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Date: 08 Oct 2012 23:18:35
Title: Tanna - Ring of fire!

Lat 19:31.41S
Lon 169:29.87E

Our first week in Vanuatu has been awesome. Tanna has been a highlight of our whole trip. We have done so much in just 5 days that I don't really know where to begin!

Our reading of the guidebook to Vanuatu, hadn't really led me to believe that this country was any less developed than Tonga or Fiji, but on arrival into the village at Port Resolution, it became clear that this is certainly the least developed place we have visited on this trip. Houses are made from wooden poles, bamboo, and the roofs are made from woven palm fronds. Everyone is dirty and most of the kids don't seem to own a full set of clothes. No one wears shoes, the men fish in the bay from outrigger canoes, and all other food is grown in the village.Tourism here is still on a very small scale, with most people flying in and out to see the volcano. Children in the local villages stared at us out of bewilderment, before managing a shy smile or a quick wave before running away. There are no shouts of 'Pelangi, Pelangi' here! Women are second class citizens, and are not allowed to drink kava, or even watch it being prepared. Lucky me! The village at Port Resolution (not a port at all, just a pretty bay where we anchored) was home to Stanley, Wherry and Johnson; the acting chief. Stanley and Wherry have set up a little 'yacht club' (hut with some flags in it) and they use the two trucks belonging to the village to ferry the yachties across the island for check in formalities, volcano trips and anything else that we needed.

The village at Port Resolution

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Local kids in the village

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We took the truck across the island on Wednesday to check in with immigration and customs. It's a 2 hour drive across the island, along terrible roads, across the ash plain from the volcano, over the mountains and down to the coast on the other side. It was aweome fun driving across the ash plain and past the base of the volcano, and we got some amazing views of the island from the top of the pass. The town was little more than a market under a tree and a small strip of small food stores, an internet cafe and a bank. Unfortunately the bank didn't have an ATM that accepted foreign cards, and neither could they give us a cash advance on a credit card! They would change currency but we only had US$60 which wasn't going to get us very far. We were also with Vim from Laissez Faire and an american guy called George with his crew Adi from Poland, on their boat Rio. All of us were in the same predicament - the only other chance of getting money was to go to a resort, so Stanley directed the driver and another hour later we had small amount of Vatu in our hands. We stocked up with a few fresh things from the market and headed back to Port Resolution. Jem and Ewan arrived a few hours later and managed to avoid staying in the bungalow they'd booked in case we were delayed! We cracked open the Clos and had a late night catching up on all the Bondi news which was great! Jem and Ewan had brought us a couple of bottles of Moet as a treat and we decided to pop one at the top of the volcano the next day.

Jem and Ewan in front of the anchorage at Port Resolution

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Mt Yasur seen from the ash plain

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The next day we walked through the village and over to the beach, where Archie managed to get in a quick kiting session before the rain set in. Again the kids came running down to the beach to watch him, having never seen a kite in the air before they seemed very excited, jumping up and down and screaming with delight! We decided we would walk up to the volcano, we all needed some exercise so arranged to be picked up later from the summit. It was a 3 hour walk once we'd stopped for some pouring rain and a quick (and rather awkward) visit to a 'steam cave' in a village on the way. After 2 hours we paid our entry fee at the gate and began the steep ascent to the top. It was pretty dark by this stage - it is much better to visit the volcano at night as the molten lava looks much more spectacular. We had aimed to get there for sunset but the rain had delayed us a little and it was already dark as we approached the summit. We could see a red glow above the summit, and then as we rose above the scrub to our left, a huge explosion ejected flying molten lava rocks into the black sky above the crater. It was amazing - like seeing 100 shooting stars at once. We oohed and ahead and watched as the glowing pieces of volcano slowly fell back to earth, as if in slow motion. Archie and I hung back to take some long exposure photos, while Jem and Ewan continued the last part of the climb to the top.

When we arrived 10 minutes later, Jem had a big grin on her face and said, "Guys we better open that champagne, we have something to celebrate!" Ewan had gotten two grubby knees at the top of the volcano and proposed! It was so exciting and such fantastic news! He popped the champagne cork into the volcano and we enjoyed our Moet in glamourous plastic beakers whilst watching the greatest fireworks show ever! The volcano was more amazing than we could have imagined, hissing and spitting, then a huge cracking noise, and a bang as an eruption of molten red hot rocks were flung from the depths into the sky above us, slowly diverging and falling back onto the sloping wall of the crater, where they rolled back into the earth. Every couple of minutes there would be another explosion. There were no fences, signs, marked paths. Just a couple of planks of wood on the ground to sit on and watch the show, and only us and another yacht crew up there. It was magical, exhilarating, and completely entrancing. We could have stayed up there for days, despite the wind and dust. It was a real highlight of our whole trip.

The orange glow above the crater - Ewan proposing somewhere up there at the top!

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Explosions of molten rock - the video is better!

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The crater rim with red hot rocks around the edge

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Another blast

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Moet in plastic beakers to celebrate!

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