Adventure in Volcanic Vanuatu

The flight to Vanuatu is quicker than expected, we take just over two hours and lose an hour to time difference. The Virgin Australia plane got us to download an app to stream their in-flight content via wifi, which was odd and meant holding my iPhone up for 2 hours while I watched Macbeth.

We land and it’s another rigmarole getting cash out using our Revolut card. Only because we can’t get Internet and Kelly’s forgotten her pin. Anyway we’ve a complimentary bus transfer with a few tourists and our guide Frank is a very smiley fellow, and tells us all about the islands as we drive along.

We get to our Namasa resort and we’ve found our little slice of heaven for a few days. We have a big room, complete with air con, balcony, TV and DVD player. Plus the pool outside is verging on being an infinity pool (at the right angle).

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We wander round being greeted by everyone, people in Vanuatu are all very friendly, a Pacific island trait I feel. In reception they have a series of brochures for the island’s activities. A few friends and family gave us money towards a Tanna Lava view experience as wedding gifts so I peruse the volcano tours. Eek! Expensive but when are we going to go up an active volcano next? Booked. Done.

The resort is well stocked with current cinema films on DVD. Pretty dodgy looking copies, but we swipe a few and settle down for the night after dinner to the Good Dinosaur. Relaxed and chilled.

Day two is all about stocking up for our day(s) by the pool. We hail down a bus. A bus being anybody with an 8 seater van, and a red ‘B’ on their number plate. It’s 150 Vatu or about a pound per person, per journey. Anywhere.

We’re only heading down the road to the ‘number 2’ supermarket. It’s not called number 2 because somewhere else another supermarket is better. Nope, it was actually the US Navy’s former number 2 radio station during WW2.

In there we stock up on things for dinner and basic supplies. As we leave having settled up, I note we’ve just paid £20 for a tiny bottle of sun cream. Needed, but seriously, what?

Anyway we head back to the resort and spend the day by the pool. Kelly nicknamed this leg of our trip the holiday from our holiday. Nothing much to share about this day to be honest, it was just bliss and Kindles.

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Early rise on Wednesday for our drive around the island with Native Tours. Our tour guide Tom, is a talkative guy, and full of interesting facts during our 8 hour anti-clockwise round trip of Efate island. It turns out it’s only Kelly and I for the tour today, meaning we’ll get to stop on request and stay longer in each place of interest, if we wish.

On our way to the first stop at the Blue Lagoon we pull over to see a local spider. Tom’s spiel explains that the dangerous and poisonous animals in Vanuatu number zero, so I’m happy to see a new creature. It’s huge and continues to spin a web around my wrist as Its handed to me. Kelly’s having none of it, so we’re off.

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The Blue Lagoon is a place famed for beauty and swimming. It’s a day when a cruise ship is also in Port Vila so there’s quite a queue for the rope swings, but I’m on one like a shot.

Kelly films on the GoPro as I mount it and push off, my weight comically forcing me down the knots, sending me crashing into the water without reaching the apex of the swing. As well as leaving my cool on the deck, I managed to crunch my wooden wedding ring in between a knot and my hand, snapping it in half. Well it was a temporary ring had been superglued once, but we’re not yet 3 months into our trip. Oh dear.

We swim around for a bit more before we sit down with Tom for some Papaya and pineapple. He tells us about Vanuatu phrases like “number 1”, meaning all good. “Number 1”, I respond, already fluent.

As we drive through the little towns we wave to everybody, as they wave back. Everybody seems happy to be chilling out, and Tom explains that you can be the master of your day out here. If you want to sleep all day, that’s fine. If you want to work then go ahead, they have enough food here, but the only reason to earn money is for compulsory schooling, which carries a fee. Otherwise life is very relaxed.

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Next up we’re driving to a cultural village for our fourth Pacific people’s dance (we’ve seen Hawaiian, Fijian and Maori already). We’ve been well trained so when the warriors charge us, we don’t flinch, but it’s a scary sight. Less intimating than the Maori but 5 men literally rush us and stab their sticks inches from my face!

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We’re then taken to an area where 9 men and 3 boys perform their welcome, peace and bird dances for this audience of two. Very privileged we feel, and the dances are captivating.

As we cycle the rest of the island we hear about cyclone damage to the island, see coconut oil power stations, visit a disused US WW2 airstrip, lie in natural thermal baths coming out of the ground at 70 degrees, discuss an ex-Royal Marine’s Coca Cola bottle collection and have a drink on the beach used for the TV show Survivor.

