November 02, 2013

Thunder from the Earth. On top of Mt Benbow, Ambrym. Vanuatu

Sleeping on a ridge next to an active volcano was an experience I will never forget. Mt Benbow in Ambrym was noisy all night long. There would be a period of silence, and then it would make a rumbling noise like thunder, which shook the ground, before subsiding to silence again.

It was the ground shaking I was not used to. I have experienced a few earthquakes in both Tokyo and Port Vila, in Vanuatu, but these were one-off events, and the shaking lasted for less than 30 seconds. But this was continuous. Mt Benbow was displaying its power, and also its beauty, as the warm orange glow of its lave lake lit up the sky above it.

In the early morning, the volcanic rumblings were overshadowed by an intense tropical thunderstorm, which flooded the single man tents we were in. I could not tell which was thunder and which was the volcano rumbling. It was 4AM, sleep was now impossible. We decided to collapse the tents, and store them to be picked up on our return journey, as we walked to the rim of the volcano. Fresh lava bombs lay on the path to the top, a constant reminder to stay alert and watch the volcano and sky at all times.

The bellowing smoke obscured the lava lake in the inner crater, with only occasional glimpses of the lava being possible. The noise was tremendous, the sound was similar to massive waves breaking on the shore, and then being sucked back out to sea again, as the lava moved backwards and forwards in its crater.

We stayed up there watching, listening and enjoying the activity and noise, before reluctantly starting the walk back to the tents, and to start the climb down out of the caldera. The volcano had one last surprise for us, as we left the rim a huge explosion occurred, the ground shaking, and smoke and lava being thrust high into the air. We watched the arc of the lava bombs as they cooled, moving as if in slow motion, before they succumbed to gravity and hit the side of the outer crater. The wind, which had been swirling in all directions, was now blowing away from us, otherwise we would have been covered in volcanic debris.

Far Flung Travel Tips

* For  an excellent guide, contact Bae Willpen from Meltugon Village on 5413026

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