The eye of Cyclone Pam sat on top of the island of Tanna in Vanuatu for quite awhile. It is a small island with the active volcano Mt. Yasur as its main attraction. They also grow coffee on this island and package it as Tanna Coffee. We were here last year for about five days and went to the volcano then and it was a once in a lifetime experience....so we decided to make it a twice in a lifetime experience. We sailed, slowly, from Aneityum to Tanna on Monday morning leaving Itchepthav Bay on the northern part of Aneityum. Before leaving on Sunday, Michael went ashore with the "Mawari" crew and met a women named Fiona. She lost everything in Cyclone Pam, her home and all the goods inside it. The water washed it away. Yet, here was a woman perfectly content and happy and talked about simply rebuilding it all (though higher up the hill "we learned our lesson.") Sue from Mawari gave her some popcorn for the kids and she insisted on giving them some fresh green peppers from her garden. They trek from their home one and half hours to get to their garden each weekend. The people here continue to amaze us.
Here in Tanna we made arrangements to take the trip up to the volcano – and ended up in a pickup with a total of nine people! It was a bit crowded. The road last year was death defying – and since Cyclone Pam – it certainly has not improved. In fact, after entering the volcano "park." the road got even worse. It was simply amazing that any vehicle could make it up some of the steep inclines filled with deep potholes – some big enough to swallow an entire truck! Our driver, Darren, did a great job and was much more cautious than last year's Mario Andretti! Talking to Darren, he told us the road was impassable until they (the villagers) cleared it of all the downed trees. They did it all without the aid of a chainsaw – using only bush knives to get the trees cut and human power to move them out of the way.
The volcano was incredible under a full moon. It added to the eerie landscape giving it an otherwordlly light. The volcano was slightly less explosive than last year – but still amazing. It is hard to believe there is a place where you can stand right on the edge of an active volcano that spews lava bombs that are glowing red. Michael went to one edge to get a view and one of the larger explosions of the night, sent a hurling, glowing lava glob at him, landing merely 120 yards away. Eeek. The noise and vibrations that the mountain makes as it hisses gasses and spews lava is something that is very hard to describe. You really feel the power of this natural wonder.
Before our volcano adventure, we had a good walk through several villages to the long white sand beach. Last year, there was a small restarant along the waterfront that has been destroyed. Many of the large trees and palms also along the water are torn apart. The crashing waves and beautiful white sand and blue water remain – but we can only imagine how terrifying a category five storm was in this area. As we hear Cyclone Pam stories, it is amazing that only two people died in this area after seeing the mass destruction. Most of the villagers were together in a community building and a school building. They left the safety of those structures to see their homes and villages nearly wiped out.
Yet they remain hard working, positive and very friendly. Lots of laugter remains part of the ni-Vans (native Vanuatu people) life. We can all learn a lot about life from them.
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