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Friday 17 October 2008

some fears on the Yasur volcano

From a tip to the other one of the Vanuatu archipelago, I leave the underwater scenery of Espiritu Santo to dive into the smoking steams of the Yasur volcano on the Tanna island. A 20-seat small plane drops us off at the tiny airport of Lenakel. In the arrival hall, a driver of the Jungle Oasis resort (a gathering of wooden huts built for the tourists) holds out a sign with the name of the campground on it. I unload my bag at the back of the pick-up and we head towards the inside of the island. An about-2-hour lift on a road furrowed by continuous rains. The abundant vegetation isolates me from the sight of the surroundings. We go over a hill where the view clears out and we dash down again into the meanders of the forest before the verdure suddenly stops, pushed back by a grayish strange sand made up of minute particles of pumice. The Yasur volcano spreads out its claws and marks its territory outwards the crater. A hoarse rumble soars out of the gray thickness. A shout of an angry nature who shows the beginnings of an encounter with an genuine active volcano which expresses itself by expelling its venom of lava.
One of the singular activities, probably unique in the world, is the opportunity of surfing on the ashes of the volcano. Jungle Oasis owns a worn-out, bad-quality snowboard which will do for the occasion (I will learn later it was possible to rent a better snowboard at the next-door village). The ascent is exhausting with an eye riveted skywards, at each new chuckle of the mountain. Each step sinks deeply in the particles of ash. Practically arrived at the top, I put on the board and face the steep slope. I make up my way onto the volcano. A total freedom punctuated by otherworldly splutters which make me jump at each new expression. A unique experience in a unique scenery.

However, the main part of the action stimulated by a pathological curiosity drives me to the origin of this telluric cough. From the campground, it's a 45-minute short walk on a 4WD path. I pay the right of going ahead at the end of the village and stride along this rocky-ash-covered soil. The greenery-clad sides accompany my stroll when the track opens out a car park where several 4x4 vehicles are still there. A mailbox (the only one on a volcano!) marks the beginning of the final path dotted with the footprints of number of thrill-seeking adventurers wannabes. The detonations sound clearly when a explosion, louder than the others, propels glowing residues high in the sky. My eyes rise, a natural firework illuminates the firmament. The survival instinct of each guest present on this inhospitable land assesses the size of the lava projectiles. No worries for this time, each chunk of magma heavy falls down in the crater. A muffled and choked sound which leaves us a break before the next explosion. I sit down and wait. The roars are constant and the episodic gushing out of melting rock delight the spectators. With this hint of continuous fear when the reddening mouth spits out its drops of lava, each one lift his eyes towards the highest particles and size up their potential danger as they fall down.
The next day, I climb again the Yasur, the viewpoint of the last day is filled with smoke and I stop on the right side of the crater. The activity seems calm until all the visitors of the evening leave the place. I'm alone. The crimson shine of the volcanic hearth breaks through the black night. A weird feeling takes me up, an awe-inspiring mixture of curiosity and fear. The reason should have wanted me to go down with the last tourists and yet the irresistible urge to remain, to listen to and to marvel at another explosion, to thrill again at the rhythm of the earth vibrations. But, the activity of the volcano increases, the interval between two expressions reduce and the incandescent shells fly higher and higher. My heart palpitations fidget far beyond bearable, I stand up and clear off. The volcanologist Aroun Tazieff will wait to find a successor. However, reminding it again, how exciting it was to be sitting alone at the edge of this crater.



Sunday 12 October 2008

the crystal-clear waters of the Matevulu blue hole

To take a break in the three-dimensional dives on the wreck of the SS Coolidge, Sacha, Jim and I leave to the Matevulu blue hole, about 45 minutes by car from Luganville. In the middle of the forest, we arrive at this intense-blue lake. A lot of kids play jumping off the branches and I hasten to do the same. Without being an indelible beauty (we become hard to please after the exceptional dives on the Coolidge), this expanse is worth the detour.

And when the dinner time comes, to recover from our emotions and get back some animal proteins, what about a flying-fox stew? What a treat!


Saturday 11 October 2008

the underwater junkyard of Million Dollar Point

With the signing of the armistice proclaiming the end of World War II, the Americans were in a hurry to go back home. The world from now on went in peace, they found themselves with a set of useless not to say cumbersome military equipments. In the middle of a beach, east from Luganville, they built a bridge then brought trucks, cranes and jeeps and jettisoned them. Before definitively going home, they exploded the bridge leaving a submarine junkyard behind them, the « Million Dollar Point ». And nowadays, we can dive on this heap of concretion-covered scrap iron. This time, a weird, off-the-beaten-track dive.


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