V is for Volcano

Elemental forces are at work again this week. In Sicily, we saw dramatic video of locals sheltering beneath umbrellas as rocks fell from the sky. Mount Etna is on the move.

Meanwhile, speculation mounted as high above our heads, a mile wide lump of ice and dust was apparently vaporised when it passed too close to the sun.

Santorini, in the caldera

Etna and Comet Ison are both almost magical manifestations of the heat and chill that make life happen. When J and I visited Santorini, the southernmost of Greece’s Cyclades islands, we felt that extraordinary power for ourselves.

It was J’s first close encounter with a volcano. The island is in fact the site of one of the largest recorded volcanic eruptions in history, which blew the heart of the island away, leaving just the steep high sides of the crater or caldera. The caldera is filled by sea these days, and to reach the active volcano, you board one of the many tourist boats that also take in the hot springs at Palea Kameni. The views from the boat and the island are stunning, but the interior is dry and brutal.

It’s the stench of sulphur that hits you first as you step off the boat onto the volcano. Then the heat, reflecting off the black shiny surface and seeping from the hillside itself. The trek up to the top is straightforward enough. What makes the experience come alive for any child are the puffs of smoke emanating from between the rocks. You can’t help but be impressed.

It is not the world’s most dramatic volcano. You don’t see lava, flames, much smoke, and you certainly don’t have to take shelter beneath your umbrella, in 2013 at least. But as a beginner’s volcano, it is just right, and its setting in the Aegean is very beautiful. Feel the force.

Santorini, black sands

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