Active Volcanoes and the John Frum Sing Along

Continuation from yesterday”¦.

“¦we could see the red sparks shooting up through a huge hole in the ground. The sparks landed on a ledge around the hole, glowing brightly. In the first photo you can see the edge of the peak we are standing, the ledge the molten rock lands on, and the hole the lava and smoke comes from. The second photo is dark, but gives you perspective on distance, although this is just the ambient lava flow, not one of the many big eruptions we will see later. Hopefully, you can get a sense that we are not standing all that much higher than the lava fallout ledge.

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From the scattered rocks around, it seems that once in a while they make it beyond the ledge up to where we were standing. What amazed us is that there are no fences or restrictions anywhere. If you want to you can walk down to the ledge and jump right into the volcano. That makes three things you would never see in the U.S.

We were on the low side of the volcano. Opposite us, the peak was much higher, but lacked the protective ledge that kept us at a little bit of a safer distance from the center. The volcano consistently growled, spewing forth red rock and smoke. The rumbling would become consistently louder and more pained, with the lava spurts becoming thicker and taller. Every 10 20 minutes, the volcano would let out a tremendous roar and blow out an enormous amount of lava, shooting up way beyond the top of the rim on the other side. Pictures do not do it justice. We can’t wait until we are able to post the video. The local we were with even took a few steps back at a couple of the big rumbles.

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As the sun began to set, the molten red rocks began to glow vividly. It was pitch black outside, but brightly illuminated by the glow of the red rocks. You cold see the red spots fly up, then ever so slowly float down, landing either on the ledge or on the side of the crater, where it slowly slid back down into the hole. The volcano put on an impressive show for us, performing better than we had ever hoped. We were expecting to see a hole with little activity, not a powerful fireworks show that was a million times more spectacular than any fireworks show we have ever seen in our lives.

We watched the volcano in awe. We cannot even begin to put into words the indescribable feeling of insignificance you feel when you watch the forces of Mother Nature at work. If just one of those rocks hit us, we’d be dead. If there was an especially large rumble, those red rocks would completely cover the ground around us in seconds. This volcano made this whole large island we are standing on all by itself. It has probably made several more of the islands around here. The power it contained seemed inconceivable. But yet, it wasn’t scary. It was simply awe inspiring.

On another note, after examining the lava rock up close, it suddenly makes sense to us why the lava islands eventually shrink back into the sea. The rocks are incredibly light and airy, and can be ground up with little effort. With so much air in them, it is clear that as time goes on they eventually compact down under normal pressures of nature, thus eroding away.

The guide told us it was time to go shortly after sunset. We were mesmerized and didn’t want to tear ourselves away. We probably could have sat there all night. We had been one of the first tourists to arrive and we were one of the last to leave. Clearly all the tour groups come at the same time right at dusk and none of them stick around long after dark. We stalled him for a couple minutes and finally, reluctantly, followed him down the short path to the road.

The hike down was easy and not very long (though it would have been a long hike up!). The road is gently sloped and the ash is very soft to walk on. The hike down was much easier on the knees than we had originally anticipated. It rained a little on the hike down and the guide told us we were lucky to be able to see the volcano. He said that often the rain clouds will completely block the view.

Dinner was waiting for us back at the bungalows. It was a simple meal of fish, rice, and vegetables, but the portions were huge and the food was incredibly delicious. We pigged out. The other two hotel guests were already eating when we came in. They are from Australia and are volunteers working as teachers in a high school on the other side of the island near the airport. They live on campus. Since it is a holiday weekend, everyone was gone and they decided to go do something interesting with their weekend. They were on their way to the John Frum village for the Friday sing along night. We asked if we could tag along.

The story goes that a boater named John Frum came to Tanna in 1936. He told the locals that if the Europeans left Tanna, there would be an abundance of wealth. This sparked a neo-pagan uprising, with followers going back to their traditional ways (except cannibalism). Only a few years later, the Americans came to Vanuatu for World War II. Many Tannese went to Efate and Espiritu Santo to work on the military bases and were amazed at the abundance of wealth the Americans had brought with them John Frum was right! John Frum is still idolized almost as a god by a couple of villages on Tanna. They sing songs and dance every Friday night, in hopes that he will return to them as he promised he would.

The two younger brothers escorted us to the John Frum village, which we think was very nice of them to do. It certainly was not in the travel package we bought and they didn’t charge us for the escort. We think it was about a 4 mile walk each way, through the dry lake bed. The volcano smoked and rumbled away as we walked around it. When there was an especially loud rumble there was usually glowing red sparks visible at the top of the mountain.

It was pitch black outside, so we couldn’t see what the village looked like as we entered. We could hear the singing as we rounded a corner. There was a group of people sitting in the ground in a gazebo, heartily singing, with a few men in the middle strumming guitars. The music was melodious and happy. We were told to sit on a bench at the side of the gazebo and encouraged to join in the dancing. The dancers stood in a circle around the gazebo. Most simply swayed back and forth in time to the music, but a couple of women were dancing what looked like a line dance. The whole atmosphere was totally laid back. Between the style of music and the setting, we felt like we were at a campout with our friends, like we used to do back in college. All that was missing was the fire and the s’mores.

After a few minutes, the group took a break and got up. Another group sat down and picked up where the first group had left off. The chief sat down next to Eric and chatted with him for a while. The chief told him all about a trip he had taken to America in the 80’s. We stayed at the village for about an hour. We had another early morning tomorrow and a long walk back, so we decided to head back. We were in bed by midnight.

2 thoughts on “Active Volcanoes and the John Frum Sing Along

  1. I am so completely jealous now. Between the last waterfall and this I’m really wanting to be there. I now know two new places I need to go in life. I’ve always always always wanted to see an active volcano up close =)

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