After being told, that I should write a blog entry again, I’m glad to deliver this one :-). I’m still having holidays from cycling in Vanuatu. However, that doesn’t mean I was just sitting around the whole time. However, life has definitively slowed down…
A special experience under water
After finishing my two diving trainings successfully, I planned to had three normal dives for pure pleasure. However, that was of course not possible. For the first dive, I reduced the weight on my weight belt (needed for going down), because I didn’t really need it on the dive before. Nevertheless, that was a wrong decision. My buoyancy was so heavily positive (upward), that I had a hard time to stay under water. That used a lot of energy and my tank was empty pretty fast. I went back to the old weight on my second dive and that was way better. Also the third dive was well. However, when we had our safety step in around 5m below the surface, there was suddenly a noise and also a strong vibration in the water, which you could feel on the whole body. We first thought that it was the engine of our boat or of another one. But that was not the case. After around 20 second, it was gone again. When we got back to our boat, Jim – the skipper of our boat – suggested an earthquake as the source, even if he didn’t notice anything on the surface.
We were already on the way back to Port Vila, when my co-diver got a call from her boss (she is the manager of a resort here). The boss wanted to know, if everything is ok after the earthquake. That way we got the confirmation from several thousand kilometer away. It was an earthquake with the strength of around 6 and it was only 100km away. Again a new experience :-).
Tanna – A visit to another world
On the second of March, I took the plane of AirVanuatu to the island of Tanna. The flight took only around 40 minutes but was 30 minutes late. And till the luggage arrived, another 20+ minutes passed. Island Time is that called. Tanna is the most southern of the bigger islands of Vanuatu. And its main attraction is the active volcano Yasur, which is situated in the south of the island. I wanted to spend as much time possible near the volcano and decided therefor to get an accommodation down there. The Banyan Castle with its tree house should it be. I was in contact with John, the owner, by email and he told me, that an Andre should pick me up at the airport. And there was really somebody waiting, even if it wasn’t Andre.
Together with other tourists in the cabin and some locals on the back of the car, we drove through the rain towards south. The roads are not paved in Tanna but the road through the mountains just got partly new made with concrete. That was really good because it was pouring. And some holes were still there. After around one hour, we reached the ash plaines of the volcano. It got dark in the mean time and we couldn’t really see something. I personally couldn’t see the road either but the driver luckily knew it almost without looking. After another 30 minutes, we reached our accommodations. John and his family were already waiting and they welcomed me very warmly. I was the only guest, which didn’t make me very happy, because I already spent a lot of time by myself in Port Vila. The advantage was, that I got the tree house with a great view of the volcano, if it isn’t raining. Shortly after a very good dinner was served by Linda, Johns wife.
There is no electrical grid in the area and power for light is coming from a small generator. And this one got shut down shortly after dinner. Time to go to bed. It kept raining the whole night and it also got pretty windy, which had the effect, that the mosquito net was flying across in the tree house… Also that an experience :-).
The rain stopped the next morning and I could observe the volcano Yasur from my tree house. You could clearly hear the explosions and the curtains were moving because of the pressure waves. Pretty impressive and this several kilometers away from the volcano! My plan was to climb the volcano in the evening. However, heavy rain started again in the afternoon. The next day must be it. Luckily I had enough time. In the evening, glow of the lava got well visible in the clouds above the volcano. I had to take pictures of that spectacle, of course :-).
It finally worked out the next day. Josephine and Felma, two of the daughters of John and Linda, showed me the path as guides. It went steadily slightly uphill towards the volcano. On the way, I had to pay an entrance fee, which was around 37 USD. It’s definitively not cheap but I was told by John, that it gets distributed locally and is also used to finance food help in case of a bigger eruption. After around 45 minutes, we finally reached the active craters. I was very happy to be again on top of an active volcano. I was the last time that close to an active crater on Stromboli in Italy in 2002. Violent explosions ejected lava in different directions. It was very impressive to feel the pressure wave on the body. I took several videos and a whole lot of pictures. Just wonderful.
Shortly after sunset, the majority of people left already, which I didn’t really understand because the spectacle had just started. Half an our later, my guides wanted to go back as well. I persuaded them to stay a bit longer. However, I finally gave up and we walked back. Luckily, I had a torch with. I definitively needed it. Josephine and Felma maybe would have found the path also without. After our return, I happily enjoyed the dinner and went to bed. Of course not without observing the volcano once more from bed before the clouds closed and rain started again. What for a day.
