5-28 Mommy came to visit – Part 1

Greeting my mom, Vanuatu style

The latest in a series of visitors, my mother has now come to see what life is like here. She ended up arriving on Mothers’ Day, which was very appropriate. On Sunday, I was able to meet her at the airport in Vanuatu style with a salu-salu (lei) and a green coconut. I also convinced a couple of the other volunteers to come with me. It turned out that another volunteer had a friend coming on the same flight so there were plenty of us as a welcoming party!

After collecting my mother, we made our way back to the Peace Corps office. We did some introductions and sorted out our stuff. Due to jet-lag, we took it slow the rest of Sunday and Monday. There were a few errands to run, flights to pay for, etc. There was also plenty of hand shaking. Any time family comes to visit, the staff is very keen to meet them.
Tuesday morning we got up bright and early to head down to Tanna. Check-in started at 6 but there wasn’t anyone in the terminal at all when we got there. This is typical of Vanuatu. We ended up standing outside and chatting with an Aussie couple until they opened up the check-in. Morning flights to Tanna are generally on the ATR (big plane- its got 65 seats). Air Vanuatu puts quite a bit of effort into making this a “real” flight experience. There are two stewardesses and a drink service. Did I mention that the flight is 35 minutes? Not worth it if you ask me but they like to show off for tourists, I guess. After landing, we waited in “baggage claim” which was WAY too small for the number of people in there. After finding our bags and the truck to the bungalow we made a quick stop to pick up another PCV before heading across the island to the volcano side.
The puppy had a dance party. Rose was skeptical.
The west side of Tanna has pretty good roads for Vanuatu. As soon as you get to the top of the mountain range crossing the island, however, that changes. They’re doing a massive project to improve the crossing but the first half won’t be finished until June and I’m not sure how quickly the second half will get done after that. My mother got to experience just how bouncy island roads can be. She was not impressed. More impressive, however, was the view which included Mt Yasur. We stopped for pictures.
Volcanoes in the tropics offer a sharp contrast. As you’re driving along, you pass lush jungle, lush jungle, lush jungle, desolation, lush jungle, lush jungle… It is one of the most interesting things about them. The driver was dropping a relation of his off at a village, so we got out and wandered around part of the ash plain for a bit. Smaller than Mordor but I definitely got a feeling for what that would be like.
Once we finally got to the bungalow, we dropped our stuff off and promptly turned around to walk to another PCV’s village. I had never been there and was unaware of just how far it was. It was not a ridiculously strenuous hike but it was definitely not a walk in the park. We got there while Jake was in a meeting so we waited at his house and storied with each other as well as a few ni-Vans who wandered by. Jake came home and we met the litter of puppies living under his house. The puppies are adorable, if a little mangy. Eventually we found a couple youngfala to chew us kava so that we could drink a shell before walking back to the bungalow ahead of night fall. Yes, on Tanna, the kava is chewed, generally by young men. It doesn’t taste too bad but is not the most hygienic.
Womens’ kastom dance
Wednesday morning, we went to a kastom womens’ dance. It was a half-hour walk out to the village where they were doing the dance. When we got there, they apologized for having few people but apparently a number had already gone to the garden when they hit the tam tam drum. It seemed a perfectly fine dance to us. Afterwards we gave the kids lollies and got the language word for thank you to tell them. Then it was back to the bungalow. I chatted with our guide (who was the daughter of the bungalow’s owner) along the way. It’s always fun to surprise people by being able to speak Bislama. They’re so eager to story with us.
We spent the rest of the day hanging out around the bungalow, reading our respective books. It works out well that my mom and I both really enjoy relaxing with a book. It also worked out very well throughout the trip that she eats small portions. Most of the places we stayed served a basic plate of rice, veggies, and meat. Not much choice but tasty. My mother would eat about half of her plate and I’d get a plate and a half!
After a relaxing day, we went up to the volcano that evening. We decided to walk up rather than trying to get a truck. It took about an hour which was fortunately up a fairly gradual slope. Walking up let us really examine the transition in the ground as we got closer to the volcano. It was very cool. We started finding more ash, then a few places where the ground was smoking, then finally the end of green as we got right up to the rim. We arrived with plenty of daylight left and not many people there. It is possible to walk around most of the rim of the volcano, depending on how strong and in what direction the wind is blowing. One side is a bit steeper and had more ash being blown towards it. We spent some time trying to get good pictures of the explosions and I went around to both sides. As it got darker, more tourists arrived and the explosions got more impressive. We managed to get the obligatory explosion-in-the-background-portrait photograph. Eventually, we decided to start walking down. After a while, the trucks started to catch up and one was nice enough to give us a lift to the bottom.
Thursday morning we made the trip back to the west side and checked into a guest house just outside of Lenekal. There are three “towns” in Vanuatu. Port Vila is the capitol and the biggest. Luganville is the main town on Santo. It is much quieter but still very well built up and stocked with things. Lenekal is referred to as “black man town”. It’s A LOT more rural. Plenty of people but no big concrete buildings and very few stores (all small shops.) Ship captains refuse to dock at their wharf because it is poorly positioned and two ships have sunk while docked. The ships bring in, or in this case don’t bring in, supplies, which leads to small and poorly stocked shops.
Volcanoes are AWESOME
We were originally scheduled to fly out Friday afternoon but decided to switch to the morning flight. There wasn’t much we wanted to do in Lenekal and I had found out about an Information and Communication Technology day back in Vila. Switching flights here is incredibly easy, you can do it over the phone in 5 minutes and there is no fee. It’s a good thing we ended up checking in early because there were plane issues and we ended up on an 8-seater. Not everyone who was booked on the flight was able to actually get on. We were joined by a group of New Caledonians who were very nervous about the plane (but in a laughing, upbeat way) and a ni-Van who joined me in laughing at/with them for it.

