Jan. 2, 2011
The second day of 2012 brings… more walking.
Stepping out in the morning, we discover that a bunch of wild bullocks (cows) spent the night foraging around our tents. Their hoof-prints were all over the place in the ash.
The edge of the ash plain is really beautiful. It’s liminal space, stuck between worlds and making its own way out of the crack. The birds are noisy and the vegetation is sparse. Delicate, pale purple orchids grow everywhere. The trees are scattered and stunted. Islands of yellow grass sprout on the banks of dried streams. The black ash of the vanished waterways backup onto themselves, crossing and intersecting into a glorious maze. And always, on the horizon, the volcano.
The twin volcano of Ambrym is at least ten kilometres long. The Mauren is high while Benbow stretches out. I never actually climb Benbow because I’m tired and achy from falling down the mountain the other day and because Rubin doesn’t want to deal with me falling down again today. It’s become apparent that I’m not half so good with heights as I think I am, but the view is still beautiful.
(Apparently Benbow has two lava lakes inside, but you have to climb inside the crater and then ascend an inner cone to see them)
The grassy edges give way to true desert, black soil, black stone, red stone, orange, layers of lava and ash worked into strange shapes by water and wind. There is no life here. Distances contract and expand. There is no shade but there are occasional pools of acid. It’s described in the guidebooks as a lunar landscape, a Martian vista, and that would be true if the sky weren’t still brilliant blue and crawling with tiny white clouds.
We walk along the strange corridors of the flood paths for a long time before climbing up and travelling along the narrow ridges which link the peaks. This is the part of the trip I found really scary and there are many pictures on account of me spending most of my energy not falling or fainting from vertigo.
About halfway along I got traded to another guide who came with his kid brother and seven hyperactive hunting dog, none of them seemed concerned about the narrow path or the height or the fact that there is literally no way back other than helicopter if you fall off. I felt bad for the dogs because they had no water and kept scurrying from tiny patch of shade to tiny patch of shade.
Sometime later we descended into another dried streambed. We walk along that for miles and the world rebuilds itself from alien planet, to simple desert, to field, to forest, to dense jungle. The dogs run off after a pig (I didn’t see the pig) before being called back. The stream becomes a road, becomes a thin track under banyan trees, then a road again past gates and ordered coconut palms. We stop for a bit to drink fresh green coconuts and it is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.
The road ended in the village of Meituong. I was asked to take pictures of their guest houses and share them so here goes:
This is the one I stayed in. By far the prettiest guesthouse, but the outhouse was under construction so I had to wander down the main road in the middle of the night searching for a place to go. Other than that it was nice.
This is one was under construction and I didn’t see inside:
This one, I learned, has a flush toilet and shower. It’s in the Lonely Planet guide as the Bae Luk guest House and is one of their top picks for Ambrym:
And here is the church:
I got lucky the next day since I was around for the New Year’s festivities which involve going from village to village singing and giving children talcum powder to throw at anyone and everyone. It was good getting to meet people (so many names, I can’t remember half of them). There was a Peace Corps volunteer (sorry, all I remember is that it starts with ‘K’) who’d been there for two weeks. She was very nice. Must be hard going to a new place right before Christmas like that. It’s okay-ish if you’ve been around awhile and are a bit settled. She seemed to be doing okay though.
Meituong is great if you’re going to Ambrym. I highly recommend. I kind of wish I’d started from there – gone up the road and covered the ash plain when I was fresh – and then climbed the mountains and headed for North Ambrym. If you take that route you can jump off a cliff into the ocean at the end.
However… it doesn’t have a spring along the way, so maybe not so good considering that I ran out of water…
I was sorry to leave Ambrym. The truck I took back had a pig in the back. I arrived at Graig’s Cove early and the truck pulled away leaving me completely alone. Well, not completely alone. I met a friend:
After hanging with Mr. Spider for a bit Sam the Air Vanuatu staff showed up. He has a guest house in Graig’s Cove for anyone who misses their flight (it’s called Sam’s Guesthouse). Slight conflict of interests there, but he was a nice guy.
The flight back was smooth. Great views since we went almost directly over the ash plain and I got a chance to look down at the route I’d just spent two days hiking. A bit scary since I didn’t realize this wasn’t a direct flight – we made stops at what felt like every airport between Graig’s Cove and Port Vila: East Ambrym, Paama, Epi. So, I guess I’ve been to five islands now. Seven if you count my various beach trips to Mele and Erakor (no one counts Mele and Erakor).
(fun fact, these little dots of land were one big island until a cataclysmic volcanic eruption split one island into five. According to kastom only two people made it off alive to tell the tale)
So that was my start to 2012.