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Date: 16 Oct 2012 00:44:51
Title: Journey to the centre of the Earth!

Lat 16:19.82S
Lon 168:02.11E

We rose early in the morning, ready for our hike up Mt Marum, but unfortunately Jem was sick and had spent most of the night in the bathroom! She decided to stay on the boat which turned out to be the right call as the walk was pretty tough, but it was a real shame that she couldn't join us, as this was the reason we'd put in all the sailing miles over the last few days! Still, the three of us headed off, left the dinghy on the beach and met up with Ben and Tapit, who spoke a little English but were not exactly chatty! We walked back to Lalinda and picked up 3 of Ben's dogs, and continued through the village and then away from the coast and into the jungle. There was an old vehicle track that we followed for about half an hour before the track became single file. The jungle was thick and we were glad of the shade as we followed an old river bed, and then began climbing up a ridge, along another river bed and then up another ridge. We thread our way through wild kava plants, giant taro, palm trees, vines and towering tree ferns with faces carved into the trunks (known as tam-tams).

Making our way through the jungle

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A tam-tam

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Ben leading the way up an old stream, littered with dead palm leaves

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After 2 hours we caught a view of the coast and realised how high we'd climbed. The going was tough, especially considering we'd been chilling on a yacht for 7 months and weren't exactly in finest form! Still, with Archie's homemade flapjacks and a couple of razor sharp machete's to cut down stray palm fronds across the path, after another hour we finally burst onto the ash plain. And 30 knots of wind. Suddenly our landscape had completely changed. From green, dense jungle, we were suddenly faced with a never-ending plain of dark brown ash and sand. The two volcanoes loomed to the left, covered in cloud and smoke, and another mountain 1000m high was to our right. Between us and the volcanoes was a vast desert of ash, sculpted by lava flow and water into mini mountains and canyons. It was incredible. It felt like we'd landed on the moon, albeit with a little more gravity, and the stories of Mordor in Lord of the Rings came to life.

Mt Benbow across the ash plain

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The ash plain

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For another hour and a half we made our way across the ash plain, towards the dark clouds above Mt Marum. We reached the lava flow which was similar to what we'd seen on Isabella in the Galapagos - sharp rock sculpted into all kings of crazy shapes before it solidified from it's molten state. Ben told us we were approaching the first vent - "the small one". We could see steam and smoke rising from a hole in the distance and as we got nearer, suddenly we were on the edge of a massive hole in the ground. We all caught our breath and cursed. Let me remind you that this is Vanuatu - there are no health and safety standards, no warning signs, no fences or rails, and certainly no waiver forms! We were standing right on the edge of a large crater, all sides dropping away vertically into the depths. We couldn't see the bottom, only the smoke and steam rising from below. It was amazingly raw, and pretty scary being so close to the edge, especially as a slight tremor in the earth could pull the very earth we were standing on into the crater! We didn't hang around too long, and avoided the area that had a massive crack around it!

The small vent

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Archie crossing the lava flow

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Another 30 minute walk amongst the mountains of ash and we were walking up a ridge of Mt Marum, up to the main crater. It wasn't long before we could hear the hissing and banging to our left. We traversed across a steep side of the crater, and emerged onto the top of the rim. Huge amounts of cloud and mist were circling above and within an enormous crater. We couldn't see the other side of the crater - it was that big! The guides kept standing close to the edge and peering over. I wasn't really sure what they were looking for - this was it wasn't it? Suddenly Ben shouted 'lava!' and we moved back to where he was positioned. Carefully we stood as close to the edge as we could to allow us to peer down and see the bottom. None of us was expecting what we saw. Beneath us, probably close to a kilometre straight down, inside the vertically descending walls of the crater, was a large area of red hot molten magma, thrusting and booming and exploding at mind boggling speeds. Imagine the roughest ocean you've ever seen, imagine it is contained by walls meaning it bounces off the sides and generates huge explosions of liquid in the middle, and now imagine that rather than water, it is molten magma from the centre of the earth, burning and convecting at temperatures over 1000 degrees celsius! It was awesome in the truest sense of the word. The forces and power within the magma pool were incredible. We really were looking into the Earth's angry, burning core, all the while perched on the top of the the rim, only a metre away from the vertical drop into the crater! It was one of the most amazing visual experiences I have ever seen. While perched on the edge we felt like we were on borrowed time. It was a certainty that eventually the earth we were standing on would collapse and fall into the crater. If the world decided your time was up, it would just crumble and swallow you up. In 1995 a Frenchman fell to his death from the edge, and a few years ago a man from Hong Kong fell from the edge but somehow didn't fall all the way down and was rescued with a rope in some kind of modern day miracle. Funnily enough those events must have failed to be mentioned to the writer of the Lonely Planet guidebook! (not that it would have stopped us!) Unfortunately the photos don't do it justice at all. The video is better but it's one of those things where you really have to see it with your own eyes, and not even the 60D could capture the magnitude of it all.

Tapit - on the edge


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Archie and Ewan as close as they dare

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What lies beneath - the red pool of molten magma, approx 1km down from where we were standing

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Burning at over 1000 degrees C!

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We ate our lunch and after 90 minutes, made our way back across the back of the crater, down the ridge of the volcano and back across the ash plain to the jungle. It was 5 hours up and 4.5 hrs down so by the time we got back to the boat it was nearly dark and we'd been gone for 11 hours! We were knackered, and filthy, covered in ash, but we'd seen something we'll never see again and we'll certainly never forget.

Survivors!

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Descending down the ridge onto the ash plain - the first vent is top right

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As we walked back to Port Vato, we bumped into a group of local boys, who took great pleasure in letting us pass them and then marching behind us. We were walking pretty fast, looking forward to getting back to the boat, and they mimicked us as we marched along, all the way back to the beach! They loved having their picture taken and even helped us get the dinghy back into the water. It's great being a novelty around here!

Arriving back into Port Vato - a little late

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The local boys posing for their picture

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