A very angry Volcano and Crazy White People
I am going with a group of vans on bumpy dirt roads through the tiny bush villages and through the jungle. In the car we get thrown from left to right on our way up the hills on washed up and vegetated streets until we reach the peak and the view over the valley presents itself. In front of us lays the volcano, the sky is covered in smoke.From here it doesn’t look scary or active at all. After indulging the vast view and taking a couple of photos, the driver pushes us back into the van, we still have a long way ahead of us. I ask him if a lot of locals go to the rim of the volcano. „No, only crazy white people go there.“ That doesn’t sound comforting.
The landscape suddenly changes from luscious green jungle to rocks and vast space covered in gray ashes. It almost feels like cruising around the moon surface on a lunar rover.
Once we stopped at the foot of the volcano to wait for the guide, a big turmoil and rumbling starts, followed by what appears to be an explosion. Ok, I think, welcome to the active volcano Mount Yasur.
I gather my post cards which I throw into the worlds only post box located at the rim of an active volcano. Hazel, the nice Kiwi girl who was sitting next to me in the van, takes a few pictures of me. The Vanuatu Post apparently empties the box on a daily basis. I am curious who gets back first to Germany – me or the written holiday greetings…? As it would turn out later, it took 3 weeks for the cards to arrive at the their final destination in my family and friends mail boxes.
Finally our guide arrives and gives us a quick introduction. Yes, we all signed the liability wavers, yes, we are taking this trip at our own risks, no, we won’t leave the small path up the volcano, yes, we will follow the orders of the local guide and no, I did not bring a flash light to climb down the volcano in absolute darkness..
With this being said, our group of about 15 crazy white people climb up the volcano until the guide raises his hand and makes us stop. For a second I can see a slight spark of panic in his eyes when he shows us the big burning lava rock on the path which has been spit out by the volcano just about 15 minutes earlier when we heard the loud explosion. Even now I am still excited and try not to worry about this very stupid idea to want to look into the burning abyss of a volcano.
After 20 minutes of grueling walk, carrying my camera equipment and tripod of about 15 kilos, I finally step onto the edge and see the dark smoke coming up from the middle of the earth. The guide quickly checks the direction of the wind and decides that it is safe for us to walk towards the left side to avoid getting hit by the very toxic gases.
Before I set up my camera, I just take a few minutes to feel the power mother earth. The smoke darkens half of the sky. The other half is neatly adorned by the already shining full moon.
With every minute the sun sets behind the mountains and the light vanishes, the volcano seems to be getting louder. The earth rumbles, the abyss snarls and lava gets spit out in waves. And suddenly I do get a little scared, but the fascination and the will to take photos overcome the feeling.
We are standing probably 50 meters away from the violent force. I think about the expression „burn in hell“, it suddenly becomes a whole different meaning. I believe I can see now how Frodo must have felt when he threw the ring into the fire. And it is not just me – the other crazy ones mumble something similar, followed by scared Oh Wows and Jeezs, all immortalized on their iPhones and iPads to post it on Facebook.
After 45 minutes it is already dark since a while and the guide gathers us crazy white people to go back to the vans. I try to keep up with a guy who actually brought a flash light and is kind enough to lead the way back down.
Back at the vans I find Hazel, the Kiwi girl, already waiting. She did a two day trip all the way from New Zealand to see the volcano, just to flee back to the comforting shelter of the van after about 5 minutes at the rim. I think if I had a healthy awareness for danger and doing stupid things I would have probably done the same.
This was the most scary, the most violent, the most beautiful, the most breathtaking experience I ever had in nature.