Saturday, 27 September 2014

Vanuatu, Lenakel 16-09-14

Tanna island is awesome! Although I suspect that's largely due to a really nice group of guys we met on the cat parked next to us. It took us 42 hours to get here from Port Vila, and I had my head over the side for most of it. Which sucked. When we arrived there wasn't really anybody else here - it's a tiny little village with a rocky anchorage next to huge breaking waves. There was one other boat in the bay and no other signs of tourists, so we ducked over to say hi to our neighbours. It turned out that they were only staying for the day and had already organised a tour of the island, which they said we could tag along on. Score! And so nice of them, because after finding out the price we realized we really wouldn't have been able to afford to see much on our own. Nothing was within walking distance and there's no public transport on tiny islands. So we were really lucky they were so nice! I doubt we would have been able to organize anything anyway - when we went to shore for a look around it very much felt like we'd just stepped into somebody else's living room. It's a tiny little village and it felt like everybody was just staring at us waiting to see what the hell we were doing there.

I suspect it may have been my shorts, which were above my knees. In Fiji they specifically tell you to dress modestly but nobody in Port Vila seemed worried about it and the tourist brochure didn't mention anything so I figured shorts would be fine. Maybe not. Either way everybody was just staring at us. We bought some veges from the market then stood around awkwardly before running back to the boat. We were starving but it really felt like we were intruding so we didn't try going into any shops. Lenakel is a port of entry for yachts, meaning they have a customs office there so you can enter and exit the country. So I was expecting it to be a town like Port Vila, only smaller. But it definitely felt like somebody's backyard with a few shops stuck out the front.

The market in the afternoon, a lot quieter than in the morning!

The kids were all really adorable though - we'd tied our dinghy up next to a tree on the beach, in amongst all the outrigger canoes. A big group of kids came over and just stood there staring at us and giggling. They didn't speak a word of English, but seemed really interested in us. Then when we went to lift up the dinghy they pounced, each one grabbing a corner and helping us carry it down to the water. They had such big grins on their faces as we waved goodbye and took off. I loved it!

The island tour started late in the afternoon so we'd get to the main attraction, the volcano at Mt Yasur, just as it was getting dark. We had to sit in the back of the truck in the open tray, which the guys were all quite chivalrous about - they kept asking if I wanted to sit inside where it was warm and comfy. But the back was definitely the best place to be! Joe, our tour guide, took us all around the bottom of the island. The road wound through wild rainforest, past little villages tucked away in the hillside among the trees. They just seemed to be little groups of shacks with thatched roofs - it was hard to tell if we were looking into somebody's backyard or into a small village. Maybe those two things are actually one and the same - not many places have electricity so people seem to group up in the one area. The houses were really sweet, with kids running around playing together and animals weaving in amongst their feet. A lot of kids had sticks with wheels on them, which they were playing with on the road outside one of the larger groups of houses.

The animals were adorable too. We'd round a corner and there'd be a calf just hanging out in the middle of nowhere feasting on all the rich greenery. And there were chooks everywhere (we went past some tiny little chickens too, which made me happy). Baby goats were munching away on the forest leaves and we saw a few really little ones in a pile under a tree. And there were so many piglets! They were all hanging out on the side of the road, just loving life. Being in the back of the truck was like riding a bike through the forest - we could reach out and touch everything, which was really lovely.

The kids must have just finished school, because we went past so many of them walking along the road. They were so excitable! A lot of them waved and said hi, but the rest would yell and jump up in the air as we went past. They'd throw themselves into the middle of the road behind the truck, waving their arms around with big grins on their faces. It was so sweet to see so many people so happy with their lives. Lots of them tried to high five us, which was terrifying because we were often going too fast for a casual high five. But the younger ones especially were just so excited to see us.

The market is on three days a week here, which I assumed just meant that people would bring their veges into town and set up in the designated area. Which they did. But as we drove along the road there were stalls set up regularly with fresh produce, probably outside each of the little villages/populated areas. Which I guess is why the main town is so small - the villagers could probably go for a month or so without having to go into town with fresh veges outside their door every few days. As the day got on the people walking along the road changed from villagers carrying their vegetables home, to schoolkids, to groups carrying huge bundles on their backs after packing up their market stalls. You could tell the ones who had been at the market all day - they looked exhausted.

The other thing I loved were the tree houses. There didn't seem to be any hotels or anything on the island, but there were a few 'tree bungalows' that you could hire. They were just little shacks high up in the trees. You could tell the fancy, expensive ones apart from the budget houses - they were made of wood instead of woven leaves, and had pretty manicured lawns instead of dirt. One even had glass windows. It was exciting driving through the rainforest and seeing houses up in the trees though.

Bottom of the volcano

After driving through winding roads and a lot of rainforest, we made it to the bottom of the volcano. There were big long flats where the ground was just ash, bordered by walls of rock from old eruptions where the lava had settled. Joe flew across the flats! We must have been doing at least 100km an hour, which is pretty exciting from the back of a truck. The volcano wasn't really what I was expecting - I'd only seen the ones in NZ, which are volcano shaped but are essentially big rocky mountains. This was a mountain of thick ash, and it didn't look that big compared to the ones in NZ. But you could hear it rumbling, which you wouldn't want or expect from the volcanoes back home.

