Monthly Archives: February 2016

Volcanoes – where passion meets reality

What is it that attracts me in a volcano? After a long thought I think it is the fact that it makes me feel insignificant as a human being. Just one hiccup will be able to delete me from this beautiful planet. I think they show how powerful the earth is. At some point I decided to visit, admire, climb volcanoes in my holidays, together with a similar crazy friend of mine.

Oldoinyo Lengai – Tanzania

In 1998 my first trip with my friend. 3 Months backpacking through eastern Africa. Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania. A very memorable trip which made sure our friendship will last forever, in good and bad times, but mostly in travelling! This is also where the volcano passion really took off. Oldoinyo Lengai. Huh? Which one? A nice cone in the middle of nowhere. And we climbed it. For the sunrise, well, we Dutchies were too late of course, but what we did see at the top was simply astonishing! A splendid view over lake Natron but this was nothing compared to inside the crater. Amazing. I had never seen a volcano from the inside. Hardened lava, still warm, with kind of pinnacles with boiling mud. At least that was what we thought. Now I am older I think we were crazy, certainly now I realize this is a very unpredictable, active volcano. But hey, we did it, we seen it.

I travelled to Iceland for the first time in 2000. An adventure for me, hiking, camping and touring per public transportation. The Geysir and Strokkur were impressive, as was the 3-day Landmannalaugar hike. The country was desolate, rough, cold and wet but so beautiful! Especially the gigantic lava fields and incredible row of volcanoes at Lakagigar were very impressive. Of course this trip was way before the memorable explosion of Eyafjallajökull in 2010 left an impression in all our minds.

In 2015 we decided to go back to Iceland. This time for the full circle trip (see my Iceland blog).  Again many, many impressions. Now more focused on volcanoes like the Snaefellsjökull, Krafla, Katla, Eyafjallajökull, Heimey and again the Lakagigar. All different, all beautiful in a way. Mostly dormant, but hot fumes can be felt and seen in many places. New land, created during my life at Heimey, and also one of the few lava flows in the world actually stopped by man in the 70s. I find it surreal to see that a planet so beautiful can be so destructive, but yet creative.

New Zealand
Another adventure takes shape in my mind. Cycling through New Zealand (a blog about this trip will follow later). And when there, why not hike the Tongariro Circuit as well. Lord of the Rings was not filmed, I did not even know about Middle Earth yet. But hiking in this National Park made me feel small, again. The first day (basically the Tongariro Crossing) was very misty. We did not see much of the Ngauruhoe volcano. It maybe felt threatening in a way. If I would have known about LotR, I am sure Orcs must have been watching us. The next day the sky was clearer and we had to hike back a bit. We decided to climb on a nice ridge and got a splendid view on the Mount Ngauruhoe and the Emerald lakes. Time to sit and let it sink in. Just the two of us and nature. Inside Ngauruhoe something rumbled, sounding like a heavy steel door being closed with brute force. Realizing fleeing would not be an option we decided that if you need to go, then just let it be with a big bang! And nothing happened of course.

Spain, volcanoes? Well, yes. On the Canary Islands. They are volcanic, thus interesting also for the not sun, sea, sand lovers. Gran Canaria (2005) is a large dormant shield volcano. La Palma (2006) consists of two large volcanic centers. On is a stunning shield volcano Taburiente with nice hikes around, in and on top of the crater. Most recent eruption took place in the Cumbre Vieja, a volcanic ridge with numerous volcanic cones, and dates back to 1971, so not that long ago. And then there is Tenerife (2008) with the impressive Pico de Teide inside the huge Las Cañadas caldera. Barren, rocky, impressive and after Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa the largest volcano (measured from the bottom of the oceans).

The next step in my volcanic experience should be lava. I wanted to see lava. The closest to my home is Stromboli, just north of Sicily. One of the most active volcanoes in the world, with relatively small explosions occurring almost every day. In 2010 we arrived on the volcano, on a nice shore, in a nice little town, it flanks nice green with flowers. It all looked so friendly. Little did we know. In the late afternoon we hiked up. A steep walk, but worth every penny and drop of sweat. Standing on top of the rim, yes it is a bit touristic with 80 others, we were the spectators of a spectacular show. The mountain did not hold back for us. From 3 craters explosions occurred, spitting red lava in the air. The sound of crackling fire, the smell of sulfur, the sunset in the background. Wow, simply wow. A-ma-zing!

Back on Sicily we drive on the take a view of Etna. Huge, impressive, devastating, but quiet at that time. Yes, I need to get back to this one someday.

In 2011 the next impressive and historically seen very destructive volcano needed to be climbed. Vesuvius, towering above Napoli and standing like a dark memory in the background of Pompeii. Yes, we were disappointed when climbing this one. The top is not very impressive, the crated a bit dull. But… looking out over the millions of people living at its foot and knowing it is possibly the most dangerous volcano in the world makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. We visit Pompeii and Herculaneum and realize what this mountain did in the year 79 (for some nice reading I recommend Robert Harris – Pompeii).

Later in 2011 we decided to take our volcanic passion to the next level. Indonesia, volcano Walhalla with 147 mostly active volcanoes. Java, first Island to visit, Bromo the first volcano. Yes! This is it. The ashes of 6 months before is still clearly visible on the streets of the road up to the crater rim of the Tengger Volcano. The view is stunning, and the cone of Bromo is clearly visible. We climbed it in the evening, being the only ones on top for a moment. Nothing to see, but we hear the activity in the silence of the moment.

The trip proceeds east, showing us many cones along the route, Semeru with a plume, Merapi, and many more. Next stop is Kawah Ijen, with the world’s largest acidic crater lake. Well, we could smell. Sulphuric fumes everywhere. Very impressive, if not only for the local miners carrying up baskets of sulfur multiple times a day, challenging the highly toxic fumes and mostly dying before the age of 45. Yes, we stood in the crater, next to the miners and yes we got sulfurized. Stupid us, with burning eyes and throats we hiked back up. My earrings where black, the lunch tasted like rotten eggs, but we did it again. An experience to remember forever.

What next… in 2013 we decide to visit the mother of all volcanoes, or at least what is left of it. After reading Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa we of course needed to see it with our own eyes: Krakatau. The volcano possibly responsible for more than 30,000 deaths in 1883, again, not that long ago. We take a small boat, cross the Sunda Strait, arrive on this uninhabited Island called Anak Krakatau (the child of Krakatau). A new volcano arising from the depth of the sea, within the old crater of Krakatau. As soon as we put foot on the volcano a huge thunderstorm takes us by surprise. Nowhere to hide, we just sit it out, hoping for the best. Later that afternoon, after the skies cleared again, we climb the very active volcano. Sulfuric fumes vent from holes everywhere on the mountain. We see a lot of volcanic bombs everywhere along the flanks, and again we realize cannot run or hide if necessary. During the hike we notice some small islands around Anak Krakatau. These are the remains of the old crater. What an impressive mountain that must have been, blown away in just a few days and basically changing temperatures, climate, possibly economies in the whole world.

We presume our trip in West Java to interesting Papandayan volcano and the Tangkuban Perahu, which we descent per mountain bike, on a moment the volcano is officially closed due to activity. We did not know, until we reached the sign. Ah well, the back road was still open, obviously.

And more…?
Was this it? No, the story is still being written. My next trip is to Hawaii in 2016. Of course, as a volcano chaser kind of heaven on earth. Well, let’s see.

See some more pictures on