I am six hundred miles east of the Great Barrier Reef in the archipelago of Vanuatu—or, as they say in Vanuatu, the “ni-Vanuatu” archipelago—home to nine active volcanoes. One of these, Mount Yasur on the southern island of Tanna, is said to be the most easily accessible live volcano in the world. Anyone can walk right up and peer down into its fiery belly. A real volcano: fire and brimstone and flying ash.
It is late in the dry season when I get to Tanna with my friend, Michael. The days are crisp and warm, the nights cool enough to require long pants and a sweatshirt—a departure from the perpetual warmth of Ambae, more famously known as Michener’s “Bali Hai,” which is the more northerly island, just shy of the equator, where I have lived and worked for eight months as a Peace Corps science teacher. We plan to spend three days at Port Resolution, and then head up to Ienemaha, the village closest to the crater, where Michael’s tenth-grade student, David, lives. David adores Michael as his teacher and a living soccer maestro, so his family graciously asked us to be their guests for a couple of days.
We climb onto a flatbed truck near Lenakal, the tiny capital of Tanna, alongside about a half-dozen Tannese, and jostle and bounce the dirt road distance across the island to Port Resolution. As teachers and foreigners, it always feels we are the objects of special attention, especially from the children. In animated Bislama, the local lingua franca, they ask about us and are eager to tell stories along the drive. Mostly, they recite meandering folktales, busting into giggles at the anthropomorphized exploits of familiar animals and magical beings.
(Continue reading At the Foot of Mount Yasur)