When we were approaching the island the other day, sailing from Aneityum (pronounced “anotom”), we could see the puffs of ash being thrown above the island by Mt. Yasur every few minutes from as far as away as 40 miles. From Port Resolution we could see the clouds of ash lit up at night by the glow of the volcano – even though the terrain blocked our view of the crater itself.
One of the locals told us a bit about their beliefs. Magic and mysticism are fundamental to Vanuatu people. Their people grow all their own food and some of their people know things about plants to treat illness and influence events. There are steaming vents of boiling water which appear along the shore of Port Resolution. They come directly from the volcano. He told us this gives their people a direct connection to the volcano. Some of the local people can put certain leaves in the vents and can make the volcano produce rain. They also can control the volcano to make it calm down or make it angry. We told him we hope they make sure the volcano is happy for now!We went to the village at 4PM to catch a truck that would take us to the volcano. Stray Kitty, Tahina, and 4 crew from another boat all piled into a 4-wheel-drive pickup truck with an extended cab. None of the roads here are paved, and the roads are quite rough. You would not be able to drive a regular car on these roads because there are places where many streams have eroded the road and a high clearance is a must. It took an hour to go about 5 to 6 miles in the truck.
Once we got within two miles of the volcano, we could hear loud booms, that sounded like thunder, coming from the mountain ahead of us. A mountain without a shred of vegetation on its side – just lots of dark colored rocks all along its sides. After paying an entrance fee, they drove us up to the side of the volcano. Suddenly, we could feel the booms not only as we stood on the ground, but the pressure of the boom, like a giant sub-woofer, pounding our bodies. We also could see huge glowing rocks being blown above the lip of the crater above us! You could hear the huge pressure of escaping gas and what sounded like sloshing and rushing water inside the mountain as well. We all grabbed our camera bags and began walking up the side of the crater.Suddenly we were at the crater lip and could feel and see the crater. Not only that, but the impact of explosions, the loud bursts of escaping gas and lava, and the shooting sparks of flaming ejecta were all both visible and tangible. You could not help but feel the volcano had a personality of its own. There was a sense of awe and wonder. And, yes, you couldn’t help but wonder if the volcano might just be too angry tonight! The large people-sized rocks all over the sides of the mountain, tha were covering the rim, all got there somehow.
One moment the volcano seemed to be resting, and another it was bursting with energy. Sometimes it was peaceful, and others it was angry! We could see bits of lava and super-heated rocks being thrown dozens of meter into the air every minute or two. We had arrived at sunset so the lava was brilliant streams of bright orange and red rock dazzling our eyes. Fortunately, all the ejecta seemed to be staying within the crater. But, each time an explosion would occur, and the ejecta sometimes flew above us, everyone would inch backwards just a bit wondering if now was the time to run!There were three distinct vents down in the bottom of the crater. Every few minutes one of them would suddenly build up pressure and burst forth with a huge eruption of lava and rock. The sound was tremendous and you would feel the burst of pressure not only from the wind hitting your body, but also the rumble of sound through your bones. It was literally like having dozens of bombs going off in front of you. Sometimes the ejected material would be thrown far above the crater top (where we were standing). We would all look up and watch to make sure none of the flaming rocks or lava were coming our way.
We went to the highest part of the rim where you could see into all three vents. We took lots of video and pictures, so we hope to share this experience with you when we next get on the Internet. It was completely dark and the mountain almost seemed to sense our expectation. We were just thinking it was getting close to time to leave. Suddenly we were treated to several tremendous eruptions. Not only was there tremendous force to the explosions, but huge amounts of ejected material shot out like a cannon from more than one vent at once. One large piece of glowing rock, about the size of a person, was thrown 100 to 200 meters above us. We all watched the arc carefully. It was coming our way! But, we could see it was going to land in front of us. It landed with a loud thud, which I at least imagined I could feel with my feet, about 50-100 meters in front of us.
At that point, Karen can be heard on the video: “Ok, it’s time to go.” And, soon not only our group, but everyone was leaving the top. Not everyone would admit it, but I’m sure we were all nervous about that last wave of explosions. It was like the volcano gave us a grand finale to its fireworks display, or maybe it was just trying to tell us it was time to leave. It may have been our imagination, but it seemed like the volcano calmed down after that, and we didn’t hear any big eruptions again. The volcano had shown us its stuff, and was going to sleep for the night.
While we were there, we kept getting covered in ash. We could all feel ash in our eyes and if we tried to clench our teeth we could feel bits of ash between them. Our shoes got filled with ash as we were scrambling in the dark on the sides of the crater. We had to take showers when we returned to the boat.
This was one of the biggest thrills of our trip. We just watched the biggest show of natural fireworks of our lives! There is no need for us to get any closer to a volcano or see lava any closer than that again. Our volcano experience has reached its pinnacle. We were glad we had the chance to meet Mt. Yasur.
UPDATE: here is the photo album from our volcano experience (read more about the photos). Later we’ll add video: