We had hiked six hours to the top of the volcano, across its ash ridden ridges and the barren land scattered by wild cane, to look into the misty depths of the crater. It was eerie up there, the wind wild and unsympathetic, freezing our skin and threatening to push us into the volcanoes fiery depths.
Afterwards, we huddled around a fire in a small shelter on the ash plane. We shared the box of wine that Michelle had trudged up to the top of the Volcano with to celebrate her birthday. And with it we had a few breakfast crackers, tuna, and some cookies, the little food we had brought to the top for the three of us suddenly divided between us, Michelle’s Auntie and our guide. Starving, we gobbled down our small portions and tried to allow the fire and wine to warm us.
It was bad preparation on our part, though in fairness not all of the circumstances were under our control. We didn’t bring enough food and we definitely didn’t bring enough blankets. Michelle, attempting to take responsibility for something that was all of our faults, worried that we were uncomfortable. We were of course, but I couldn’t help laughing it off. If everything went right in life, we’d never notice the parts that really mattered and there’d be no story, no adventure.
That night Amanda somehow ended up with the sleeping bag, while Michelle and I froze our butts off. It didn’t matter, we were informed the next day by the guide that we had slept in the wrong direction, perpendicular to the strips of bamboo beneath us rather than parallel and none of us therefore had gotten even a wink of sleep laying across an uncomfortable series of bumps.
We ate our remaining breakfast crackers, walked the four hour hike down, and then took a boat back to the North part of Ambrym, where we were staying at the school with Michelle’s Auntie. It was early afternoon on Sunday. So now it was time to attempt to tackle my other problem, that had also been self-inflicted by my own lack of preparation. I was supposed to be back in my village by that Friday for the opening of my school library.
What Michelle, Amanda, and I learned quickly is that it is very hard to get off of Ambrym. The airport is closed because of land disputes and ship schedules are impossible to keep track of. All the ships were off schedule or not getting to Santo until Saturday. I had basically resigned myself to the fact that I was going to miss my library opening. I knew it was a possibility but of course I was not thrilled about it as it is the biggest project I’ve worked on as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
At about half seven that night, a girl came over to the house to tell me that she was chartering a small fiber glass boat from Ambrym to Pentecost the next morning and that I could join her on it by chipping in twenty dollars. So the next day I found myself at the Pentecost airport after a morning of being huddled under the boats tiny cargo hold with my travel companion and new friend, gripping her hand tightly as we were tossed mercilessly by one wave and slammed unceremoniously into the next wave.
The two flights that day were booked, obviously, so I waited at the airport to see if I could sneak onto one of the planes. A plane that was coming from Vila and headed to Santo landed and out of it stepped Matthew Hardwick, a 6 year PCV, and current resident of Vanuatu. In this country it’s pretty typical to run into at least one person you know even when you think the chances of it are quite unlikely, so I was glad to see him but not necessarily surprised.
Hardwick let me jump in his United Nations chartered truck to go to Melsisi, Pentecosts biggest “town”. Another Peace Corps Volunteer from the new group (G26), Elise, lives at the hospital there so I showed up at her front door and grinning awkwardly, asked her if I could crash at her place for a few nights, apologizing for my short (nonexistent) notice. This isn’t rude, it’s just part of being a Peace Corps Volunteer. Hardwick, laughing at me, recounted all the times he had done the same thing, or others had done the same thing to him.
Before going to Pentecost I had drank and made every form of kava (rammed, chewed, and grinded) besides stone ground kava. Pentecost is the place for stone ground kava. So I hung out with Elise and Hardwick that first night, but when they traveled to the East Coast of Pentecost the next day (Elise to do hospital work and Hardwick to do filming for the United Nations) I had to stay back and I used the free time I had to track down someone who could grind kava with a stone. Not only did I get to drink it, but I was able to help make it too. Somewhat of a success considering it’s difficult to find stone ground kava in Melsisi, and the island is not as progressive as Santo in allowing women to drink kava.
The next morning, I woke up and with my very last vatu, managed to get to the airport and on a flight back to Santo. All of this occurred in the course of about 7 days. I planned poorly and messed things up more times than I can possibly count. But I got from Point A to Point B, and I did it by having plenty of adventures in between.
During my time on Pentecost, my headmaster called to inform me that there was a "married" on Friday and he had therefore decided to change the opening of the library to next month. I had wasted my time going out of my way for no reason at all. After he told me, I experienced a small flash of anger before I laughed. That’s the only thing you really can do, the only thing that makes any sense to do. Laugh.
Really, in the end, no matter how hard you try you will never be fully prepared for anything. Things will always go wrong, you will always end up sleeping the wrong way on a bamboo floor, fighting the cold. You will always have to take a detour through one place to get to another. And you will always find that what you’re fighting for may not even be there when you finally make it to what you think is your destination.
Two mornings back in my Village and Julie knocked on my door. Still bleary eyed from sleep, I listened as she asked me to go to the bush of Santo with her, about a 5 hour walk and a two day adventure. It was something I had been wanting to do and had no idea if I would get a chance to do it as my time is running out here quickly. So I said yes, grabbed my bush knife and camera and followed her out the door. Sometimes it’s as simple as that, as simple as saying yes to an adventure you’re not sure you’re ready to take. As simple as remembering that things don’t have to go right to be good.
After all, I wouldn’t even be here if I had waited until I was ready to be, if I had waited until I was prepared to be. If I had waited for that, I never would have come here. What I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I’m a terrible planner, but I’m great at saying yes and that has made the last few years of my life a whirlwind of excitement, mistakes, borderline poverty, and adventure. I regret none of it.