Life is a fragile balance of daily tasks and events. Most of us have had many uneventful days occur during our lives and some of us have received the lion’s share of excitement. For the thrill seekers out there, the words, “I can do that,” are always poised at one corner of your lips ready to fly out into the world. But, for many of us average individuals we make decisions that have had lengthy internal debates over assessment of risk factors. Then there is the Awesome Volcano at Mount Yasur in Vanuatu!
If I said, “Wow,” once and said, “goodbye” it would be enough. However, that isn’t happening this time. Which begs the question, Why? We’ve made it to the sultry shores of the country of Vanuatu. Our first stop was in Port Resolution to clear Customs and Biosecurity. This was a calculated point of entry for us. We heard there is an active volcano on this island that you can hike to and stand on its rim peering down into the caldera.
Yes, tor those of you with weak constitutions or those helicopter moms and dads out there, just skip to the end as you probably won’t want to read more. After clearing into the country, we did a bit of walking around the small village. We watched part of a cricket type match among the women from two different villages. We strolled through the empty schoolyard and met a few prominent locals that operate the Port Resolution Yacht Club.
Before getting all excited about becoming a member of this exclusive club, you have to meet two items of entry. Have a boat and anchor in Port Resolution Bay. So, basically there is an open air building with a few yachting and country flags draped around the rafters. BYOB because there isn’t a bar to belly up to. As you regale the other yachties with your sailing lies, I mean stories, you will be interrupted several times by the sound of a loud whack! Another mosquito didn’t make it. For those of us long winded story tellers we throttled back the details and skipped straight to the point before moving out to avoid anymore blood letting. Actually, the number of those little flying teeth monsters wasn’t as notable as their size.
One of the local hosts of the club is Stanley. He is an engaging individual and his job is to help facilitate any local activities such as volcano dancing, village hermit crab races, etc…. He will also arrange driving trips to Lenakel on the other side of the island to get supplies. That is about a two to three hour trip depending upon the condition of the road. He will also organize transportation for the volcano tour. For you more eager thrill seekers you can hike to the volcano if you desire. It’s a long uphill hike to the base of the loose cinder and rock covered slope of the volcano. It’s about a four hour round trip hike. The return trip is in the dark so don’t forget your lantern and plenty of bug spray.
Enter the Storm
We had made some tentative plans for the volcano trip the next day after our arrival. The next morning brought a lovely storm that pelted the anchorage with a deluge of rain and winds gusting and sustaining in the 25-35+ knot range. Somehow, the words of Forrest Gump come to mind, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” I guess you could say the weather is too. Obviously we didn’t jump into Sparkle during this event or even after as we weren’t sure if there was more on the way. No volcano trip today.
Later that evening the sky opened up again and dropped even more rain. I know because I had to bail 3-4 inches of water out of Sparkle both times. Here is a bit of trivia for you. When the only road from the village to anywhere else is made of graded dirt/mud/rocks and there is a sustained amount of rain in the area, there is gonna be some damage. The rain did just that. Apparently there was a mud/landslide, a washed out section of road and a large sink hole that formed. All of which had to be repaired before any transportation could be utilized. Long story short, it took the local officials three and a half days to make the road drivable. Not too bad for a third world country.
The Day of the Awesome Volcano Trip
We received word from Stanley that Wednesday was a go for the volcano trip. The VHF static was a buzz. Almost everyone in the anchorage wanted to go. Eleven all totaled. The instructions were to arrive at the Port Resolution Yacht Club around 1500 hours. Me being who I am, we arrived early. In fact we were the first tender to breech the shore. Shortly followed by others. We were giddy with excitement. Well, at least I was. Jilly had a few hesitations, but was still curious enough to press onward.
We had opted for the no frills package where we were transported to base camp and then hiked up about 100 meters along the crumbling concrete path upward to the rim of the volcano. Actually it was the only transportation available. Let me set the scene for you a bit. There were eleven of us yachties eager to climb into the Toyota Hilux 4×4 short bed pickup truck. It was a crew cab, so there were a few interior seat selections. This is one of a few times being a lady in this country has an advantage. There were three ladies and one lucky guy that staked claim to the interior seats.
The short bed of the pickup had narrow 2×8 planks fashion into benches along the sides and the forward part of the bed. Three on the front bench and two on each side. There were no seat belts, handholds or butt pads. After everyone had climbed onto their perch we were off for an adventure.
It was reported that the road grader and a bulldozer had worked on the road. My idea and their idea of a graded road are vastly different. But, I tried to keep in mind that I’m not in a first world country that has more road construction supervisors than actual workers and it takes much longer than the second coming of Jesus to complete any project. Nope! I’m in a third world country where diesel is scarce, graders haven’t been claimed back by the jungle yet and are lucky to be in operating condition. Not to mention that the guy that drives it likes orange soda. Let’s just say the road still looked like an abandoned firebreak road on Santa Rosa Mountain in Southern California. Complete with washboard groves, deep gorges and ruts to challenge even the best off roader. Yep this “well graded” road still had all that and large puddles of mud to boot.
After about forty-five minutes of being jolted around worse than that old wooden rollercoaster at Coney Island we made it to basecamp. Jilly and I thought it appropriate to bring our orange drink to share once we got to the rim of the volcano. What’s that? You don’t remember or know of the significance of the orange drink. Well, it’s from the cult classic movie with Tom Hanks, Joe Verses the Volcano.
Just to add a little more atmosphere, I brought my kazoo and played when Johnny Comes Marching Home Again on our trek up the crumbling concrete path to the Big Woo. It was a fitting accompaniment to the adventure. Some of the other adventurers got it and some just thought I was crazy. Only time will tell… We did watch the movie the night before our big adventure just to get into the right frame of mind.
Once we crested the rim the deep crater was revealed. Just a big deep hole and at the north eastern side of the pit with a large cloud rising into the air from the depths of the crater. After a few photos and some ooo ahhhhh eeee eye eeee eye ooooo, we followed our guide further up the rim of the volcano. The sun was just setting over the western rim and the orange glow from the depth of the pit was becoming more visible.
Being from Southern California I have lived through many earthquakes over the years. Some with major destruction and some regular ordinary everyday temblors. This volcano had repeated rumblings, major gas expulsions and several upward displays of molten rock being spit into the air above its churning pits of hot liquid magma. Thanks for letting me use that word Dr. Evil!
Note how close we were to the edge of the beast.
I’ve had big rig trucks and other freeway traffic drive within meters of me while I was conducting business on the shoulder of Southern California freeways. I’ve heard explosions at EOD ranges, participated in live fire exercises and lived to tell the tale. There is just something entirely different about standing on the rim of an active, living, breathing volcano. Yes, we get to check this item off the list of things to do.
On a side note, we have all heard or been taught that hell is a place that consists of fire, brimstone, molten rock and in general just not a nice place to be. I am here to tell you that the rim of the volcano was not hell, but we could see it from there and it’s not someplace for the faint of heart.
It will be hard to top this day of adventure but, we will give it a try anyway. Until next time, when your guide draws a line in the sand on the rim of a volcano and tells you not to cross over it. You don’t cross over it. I’m not sure you’d survive the fall into the abyss, but if you did make it to the bottom you’d be rewarded by a large puff would cease to exist. Stay behind the line my friends.
P.S. There weren’t any hand rails, safety belts, belaying harnesses or jokers on the rim. Just a huge dose of respect and humility for the natural world.
P.S.S. Once we get to Australia in a few weeks where internet is a little more available and not so expensive we will be sharing our video of the volcano so stay tuned.