24.04.2013 28 °C
We arrived at Port Vila International airport and had to make the short walk to the domestic terminal. We followed signs for the luggage drop off. This led us to a deserted and dimly lit area with nobody in sight. After a minute or so a man appeared and said he would take our cases so we left them, somewhat dubiously, with him assuring us that they would make it onto our flight. Amazingly when we arrived at the very cute airport in Tanna our bags had indeed come with us and were presented to us through a big hole in the wall! With only 16 passengers on the plane (that sat about 40) who needs a conveyor belt!? We were relieved that the flight was only 40 minutes long as the plane smelt pretty badly of stale urine, a smell that hit you as soon as you got on board and didn’t really go away the whole flight!
I think the word ‘rustic’ sums up Tanna pretty well. The roads are almost all dirt tracks and most journeys are a bumpy ride to say the least. We arrived at our accommodation ‘Tanna Lodge’ to find out we had been given an upgrade to their best room as they were so quiet. This was a real bonus as we had paid for a room costing 17,250V (approx $230NZ a night) and ended up with a room worth 26,250V (approx $350NZ a night). Now you might be thinking that we are staying in some high end, luxurious hotel – we are not! The place is lovely by Tanna standards but as I said Tanna is rustic. Tanna Lodge is very cute and we are happy here but the same money in most other parts of the world would get you way more. Vanuatu is known to be a very expensive country and Tanna being one of the ‘outer islands’ is even more so. The one thing I will say is the staff are fantastic. They are happy and friendly and cannot do enough for you. We would recommend a stay here but you must leave your western ideals behind! Saying that though, we do have everything we need, hot water, en suite bathroom with his and hers sinks, outdoor private shower, a fridge, kettle, fan and electricity 24/7. This is most certainly NOT the case in the majority of Tanna establishments.
After a delicious tropical breakfast the next morning we decided to explore the area a little and headed off for a walk around the neighbourhood. After 2 hours of walking we were only passed by 3 trucks and saw one family heading off with rods to catch that night’s dinner. The only other things we saw were cute birds and colourful lizards.
Two hours walking was about enough as the humidity here is just ridiculous! As soon as you step outside you start to sweat and I have given up on trying to keep my hair in check. I very much resemble Monica from the episode in Friends where she goes to Barbados. It has gone FRIZZY beyond belief!!!
When we got back we had a bite to eat and started to get ready for the main reason we came to Vanuatu – Mt Yasur Volcano. We jumped into a jeep and drove for almost 2 hours to get to Mt Yasur over the, previously mentioned, bumpy roads! Stella, at Tanna Lodge, had kindly given us cushions for the journey and I was quite glad to have mine! As we neared the volcano the roads, and all the surrounding foliage (mostly ferns), became completely covered in dark ash. Before long there was no plant life at all just an alien looking landscape made of ash that went on and on. We got our first proper look at Mt Yasur spurting out huge clouds of black smoke into the air.
We continued around the base of the volcano until we reached the car park and the path leading up to the crater. The path up was short but very steep and we arrived at the top a little out of breath and slightly wet as it had begun to rain. Within minutes we were pretty much soaked to the skin as the heavens opened.
We could wring our clothes out and our feet were squelching in our trainers but we didn’t care one bit as we stood there and watched the best firework display you could ever possibly imagine. As the vents expel their gases the boom vibrates under your feet and through your body. Huge chunks of red molten magma fly hundreds of feet into the air and you can feel the heat as they cascade down and land with a huge thud. The experience really is so hard to put into words. We stood and watched the volcano spurt out the bright orange chunks anywhere from 20 seconds to 3 minutes apart never failing to be impressed. As the day turned into night the show just got more and more impressive against the black sky.
Apparently we were getting a ‘stage 3’ display, our guide kept trying to get us to leave as by ‘stage 4’ they do not allow anyone up the volcano, or so he said. Of course we persuaded him to stay until a huge chunk of lava (about the size of a suitcase) landed about 40m or so away from us. After that we took a few more photos before embarking upon the bumpy ride home. The journey home was another show by Mother Nature, 2 hours of fork lightning. As we ate dinner heavy rain arrived at the lodge. Somehow it had made its way through the mosquito netting of the room and soaked our bed. Stella quickly had us settled in another room for the night – thank goodness they weren’t fully booked!
The next day we decided to walk to the local market. Stella told us she thought it would be a 10 minute walk, 20 at the most. Forty minutes later we finally arrived looking rather hot and sweaty! We wandered around the stalls of fruit and veg mostly minded by women with their young children in tow.
It reminded us of our South East Asia trip when we saw children probably no older than 2 grasping hold of 6 inch knives with rusty blades. Health and Safety – what’s that?!? I couldn’t resist taking a sneaky shot of one little baby waving their knife around happily.
After a wander round we headed back home. All aong the way the locals were waving and saying hello to us. At one point we caught up with a group of very young children heading home from school. They were very excited to say hello to us and even more excited when I showed them photos I had taken of them!
When we got back to the lodge we were chatting about how amazing the volcano had been and began to wonder if we should do it all over again. At that moment Stella headed over and, upon mentioning our thoughts to her, proceeded to tell us that if we went again the trip would be half price! That was it, our minds were made up. So a second night was spent on top of Mt Yasur and fortunately this time we did not get soaking wet. Once again it put on a magnificent show and we left slightly reluctantly knowing this time really would be the last time.
We woke to another sunny day with blue skies and after breakfast headed to relax and read around the pool. After lunch we had a wander along the black sand beach throwing stones for the lodge’s dog to chase after and checking out the coral that the tide washes up each day. By mid afternoon it started to cloud over so we decided to ask if we could hire a quad bike for an hour or two. Before we arrived we had downloaded all the geocaches hidden on Vanuatu. There are only 2 traditional ones on Tanna and so we decided to go and find the closest one. We made the 15km trip to the hiding place and all along the locals were shouting hello and waving. Groups of small children heading home from school wanted to high 5 us as we sped past! We arrived at the hiding place covered in mud splatters from the huge puddles in the pot hole laden roads to be greeted by Tom, the land owner. He knew all about the cache so he watched us as we waited for the GPS to settle down and when we figured out where it was he kindly took rocks off the wall to make it easier for me to climb over! The cache was soon in hand and the log signed. We headed back home with a quick stop at the airport to say goodbye to Fred and Barbara. They had been staying at Tanna Lodge and came on the volcano trip with us both nights so after 8 hours of car rides we had swapped a fair few travel stories!
Our last day on Tanna started off with a few showers but turned into a beautiful day. We had been telling the owners about our geocaching adventure and how it all works. By the end of the conversation they said they would love to be a cache guardian for us and so our final day was spent exploring the nearby beaches and caves for a suitable location with their son Jed. Some time later we returned, cache hidden away in a cave waiting for it’s first finder. I wonder how long that will be?