Apr 25, 2005

My love's on fire.

Living less than thirty miles away from an active shield volcano has its advantages. The thousands of metric tons of sulfur dioxide it belches into the atmosphere everyday does not happen to be one of them, but the aesthetic splendor it provides is certainly a perk. Vast calderas, craters within calderas, lava tubes, and otherworldly landscapes demand amazement on behalf of the observer, as well as a deep-embedded urge to explore. In such a realm, one can observe from just a few meters away new land being formed; the ocean and older rock actively being built upon by the unstoppable force of nature itself. Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of the volcano, performs her craft slowly but relentlessly, sparing little in her path as she inundates the landscape with her fiery wrath en route to the sea. There is no telling exactly which path she might choose, but she is guaranteed to confidently obliterate every standing or sitting obstacle impeding her progress to the final destination.

This past Saturday evening, illuminated by a silvery sphere beaming in all her glory, found me coming face to torrid face with Pele. As I drove down Chain of Craters Road in Volcanoes National Park at twilight, I witnessed from a high cliff the moon rising above the sea. I wanted to set out an epic adventure and shed my human disguise as quickly as I could. I followed the road down to sea level and parked just before the small shelter where the rest of the highway was blocked off. Several humanae were crowded about the pavilions assembled on the old road, and I simply took off past them, carrying my gear upon my back. The highway had been converted into a foot path, as half a mile farther, it abruptly ended where an old lava flow completely blanketed it. I remember visiting the exact spot back in 1992, when I was a silly little 10 year-old who could not help but inquire, "how did they get the road under all that lava?"

The end of the road necessitated rambling over a vast, uneven field of lava rock. The "trail" consisted of a series of yellow reflectors set into the ground, and those only went as far as 1/3 of a mile to the "viewpoint." This was considered the end of the 'intermediate' section of the trail, where the difficult part for the hearty few was only just beginning. Even from this point, the view of the vibrant red-orange lava activity on the steep rift zone was impressive, but I desired to witness much more than that. It would be three miles farther to actually get close enough to the active lava to actually touch it (owwie), and I knew three miles over hard, jagged, uneven mounds of lava rock in the dark would seem much longer than three miles. I was easily accepting of the challenge, though, and preferred it to simply being able to drive all the way out there and sitting with a bunch of grannies who could get a good show from behind the windshields. Not my style.

The general route to the active lava flow was marked by six yellow flashing light bubbles, each spaced about half a mile apart. Such devices weren't essential for locating the flow, since one could easily see the orange patches through the dark void from several miles away, and all one had to do is maintain a consistent parallel course with the ocean. They were still useful for marking the optimal walking areas, though. On my way out there, I passed by a slew of humans heading back, all in groups of course, and most of them armed with their silly flashlights. The brilliant moonlight shimmering against the shiny black rocky surface provided more than enough light to guide my way, and I found such artificial light beams swinging around to be a nuisance at best. Even so, I managed to effectively ignore everyone as I trudged on, lost in my own little world as I felt the cool, strong ocean breeze caressing my face and my body. Unsurprisingly, Total Euphoria was playing on my iPod as I continued this amazing journey, ever choosing my path over the ground cover completely devoid of life, surrealistically sprawling for miles in every direction but that of the sea, which pounded against the young shoreline relentlessly. As usual, the moon was bringing something out in me, but it would not hurt me this time.

After awhile, I suddenly felt the wind become noticeably warmer. I knew I was getting close, then. Lo and behold, as soon as I reached the top of a ridge I could see that fresh, oozing lava was only a few dozen metres away. I pressed forward, feeling ever warmer, and stepped right up to the hot stuff. A few groups of people were out there carrying on about how 'incredible' it was, but I was too transfixed to pay them any attention. Something about a vast field consisting of patches of brilliant orange liquid fire beneath a royal blue moonlight Hawaiian sky is ... spellbinding. It was so entrancing indeed that I myself felt like a tourist in an alternate world full of unprecedented beauty. To stand but a few centimetres away from oozing molten lava, and watch it slowly progress down a slope like some unearthly substance that has a life of its own, is truly sensational. Of course, facing it from even a couple metres away produces a sensation comparable to sticking one's face into an oven pre-heated at 350 degrees. I could only get so close to it without feeling extremely uncomfortable. Even so, I managed to produce a few worthwhile photographs of some of the scenes. Even though they hardly do the experience justice, they do provide a glimpse as to what magnificence there was to be seen:


I cursed myself for not thinking to bring a stick to poke at the lava with, but others out there had. In fact, I did get a couple pictures of someone jabbing at it. It actually set the stick on fire and released a jet of flames out the other side of the molten lava mass. Ah, to manipulate nature in such ways... to think playing with lava is in many ways even more dangerous than playing with fire.

I mingled out there for hours, just wandering about the flow, avoiding any journeys on the freshly solidified, excessively fragile lava. After awhile, seemingly out of nowhere a great black cloud materialised and it passed over, dumping heavy rain on us few remaining souls and the lava. And oh, how the lava sizzled and steamed in response to the rain. It sounded quite eerie, in fact, and looked phantasmagoric. I watched the few remaining humans out there with me shuffle away behind a rock for shelter as I spread my arms and invited the warm rain and hot steam all over my body. That was, perhaps, the orgasmic climax of the evening. Though the rain stopped as quickly as it had started, I felt thoroughly refreshed, and quite soaked. After midnight, everyone had gone, but I stayed out for at least another hour, having it all to myself. I was fortunate enough to witness a portion of rock breaking open only a short distance away, a steady stream of white hot molten lava spewing out rapidly. It significantly brightened up the entire area.

And while all this way happening, I had a certain song on repeat... a song that repeated the chorus, "My love's on fire..."

Increasing tiredness was my sole motivator for heading back. I could have stayed out there until dawn had I perhaps a tree to rest under, but I also did not wish to be exposed by the morning sun. My return journey went quite smoothly, until the last eighth of a mile. Somehow, I experienced a lapse of sure-footedness, and my right leg and right arm came crashing down on the lava, resulting in some nasty cuts and scrapes. In fact, both my arm and leg were dripping blood. There was nothing I could practically do about it until I got home. Yes, the stinging sensation was quite intense by the time I got back on the road. A shower at 5 in the morning never felt so apropos.

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