"Come on you two, - time you got up". Dad’s familiar voice broke through my dreamless sleep and rudely reminded me that at 4 a.m. it really was time to get up. I could hear Charmian’s sleepy voice in the next bed also protesting at the interruption.

There was nothing for it but to get up. Dad was like that. His aura of authority brooked no alternative and no procrastination. Anyhow Dad had promised a very special trip and he was nearly always fun to be with. Excitement generated by curiosity and the prospect of another trip into the unknown in the old Chevvy with Dad and Mum and cousins Audrey and Noel quickly replaced the earlier reluctance to get out of bed.

We had packed our bags the night before and so we were really ready to go off on this trip of mystery. Breakfast was soon disposed of…. porridge and scrambled eggs on toast with bacon was traditional family fare for breakfast… The Mexican crispy salty bacon especially was mouth watering and the eggs cooked in butter and sprinkled with pepper on home made bread was another treat. But these were all just taken for granted in the excitement of departure and we were all pestering Dad to get going.

He had not said much about the trip. It had all been decided at short notice. It had been prompted by reports of a great event that had taken place many miles away from hometown Pachuca. The newspapers were full of the story as were the reports over the radio. Dad simply decided that the event was so special and unusual that there was no way that we should not all see it. As it was July 1943 it meant that we would miss school for a week and he would have to get leave from his job and so eat into his time entitlement for the usual summer break in Acapulco.

We were soon piling into the car. Four kids and two adults and the dog with our baggage in the trunk quickly filled the vehicle. The back was a seething mass as we quarrelled over who was to sit where…the window seats particularly being the most disputed positions. There was no rule about who got what. Dad’s "Stop that confounded noise" was the signal for the scrum to die down. It was also dictated that seats would be rotated at the "next stop" - some two hours away he said. And so it was that Audrey and I started in the window seats, by virtue of superior strength and initial persistence. Noel and Charmian and the dog somehow squeezed into the middle of the rear seat. "Jumbo" the family black thick haired water spaniel however continued to scrabble after the parental edict and eventually wormed 0into a position where he could stick his nose out of the window. There he slobbered over Audrey or me in turn as he switched from one side of the car to the other, leaving a trail of black hair and slobber to everyone’s irritation.

The San Juan 6 a.m. mine hooted its noisy daily statement and call to work when Dad finally got the car going and we backed out of the house yard onto the mine road down to the Loreto Mill and the dusty town of Pachuca. The destination that day was the City of Morelia in the state of Michoacan some 300 miles away. The morning presented the usual clear blue skies and spring fresh air created by an altitude of over 8000 feet and the dry, almost desert like conditions of the Mexican high country. The high winds for which Pachuca was called La Cuidad de la Venta had not yet had time to get going, and it was not long before we had escaped our dusty hometown and headed south on the main highway for Mexico City.
The first part of the journey was straightforward and relatively tranquil. After just over an hour we had reached the outskirts of Mexico City. The road had taken us through open country dotted with Pirul gum trees, Maguey cactus and fields of alfalfa and corn. We reached Tizayuca, the town more or less half way to the capital by 7 that morning and then over the "smelly" bridge. British engineers (Weetman Pearson Ltd) built the bridge and the wide, deep open (and even smellier) canal to drain sewage from Mexico City in the early days of the century. This familiar but unpleasant landmark was our common experience when travelling this way. It never ceased to be a source of nasty odours and comment as we went passed. Almost every time we passed over it Dad would say "here’s the smelly bridge built by the British…. won’t be long now" from which we could assume that a meal and pause "for leaks" would soon be on offer.

The passage through the city to find the road to Morelia was punctuated by trouble with the police…actually only one of this august and earnest body of men was involved. He made the usual moves of his kind to augment his paltry government pay packet. Dad drove through the traffic lights controlling one of the major intersections just as the lights were changing from Green to red. Quick as a flash our guardian of the law and dictator of all traffic left his hiding place and strode onto the road in front signalling us to stop. I did not catch what Dad muttered under his breath, but it did not take much imagination to guess what words he used. Something about "b..**!! Cops" and probably words besides.

The stop did not take long and the business was completed with the efficiency of one long familiar with the ways of the local gendarmerie. The representative of law and order was also well versed in the routine. The policeman demanded Dad’s driving license and Dad duly produced it from its home in the front glove box. But Dad being the old hand he was had the foresight to tuck a 10 peso note in the license for just such an eventuality. Quicker than the eye could see, the money disappeared into the policeman’s pocket and after a civil exchange of pleasantries he returned Dad’s now lighter license and waved us on. The ceremony of " La Mordida" had been completed without rancour. Dad simply shrugged his shoulders philosophically, saying something else not meant for childish ears that sounded like "Sin verguenzas y ladrones" and proceeded to drive on.

We did not stop for breakfast, having already had one. But we did stop for "leaks" once we were west of Mexico City on National Highway 15 to Morelia. The opportunity was the usual scruffy PEMEX gasoline station. Whilst Dad was helped to fill the gas tank we each in turn trooped off to "El Bano". One was for "Mujeres" and the other for "Hombres" (higher class establishments used the words "Damas" and "Caballeros" for similar facilities). I cannot say what the former was like but the latter was even smellier than the smelly bridge and could have done with its own separate drainage canal. Mum complained bitterly about the state of the one she used, so I guess it could not have been much better. As for Jumbo, well he did not seem to be bothered and simply went off into the bush beside the station to do his own thing. It took a while to find him though.

Mexican gasoline was leaded and not of high quality. It had its own peculiar odour, characteristic and familiar and very "Mexicano". So was the odour of the exhaust gas from the car. These smells were part of every stop at a PEMEX station as was the routine of the crowd of helpers hanging around most stations at that time.

The moment the car stopped half a dozen or more small boys crowded round offering to blow up the tyres, clean the windows, and wash the car or whatever. One or two lucky ones were given something to do for a few centavos. The rest then hung around and asked for money or something to eat.

Being small and roughly of the same age as these urchins I did not see them for what they really were, dirt poor, hungry, ill educated and probably homeless. I just saw them as other boys who were bent on having fun at my expense. Their favourite greeting was "Hola gringo" and that really got me mad as I regarded myself as English, not American. Dad was always reminding us of this and that we were somehow different and separate from the Yankees.

Dad had a way with people. With a ready smile he always seemed to manage these situations well. He’d make a game of giving the boys a job to do and would bargain with them over the price, driving their asking price down as far as he could. However when it came time to pay they always got much more than the agreed price and so honour was satisfied on both sides. There was often laughter and a smile when the deal was concluded. He had obviously learnt much from his endless years in Mexico and had developed an affinity with local folk that was rare, but typical of "old hands"

The next time we stopped for "leaks" was in the open country where Maguey cactus, the odd tree and sparse shrubs provided privacy, and the ground was clean. That actually was our usual routine on journeys like this. In the vast countryside the absence of much traffic and the scarcity of public toilets made attending the calls of nature in this way a matter of course. We did not think twice about it. Nor did Jumbo. His technique was to leap out of the car as soon as it had stopped intent on cocking his leg over as many targets as he could before being hauled back. I often wondered at his capacity.

It took practically the whole day to get to Morelia. We stopped for lunch in one of the towns on the way. It was quaintly named Zitacuaro. The restaurant was a small one by the side of the road. The fact that it had a clean toilet with hot water was enough to satisfy Mum. A blackboard served as the menu and listed the usual "tacos a su gusta, quesedillas, enchiladas, frijoles, huevos como le gustan, tortillas, café" and the ubiquitous Coca Cola. A radio blared Mexican music over large loudspeakers to give the place its ambiente. Mexico without noise was unthinkable, but the noise here was really pleasant with a good rhythm and pleasant singing. Ever the optimist Mum asked for tea but received the reply usual in those days "No hay senora, sabe usted que es la Guerra". The war was used was the current excuse for anything that could not be done or made available.

We arrived in Morelia in the late afternoon and headed straight for the square "La Plaza". Dad quickly found and booked us into a hotel on one corner of the square. It was built like the rest of the buildings in the centre of that old city where Spanish Colonial architecture prevailed. Most of buildings faced into the square and were edged by wide pavements under roofs supported on wide arches made of old stone.

The square had a bandstand at its centre. Formal pathways were laid out on each outer edge with branching ways leading to the bandstand. Benches placed at regular intervals for people to sit on. Large trees and flowerbeds graced the square. Like, every city built by the colonial Spanish this square was the gracious centre of Morelia. Flowers seemed to be everywhere, in the beds, in clay and stone pots on the ground and in pots hanging from buildings, street lampposts and the footway arches. No one seemed to be in a hurry, lending a generally relaxed air about the place. It was a clean city with an air of wellbeing and prosperity that was missing in the mining camp town we called home.

After such a long trip we were all feeling hot and irritable. So the cool of the hotel lobby and the welcoming smiles did much to restore us. We were accommodated in three rooms. Noel and I were in one, Audrey and Charmian in another and Mum and Dad in the third and the largest with a view over the square. Fortunately this arrangement prevented any quarrels over where we were going to sleep. The rooms were on the top floor some five levels above the ground level. Jumbo being experienced in the ways the family and of hotels found the coolest spot. I found him quenching his thirst from the toilet in my room. He was much abused for this, but who could blame him? He had been forgotten in the scrum of getting settled and must have been very thirsty especially after his earlier efforts at the many stops along the way.

After shower and a meal in the hotel restaurant Dad got every one together to discuss the plans for the next day. He had revealed earlier the reason for the sudden decision to go on holiday. We were to see, if we could, a new volcano named after the tiny village of Paricutin.

The guide was quite happy to wait whilst we took in the scene. The deal Dad had done with him ensured that he was well paid for his trouble and allowed us to stay there taking in the spectacle until late that night. The idea was that we would stay long enough to be able to see the eruptions in the dark. Following sensible Mexican custom the guide had taken himself off into the hut to have a siesta whilst we took in the scene. The horses were tethered by the side of the hut and seemed totally oblivious to the tremendous noises and sights going on around them. It was extraordinary how calm and quiet they were. They were obviously now used to the hellish scene, but their first experience of Paricutin must have sent them into a wild panic. They had been given some fodder and there was water for them in an old trough by the hut, so they were content, although the water and fodder must have been gritty being exposed all the time to the fall of ash.

As the sun sank that evening and real darkness came the volcanic show became ever more spectacular. We could no longer see the dark ash column climbing into a dark sky.

Instead flashes of lightning became more obvious producing an eerie effect that enabled us to see just the general shape of the column and its ill-defined boiling mass. It was like looking at huge sparks of electricity through dark clouds of red smoke…… the sombreness of the afternoon had changed into a cheerful red glow against a jet-black sky. The glow of varying shades of mainly red and orange intensified with each explosion accompanied by intense showers of sparks shooting high into the sky before falling back to earth like spent rockets. The cone of the volcano at times was so covered in glowing sparks, molten rocks and lava that it glowed and sparkled from top to bottom. It seemed a living thing and ethereally beautiful, a sight never to be forgotten. I am sure that all of us came away from that place completely awestruck and feeling quite small, I know that I certainly did.

Dad and the guide had a job to drag our party away from the scene. It was quite late by the time they got has back onto our horses to start the return journey to Parangacutiro. The trail was still possible to see in the red light form the mountain. But the light was never reliable and cast deceptive shadows. Fortunately for us the horses had done the journey so often that they found their way practically without difficulty. But occasionally my horse would stumble and I had to hang on. It would have been disastrous to fall off. Finding a skittish, riderless horse in the dark was well nigh impossible.

