Driving up the side of Mount Yasur volcano on Tanna Island, there are smoking vents coming out from under the dirt road. The guide insists they are not dangerous, but is not able to explain what is causing them, which does not give anyone a lot of confidence in their safety. There are loud explosions happening fairly frequently like artillery fire, and combined with the constant rattling of the car, it is too hard to communicate, so we sit in silent anticipation.
Getting out of the car, the volcanic rim of Mount Yasur is just a couple hundred meters above us, and to our astonishment, we see molten lava being thrown high into the air above it. The guide calmly disembarks and starts heading up the trail to the rim, and we really feel like we are missing a debriefing on how to stay alive on the rim of an active volcano, but it is the South Pacific, so there is no debriefing.
From the rim, you can see the crater is shaped like a shallow fruit bowl. The guide explains that the lava is shooting up from underground through a very small crevice in the earth, and therefore its trajectory should only be straight up. Therefore, we should be safe on the rim. He also admits that a Japanese woman was hit by some lava in a freak accident close to where we were standing, and looking around at the scattered lava rocks around the area, it was clear that it had happened more than once.
The show is spectacular. The volcano mostly smokes, but then a couple times a minute it spews lava in a fiery shower, like a whale spout, and then occasionally it bellows quite deeply and launches car sized molten boulders far into the sky above our heads. The previous year, some of these had fallen in the car park where we were just standing. We watch it until after the sun sets, when the red lava pierces the black of the night like a natural fireworks show, and then we descend, full of volcanic energy.
Back at the hostel we decide to try the local kava, as we had been told it was very different than the kava we had in Fiji. Sure enough, after a couple of coconut shells of it, my whole body went numb, my muscles turned to jello, and I army crawled back to my room. What a wild and psychedelic island.
The following day we snorkeled the sea mounts off the coast, which were full of turtles and colorful reef fish, and then we went to go visit a village and meet the people who worshiped the volcano, and made such potent kava.
The village had moved or was in the process of moving itself out of the jungle a bit and closer to the road, but the old settlement was still intact and it showcased a truly impressive tree house high up in an old banyan tree. They still kept their kava and taro farms in the area and explained that their kava was so strong because of how much longer they grew the plant before harvest compared to the Fijians.
The village put on quit a welcome as all the women showed up in traditional grass skirts, and the men dawning their penis gourds. The exchange was limited due to difficulties with language, but the kids did show us some of the games they play, and the women showed us the food they prepare and the baskets they weave. It was a fascinating day with the people of the volcano.
It does seem like too much for a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to have so much to see and do. However, Tanna island in Vanuatu certainly does not cease to amaze those in search of adventure. Even getting there in a Cessna is an experience, as the daily flight back from Tanna crashed the day before we were leaving (all survived). Even if you do not decide to travel all the way to Tanna Island, be glad that such wonderment exists in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.