Northbound from Tanna to Port Vila, Efate

Mike Share & Sammy Byron
Tue 28 Sep 2010 22:33
We are now on our way to Port Vila on Efate. There isn't much wind so we are motor-sailing along the east coast of Tanna and past Erromango. So far this afternoon we have caught 2 small-ish tuna (make that 3 as we just brought another in). The first one was on the way in when a shark hit it and there wasn't much left to salvage. We had it seared in sesame seeds as a snack, not 10 minutes after it had been swimming around!  
Tanna was really enjoyable - the locals are lovely (unless you piss them off!) and we love the place, far more than Fiji. There is so much to see and do and you feel you are actually seeing a real community that isn't catering to tourists at all. Port Resolution doesn't see many tourists, just the yachts that come through this time of year; it is a long way from the airport and there isn't a road as such. We had a great few days snorkelling ands exploring the numerous tracks throughthe dense jungle.
The next night we were scheduled to climb the volcano rim and check out the spouting magma and rocks at night. We were pretty excited and went ashore abt 4pm. Stanley (a local who has been helping us out) looked a bit sheepish so we assumed it had fallen through. He finally explained that there had been some problems at the village that controls the entrance to the volcano trail. There has been an ongoing land dispute between 2 people at neighbouring villages and this recently came to a head after a court case verified ownership to one local. The other local had got really pissed off and apparently kidnapped the land owners' son. The land owner found out about this, ran over to the next village, found his son, laid out the kidnapper (with no weapon) and whilst he was untying him, got set upon with a machete by the wanna be land owner who had come back around. He ended up dead. Apparently this sort of thing does not happen anymore so everyone was pretty shocked and upset, hence we weren't going anywhere near the place due to very likely retaliation fighting.
Slightly disappointed we walked up to Thomson's village through the jungle in pitch black. We got to the ceremonial clearing and I was invited to drink cava with the local men. It takes place at a 'nakamal' which corresponds to a mens clubhouse, it is often a shelter beneath a Banyan tree. The men and ONLY  men will meet here at sunset to talk and drink Kava under the tree, As Sammy & Emma were not allowed to join in they had to stay in the "village" (about 4 huts). They seemed to have fun teaching some of the local kids nursery rhymes. Not quit the evening we had planned but fun anyway.
We had to get across the island to Lenakel to check in on Monday and it was a real mission. We managed to get a 4x4 to pick us up and the route involved following river beds, crossing volcanic ash plains, driving over tree trunk bridges, up mountain tracks and finally down into the port. It's great to see the interior and it seems that much hasn't changed in hundred's of years, just very traditional (and poor) villages, very little traffic, everyone carrying machetes to cut their way through the jungle. The highlight was passing the volcano plain right at the base. It is like a moon landscape, just pure grey ash. 3 nutters from Oz were on motorbikes seeing how high up the sides they could get before they got bogged down in the ash and fell over! Looked great fun, especially when they turned and headed straight back down.
On the way back that afternoon we had to go through the village where the land owner had been killed the day previous. It was a pretty frightening scene as the funeral was taking place. Although we were only driving through we felt pretty uncomfortable being there as there were at least 200 men lining the roads looking very angry and all wielding machetes. (Oh did I mention that our 4x4 had picked up the killer's family on the way into Lenakel and dropped them somewhere safe? They will have to leave their village for at least a year or the son will most likely be killed in retaliation.....)
Anyhow, later that night it was deemed safe enough for us to go to the volcano and when we went back through the village the mood had lightened somewhat! In fact we recognised quite a few people we've met in various villages as they were all leaving the funeral and they were all really happy to see us. The same 4x4 took us up a kind of track which is completely washed away by the rains, it was an adventure in itself getting there with the 3 of us choosing to stand in the truck bed to enjoy the scenery.
 As we went higher we finally came out of the jungle and onto a mountain ridge completely covered in dried magma and ash. We followed the ridge up to a col and before climbing to the top you could already see burning rocks flying above the crater rim. It was an awesome sight, you can stand right on the rim edge, looking straight down into the vent. Huge black clouds of ash and steam bellowed out and the noise was frightening as hell. The whole earth seemed to rumble then it was like being in a thunder clap. Straight after the noise red hot lava rocks would start flying out of the caldera hundreds of metres above our heads like giant fireworks. Pretty scary stuff, especially when you hear the rocks hitting the sides and rolling back down inside. Apparently its safe and they do close it when its gets OTT. However its fairly disconcerting as you walk around as there are hundred's of massive lava bombs that have landed and solidified on the path and all down the outer sides; you would not want to be there when it starts to become unsafe! We stayed maybe 90 minutes and it was erupting maybe every 5 minutes or so. Absolutely incredible to see!
Today I borrowed a dug out outrigger canoe form Thomson, one of the locals and we paddled to a local village built by hot springs. I came back to the boat with a canoe half full of huge lemons that smell amazing. It was quite sad saying goodbye as the people here are so friendly but time is ticking and we want to get diving....