Ups and Downs...
Trip Start Jun 08, 2009
7Trip End Sep 24, 2009
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This leg of the trip didn't start off particularly promisingly - the 'capital' island, 'Efate, I found to be rather soulless, drab and overrun with traffic and tourists. I spent a pleasant enough couple of days there, and enjoyed an incredibly good steak on my last night, but I didn't shed much of a tear when I flew southwards to the island of Tanna.
This was more like it - an island dominated by the volcanic Mt Yasur and whose landing strip is so close to the coast that a stiff gust of wind would mean a rather wet landing. My accommodation was two hours away from the airport, along unsealed roads that were more than a little worse for wear after recent heavy rains (and which I doubt were particularly good to begin with) and my hosts turned out to be a french couple who spoke next to no english. To make matters more interesting, I was the only person at the resort and my rustic little chalet was visited nightly by various island denizens, from geckos to Polynesian rats. All these niggles were overcome however - my GCSE french just about got me through the language barrier, I took a cushion on all subsequent car journeys, and I'd spent a month in similar huts in Indonesia so was almost used to the night-time scuttlings I could hear. In any case, the sights more than made up for it. My first morning was spent at the aptly named Sharks Bay, watching reef sharks (and a green turtle, who understandably didn't hang around too long) from the safety of the top of a cliff. This was my first experience of seeing sharks in their natural environment, i.e. not in an aquarium, and it was hard to drag my self away. However, the day was wearing on and I had a date that evening with a volcano.
Mt Yasur is one of the worlds most accessible volcanoes and is Tanna's major attraction. The walk from bottom to top takes about half an hour, or if you're lazy and drive up you can get to within around 100m of the rim. We reached the summit just as the sun was starting to go down and all through the short trek I'd been listening with a healthy mixture of fear and excitement to the loud booms rolling down from above me. I was a few strides from the lip when I got my first real taste of the volcano's power. There was an earth-shaking roar and an arc of rocks, glowing red, appeared in the sky and fell to earth like boulder-sized hailstones. But even this couldn't prepare me for the fireworks that followed. Sitting on the volcano's edge, I could see down into the crater and the boiling pools of magma that lay at the bottom, casting a deep red glow on the clouds of smoke and ash above. Every few minutes, with a noise like a thunderclap, a fountain of fire would shoot hundreds of feet into the sky, molten lava erupting upwards and outwards and crashing downwards - a burning two-finger salute to any man-made roman candle.
The next day was taken up with a trek through the jungle of the interior, to Imayo Waterfall, falling 50ft into a stunning emerald green pool. However, what I didn't realise as I laced my walking boots up, was that the vast majority of the 6 hour round trip would be spent wading through the river. Whether or not boots are waterproof is rather a moot point when you're submerged up to your waist...
They were still fairly damp, though wrapped in more than a few layers of plastic, as I jetted off to Espiritu Santo, the third of my Vanuatan islands. I've been diving for a number of years, but until a few days ago I'd never done a wreck dive. So I thought I'd start with a good one and I don't think I'll ever forget my first glimpse of her bow appearing out of the gloom. The SS President Coolidge was a cruise liner turned troop carrier in World War Two, which sank after hitting a firendly mine in 1942. At around 200m long she's over 2/3 the size of the Titanic and, despite being comandeered to aid the war effort, still retained many of her luxury trappings. The holds may be full of jeeps and trucks and artillery pieces, and the area around the wreck littered with rifles, gas masks and other military hardware, but chandeliers and bone china can still be found in the first class dining saloon. This once-lavish room is also home to The Lady, the jewel of the Coolidge, a metre high statue of a woman and a unicorn which is in remarkably good condition for having spent over 60 years underwater. Swimming through the empty ship, up lift shafts or down stairways, was an eerie but intoxicating experience - every junction reached meant a corridor and its rooms unexplored. Unfortunately my few days had to come to an end and, with a last longing look towards its resting place and a vow to return, I boarded the first of 4 planes to take me to Samoa.