Lava bombs, rumbling explosions, and sooty ash. We’ve been exploring Mt. Yasur, a very active volcano, on the island of Tanna. Vanuatu has figured out how to gouge tourists, and charges plenty for admission to the volcano, but how often do you get to look down into the crater of an erupting volcano and hold your breath as molten lava shrapnel is spewed in your direction? It’s pretty awesome.
We walked up to the volcano, and, having failed to consider the giant ash cloud covering Tanna, were unprepared for the rain of fine ash falling into our eyes as we approached. Note to self: next time, bring a hat. The mix of ash, sweat, sunblock, and bug spray sticking to us by the time we got to the top was pretty gross, but people live and farm right up to the ashfields, covered in ash every day. As we reached the caldera, the volcano greeted us with an explosive jet of silver smoke and a red geyser of flaming lava. We weren’t so sure this was a safe spectator sport, but, hey, everyone else was doing it. As the sun set, the fireworks grew brighter and the lava jets and spewing bombs grew more frequent (or at least it seemed like they did). Eventually, acknowledging our two and a half hour walk back to the boat in the dark, we consulted:
“Is there something else that volcanoes do? Or more of this, but bigger!”
“I’m not sure we really want to be here if it does start doing something else…”
So we tore ourselves away and headed down the hill, turning to watch the red glow of the smoke each time we felt the volcano roar.
That night, the wind shifted and the ash cloud spread to our anchorage. We woke to a boat covered in fine, black, ash, a fine grit much like glacial silt (only dry). This did not please Rob. Although Rob generally believes that dirt is clean, Rob does not think that ash is clean. Not when it’s covering his brand new rigging. Much scrubbing ensued.
Now we are in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, on the island of Efate. So far, we really like Vanuatu. Oranges, limes, pampelmousse, bananas, and coconuts have been bestowed upon us at nearly every village, a testament to the friendliness and hospitality of the Ni-Van (people from Vanuatu). In most cases, people are living in traditional huts woven from bamboo and cane, walking barefoot, and washing their laundry in the rivers. Food is plentiful and the villages are orderly. Even young children generally speak 3 or 4 languages: at least one local language, Bislama (the national language, which is a pidgeon English–just imagine what would happen if drunken sailors started teaching English, that’s how you get to the title of this post, which means, “We love it here!”), English, and sometimes French (Vanuatu was once under a condominium government, ruled by both France and Britain–it has been independent since 1980). Most of the more remote villages only see white people for a few months of the year, during tourist season. Consequently, the youngest kids are afraid of us. Their parents think this is hilarious and tell the kids that we are going to eat them. Not too surprisingly, the littlest kids run away from us. Especially Rob, who is really scary. The kids who are old enough to remember a few more tourist seasons, and haven’t yet been eaten, love to say hello and sing hello to us with big smiles on their faces until we’re out of sight.
There is no electricity in most villages, but we have seen quite a few solar panels. In fact, we’re having a bit of trouble getting our heads around this aspect of Vanuatu. Rob spent a day fixing an inverter for the headmaster of the primary school in one village. The headmaster had just purchased a nice new solar panel set up for the school, but he crossed a couple of wires, melted a wrench in the process, and broke the inverter. They begged Rob for help. Rob hates electrical projects, so he was very pleased when he was able to fix it by replacing the 8 blown-out fuses. The village was ecstatic. And in the process, we learned, from a guy living in a grass hut, that there’s such a thing as Windows 8. Who knew? We hear the next boat through installed lights for them.
In Tanna, I watched men collecting stones to go hunt bats, with their slingshots and homemade bows and arrows, while a young guy paddled up to our boat in a dugout outrigger canoe. I was sitting on the deck, so he asked for help. He explained the problem: He and his friends wanted to watch a movie, but they had already seen the four on his memory stick. Did I have any others? So much for all the fish hooks and flashlights we collected to give as gifts.
As we enjoy our experiences in the villages and get to know some local folks, I’m doing my best to keep my scandalous knees covered in accordance with the prevailing Victorian-era missionary standards, and we are trying to figure out all the cultural nuances. We’re pretty sure we’ve missed a few at every stop (I think our worst offence is that we’re prone to trying to get away with going for walks by ourselves, but you’re usually supposed to take a local guide with you so that he can keep you out of trouble), but we are learning as we go. Fortunately, people are very friendly and Rob’s boisterous laugh seems to win us forgiveness for our faux pas. Apparently, Rob laughs like a Ni-Van.