Volcano Live

“Love, my territory of kisses and volcanoes.”
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

I don’t usually watch these television daredevil stunt/event shows – specials where some amazing or death-defying feat is hyped to the moon and sent into your living room complete with breathless commentary and dramatic music.I don’t have anything against such antics and don’t blame folks for watching but I… I have a life. I simply can’t spare the time for the hype, padding, and endless commercial breaks.

Tonight,though, I sat down to watch “Volcano Live” where famed high wire performer Nik Wallenda walks over an active volcano with a lava pool. He chose the Masaya volcano in Nicaragua. It’s stretched out to two hours, which is too long, but I had to see the thing. I had to see it because I have been there.

When I lived in Managua in the early 1970’s it was tough to get to the vent of the Masaya volcano. It is not a tall, symmetrical, picturesque classical volcano (like the nearby Momotombo) – but rather a low, complex jumble of craters, mounds, calderas, and cooled lava. Actually, the active vent is called Santiago – one of several openings in the Masaya complex. We would have to make arrangements for a four wheel drive vehicle so we could cross the miles of extremely rough fresh hardened lava that surrounded the vent. It was black as pitch and sharp as broken glass. Most of the times we went up there the road would be washed out and the last couple miles had to cross on foot.

It was worth it, though. The Santiago vent was amazingly deep, with a bright red pool of molten lava at the bottom. Every few minutes there would be a crescendo in the roar coming from the vent and incandescent lava bombs would come shooting out, arcing and cooling to fall, black and solid, against the bottom of the crater. The sulfur dioxide infused steam streaming out of the vent was choking and nasty – adding another level of frightening deadly threat. At night, the entire top of the mountain would be bathed in flaming light, the crimson glow of molten rock that much brighter.

Some of my brightest memories of my high school days – almost a half century ago – are of me and my friends clambering around and exploring the rugged toxic moonscape around the active volcano.

Now, the top of the volcano is a national park and they have an improved road to the top. It’s a popular tourist destination. You should go there sometime.

Watching this crazy man walk across the vast space brings back so many memories.

A few years ago, my sister took a bunch of carousels of slides that we had taken over decades and all over the world and had them digitized onto DVDs. I dug through all those old photos (the only problem is they were all jumbled up together) and found a few of the Masaya volcano. I never had a telephoto lens and the fog was always thick so I don’t have a picture of the red lava, but it’s nice to help remember.

The photos aren’t of great quality – but I took them in 1973 or so – almost fifty years ago. That is really hard for me to wrap my head around.

The crater of Masaya Volcano taken from the rim of the active crater. It is a lot larger than this photo suggests. The molten lava is hidden in the inner crater – if you look closely you can see a bit of red. Looking at this scene on television tonight – it looks like that inner crater has expanded significantly in the decades since I took this photo.

A blurry photo (taken from a moving vehicle) of the low Masaya volcano complex taken from the highway several miles away. It shows the rugged lava plain that had to be crossed to get there.

Scrambling around on the top of Masaya volcano in the early 1970s.

Some friends of mine standing on the rim of the crater at Masaya volcano, Nicaragua.

Smoke, steam, and sulfur dioxide coming out of the volcano, Masaya, Nicaragua.

Smoke, steam, and sulfur dioxide coming out of the volcano, Masaya, Nicaragua.

Scrambling down a steep pile of volcanic ash, Masaya, Nicaragua

 

 

4 responses to “Volcano Live

  1. What a fantastic experience, and what great photos. Old photos often appeal to me more than today’s: maybe it’s the fading, or the lack of self-consciousness that characterized so many of them. They do a fine job of evoking memories, that’s for sure.

    • Thanks. Old photos are cool – I miss the evenings when we would drag out the boxes of slide carousels and sit in a darkened room looking at and commenting on hundreds of slides.

      Swiping through a phone doesn’t have the same gravitas.

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