Everyone in our small family party managed to get back unscathed. We were all very glad to tumble back into the car. However the Chevvy was now well covered in a thin layer of ash and Dad got us all out again to wipe off as much as we could, especially from the windows. Finally he was satisfied and felt able to drive the car through the murk. He set off confidently enough and started following the vehicle tracks back towards Uruapan. These traces in the ash were the only guide to the presence of a viable road. There were no other vehicles moving with us. The time was by now nearly midnight. A few locals were still about however and one was willing to jump on the running board to help guide us along. The deal here was that he would get a free ride back to town and a tip and so be ready the next day to guide some other sightseers to the volcano.

But our good fortune did not last. The tracks ahead were difficult to see in the murk. The headlights produced a bright enough beam, but the falling ash diminished its effectiveness and obscured much of the view ahead. Dad’s difficulties were compounded by the gradual disappearance of earlier tyre traces as they filled with yet more dust. Inevitably he missed a curve in the track and our car sank irretrievably down into the soft black bank that made up the edge. The car stopped with one front wheel and one back wheel in the ditch. After that everything Dad tried seemed to make matters only worse as the driving wheels could gain no grip.

None of us said much at this point. In the silence of an engine just switched off, the only noises seemed to be heavy breathing and the soft swishing sound of the ash still falling on the car. Then Mum suddenly broke the gloom with " Oh Wally what are we going to do now?" She then proceeded to fish around in the trunk of the car to find the remains of the picnic lunch and some thermos flasks of liquid…..it must have been cold tea. Her activity revived everyone’s spirits as Dad got out to see get help.

The appearance in the gloom of Dad with the guide together negotiating with a couple of local farmers provided a hopeful sign of succour. The two farmers had been working earlier that day with a team of oxen…. I could just see in the gloom their animals just standing in the nearby field quietly chewing cud and looking doleful. May be the farmers knew that this part of the trail was tricky and had only to wait for a vehicle to strand itself to provide custom….. or maybe they were genuinely on their way home from ploughing, but the latter seemed highly unlikely as the land round about was, even at this distance from the volcano, still covered by black ash and offered no prospect of a crop for a long time to come. The fact that the team was still in harness but with no plough in evidence was a strong pointer to the business acumen of the farmers. Clearly they were making the most of Paricutin and unwitting tourists who ventured its way. We could hardly fault them, rather we had to be grateful for their opportunism.

Dad certainly was in no position to argue the price. But the two farmers must have taken pity on him because they agreed to do the job at a price he could afford. Or perhaps they were just as anxious to get home but did not want to pass up the chance of making a quick deal.

The team of four oxen were duly hitched to the front bumper with a chain and rope. The patient beasts under the crack of a whip and encouraging yells from their owners heaved at the load without at first making any impression. The car just refused to budge, the ash formed into a ridge in front of the car and the rear wheels settled into ever-deeper holes at the back. The car also took on a steeper angle as she sideslipped further down the bank into the ditch. The light from the headlamps now was pointing up into the sky as if in despair. The effect was very strange as we were still able to see the red and orange glow of Paricutin against the black night sky. Even at that distance the volcanic glow; sparkle and showering light made the headlamps seem puny by comparison.

The initial effort by the ox team was halted fortunately before the car got too deeply embedded. There was another conference between the guide, Dad and the owners of the oxen. This time spades were obtained from somewhere and the ash cleared from the front of each wheel to form a sort of ramp. Broken shrubs and short pieces of tree branches were found and then pushed onto the ramps and as far as possible under each wheel. By the time all this was done everyone involved was covered in black dust making it even more difficult to identify to tell who was who in the dark.

The team’s second attempt was surprisingly quick and successful. Pulled by the oxen and pushed by anyone feeling like it the car just came out of the ditch amidst the a cacophony of cracking whip, shouts, racing engine and breaking brushwood and branches. The oxen hardly made any noise that I could hear in the racket but I could see from the heaving of their flanks that they had made a mighty effort to pull us out.

