see it erupt. Grab the cameras and the preparation-H, we're heading up the hill!
Mount Yasur didn't disappoint. As Michael and Sylvia, a German couple on the catamaran Tanoa said (Ed. Note.affecting a thick German accent here), "Ve vill not be leefink until ve see ze Vulcan". And see it we did. Standing on the rim, the steam and gas would constantly pour up and out of the caldera. As the night grew darker, the glow of the lava was readily seen bouncing off the clouds. Every few minutes, we would hear a "BOOM", the mountain would shudder beneath our feeet and a huge shower of molten rocks would rocket up into the sky, spread out and fall back into the volcano like a fireworks display gone berserk. Occasionally a burning bit would escape the caldera and land in front of the crowd (there were probably 10 different groups there), glowing red hot for a few minutes before finally cooling. Very cool and very surreal.
Because of the risk of falling prey to poisonous gases, we were not allowed to get close enough to look over the rim. Hence, no flowing lava was seen. Hence, Maddie and Sophie were supremely disappointed. Leave it to sullen kids to take the steam out of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In fact, they were less-impressed by the live-action of the eruptions than they were by the video images. Why watch the real event, when you can see it played back on a 1.5 inch camera screen? I suspect they were waiting for SpongeBob Squarepants to make an appearance riding a molten blob, or for Volcano Barbie and her metro-sexual sidekick Ken to show up, looking natty in the latest fashion wear. Anyway, they were less than impressed, but everyone else loved it.
Now that we've "done" Tanna, we'll leave today on an overnight trip to Port Vila, on the island of Efate. Vila is the national capital, and will be a decent spot to do some re-supplying. More later.