I stand back a little, allowing my heart to slow and my nerves to recover. I have the urge to flee, yet I stay rooted to the spot, mesmerized by the heap of smoke suddenly rising from deep underground.
â€œAs you can see, currently the volcano is on a safe category two scale. If it raises another category, they donâ€™t allow tourists up here. I think it was 1997, two tourists…â€ BOOM! Our village guideâ€™s little monologue was interrupted by a spurt of red hot rocks from the bubbling crater. She pauses as a chorus of ooo and ahhs followed by a frenzy of shutter sounds as we all raise our camera to capture the moment. â€œI was saying, in 1997, two tourists were unfortunately struck by one of the falling rocks and have died,â€ she continued talking to nobody in general, although by now everybody was looking her way. â€œbut it was just a freak of nature. Things happen, you know?â€
What was I thinking? I reprimand myself. Itâ€™s only a week before my wedding day and I am standing on the crater of Mount Yasur, the worldâ€™s most accessible active volcano. Inside the crater I can hear the bubbling sound of lava brewing, smoke is coming out of cracks on the grounds near us, and occasionally large clouds of ash are expelled into the atmosphere. It is almost like a witchâ€™s pot of boiling concoction, with us waiting to be its sacrificial victims.
I take my eyes off the crater and looked around. Beyond the volcanic ashes Tanna Island appears to be fertile and stunningly beautiful. I had seen what this island had to offer from the window of our four wheel drive on our way to the volcano: Wild horses run freely on the White Grass plains; local children run along the vehicle waving hello; workers napping under the tree among the coffee plantations and the sudden change in landscape from moist and green forests to grey and dry ash desert. Everything and everyone I see have been friendly, except for this volcano.
â€œIsnâ€™t it great? I thought Vanuatu was going to be just another island holiday! This is fantastic!â€ My future husband beams a smile at me and throws his arm up for a photo. I could not help but think bad thoughts: What if the wind blows him over into the crater? What if one of those nasty looking rocks hits him? What if…?
Alas, nothing of the sort happened. The volcano just hummed and bubbled away under our feet, and every once in a while spits out hot sparkles like fireworks, with the colour contrast becoming more dramatic as the sun sets behind the horizon. Suddenly, I think of the villagers living in such close proximity to the action and wonder what they would do if the volcano decide to erupt.
â€œDo you ever feel scared?â€ I asked the villager guide, who have been simply standing there looking into the crater with a faint smile.
â€œNot me. Not yet. My mother was scared once when it erupted when she was younger. There is nowhere to run. You just hope the lava doesnâ€™t come your way,â€ she shrugs her shoulders and briefly looks out to the sea, â€œVolcanos create land, and so it create us, just nature you know? I respect its power, and I believe if it were to kill me, maybe there is a reason to.â€
We drive back in silence, still awestruck by the volcano weâ€™d just seen. I ponder on the guides words, that the power of nature is the creation of us, and may also be the end of us. Wasnâ€™t it a volcano that stopped half of the world? I suddenly feel proud that I actually stood on one of them.