Tanna. Where to even begin. Tanna is south of Efate, the capitol island and is known for Mount Yasur, an accessible active volcano, and traditional kastom villages where Tanneans have resisted European influence. Tanna...is a trip.
Airport arrival: not absolute chaos, but not straightforward. I exchanged a few words with Luigi, a traveler from Rome I had met boarding the plane from Port Vila and who had been away from home since October. Outside in the parking lot, Luigi approached a driver. Someone was supposed to be there to pick me up. I wandered around. I put on bug spray. I saw Frank, the Dutch man I had had sat next to on the plane, climb into a fancy new 4WD truck with his Sri Lankan wife and son. They were trying to make it to the volcano in time for dusk. Still no driver for me. Hm.
A group of four people circled around the driver Luigi was talking to and I started to get nervous. I realized I didn't even know the name of the village I was heading to. I had called this guy, Mike, whose number was online to see if he would have me at the Tanna Yasur View Bungalow (not to be confused with Yasur View Lodge) and he said, "okay," and that someone would be at the airport for me and honestly, that's all I knew. The parking lot started emptying out and I realized I couldn't let Luigi's truck go without me in it. I approached the driver. "Do you know Yasur View Bungalow?"
His face lit up. "Mike?! Yeeees! Mike tell me. You come me." Oh, okay. This guy was my guy.
At the time, I noticed the disorganization and was perplexed as to why the driver was ready to leave the airport without me even though he knew he had to pick me up. Now as I write this only a few days later, after having spoken with more islanders, I realize that many men from remote parts of Tanna are afraid of things like a crowded airport. It could be that Sanga, the driver, couldn't proactively approach passengers to sort out the transfer to the volcano and bungalows.
"How much for the transfer?" I asked. This, I knew, was a large point of contention for Luigi. Some drivers were asking for up to 5000 Vatu (around $50) for the transfer to the volcano from the airport. "How much for Luigi and me?"
"2500 each." I had no problem with this, but I later realized Luigi had been trying to split the 5000 between ALL passengers, including the other four who had shown interest. Sort of ruined that for him. He looked over at me from the other side of the truck. There was a problem, I thought in my narrow American mind. here were seven of us, including the driver. The truck could only fit five. Ha! The bed had been built out with a board behind the cab so a few could sit, looking forward over the cab, in back. It started to drizzle.
"I'm in back!" A friendly-looking woman with an American accent wearing a jacket and shorts shouted hurriedly as she climbed in the truck bed. An Aussie man followed her. I climbed in the cab with the driver and three others and we were off! Very very slowly.
A paved road to the airport is being built by Chinese construction companies (sounds like Tanna is in debt for this), and there was a paved road, but it won't be finished until 2019. We took the badly rutted out mud track alongside the road. The track was a two-way road, not wide enough for two trucks, which added to the excitement. This was the adventure I had craved!
The woman next to me, Tracey, was an Aussie on vacation with her husband and friends who from Newport Beach, California! We were nearly neighbors!
The scene at the volcano entrance was frantic. It was too late and the guides didn't want to go up again, but the bungalow owners had promised new arrivals they would take the dusk tour that evening. I saw Frank, the Dutch man buying tickets. The entrance is managed by Entami; unclear exactly what that is, but it seems it's an organization for Tanna. It sounded like the volcano itself belonged to the Eqwuramanu village.
All land in Vanuatu is owned by someone, so there's an entrance fee for everything: all the beaches and blue holes, volcanos, caves, waterfalls. Even if there is no one taking a fee near the attraction (say, a remote waterfall in the jungle), it's expected you will somehow pay the owner for your visit.
The entrance fee for the volcano was 97,500 Vatu. Steep. And with no ATM, perhaps on the island, this posed a problem for some tourists who wanted to do the dusk tour that night. Was there enough cash for the rest of the Tanna stay?
Everything was sorted. Luigi took off for his bungalow. I left my bag in Mike's truck, which made me nervous (in retrospect, the southeastern Tanneans are very honorable people: prices will change and are unclear, but you and your things will be looked after) and I went up to the rim with the four others who had come from the airport with Sanga.
Nancy was our tour guide and she rode in the back of the truck with Lisa, the woman from Newport Beach, and me. The ride up was wild! Steam came out of the embankments along the road and we bumped up and down over ruts and dips. The whole thing felt like being on a safari.
Being on the rim of the volcano was spectacular. The volcano was at a level two out of five. Eruptions of lava would blast after loud hisses of pressure escaped from one of four vents in the cone. Each time I thought the lava couldn't spurt higher, I was proven wrong. Staring down into the glowing belly of Yasur, I was in awe processing the beauty and the journey I had taken to get there.