Friday, April 15, 2011

Tanna Adventure

Week 4: Tanna Adventure

It had been quiet at the hospital this week so I decided to go with the women from New Zealand to the volcanic island of Tanna for an overnight trip. I bought my plane ticket at the local Vanuatu Air ticket office and packed my hip pack and was ready to go. We left early Thursday morning in search of a bus to take us to the airport. We had walked to the end of the street and I realized I had forgotten my passport. So, I ran back and grabbed it. I return and the ladies have still not found a bus. I see one and flag it down.

We get checked in at the airport and to our amusement there is a low budget film crew from Madrid, Spain who are frantically running around assessing their filming site, the airport. Annoyingly, they are holding up our flight for ½ hour’s time. We had discussed why hadn’t this film crew arrive early to get their film shots. Finally, the film crew had completed its business and we board onto a small plane. Tanna Island here we come!

We step down the stairs of the airplane onto the tarmac and walk over to a tiny airport, through the doors and look for our driver. Our driver is not here. In fact, he never arrives. We have forgotten the name of the place we are staying and did not bring the brochure. A woman sees our distress and approaches us to help. I had a cell phone with me and we find the number of the place we are staying in the phone history as I had called them the day before to reserve a room. The woman talks to Dream Island Bungalows (our accommodations) to find out that the river had been high and the driver was not able to get over to the airport in time to pick us up and that he had just passed over the river. So, the woman finds a driver for us and we are off to the East side of the island.

We have about a 3 hours drive to our bungalow on a road that is quite bumpy. We cross the river and drive over miles of wide expansive volcanic ash at the base of Mt. Yasur (the active volcano on Tanna Island). We continue on the bumpy ever-changing volcanic ash road and arrive to our bungalow. It is a beautiful setting overlooking a lake and the ocean. We get settled in and decide to hike to the local beach, which is about a ½ hour’s walk to the white sand beach. We arrive and go for a quick dip, as the sea was un-inviting (the current was strong). As we walk back we get caught in a heavy downpour. This was the beginning of the heavy rains that pretty much ruined our Tanna trip.

We had heard that when it rains here that it is difficult to drive up to the volcano. Despite the warnings our driver attempts to get us to the volcano. We try one road and it is no longer accessible. When you see small waterfalls in the road, it is not a good road to be traversing! The roads on Tanna Island are made of volcanic ash and when it rains here the ash easily washes out and the road changes in a matter of minutes. There can be holes in the roads, big drop-offs, un-even terrain, etc. So, back to the adventure of getting to the volcano… Our driver turns around and decides to take us on the beach to try another route. We “slide” a short distance down the beach and suggest going back to the bungalows. The driver happily agrees and we start our drive back. As we are pulling into the bungalows the left front wheel of the truck falls off. Luckily we are very close to our accommodations and this did not happen miles away in the downpour. The driver and his assistant scramble to look for the 6 bolts to the wheel as the sky is beginning to turn to night. We head to the dining bungalow to wait for our dinner and count our blessings.

After dinner we are exhausted and head off to bed. Our accommodations are simple, 3 beds and a table. I sleep on the bed underneath the window, which ends up being a mistake as it pours all night long with heavy gusts of wind, which blow rain on me over the course of the night. Elizabeth and I hear something crinkling in the room. She turns the flashlight on to see that there is a rat in the room munching on the bread that was left out. This rat was big! The body was about 8 inches long. She puts the bread in her luggage. I now have some trouble falling asleep; rain falling on me, rats crawling around, fleas jumping, etc. It is going to be a long night, as I think to myself. Shortly after the rat returns and I see it crawling up Elizabeth’s bed near her luggage which she has up on her bed. I call out her name but she is deeply sleeping. I shoo off the rat, which was the last I heard of it that night.

We awake in the morning to more rain and it is suggested to us that we get an early start back to the airport in order to make our 3pm flight back to Efate. So after our breakfast we begin at 9am our drive back to the airport. To begin the drive to the airport, we have a truck in front of us with 8 men with shovels who are creating the road for us to drive over as the rains had destroyed the road. This was a slow process as you can imagine. I get out of the truck to assess the situation and watch what the men are doing and think to myself, what am I doing here. As I walk back to the truck I take a look at the wheel that had fallen off last night to see that they had only found 4 of the 6 bolts that were once on the wheel. Hmmm, hopefully the wheel will stay on this time! We inquire with the driver regarding the wheel and he tells us he will drive us to the river and then we will get in another truck. Oh good! We arrive to the river and it is too high to pass. So we all squat at the river for a couple of hours. The river is at the base of the volcano and as we sat there waiting for the river to go down the volcano would “grumble” from time to time. To pass the time, I immersed myself in the Mistress of Rome, which is a great book if you haven’t read it already. Meanwhile, the men are assessing the river.

We get the okay to get in another truck to cross the river. In this truck to cross the river, I am standing in the back on the bed of the truck holding tight onto these bars. Oh, so this is going to be like a roller coaster ride. Nice! We are all ready and the driver starts the car and then just as we think we are going he turns the engine off. Okay, false alarm. We wait another ½ hour and then we decide to cross. And it was a breeze crossing the river. We drive for about a ½ hour and something is wrong with this truck and they pull over to stop another driver of a truck who had crossed the river too. Our driver asks the other driver if he could take us to the airport. He agrees and we are now in truck three of the day to the airport!

Now, driver number three is quite in a hurry to get us to the airport. We are slipping and sliding down the road. We end up in the ditch twice. The first time in the ditch we went I was not sure that we would make it out. There were many times on this drive to the airport I was uncertain if we were going to get there in time to board our plane. Although we got to the airport in time with a ½ hour to collect ourselves and reflect on what happened in the last 24 hours. Stepping onto the plane and off onto Efate terrain was a very happy moment for us 3 women! Lesson learned, check the weather forecast before going to Tanna and go when it is not raining.

Highlights of the quiet week at the hospital included lots of gauze cutting and folding, cotton rolling, scissor sharpening, cleaning, stocking and organizing. As well, one of the baby’s I delivered was from a 19-year-old woman who had inverted nipples. The mom and baby are the perfect match because the 3.42 kg boy had a great strong suck reflex.

The end of my activities here on Efate is closely approaching.

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