We had heard so much about getting an up-close--and seemingly dangerously close--view of lava spewing out of Mt. Yasur that it seemed impossible that the experience could live up to the hype. It matched the hype and then some. In fact, our evening at the volcano on Tanna has surmounted our list of most memorable experiences so far in almost four years aboard.
In the past, the volcano was basically unregulated. Hire a guy with a pickup to drop you at the base, and you walked up to the rim, free to do whatever you wanted. New this year was a concessions company that charged a somewhat hefty admissions fee ($100 US per person--lots of money in the islands). The increased price for access to the volcano comes with guides, a visitor area, safety briefing, and a kastom (custom) dance performed by the local village. Matt quipped that the slick logos on the new white 4x4s and uniforms on all the guides resembled those worn by the employees in Jurassic Park and we all know how that ended.
The tour was scheduled to arrive at the volcano an hour or so before sunset so that we could see it in daylight and after dark. After a bumpy truck ride up a road whose sides were venting stream and gas, we arrived at the base of the summit cone and were unloaded into a barren landscape of grey rock and ash. As we climbed the short hill up to the crater, we could hear and feel the rumbling. Our jaws dropped when we saw the first eruption of molten lava being blown out of the craters and we felt the heat cut through the cold wind. We were able to walk up to a point where we could look almost directly down into the crater (no guard rails anywhere, naturally). One vent seemed to specialize in huge belches of magma that would throw lava hundreds of feet into the air, some landing just below us with a resounding "thud." The other vent would periodically let loose explosions of gas and towering ash plumes accompanied by a deafening roar that made you think, "What AM I doing here?" As impressive as it was during daylight, the spectacle only got better as the sun went down. After nightfall, the glowing splashes of molten rock sprayed into the best natural fireworks show we have seen.
As we watched this, we discussed with some of the other folks how scary it all was, but comforted ourselves with the thought that it must just seem that way, and that we wouldn't be allowed here if there was any real danger. Just then, we witnessed one Volkswagen-sized chunk of magma fly overhead, well past the viewing area, making it very clear that our observation point was in the line of fire. This was enough to spook Conrad, who decided he wanted to go back down to the lower area. Throughout the evening, the kids and I would venture up the hill and then back down again. I got Conrad to go up to the higher viewing area one additional time, telling him not to worry, but he refused to go more than twice. It turns out he was probably the smart one.
After several hours of watching the show, we were at the lower observation point getting ready leave while a few folks were still up at the higher point. A particularly large eruption happened and we turned to see an armchair-sized chunk of lava land squarely on the trail connecting the 2 viewing areas. When Matt went up to inspect the still-glowing lava, he noticed that it had landed right next to the spot where his camera bag had been laying--and we had been standing--just minutes before. Even though the chunks of lava had the trajectory and speed of an easy fly ball, which should have made them avoidable, the consequences of an error in judgment were quite different and it would have be easy for someone to panic. We certainly felt lucky that night.
|Feeding the pigs in Anelghowhat on Aneityum|
|Freshwater pools carved into the rocks|
|Mystery Island (on a non-cruise ship day)|
For the most part, we are enjoying the sailing in Vanuatu. The sail to Tanna from Aneityum was a nice fast run. We ran the spinnaker the whole way and made good time to Tanna. Unfortunately, I let the spinnaker sheet get away from me a bit and got some nasty second-degree rope burns on my hands. Knock on wood, it is the most serious sailing injury we have experienced. Next time I will make sure to put an extra wrap around the winch when the winds are up. We also lost yet another gaff on a big mahi-mahi (at least this time we managed to keep the fish).
|David in front of a giant banyan tree at Dillons Bay, Erromango|
Our sail to Erromango was also a fast, if not bumpy, wing-on-wing sail with the whisker pole. We clocked 15.5 knots surfing down one wave. Some of the gusts as we came around the point of Erro were some of the highest we have ever sailed through. We are enjoying Dillons Bay, where the last act of Vanuatuan cannibalism of a 'white-skin' occurred (they ate the unlucky missionary because they wanted to know what white meat tasted like--really) for a day or so before moving on to Port Vila.