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A busy day indeed, so once back at the resort we wander down the road to another resort with a spectacular sunset. They’re serving kava, a Pacific island root drink. I’m not sure exactly what it does, but in Fiji they made out like it was some kind of hallucinogen, here it sounds more like a strong alcohol. Either way they are serving it to people who have to hand over their walking sticks to free up a hand, so I think it’s safe to try. Kelly however seems scared of the stuff, so we abstain. She’s heard it can make you sick, but I’m sure beer can do that too. Nope. No go.

Day four in Vanuatu is our completely lazy day by the pool. We’re going to see a volcano tomorrow and I wanted to try and sort out some of our Chinese visa issues while we have wifi, so not much happens.

Early rise for our trip to Tanna, where the continuously erupting volcano Old Yasur (or old man) sits awaiting our visit.

As a jeep swung into our resort at 7:15, Kelly is never on time for anything, even more mystifying when she got up at 6. So as we trot over, tired and late, the driver swings past quibbling over where we were supposed to be picked up. It’s alright though as he then proceeds to tell us his life story, while we pick up the remaining guests and head to the domestic airport.

Tanna is another island out of 83 in this archipelago, so we need to fly. In the airport we’re weighed and distributed evenly in the teeny-tiny plane. Kelly and I are sat directly behind the pilot. I scan the ancient looking control panel and worry somewhat, suppressing the mild panic that this thing won’t come crashing to earth by remembering that this tour operates everyday.

We take off, and the noise is deafening next to the propellor but once in the air it’s a majestic sight of the clouds. I feel at ease in this little vehicle. As we come to land I even see a whale or some large sea creature spouting water as it breathes below. Thrilled, the day can only get better. Kelly seems quiet and reserved though, tired? Possibly scared of the flight, she’d spent most of it with her eyes closed, only waking as I squeezed my camera past her for a snap.

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We’re bundled into a Ute and driven down some pretty terrible roads to another cultural village. We’re again welcomed with the ceremonial warriors and then our guide explains all the traditions of their culture. From canoe building, medicine, cooking, weaving to the role of the chief and warriors. A fascinating look at their lifestyle, still in action. We then get to try some food, bananas and coconuts which aren’t very palatable, before watching and joining in with more dancing.

Then it’s onto the big one, the Old Yasur volcano. It’s a long drive, across the island, via the ‘road’. Our driver weaving left and right to avoid large pot holes but my head still manages to bang against the window every few minutes.

Once we enter a land with black sandy ground I knew we were nearby. A corner turned then it’s in view, billowing a stream of smoke from its peak. The jeeps tears across the sand dunes towards its goal. “This is cool” I think, the volcano would be cooler however.

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Once we reach a parking spot just below the summit we are encouraged by our two young guides to exit and walk up the remainder. Past a post box, probably the only one on an active volcano to complement the underwater one in Port Vila.

As we get near the mouth I can hear rumbling and dismiss this as wind. It’s not until we catch our first glimpse and the volcano erupts, spitting a cloud of smoke, ash and blackened lava, that I realise the rumble was the volcano itself, gurgling as it digests it’s lava lunch.

It’s daytime so the volcano sight won’t be as impressive as it could be. The lava is visible but not orange enough to glow in the sunlight. The night tour was booked out, unfortunately. Still I’m transfixed by this awesome power in front of us. Every few minutes an explosion thrusts smoke into the air, and the crack is deafening me into a realisation of insignificance.

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During the drive back it rains, and as we’d picked up a mother and child I volunteered to sit on the back outside with my rain coat on. The drive compared to sitting in the bumpy interior is so much better. Fun too. The wind rushes past and I hold on for dear life, occasionally letting go to wave at overspilling villages waving back. Everyone is off today as its a national election so the towns are full and socialising.

We make it back to White Grass airport, damaged during the last cyclone, having been next to the eye of the storm. Back on the plane and this time I’m excited about flying. It’s even better, this time up to 6000 feet, zipping along at 110 knots we punch through clouds where we’d previously avoided them. The little boy in me thinks of spitfires and aerial duels, and I’m loving it.

Back in the apartment Kelly falls asleep early as I watch Legend, the story of the Krays. It was a good day.

We wake up and discuss the impending issue of our Chinese visa again. I’d called the Perth visa office and they’d explained that by post it was difficult to expedite. Craig at STA also researched and delivered the news that we needed our passports for domestic flights.

Oh dear. As we left Vanuatu Kelly came up with the option of making our flight from Perth a day early to allow us to organise the visa in Singapore. Hopefully.

Happy that we had a plan we departed Vanuatu, 5 days wasn’t enough, but we’d had a good go at experiencing this magical island.

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