We crossed the island from Port Resolution to Lenekal to a soundtrack of Reggae and Jesus music. The flat bed truck bounced down the jungly dirt tracks and struggled over the ash plains while the sixteen passengers clung on, crammed like cattle in the back, bashing limbs and ducking low lying branches
We’d arrived into Tanna after a 2 day passage from New Caledonia and headed straight for the safe anchorage at Port Resolution, just under the rumbling, belching volcano, Mount Yasur. The steam caused a thick haze all around the island as we approached, and inside the bay, steam vents and hot springs sent billows of white clouds into the sky. It was our first stop into Vanuatu, so we had to raise our yellow quarantine flag and clear customs and immigration. Unfortunately the administrative centre is all the way over the other side of the island, a 2 hour truck ride away.
Despite the bruising, it was a happy journey, shared by the local people on their way to market and another yacht on the same mission as ourselves. We passed by the volcano, through the eerie ashplains, alongside villages, with woven huts among the huge banyan trees with the kids waving and shouting ‘Bye Bye’. There’s only a few trucks on the island and I think ours was the dud. It coped fairly well with the huge craters in the road, but anything more than an gentle incline was beyond its ability, and there were plenty. Sputtering gently to a halt with a slightly alarming roll backwards we’d leap off and get pushing. The locals approached this with great hilarity; one guy trying to push, while the others tickled him. The only sign of any impatience came when it was getting late for Kava time.
From the moment we dropped anchor on our first day, everyone has given us a wonderfully warm and generous welcome. The guys fishing in the bay paddled over straight away in their dugout canoes to say hello and offer some of their morning catch.
A lot of people speak english or french, along with one or more of the 8 languages on the island, and the national language Bismali, a form of pijin english. There always seems to be a least one person in the groups we meet that we can talk too, otherwise they’ll just shout for the nearest anglophone to come translate. We’ve learnt a couple of phrases in the village language, and this is an easy way to make friends quickly. But I’m not sure if i’ll get the chance to use my favourite expression in bislami where a bra delightfully translates as ‘basket blong titties’.
This is an island where along with believing a great American god called John Frum will arrive and shower them with gifts (they call the volcano ‘haus blong John Frum’
they also worship Prince Phillip as a deity.
These more interestings forms of religion exist peacefully alongside Presbyterians, Baptists and 7th Day Adventists. But they all seem to get along perfectly well
Mount Yasur was at a peaceful 0-1 on the volcano disaster scale, but it still put on a spectacular show. Another bone rattling truck trip brought us towards the crater in the late afternoon, just as the light faded. Predictably the engine gave up on the final steep climb and we walked the last the few hundred metres up the gently smoking road. At first look there were just clouds of steam rising up past brittle crusty peak.
But with low roar and a sudden boom, the smoke pulsed with its resonance, and a spitting fury of molten rocks were expelled. We watched mesmorised as night fell… Sometimes lulled into feeling its just another fireworks display, until a high pressurised venting sends firey reminders just a little too close.
I think I’m going to like Vanuatu.
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