Into The Volcano
Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Into The Volcano
The seminal Chronicles of a Footloose Forester has always been an unscheduled mélange of essays, stories, dreams, and adventures. If he had his way, the adventures would predominate and the stories would follow. The dreams pop up uninvited but not unexpected, and, finally, the essays are laborious creations that may or may not relate to a lifetime of pondering about how things are related. In recent years there are fewer and fewer adventures to remember, fewer savory tales to tell, and a dilution of the occasional dreams that stimulate his psyche. These days the stories and the adventures can only be constituted from brief fragments of reverie. No more set-piece adventures with prior plans, conscious execution, and storied summaries. The wild times are over.
The days of rough-and-tumble adventuring…On the road…again! may be over but snippets of reverie about some of the more exciting times just refuse to go away. Going into volcanos easily qualifies as adventure, even if there have been few details to assist in bringing the episodes to life. This chronicle is an attempt to resurrect the spirit of adventuring by collecting a few of those snippets of reverie. As usual, the times are without chronology and the places not chosen in advance.
The first volcano into which the Footloose Forester ever descended was not the first one he ever saw up close, but it was the second. The first was Volcán Irazú due east and not far from San Jose, Costa Rica. He immediately developed a yearning to go beyond the volcano rim and down into the caldera but he was a part of a study group whose timetable did not allow that to happen. That same study group, however; spent a few hours at another volcano a few days later and the Footloose Forester jumped at the opportunity to explore on his own. He left the others and descended into the heart of the caldera of Volcán Poás. The memory of the molten gray soup of liquefied rock in the lake of the caldera is one of those mental photos that we all relate to. It would be inaccurate to say that the soup was red hot, but it was hot enough to cause steam to form whenever the wind pushed even small waves against the walls of the caldera. Volcán Poás has erupted 40 times since 1828 and was finally closed to pedestrian traffic after its last eruption in April 2017.
Red line indicates clockwise trek into Poas
One last trek to the rim of a volcano in Costa Rica was to witness the fury of Volcán Tenorio in Guanacaste Province. The sound of steam coming from fumaroles on its flanks and the stench of sulfurous gas was so overpowering that we thought we were risking our lungs by tarrying too long. On our way back down to the road, we passed a stone hut that had been abandoned. There was volcanic ash halfway up the outside of the open doorway, marking just how deep the ash blanket of a recent eruption really was.
Witnessing the fiery and restless magma chamber of the fire pit of Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii was enough to dissuade any desire to venture closer to peer into its yawning caldera. Besides, the walls of the caldera are practically vertical all around and have been roped off to prevent anyone from getting too close and losing their balance. Another indelible impression, however; of the forces of nature. Volcanos have their own timetables regarding when they display their most awesome awesomeness, but Kilauea Volcano has been actively erupting almost continuously for several decades, making it one of the most active volcanos in the world.
The taxi ride into the interior of the caldera of Fogo, a volcano in the Cape Verde Islands, was seemingly the antithesis of danger because there has long been a winding road constructed there that cuts through a breach in one of its flanks, making access fairly routine. But as a giant that does not always sleep, Fogo erupted several times in the 1800s, erupted again in 1951 and 1995, and most recently in 2014, not long after the time the Footloose Forester set foot in its caldera in 1987.
Fogo Volcano, Cape Verde Archipelago
The chain of volcanos lining the cordillera of western Central America is like a necklace of pimples in the landscape. Some are large and some are small. Some are actively smoking and rumbling, while others are presently sleeping. One of the small ones that was so conveniently accessible to a major road in El Salvador was a sure bet to be on the list of places that Footloose Forester planned to visit. In fact, when the opportunity to explore it came up, he asked the bus driver to drop him off opposite the most likely access point adjacent to the highway. The stop was not his destination but it was so quick and straight forward that Footloose Forester can scarcely believe that he quickly descended to the very center of the caldera where only a few weeds were growing in their innocuous bed of unique soil. Only by looking up to see the symmetrical ring of the volcano’s steep walls did he appreciate the fact that local people live on its outer slopes.
Only a few days later the Footloose Forester took the opportunity to climb the flanks of Volcán Izalco, in the heart of the Volcanos Region of El Salvador. The experience is one he will never forget. Not only did he fulfill a genuine bucket list type of adventure, but he was forever rewarded with access to photos and satellite images of an iconic volcano that has a vibrant history of eruptive activity. Volcán Izalco is among the most recent in the history of El Salvador to develop yet has a history as one of the most active. It erupted almost continuously from 1770 to 1958, earning it the nickname of “Lighthouse of the Pacific.” It last erupted in 1966.
Scrambling up the slopes of Izalco to its narrow rim took only a couple of hours. Despite the fact that The Lighthouse of the Pacific no longer emits a steady column of smoke, there are a couple of small fumaroles inside the rim near the top. Wisps of sulfurous smoke appear occasionally but are not constant. The descent to the now inactive floor of the caldera was not difficult, so Footloose Forester worked his way down to the floor just to embellish the memory of standing inside of a famous volcano.
The Santa Ana Volcano is only a few miles away and its flanks are visible from Izalco. The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadaria made getting to the top very easy, as we gently set down on its narrow rim in a government helicopter. Santa Ana is one of those that has a sizeable lake of molten magma at its core and usually emits thin columns of smoke and steam. That snippet of reverie was short but sweet.
Volcán de Santa Ana
An Economics professor at Rutgers once interrupted the chalkboard drawing of his demand curve to turn to us, his students, and out of the blue he declared that “real adventure is in books.” The Footloose Forester was immediately puzzled by that statement and has lived out his life wondering how real adventure could be more compelling than being … On the road…again! and living the adventures that may or may not be found in books.