The sail to Tanna is the most unpleasant we’ve had so far with strong winds and messy chop hitting us from the side way too often. I am sea sick the whole time and, like Azur, between two bouts of retching, spend it devising a way to announce to the family I’d rather catch the next plane to Europe than carry on sailing around the world as intended. I am not warned when a humpback whale is jumping around the boat, Thomas and the kids know better than to wake me up and let me sleep to forget how miserable I feel, nor do I bother rising when we approach land, except when it is time to anchor in Port Resolution just past lunchtime, which was delayed til then.
As soon as we are still (or nearly, as we are barely sheltered from the 20+ knots winds in this bay that is too shallow to be fully tucked in), we receive successive greetings from three out of the other five boats anchored in the bay. Each granting us their own piece of advice on the clearance procedure and local customs, informing us it will be hard to get hold of anyone today given a car rally has been drawing everyone out of the villages for the last few days, as well as warning us of strong Northerly winds due in a couple of days, making Port Resolution an unsuitable anchorage. Lovely. Freshly arrived and we’re already chased away by the the weather.
A blessing in disguise nevertheless. We had it so easy in Noumea, with our established routine of school pick-ups and drop-offs, catch-ups with friends, and visits to the public library, bakeries, and dancing bars, stuffing ourselves on french graphic novels, baguettes, and SBK, that we somehow lost track of time. And when we revisit our schedule, it dooms on us that to pass the Torres straight by end of September, we’d better hurry up. So our trip to Vanuatu must be a quick in and out before heading westwards again. After a family referendum on multiple itineraries, we discard the Solomon Islands as island hopping, though appealing, would prove too inefficient (and costly) in our race against time and opt to head straight to Thursday Island from Luganville, the Northernmost clearance port of Vanuatu.
After a good lunch and a rest, Thomas and I go ashore and are welcomed by the chief, Johnson, who speaks eight languages, including French without a trace of an accent (I am ashamed by my kids’ in comparison!). He explains to us that his grand-father was the first of the island to study in Paris and since then, the chief’s lineage, his father and then him were sent to a French school. His brother Stanley, in charge of coordinating with the officials is off to the rally and we’ll probably have to wait til Monday to clear in. A bit touch-and-go with the Northerly winds coming but what can we do…
On Saturday morning, luck is on our side when we’re advised Immigration and Biosecurity officials are on their way from Lenakel for clearance, which we expedite a couple of hours later at the “Yacht club” (an open-wall makeshift building which has seen better days, only recognisable by the garlands of international courtesy flags and various yacht rallies banners ornamenting its ceiling). Total paid: 17,800VT, about $250 NZD. 5,000VT for biosecurity + 4,800VT for immigration + 3,000 VT for fuel from Lenakel + 5,000VT extra for Customs, although dealt with later at Port Vila, for clearing in Port Resolution which isn’t an official port of entry.
That leaves one mission to fulfill in Tanna before buggering off: paying our tribute to Mount Yasur, the active volcano which puts on a show every night, spitting out luminescent ambers with frightening roars. According to boat #3, we have two options: the official one, organising the tour via Stanley (for 10,500 Vt/adult and 7,000 Vt/child including transport by jeep to the bottom of the summit, or nearly $500 NZD for the whole family) or the unofficial one, going to the next village and ask Donovan to take us there by foot via a 2-hour shortcut track (for 2,900 Vt/pers). Our finances dictate that we choose the latter, as after the biosecurity, immigration and official transport fees paid to the authorities, the amount I had exchanged in Noumea has dropped below an official family trip to the volcano fare and there is no ATM in the vicinity, which would, quite frankly, look absolutely anachronistic in the villages of traditional huts. By the way, I hear people still believe in magic in this country, and I reckon you can’t blame them since the environment they live in is the exact image we have of a magical world as described in fantasy books, where invading nature makes us feel like insignificant puppets subject to its every whim.
So we go ashore once more, wandering along the coast, looking for that Donovan. But he too has gone to watch the rally and as the afternoon draws to an end and we see our chances of a volcano sunset excursion melt like ice in tropical sun, we decide to try to tag along the official trip organised by fellow yachties, offering the money we’ve got left (or 25% less than priced). It takes a bit of time to convince both the driver and the volcano entrance officers (all coordinated by Stanley over the phone as the jeep is ready to leave) but we finally strike a deal, and off we jump at the back of the pick-up for a fun ride along the unsealed bumpy road leading to Mount Yasur.
I am later told (by one of the other yachties) that bargaining is not part of the Ni-Vanuatu culture and that what we did was very offending. If that’s the case I apologise to all parties concerned as we did that not out of malice but in good faith, our only other options being not go to Mt Yasur at all, or leave one of us behind, which I had considered. But the tour organisers wouldn’t have been better off either way.
When we finally arrive at the volcano, it is dark, windy, dusty, and bare, big grey clouds of ashes form regularly above the summit, and a garlands of white headlights can be seen on the ridge, from earlier visitors making their way down. The climb up is straight forward but it is so windy that most of the time we have to close our eyes or turn our heads to the side to avoid the sand storm. It’s not until we get to the lookout that we get the full sensory experience, with the roaring, the clouds of abrasive ashes being blown by the volcano forcing us to turn our back to the crater, and the explosions of red ambers projected upwards in randomly timed fireworks. Azur is scared and begs to go down, repeating that he is too young to die. Only our guide seems unimpressed, eager to wait always a little longer to get a big finale that never comes, before heading down.
The ride back to the village is another highlight of this tour as, when our guide disembarks at the park entrance, we trade him for ten ni-Vanuatu of all ages who join us at the back of the jeep. They watched the rally in the afternoon and need a ride home, which has either been pre-arranged with the driver or is customary. We chat for a bit with a french-speaking lady and end up singing songs in Maori, English, French (she starts a round with different lyrics but on an air I know so I join in) and Fijian (she joins on Isa Lei which she’s been taught by Fijian visitors she received pre-Covid). Back at the boat, we snack on raw fish salad prepared earlier in the afternoon and breakfast crackers, exhausted but satisfied by a day and money well spent.