June 22

It is now 8pm and we have just returned from our trip to Mt. Yasur. I will begin simply by saying WOW. We left this afternoon at about 4:30pm in a pickup truck with our guide Stanley and the driver (whose name I never did learn) and another couple from a Belgian yacht in the harbor. Jonah and the woman from the other yacht sat in the cab with the driver while Jonah and myself, Stanley and the Belgian gentleman (I wish I could remember his name) sat in the back.

The drive to the staging area was about 30-40 minutes over a rough dirt and mud track which could hardly be called a road. I would think if there were no trucks driving this road the jungle would reclaim it in a matter months, if not weeks. I would not have been surprised to see this track featured in a 4X4 Hill Climb event.

When we arrived we found ourselves in a huge ash field just below the rim of the volcano. We then hiked up the mountain, in volcanic ash and sand, about 10-15 minutes. The climb was at parts very steep and Kate and I had to help Jonah up part of the way. He was so excited though he would have run up the hill if we had let him. The path was littered with sharp volcanic rocks of varying sizes. It was only once we saw the glowing hot rocks shooting out of the cone that we realized each of these rocks we had walked by had also landed there after shooting up out of the volcano.

Fortunately the guides know the mountain very well and keep informed about the current activity level and best (i.e. safest) viewing area. Several possible viewing areas were evident as we climbed to the highest part of the rim. Stanley told us that although the volcano was only at "Stage 1", with a possible Stage 5 being the highest level of activity, it was still unsafe to go to any of the closer viewing areas this week.

As we climbed the steep hill littered with sharp rocks the sun was setting and we could hear the "whoosh, whoosh" of the volcano. The mountain seems to breathe in an almost rhythmic pattern, each breath bringing another clutch of rocks flying into the sky. And after 20 or 30 such breaths a huge explosion and accompanying volley of rocks would explode out of the mountain with a deafening roar (I've always wanted to use that phrase in a sentence legitimately). Flaming rocks would then shoot way higher into the air then before. The sound of the explosion was bone jarring and the natural tendency was to duck and cover, which of course would be the wrong thing to do. The drill is to carefully watch the flaming rocks as the loft and keep your eye on the leading edge of the rocks which act a lot like a splash of water when, say, you drop a big rock in the lake. Rocks fall in a roughly evenly spread pattern in a zone around the cone. Several minutes after one of these big explosions you could still see glowing red hot rocks can still be seen spread along the lip or shelf just above the cone, which was a few hundred feet below us.

I did manage to get one really decent shot during one of the big explosions. All the other photos I took ended up as just speckles of fire on a dark, black background. We will post some of them in a few weeks so you can see them. The photos of the ash plains approaching the cone should also be very impressive and give an idea of the desolation in that area.

On the way back in the truck we got a flat tire and all stood around with flashlights while the driver and Stanley put on the (only) spare. Very sharp rocks must be hell on tires here.

A nice cap to a lovely day. The weather improved today, but the roliness of the anchorage did not. In fact, it is worse. It is hard to describe to someone who has not experienced it what it is like to be on a boat anchored with constant swells rolling in and having the boat rock from side to side, again, and again, and again. On some rolls we easily reach 20 degrees angle and perhaps even more (my clinomoter is dampened so it does not record the peak angle well).

Earlier in the day we went to the village to look around and talk with people. We found a family from a Canadian yacht going to the village and we walked with them. When we arrived we learned they had set up a martial arts demonstration for the villagers. Ok, a bit odd, but what the hell, lets see what happens? Well the family has 3 kids, 17, 16 and 13. All of them box, do martial arts, judo, etc., etc. The father told me one of them was boxing professionally in NZ last year while they were there. The father, who appears German, appears to be training the boys and pushed them on to do various demonstrations for the villagers, almost all of whom it seems had gathered to witness this. As Helmut said (the father) they do this a lot and that they always draw a big crowd. "They don't get much entertainment" he said to me. I of course had to agree.

The kids mother is Taiwanese and the boys all look a bit like Shaolin monks (the father says one of the many trainers the boys have worked with was a Shaolin monk in NZ). I asked the oldest boy about his plans for college and he says he wants to enroll at the Shaolin school, in China, where they will teach him to speak Chinese along with academics and martial arts training. Whoa. Of course, it all felt so totally surreal and incongruous. Here I was sitting in a field with 150 Ni- Vanuatu (as Vanuatans are called) villagers while these 3 Bruce Lees sparred and did various demonstrations (including stick fighting), then talking with them later, of course speaking perfect N. American English (i.e. Canadian and American English are almost exactly the same) about college plans and the oldest wants to become some sort of Shaolin priest or something. Very interesting day indeed.

On the way back a nice women just popped out of the bushes and gave us a bag of vegetables (eggplants, scallions - how did she know my weakness - some lemons and one really large, strange looking thing that we think is a bean). I think she is the mother of one of the little kids Jonah and I gave away toys to yesterday. Which reminds me, in yesterdays journal I was talking about the John Frum followers and I mentioned the village here at Port Resolution has 2 "red crosses" in their village green. Well while I was walking about the village yesterday and giving out the little toys I was carrying I looked in the bag and I found a toy WWII airplane. Perhaps a B-29 or something, but it struck me that this must be a powerful icon in their cult since it was the whole exposure to US servicemen and their wealth which spawned the cult. Of course, all of that "cargo" arrived on planes very much like the little toy I was carrying. I left it on one of the crosses when no one was looking. Yeah, I'm trying to mess with em a little. But you know, if everyone in the world was as friendly and open as these people, I wouldn't care if they all believed in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy AND John Frum.