Hardened lava from an old eruption 

We quickly checked out Resolution Bay, which is the other anchorage on the island. We found the other yachts, who were all hanging out in the bay next to the Yacht Club. The anchorage there still looked rocky, but a lot nicer than where we are. There were some hot springs there which looked pretty interesting - a part of the beach just had steam coming off it. Then after driving through more rainforest we were heading up the mountain. It was only a quick walk from the carpark to the mouth of the volcano but I found it quite unnerving - every time the volcano went off you could feel it rumbling under your feet.

Resolution Bay

Very likely every single tourist on the whole island

The first few explosions had me hiding behind Garth, who didn't seem at all phased. We went to the main viewing area and stood there for a while watching the showers of molten rock as they exploded up into the air and then rained down on the crater. It was amazing. Joe agreed to take us up to the top so we could look down into the main vent. I just assumed we wouldn't be allowed up there, so I'm really glad one of the guys asked him. I didn't love walking along the edge of a volcano, but I think I was too focused on keeping my footing to be scared. I don't think it was actually dangerous at all, but it was still a live volcano. So I didn't want to fall down. The view from up there was spectacular - we could see the eruptions coming straight out of the vent.

Both vents going off at once

Tiny people up the top, where we ended up watching from

The money shot

I always pictured the centre of a volcano to be a big swirling pool of lava. This one wasn't. It was just a tiny hole, but it was certainly capable of putting on a show. Joe said there was another vent past the one we could see that just spat up ash and steam, and the one we were looking at had been allocated to rock and lava. It was amazing. I didn't realize it at the time because I was just in awe, but looking back at the pictures it was just so much better as it got darker. Like watching fireworks in the afternoon compared to at night. As the molten rock fell down in the dark it would scatter flecks of bright orange all over the crater. I hate to make the comparison, but it actually looked like molten core, an area from a computer game that I won't embarrass myself by naming. But it was a bit bizarre to see something so obviously fake brought to life in a very real place. It was really spectacular to be able to get so close to it, with molten rocks flying through the air less than 300m away.

Just before dark

Smoke gathering underneath the rim

Looking into the vent

It was apparently quite active when we were there, but it wasn't trying to attack us. It was a bit frightening to see the walls of rocks people had built quite far back from the viewing area though. They were obviously forts. There were bits of brittle volcanic rock all along the path that must have landed there when the volcano was erupting more violently. I'm glad we didn't have to hide behind the forts - I'm pretty sure those glowing orange rocks would do more than tickle if they landed on us.

So that was our excitement for Vanuatu. We were so, so grateful that our lovely neighbours let us tag along with them. We spent our entire entertainment budget for the next few places all in one go, and it was so worth it. I think that's the very first touristy thing we've paid for since leaving NZ a year ago, so not bad! Considering our original plan had been:
1. Figure out a way to get to the volcano
2. Walk up the volcano
3. Figure out a way to get home
I don't think we would have had a very good chance of being able to see it on our own at all, taking into consideration how far away it was, the fact that everybody goes to bed when it gets dark and that we certainly would have gotten lost in the dark. So I think we were really lucky to be able to join in on such an amazing experience. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers!

Before we headed to shore for volcano adventures yesterday we noticed two guys paddling around in an outrigger canoe not far from our boat. With no paddles. They were kicking the water, standing on the bow giggling and trying to paddle by hand. Then eventually they started getting dragged out to sea, towards the giant barrelling waves. An older guy came out on another canoe and yelled at them, then after unsuccessfully trying to tow them he took one of the kids to shore and left the other to fend for himself. After watching his antics for a while we decided he was actually getting into trouble, so Garth went out to help him in the dinghy. It turned out he'd gone to get a paper from the store and saw the canoe on the beach. So he stole it. Then he thought it would be a good idea to go for a joyride with no paddles. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if we hadn't been there... would they have just left him out there? That would certainly have taught him a lesson!

Big waves 

Nothing exciting has happened today. Just fixing. And tidying. And preparing for the passage to Fiji. This is a really interesting place as a tourist, but it's not the kind of place you could live in for long, unlike everywhere else we've been. The villagers just don't seem very friendly or welcoming. Maybe it's because they don't really speak English or French - they have their own language. We asked for directions and somebody managed to give them to us, but the kids are the only people who have been overly friendly towards us. We very much feel like outsiders intruding on their space. I wore more clothes than a nun today in an attempt to be modest, but that didn't make any difference. They're just going about their lives and we're getting in the way. Everybody we met on the road yesterday was really friendly though, either because we were with our tour guide or the outlying villagers just don't see many tourists, I'm not sure.

So that's Tanna island. We're supposed to fix some things, which won't happen, then off to Fiji again!

Island map - we went from Lenakel around the bottom of the island to Resolution Bay where the Yacht Club is, then to the volcano and home again

Xxx Monique

The anchorage
Fisherman on the reef next to our boat
Centre of the volcano
Volcano post box

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