Sunday, May 17, 2015


The journey from Santo to our accommodation on the island of Tanna took essentially an entire day. We left Santo in the morning and had a 3 hour layover in Port Vila, the largest "city" in Vanuatu. Unfortunately flights do not go direct from Santo to Tanna, so it made for a long day of travel. Also, you would think that when flying domestically in a small country you would not need to get to the airport 2 hours before the flight time, however, we were told by both locals and travelers that you better be at the airport early because the plane will leave whenever it feels like leaving! We didn't have to show ID at the airport and there was no x-ray machine or security whatsoever for our domestic flights.
Boarding the flight to Tanna
Eventually we arrived on the island of Tanna to meet Morris, the owner of where we would spend the next 3 nights, Volcano Island Paradise Bungalows. Transport is expensive on Tanna but that is because it takes a long time to get to the other side of the island and petrol is not easy to access. The main attraction on Tanna is an active volcano, Mt Yasur, and it is a decent drive from the airport to get to the volcano.
Tanna's airport from the tarmac
Chaos inside the Tanna airport for baggage collection
We made a short stop in town for some bottled water and food, but most shops were closed because it was the weekend. The road was unpaved and extremely rough and hilly. We passed many Ni-Vans along the way in their villages and most everyone waved hello. Pigs and goats were roaming around near the "road". One of Morris's sons was in the back of the truck loving life, and often someone would hop in the truck to hitch a short ride. The road that officially put us on the east side of the island was insanely steep, and the road to get to the bungalows was even crazier. Eventually we were driving along ash plains right next to the volcano itself, which was amazing. 
Driver and passengers fixing up the road so that we could make it up the hill!
We arrived at the bungalows around 7pm (we left our accommodation in Santo around 9am that day), and Morris's wife, Susie, prepared a great dinner for us - fish, rice, and veggies along with the most amazing tasting pineapple for dessert. It was relatively dark at that point and we heard what we thought was thunder, however Morris quickly corrected us and explained that we were hearing the volcano! Eventually when it got a bit darker we could see red lava coming out of the volcano.
Our bungalow
Our bungalow was clean and cozy with a solar powered light. The cost was about $30AUD per night and our meals were also served to us for a reasonable rate (there is really no other way to eat meals other than to have someone cook for you as there is literally nothing around the volcano). The toilet is a long drop which was very clean but at the time Morris was also in the process of installing a flush toilet and a shower to accommodate Westerners! We fell asleep to the sounds of the erupting volcano that we would visit the next evening.
The new toilet Morris is installing
The current toilet that is very clean and not at all smelly!
When we woke up the next morning we were in awe of our view of the volcano. Our brekkie was quite simple, breakfast crackers with peanut butter and jam. We went for a swim after breakfast in a freshwater river about a 5 minute walk from the bungalows, where there was also a view of the volcano. It was very refreshing except for the occasional biting fly, so eventually we got tired of the flies and headed back to the bungalows.
Even with all of the ash around, beautiful things grow!
Another bungalow with a view of Mt Yasur. Note the solar panel for electricity.
Morris's youngest child
For lunch Susie cooked us local vegetables, rice, and noodles. We spent the afternoon relaxing and reading while listening to the volcano. We also made an attempt to try a time lapse video of Mt Yasur.

Mt Yasur from Ashley Hanson on Vimeo.
This view from the restaurant did not get old!
Around 3:30 we left the bunglows to walk to Mt Yasur with Morris's 10 year old son Janson as our guide. It took about 45 minutes to walk to the entrance, where we paid our entry fee, and then another 45 minute walk up to the base of the volcano rim. Most people seem to get a lift to the top but we quite enjoyed our walk even though we were the only tourists walking up there. 
Erik and Janson on a mission
You can even mail a letter from the top of the volcano!
Eventually we made it to the east side of the rim, where there was lots of smoke and many loud rumbles. Pieces of earth were flying in the air and we were very close to the action. After an hour or so, we moved to the south rim to get a closer look inside the volcano. Janson did not come with us, as he was a bit scared of the noise and of the volcano itself! It was very smokey on the south side and our lungs were occasionally filled with sulfur and ash. As it got darker, the views were more and more impressive.
Crazy smoke coming out of the volcano
Us with a little bit of action from Yasur in the background
This couple ended up with a better picture than us as the timing of the eruption was perfect!
Large pieces of earth in the air
Erik on the rim
There were about 30 people on the rim with us, and most were staying on the west side of the island, so they had a 2 hour drive to Mt Yasur to stay for an hour and then they drove back another 2 hours after dark. I was convinced we did the right thing to stay near the volcano. We were the last people to leave the rim and that was around 7pm. It was hard to leave such a magical place, and we knew that we may never get that close to an active volcano again. 

