After a short stop back at the boat, Martin, Colin, Ash, and I jumped into the back of Dahwa’s truck again, this time with a local guide for the volcano, and headed off to gather more backside bruises and see the storied volcano.  The Mt. Yasur volcano is the most accessible volcano in the world.  Cruisers coming through Tanna 20 or 30 years ago had to make quite a long hike through the jungle, but there’s now a road, albeit a rough and washed-out one, that goes up to the edge of the cone a few hundred yards from the edge of the crater.  Night was falling as we entered the gate at the base of the volcano and paid our $22.50 US per person to enter.  The night became black while we were slowly grinding our way up the mountain and soon a light rain began to fall.  We met another pickup coming down the one-lane track and after a bit of yelling and moving near the edge of the road, they finally squeezed by and we continued slowly upwards.

At the top, we met the others who had walked and made it to the summit around sunset.  They were a bit tired and wet, but in good spirits.  From the small area where trucks were parked, it was only a couple hundred yards up to the edge of the crater.  There was a makeshift wooden railing to follow up, but rain had washed out the footpath and was actually easier to walk alongside.  On the way up we could hear an eruption and see the sky glow orange with lava.  The volcano had been silent until then and hearing it so close was a bit of a shock.  Apparently Lauren screamed and was pondering a quick retreat the first time she heard it.  To hear the earth make a sound like that and to then keep going toward is definitely against your instincts, but we were pretty excited to see the show.

The ground around the edge of the crater was gray volcanic ash strewn with lava bombs – rocks as small as stones up to 6 feet or so in diameter that had been thrown from the volcano and landed on the edge of the crater to cool.  We hurried around and over them to the point that our guide recommended watching from given the current wind direction.  He was pretty low-key, but did tell us to watch the highest piece of lava when we saw an eruption and if it was coming towards you, to start walking backwards while watching it.  I looked behind us; about 25 feet away the edge of the crater gave way to a steep slope that ended hundreds of feet below – walking backwards wasn’t going to be the best idea.  I can’t imagine people being allowed to stand at the edge of a volcano in the US, but here is was commonplace – no railing, not much in the way of safety signs, no guide certifications, and you’re free to spend the night on the crater’s edge if you want to.

We didn’t have to wait long.  As we stood at the lip of the crater, hot, glowing magma shot into the air only a couple hundred yards away and as it did the volcano made a sound unlike anything I’ve ever heard.  It’s a loud, alarming, explosive sound, but it’s also the sound of the explosion being vented as gasses and magma.  It’s something like having a fighter jet engine very near by that’s turned on instantly, it’s also sort of like a combination of a next-door thunderbolt and a giant blowtorch.  The magma streaked hundreds of feet in the air, from well below us to well above us.  It seemed to fly in slow motion, and you could see the larger orange pieces slowly change shape as they spun and hurtled through the air.  The magma pieces then dropped slowly to the ground onto a slope across from us, sometimes with a clattering sound, where they lay glowing while we waited for the next one.

volc2 Yasur putting on a show
volcano Front-row seat

For at least 45 minutes we stood there mesmerized.  Every time a particularly powerful eruption occurred we would yell at the rush of it all, fiery orange magma shooting through the sky, and the roaring of the volcano would drown us out.

The whole time there was an orange glow coming from just beyond the lip of the crater, where we were unable to see.  Our guide said that if the wind had been from a different direction we could have stood on the other side of the crater and seen the magma glowing and bubbling like boiling water.

The others were waiting, so eventually we came down and 15 of us piled into the truck – 2 in the cab and 13 in the small truckbed.  I was a little worried about the load on the truck for the ride back, but it didn’t complain a bit and Dahwa handled it expertly and slowly.  In 45 minutes or so we were back in the village with the sounds of the volcano still ringing in our ears.