Saturday, August 17, 2019

Tanna Island, Vanuatu

[Kyle]Even though Port Resolution is not a recognized Port of Entry for Vanuatu, we had applied for and received special permission to clear in there. Since we were a day earlier than the date we had sent on our Advance Notice of Arrival, we figured we would fly or Q flag, take an easy day aboard, and go ashore to meet the officials the next morning when they arrived from Tanna’s main town of Lenakel.

Port Resolution turned out to be a bit busier than we had expected. There were already five other boats there. Two of them were also flying Q flags. Listening to the radio chatter, it became clear that Customs and Immigration were on the way. Since one of the conditions of clearing into Port Resolution was that boats arriving would split the cost of transporting the officials, we made hasty plans to go ashore and present ourselves. As a bonus, Muse arrived and agreed to go clear in as well.

Customs was there, but Immigration was on the way in a different vehicle. Are you telling me they couldn’t come in the same truck?

Anyway, the guy was really nice. He cleared all of the boats in quickly and did me the favor of not asking me to row him to Begonia so he could ransack her for possible contraband. After waiting another hour or so for Immigration, The Customs man said he had just received a text from Immigration saying that no one was coming. We would have to take the two-hour truck ride to Lenakel tomorrow.

Ugh! The whole point of going to the trouble to obtain the special permission to clear in at Port Resolution was so we wouldn’t have to spend a whole day going through the whole Lenakel kerfuffle.

The Customs guy gave us our cruising permit and said we were legal to go ashore now, even without seeing Immigration. Our next order of business was going to be finding Stanley and arranging transport into town.

Stanley is the Tour and Transportation Manager for the Port Resolution Yacht Club. When I say Yacht Club, I mean “Yacht Club”. In place of fine dining under chandeliers, the PRYC is an unassuming place to sit out of the rain under a thatched roof and otherwise open to the elements. Stanley is equally unassuming. We were directed to the village, where we were told to ask around for him. After being pointed this way and that by several people, we came across a bunch of shirtless men standing and laughing in the road. When I said I was looking for Stanley, they all started pointing to each other. Eventually, the guy in bright red basketball shorts admitted that he was the Stanley I was seeking.

Phil (from Muse) and I told him about our need to go to Lenakel to deal with Immigration. Stanley said, “No Problem.” He could take us at 7:00.

”Uh, Is there any chance we could make that a little later?” I was thinking 9:00 or 10:00. 7;00 is basically sunrise. I really needed a lie in.

”No Problem. We will go at 7:15.”

After a bit of back and forth, he explained that he needed to have the truck back in time to drive people to Mt Yasur, Tanna’s volcano, for tours. Back up the time required for the return trip to Lenakel and some time spent running errands there and we pretty much should leave it no later than 7:15. After a little consideration, I decided I was a little worried about having enough time in town, so we settled back on a 7:00 departure. Ouch.

In the meantime, we had a stroll around the village and met some of our first Ni-Vanuatu, as the locals call themselves. The village was a postcard of communal bliss and everybody we met was smiling and friendly. Kids and adults alike sat out chatting and laughing with their friends. Kids played volleyball with soccer balls and soccer with volleyballs (Wilson!!!). Younger kids played with a popular toy I call Wheel and Stick. Everybody seemed like they were leading lives free of the stresses of the busier world at large.

The village at Port Resolution and the two others nearby are all beautiful. Most houses are made with bamboo walls and thatched roofs instead of rusty corrugated tin. A few of them even had solar panels, that is to say a portable cell-phone charger laid on top of the thatch. Vanuatu has banned most single-use plastics and so there is almost no litter present. Most of the villagers we talked to are very conscientious about plastic and make a real effort to avoid using it if at all possible. So far, Vanuatu is very pretty.

Village scenes around Port Resolution
Life is simple, folks have plenty of spare time, kids are a priority
The statue is carved from fern trunks and depict a revered ancestor

The next morning, as we were all getting ready to pile into the back of a pickup for the ride to Lenakel, we got word that Immigration was on the way. This changed everything. Now we didn’t have to go to Lenakel. Except that we did. We needed a little more local cash than we had brought, so we needed to go anyway. Then we decided to add SIM cards and a few veggies to our list, so now we were making a whole day of it. When it came time to load up, it quickly became clear that there were more of yachties than space. Since the fare was per person, we decided just Maryanne would go while I stayed behind and did unpleasant boat things which I had so far managed to avoid.

There was still not enough space, so Maryanne offered to run errands for several of the other boats. Soon, she was bristling with lists and carefully separated piles of cash to exchange. It was decided she would go into Lenakel with Immigration, then find space for the trip back in the regular truck.

Immigration arrived and stamped our passports and those of a few others, including Muse’s. Then Maryanne was whisked off, leaving us all behind.