On the rim of Mt Yasur from Ashley Hanson on Vimeo.

We paid for transport back to the bungalows, which was a good idea because I'm not sure we could have easily made our way back in the dark. Dinner was waiting for us when we arrived.

The next day was a very special one, as Morris's youngest brother was getting married and we were invited to watch and participate in the ceremony. We walked to the center of the village around 8am, where we met the village chief and we were welcomed with open arms. One of the elder village women put ceremonial paint on my face simply by placing my cheek against hers and rolling our cheeks together. I was impressed!
One of the older women in the village
My paint came directly from her face!
All of the groom's family and village was there and we were just waiting for the bride, her family, and her village to walk to the ceremony. When the bride arrived she was crying, and her mother was sobbing loudly. There was a gift exchange between both villages, as women had worked hard to make many gifts. We watched as pigs were sacrificed by being beaten over the head with clubs, something we were totally not expecting to happen!

Children of Tanna from Ashley Hanson on Vimeo.

Morris's village presenting gifts to the bride's village
Erik also helped with the presentation of gifts!
This gift presentation took ages. All of the material that was unfolded to be put here was taken by the bride's village, who then proceeded to fold it all back up again!
Eventually the bride came over to sit with the women from the groom's village, and she seemed a bit happier.
The bride's face is in the left of the picture. The gifts from her village to Morris's are also seen.
At the end of the exchange there was some ceremonial dancing, whereby both villages took part. The gifts of food, including the pigs, were split between different families in the village. The bride would now stay in Morris's village for life. Sometimes there is a church ceremony as well but for this wedding this was the only ceremony, called a "kastom" ceremony.

Wedding celebratory dancing from Ashley Hanson on Vimeo.
Who knew that an FSU jersey could make its way to Vanuatu?!

Rain began to fall and lasted most of the afternoon. We were happy we had been able to see Yasur the evening before, as it would not have been the best weather to walk to the rim that night. That afternoon another group arrived, a British brother and sister, along with her two kids who were about 3 and 1. Morris's children loved playing with her children. She is an ex-pat living in Port Vila and her brother, Matt, lives in Brunei. They grew up in Singapore, so they were very interesting people to talk to about life and travel. 

That night Erik and Matt (the Brit) were invited to a local kava drinking ceremony. There were no women allowed, so this was very exclusive! The chief himself was chewing up and spitting out the kava that Erik was drinking, and it is considered quite special to drink kava from the mouth of a chief. That night the pig was roasted and kids were playing with "ashballs" instead of snowballs in the village.
Games of soccer were also played in the village, thanks to Matt who brought the ball.
We were up early on our 3rd day for brekkie and goodbyes. The truck was full of people on our way to the airport, including the bride's brother who was also heading to Port Vila. We made a quick stop at the market in Lenakel, where more things were open this time around.
We bought a fresh coconut here for 20 cents and had one of the market ladies cut it open with her knife.
Our arrival at the airport was early again, just to make sure the plane didn't leave without us. This flight was even more casual than our flight to Tanna, as we were given a piece of paper for a "boarding pass" and obviously did not show any identification. We were amazed at the things that were being carried on and checked on this plane...fruits and veggies from the market packed in banana leaves, knives, coconut crabs, and even live chickens!
Boarding passes, check! Tanna airport in the background.
A friend hanging out with us while we were waiting for our flight
Overall we loved our stay with Morris and Susie on the island of Tanna. Yasur was the highlight, but we also cherished the chance to be part of the village, and we were welcomed with open arms moreso than any other place we have traveled. The Ni-Vans truly want outsiders to see and experience their lifestyles, and all without ulterior motives. Tanna was hit hard by Cyclone Pam in early 2015, and unfortunately all 4 of Morris's bungalows were destroyed in the storm. I am told, however, that Morris has already re-built 2 of the bungalows, so I highly recommend staying with Morris and his family if you ever get the chance to visit Tanna!

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