Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mt. Yasur on Tanna Island

Sorry, folks, but you're going to have to read this post twice. Once now and again when we get some photographs uploaded. My poor command of the English language will prevent me from adequate describing our trip yesterday to Mt. Yasur and besides, a picture is worth a thousand words and I don't think any of you are patient enough to read that many.

At 1600 hours, we had locked up Rutea and took the dinghy into shore where we rendezvoused with ten other cruisers who are anchored in the delightful Port Resolution on the island of Tanna, one of the smaller islands in the Vanuatu archipelago. Believe it or not, there is a Port Resolution Yacht Club although it's nothing more than a tin roof held up by sturdy poles, no walls; flags and burgees from around the world hang from it's rafters. It was our gathering point where twelve of us plus the driver piled into a small Toyota pickup truck. Crude wood benches in the back were the economy seats while four in our group got the business class seats of the crew cab. The road itself was two deep ruts carved through the tropical jungle and our top speed was never more than a few miles per hour. Often the driver had to come to a complete stop and inch his way over a particularly rough patch of 'road'. Since our speed was so slow, the dust from the wheels would often float back over the bed of the truck, covering us with a thick layer of fine volcanic sand. In many places the road was very steep and I felt that my position, against the tailgate, was somewhat precarious for if the battered tailgate were to suddenly jar open, I would be the first one to be ejected. But after an hour of driving, the landscape shifted suddenly from thick forest to the moon-scape of a volcanic crater.

As we had been approaching Tanna Island from the ocean, we could occasionally see clouds of steam and ash being belched forth from Mt. Yasur and now, here we were, standing on the rim of this active volcano. The sun was just setting and the people formed silhouettes as they stood on the narrow rim of the crater. Looking down, the bottom of the crater was only a hundred meters or so away and thick streams of steam swirled on the crater floor. There was a continuous hissing and often the strong stench of sulfur would send people into coughing and sneezing fits. Maybe it would go quiet for a few moments but it was still mesmerizing and then suddenly, as if thunder was following an underground bolt of lightning, an explosion would shake the ground and a fountain of molten lava would shoot high into the air. The bright orange-red lava seemed to almost float and drift but the center of the fountain would be yellow with the intense heat. On other occasions, a similar explosion would expel a thick, billowing cloud of dark grey ash, which looked mean and angry.

I can only imagine what the early residents of Tanna thought of this geological phenomena. The name, Yasur, means 'god' in the local language and there's no doubt that it must have struck them as something supernatural. According to geologists, it's been at this level of activity for the last 800 years. In our guide book, it says that this is the closest a person can get to an active, erupting volcano anywhere in the world.

It was dark when we finally decided to climb down from the precarious lip but the nearly-full moon and our bright flashlights lit up the stark landscape so we could see our way back to the little Toyota truck. The ride back felt longer than the ride in but as we were going downhill most of the way back, at least I didn't feel like I was going to fall out if the tailgate gave way. Once back at the 'yacht club' we all had a round of Tusker beer, the local beer of Vanuatu. We passed our cameras around, sharing the pictures we had just taken. It had been a unique shared experience.
At 9/27/2012 9:29 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 19°31.48'S 169°29.79'E

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