The next day, it was raining from the morning till the evening. However, I didn’t really care because I already saw the volcano. This day was special nevertheless. It was the Chiefs Day in Vanuatu. On this day, people say thank you to their Chief (Head of village, family) for his hard work. Together with a guest of another accommodation, I got invited to this which I appreciated a lot. It felt like a family gathering. First they said thank you to the chief, after this he had a speech before he and his wife got some gifts. And finally, everybody together had lunch. Thank you very much for inviting us! In the afternoon, I was back in my tree house and spend my time with doing nothing, which was also a good training but not that easy…
Life on the base of the volcano
The Banyan Castle is a pure family company. The bungalows got build by John (and maybe some other supporters) by hand with local material. The only device used was a chain saw, which he also used to cut the wooden boards. He got a loan to finance the chain saw and he just paid it back. Next goal is to get a car for also being able to offer transportation services and tours. The people here live in and with the jungle. The majority of food, they grow themselves and they also have chickens, some pigs and a few cows. There are not a whole lot of income sources, e.g. tourism. More and more families are starting to offer simple accommodations themselves therefor. I have to say that I was impressed with what they are putting up here middle in the jungle. My tree house was a wonderful place (except the ants but you get them here everywhere and it’s best to adjust to them fast…). Also the meals were very good.
I was pretty surprised when I learnt, that parents have to pay for their children for attending school. However, after knowing that, I also understood why you have to pay here for everything (visiting the volcano, a beach, some hot springs, …). How many of the children are really going to school at the end, I don’t know and I didn’t feel comfortable asking. So the circumstances people are living here under are pretty simple and not always easy but they are very, very friendly. And especially the children are laughing a lot. So over all, people seem to be pretty happy with their lifes.
After a few days at the base of the volcano, I moved a bit further to Port Resolution. The village was only around 10km away. However, the road there is so bad (and with the heavy rain of the last few days it didn’t get better) that it took with the car 20 to 30 minutes. My new accommodation was the Yacht Club. However, you shouldn’t expect too much. I was told that those were the first bungalows in the area. And with the view over the bay towards the volcano, it is definitively a very nice spot. And the food is good as well. In the evening, Helen (I’m having my bike at her place in Wellington in storage) arrived. She started in the morning in Wellington in New Zealand and was now in Tanna, Vanuatu. What a change and also culture shock but she was probably too tired to really get it ;-).
We walked around the next morning and visited the local village before continuing to the beach in the bay. The locals were already waiting there, because today was a small cruise ship laying in the bay. Its passengers visited the volcano and that was also an opportunity for the locals the sell them something or earn otherwise some money. However, I still don’t understand why people are visiting the volcano only during daylight… We visited the local hot springs (which costed us 12 USD per head, the guide costed 6 USD extra). The tour was pretty interesting, also if there were ants all over. In the evening, we went again to the volcano. This time Yasur was a bit less active but it was still spectacular. We also could stay a bit longer but it was again over at 19.30 and we drove back to Port Resolution.
The next day was already the last day in Port Resolution and we went snorkeling therefor. This together with local kids which also enjoyed the warm water. In the afternoon, we drove back to the north of the island. The transportations are pretty expensive (around 80 USD for two people for around 2 and a half hours) but those transports are also functioning as a kind of public transport for the locals, which pay nothing or much less. So as a tourist you are at least partly financing that system, which I think is ok. Unfortunately, I also lost my small black Nikon AW100 camera in this car and couldn’t get it back so far. That’s also the reason why there aren’t a lot of pictures showing something else than just the volcano. If you find such a camera in Tanna, please let me know. Thanks!
Our flight out of Tanna was already at 8.50 in the morning. And that was the reason why we decided to stay in the Evergreen resort near the airport. After the pretty simple life of the last few days, it was again a culture shock. This time in the other direction. I was very happy that I spent a few days at the base of the volcano with John and his family. I really think you miss something, if you only stay in a resort in the north and do excursions to the south. However, you also have to be aware that your sheets are not getting changed every second day. That’s just not possible middle in the jungle.
That’s it about Tanna. More about Santo and the rest of the time in Vanuatu will be written in the next blog entry.
All the best from Vanuatu,
PS: Pictures including some nice ones from the volcano can be found in the gallery.