1992 Round World

Yes, there still are earthquakes

16 October 1992 Vanair 523 Port Vila to Tanna

In the last chapter, I spoke of the journey from Tanna back to Port Vila and how I had let my companion travel in the co-pilot's seat. I wondered whether I would ever get to it, but here was my opportunity. It may have been unfair, considering that my wife was with me, along with two young children and my best man, who was visiting us in Vanuatu, at least in part because we had visited him three times while he had been in Washington DC Nevertheless, I wasn't going to pass up such an opportunity. It was a glorious day, with barely a cloud in the sky and a bright sun shining. As the small aeroplane took off, we were told that today it would be flying straight to Tanna, without its usual Friday afternoon stop at Dillon's Bay on Erromango on the way. It was a beautiful journey, smooth and scenic, with ample opportunity to see the blue Pacific and the green and brown of Vanuatu. The beauty of the country is one that cannot be described easily in words, nor yet one that can be illustrated by photographs, even though both would be ideal things to do, if it were possible.

On arrival, we collected our bags and went to the hotel. Less than a week earlier, on Monday morning 12 October 1992, there was an earthquake which shook Port Vila and caused, among other things, a bottle of medicine to fall off our refrigerator and smash on the floor. Tremors occur fairly regularly in Vanuatu and are generally nothing to worry about, but this one was the strongest I could remember since our arrival some two and a half years before.

The island of Tanna had been more seriously affected by the earthquake, though not so much so that it was devastated. Varying reports about the strength of the earthquake put its strength between 5.2 and 7.6 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was apparently just west of the island of Erromango. All I can tell you is that the new secondary school was damaged, losing scientific equipment, the hospital suffered structural damage and the resort at which we were staying suffered the loss of various walls, including that of the generator house, of the toilets by the bar, the water tower storing some of their reserves and the liquor store. Canned drinks were still plentifully available: bottled drinks were rather rarer.

I do not wish to seem like a tourist brochure for Tanna, nor the reverse. I must therefore say that the tourist opportunities are certainly present and worthwhile. They include the volcano Yasur, persistently referred to as the world's most accessible active volcano. It is certainly accessible to anybody in health even approaching reasonable, though it is very smelly, dusty and noisy.

Other things to do include seeing the wild horses on the White Grass Plains, the home of the so-called cargo cult of John Frum, other villages which still adhere to traditional Vanuatu kastom or customs. Black sand beaches, waterfalls, coffee and cocoa plantations and the like also make good trips, but add to the account.

We also took the opportunity to look up some of our friends who lived there. Some expatriates in Vanuatu seem to build up a network of contacts on the outer islands, but we never have. This family seemed very pleased to have any visitors at all: in fact they entertained us all for two meals in the short time we were there.

19 October 1992 Vanair 520 Tanna to Port Vila

Not long till Monday morning and our return to Port Vila. This time it was a Twin Otter, a much bigger craft with perhaps nineteen seats, all of which were occupied. It was another bright day, and another fine journey about which I can find little to say. Timekeeping was good, turbulence was small, and no catering was forthcoming. We landed an hour after we took off, with an annual total of twenty-nine thousand, four hundred and fifty-nine miles aggregated over the year so far.

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