8-27 My Mommy Came to Visit; Part 4, Things that go BOOM!

Mount Yasur

We got to Tanna in the rain. The east side of the islands tend to get a lot of rain as it comes across the Pacific. Tanna is no exception. Jake’s site is worse than most, because the clouds get stuck on the peak of the mountains and just hang out over his house. Tanna is also much, much cooler than Pentecost. I spent most of the time wishing for another layer of clothing, something I never thought would happen in Vanuatu.

Footprints in the ash
Our first day there, we just sort of hung out. We were both tired from all the travel and Jake wasn’t ready for us since we’d come a day early. It was good to get a little down time. We ate with his awesome host family, which we proceeded to do every day until we left. He has a great host family and a really active counterpart. Lucky man!
The next day my mom, Jake’s sister and I walked out to the ash plain. It reminds me of Yellowstone National Park. This is what it will look like when the world ends. I had fun playing with the camera. I annoyed my mother with how many pictures I took, which is funny since she spent all week on Pentecost annoying me with how many she was taking.
This is what the apocalypse will look like.
Beautiful, in its own way.
The landscape is truly stunning. Black ash has been packed into striated sandstone by eons of time and weight. In places, the river has sliced down through the layers, showing off the line and whirls of time. The plants are all small and stunted, they can’t reach full growth because too much ash covers their leaves. Behind all of that, looms the vaolcano. It sends up trickles and spits smoke and sounds like distant thunder.
The next day, we went to the volcano. We walked about before hand and saw the bungalows and the preparations for Independence Day festivities. Then we headed up to the volcano. The best tiem to view the volcano is at dusk, so we started the walk around 3 pm. We got lucky, a truck picked us up.
The top has one of the
 best views around.
Down the rim of Yasur
The top of the volcano is even more barren than the ash plain. Closer to the volcano, more ash falls blocking just about anything from growing. I doubt that the steam vents help things grow, though I’m sure there are some sort of ameobal or fungal life that love that environment. Since the volcano is one of the highest points in the area, we had a pretty stunning view of the surrounding area. The evening light cast shadows that highlighted the contours of the land and made the river shine like glass.
Ma was not impressed with me looking over the rim.
In fact, she acted like a mother and told me to,
“Get away from that right now!”
So, I took our picture on the rim.  I’m a good daughter.
A little before dusk, we went up to the rim. It was amazing. I could stand on the edge and stare down into the molten lava. It put on some good fireworks for us, erupting about every ten minutes from one of the three craters. As it got darker, I could see the glow of the splattered lava until the next erruption. Truly, an awe-inspiring experience.
After that, the rest of the trip was anti-climactic. We hitched a ride back down and left Tanna in the morning. We had two nights in Vila. We spent a while kayaking and snorkeling and shopping at the mama’s markets. My mother went home well-loaded with baskets and mats. The suitcase she’d brought me full of treats from America went back full of treats from Vanuatu.
And then I took her picture on the rim
while things behind her went BOOM!

Ka-Boom!

Better than fireworks!
I think it was a successful trip. I hope she enjoyed it, too.

Mount Yasur, a little after dawn.

Things that go BOOM! and SHAKE!

It turns out there are volcanoes in Vanuatu. Aside from the part where the entire country is made up of volcanoes, I mean there are active volcanoes. According to one source I found,* of the 13 main islands, 9 of them have active volcanoes.

The Yasur Volcano on Tanna Island in Tafea Province seems to be the major fireworks. It has been creating some amount of explosions for at least 800 years and erupts often enough that there are tours.

With the volcanoes come earthquakes, at least that has been my limited understanding of geo-things so far. So, yes, there are earthquakes. There was one on Tuesday, August 10th that registered as a 7.3. Apparently it even generated a small tsunami (“only” 9′ waves) but didn’t do any lasting damage.** Since then, there have been 5 others which, I think, are being considered aftershocks. All of them were between 4.6 and 5.3 degrees of magnitude.^

I’m still looking for more information on the earthquakes, particularly the recent ones, and how frequent they are as well as more info on the volcanoes. This was just cool, so I thought I’d share.

I’ve never been in an earthquake or a tsunami. Here comes more adventures. This is the Ring of Fire, I do expect to feel some of the effects. Hopefully, the mild earth shaking ones, not the hot and burning kind.

*http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/australia/vanuatu/vanuatu.html
** http://law.rightpundits.com/?p=2094
^ http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Maps/10/170_-15.php