Phil and I decided to ease into our boat jobs with an exploratory walk to a nearby black sand beach. We didn’t find it. We ended up on a white sand beach where we were able to walk along and have a long chat about manly things like transmission seals and electrical connectors, not at all about our feelings or what the other boat husbands have been up to.

Maryanne arrived. She got lucky and got a much more comfortable seat inside the cab of the truck. She was greeted as a returning hero as she doled out SIM cards and multi-colored wads of Vatu, the local currency.

Maryanne gets her first view of Mt Yasur and the ash plains on route to the main town of Lenakel

Plenty of fresh fruit and veg available in town

The forecast was for low clouds and intermittent rain for the next couple of days. We agreed with Stanley to hold off on the volcano tour for the time being and just focus on wandering around the local area.

We wandered through the villages and along the beaches and spent some time between showers visiting other boats. We ended up at the center of a collision between two rallies going in opposite directions. Boats were arriving in twos and threes every few hours. By the evening of our third day, there were twenty-three boats anchored in Port Resolution. On one of our long walks with Muse, we were looking down on the bay from above and Phil remarked that we looked like an invasion fleet.

We ended up at the village on the far side of the bay, where we met a bunch of Ni-Vanuatu on the beach. This village is nearest to Mt Yasur and is at the end of a line of hot springs emanating from the volcano. We were met by a woman there who introduced herself as Fina and offered to arrange a hike up the cliffs behind to see some steam vents and some bubbling mud for 1,000Vatu (~$9). Yes, please! She fetched her teenage son Jackson, and introduced him as our guide.

Visiting the vents and springs to the NW of anchorage
Our Guide Jackson and his Mother and little brother

Before we left, though we asked to see the hot spring on the beach that uncovers at low tide. It was surrounded by a group of villagers who were busy cooking their lunches in the hot water. Fina plucked a sweet potato out of the pool with a stick and handed it to us (Hot potato! Hot potato!!) . Delicious! There was also corn and taro bubbling away in there. What a convenient way to save on firewood. As the tide comes in, the scraps wash away to feed the fish and cool water mixes with hot to make for a nice, warm place for a soak.

After our steaming hot sweet potato, Jackson led us up the hill on a path that took us to the aforementioned geothermal features and which also provided us with a good view of the invasion fleet. It really did seem like we were overwhelming the local population as if collectively we had turned it into Cruise Ship Day.

Plenty of fun around the anchorage and village
Local kids always at the ready to help us launch our dinghy

The fun wasn’t over. When the weather cleared, we signed up for tours to Mt. Yasur with the backlog of all of the others who had been waiting. This included guests in the Tanna’s few lodgings.

Maryanne, being cheeky like she is, managed to score us and Muse an extra side trip to the volcanic ash plain along the way. The road to Lanekel passes over it, but not until after the turnoff for the road to the rim. She had been raving about it since her trip to Lenakel and wanted to make sure the rest of us got to see it.

Yasur volcano's ash plain

Despite arriving early - the waiting was fun!

We were the first to be dropped at the Visitor’s Center, where we ended up having an hour to play around on their tightropes and tree swings before the throngs arrived in time for the cultural show (dancing). Then we were herded into the backs of several pickups like so much cattle and then driven to market. Ahem, I mean the trail to the rim. Moo.

Traditional dance was performed once all the tourists had arrived

It was just before sunset when we crested the rim and got to see the bubbling pool of lava far below. Occasionally there would be a boom and a big spray of lava would burst upwards. Clouds of smoke sporadically came our way. The smell wasn’t as sulfurous as I we had experienced at other volcanoes with white sulfur dioxide gas. Mt Yasur’s smoke clouds were gray. We quickly discovered they were composed mostly of ash. The ash is formed by aerosolized lava that solidifies in flight. What we ended up with at our level was a whole lot of fine falling sand. Ow! We quickly learned to keep our eyes shut when the clouds approach.

The volcano in action - best seen after dark
This is what brings most tourists to Tanna

On a couple of occasions, the explosions were large enough that we could see waves of lava surf breaking on the banks at the edge of the lava pool. One was big enough that a fraction of a second after hearing the boom, we were hit with a shock wave that threw everybody back half an inch. That instantly stopped the festive atmosphere of the visit and had us all looking to our guides to see if they would start yelling at us to evacuate. They seemed unflustered, so we all slowly went back to watching the spectacle and trying to photograph the display in the fading light.

On the way down, I was really glad that Maryanne had packed headlamps for us to use. We had become avid headlamp users after climbing Stromboli and Maryanne knew we would need them for the descent. There was no moon and only a few of the guides had weak flashlights. A lot of people were trying to pick their way down using the flashlights on their phones. We knew they had probably run their batteries taking photos and video, so didn’t have much time left. We and the other dozen or so with headlamps ended up spreading out to try to light a path for the others to follow. I’m glad she brought them. It would have been tough to find our way down a black mountain at night with no lights.

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