At the appointed hour we four gathered at the yacht club for the truck ride up the mountain. The driver invited the two women to ride in the cab, while Jack and Maurice made themselves comfortable on sofa cushions in the back. Along the road we picked up a few people on their way back home up the steep and rutted track, including this beautiful woman and her child, who wasn’t quite sure what to make of the white-haired Maurice.
At the base of the volcano we were welcomed by park attendants and joined a couple of dozen tourists from the various resorts and pensions on the island. Local villagers performed a welcome dance and two women greeted us each with a floral protection amulet.
The group then performed the custom dance, a version of which we’d seen on Mystery Island on Aneityum, but whereas the dance on Aneityum was performed for the cruise ship passengers, this one was more insular, performed for each other. It was interesting to see the difference in focus, but as dancers stamped and whirled we became more aware of the mountain rumbling ominously behind us.
As almost always happens here in the South Pacific, kava is offered to the village chief by way of asking permission to visit their land, and for this Jack was chosen to present the kava. We suspect this was because of his superior age but we’d rather think it’s his natural good looks and quiet assurance that made him stand out.
With the kava presented and accepted, we were now allowed to make the final ascent to the rim of the volcano. The attendants divided us into groups of 6-8 by language and gave us a safety talk, then led us up the steep and rocky path to the top.
We were unprepared for how cold it was up there and glad we’d brought jackets. Soon the rumbling intensified and as the sun sank lower in the sky we were treated to a spectacular fireworks display that exceeded our expectations. Finally, after years of getting close but not close enough to volcanos in Sicily and the Caribbean I got to experience the demon that lurks just beneath the surface. And I want more.