As a last-hoorah before my island-mate Sam finished her two years of service, we made the trip to Lopevi, the sea volcano we’d been staring at for two years. In the 1980s the government resettled Lopevi’s residents after a particularly large explosion. The uninhabited volcano is a kind of paradise to the islanders: fish, wild yam, crab and coconut are all in abundance. We packed tents, water, matches and kava, and set off for the volcano on a speed boat with some friends from the village.
After an hour-long, wave-sloshing ride, we arrived at the south side of Lopevi where purple flowers grow over the black sand beach. As we landed the boat, a old man appeared and walks towards us. Apparently some of Lopevi’s resettled residents had began to trickle back to live on their ancestral lands, risk of fire and ash or not. His daughter welcomed us with a bamboo shelter to sleep in and a pile of wild yams to roast. Sam and my mission had been to enjoy and explore the volcano, but the ni-van’s viewed the trip as an opportunity to stuff as many crabs and yams into the rice sacks they held as possible. So as to not encroach upon this surprise family’s food supply, we sought out an uninhabited sleep spot.
Due to years of eruptions, trails of lava flows swerve down Lopevi’s hill and spill into the sea, creating a coastline of jagged volcanic rocks. Our boat driver managed to find a scrap of sand flanked by two magma spills where we landed the boat and set up our tents. I remember our country director describing the Peace Corps as “two years of camping”, but life in the village is much more permanent. I have a bucket shower, a bed shrouded by a mosquito net, plastic plates, a solar panel. This is camping. We dig a hole to go to the toilet, scratch coconuts with a clam shell, and strain kava through Sam’s spare shirt. At night we wriggle in our tents to carve out a space for our bodies in the dense sand.
Mt. Yassur on Tanna, the world’s most accessible/least safety regulated volcano, is billed as the must-see tourist destination in Vanuatu; it literally continuously blows scalding magma into the sky, guaranteeing a spectacular show. Lopevi performs no such magic, remaining banally inactive: not even a wisp of smoke since I’ve arrived! The villagers in Lulep love when Lopevi erupts. The ocean barrier prevents the lava from reaching our island; instead it runs into the water, killing all the fish that wash up on our shore, creating a biblical-style feast on the shore. Viewing the fiery eruption was “better than TV!” according to the villagers. If Lopevi blows, I’m claiming a front-row seat on our hill with a fire and sack of wild yams.