The ox team was soon freed of the car and resting by the roadside. The two farmers were all smiles at the success of their efforts and with Dad’s money in their hands cheerfully disappeared into the gloom. We `all quickly got back into the car hoping that our journey back to the hotel would be completed without further drama.

And so it proved. Dad kept to the track by driving very slowly and at times having our guide walk ahead of the car. We reached highway clear of ash in the outskirts of Uruapan and were able to drop our guide off at about 3 in the morning. Dad managed the drive back whilst all his passengers were fast asleep. He must have had an iron constitution. His days as a shift boss on 12-hour night shifts in the old Santa Gertrudis mill in Pachuca had been effective training for our visit to Paricutin.

We finally reached Morelia sometime just before dawn. Dad somehow persuaded the hotel gateman to let his weary dirty family in and we eventually found our way to room, showers and bed.

Shortly after our return to the hotel I unfortunately and thoughtlessly upset all the family and many of the hotel guests and staff. In 1944 Mexican hotels that had elevators often had someone on board to service the guests. However this hotel had modern automatic ones with no one riding "shotgun". Passengers simply had to press a button to signal the floor they wanted.

I soon discovered how to control the elevators on my own. I monopolized one of the only two lifts in the building by amusing myself going from one floor to another with complete freedom from parental or other supervision. But it did not take long before my freedom of action was curtailed. My last act of freedom was to press all the buttons on the elevator control panel. I was caught exiting the machine at the top floor where our rooms were. Retribution was swift and just. I was banned from using the elevators and had to use the stairs for the rest of our stay. Even Jumbo refused to accompany me on my subsequent journeys up and down those seemingly interminable stairs to the top floor.

The episode in the hotel was an anticlimax and I was deservedly unpopular. But Dad with his usual sense of justice determined that once my sentence had been served, the slate was wiped clean and life returned to normal. I have never known him to bear a grudge. So whilst I lived under a cloud of family disapproval for a while, that cloud was as nothing compared to the clouds created by Paricutin. The mighty "Smoking Mountain" of childhood memory.

This new volcano erupted in a farmer’s cornfield in February 1943 just some 5 months earlier. It was still erupting energetically. Within a week of appearing in the furrows made as the farmer ploughed his field, the volcano had grown to 500 feet in height belching out ash lava rocks and pumice with explosive force. In ten weeks it had reach a height of 1000 feet above the original field.

Even a year later Paricutin, was still growing and had produced several lava flows to scar the countryside for miles around and reach a height of 1200 feet. Its ash had been spread far and wide, some of it falling on Mexico City itself, some 200 miles away. In the process it had buried the village after which it was named and had heavily damaged other close lying centres, including especially another village 2 miles away with the appealing name Parangaricutiro.

So the next day after another early start we headed for the town of Uruapan. About 15 miles from Paricutin this small town was also threatened but more so by volcanic ash than anything more substantial.

Ash was everywhere as we approached Uruapan. The sky gradually changed from clear blue with white clouds to a light grey and then to a heavy dark grey like an imminent thunderstorm. At first the ash was just lightly dusting everything with its uniform grey, but the closer we go the thicker it became until it looked and felt like drizzle.

The trouble was that it could not be simply wiped off. The more you wiped the dirtier the surface became. Dad tried the car wipers to clear the windscreen. To start with he was successful and was able to see where he was going. Later however the wipers just smeared the screen forcing him to stop and clear the glass again and again with an old towel.

The ash covered the town and countryside like a grey black snow. As we drove through we could see people sweeping ash off the roofs of their homes and shops to prevent collapse. Labourers were busy collecting and filling municipal trucks and bins with ash to clear the roads. They must have removed tons and tons of this all-pervading grey, corrosive and abrasive powder.

Nothing escaped the effect of the ash. The closer we got to Paricutin the deeper ash lay on the ground and the heavier it covered the vegetation. Gradually green disappeared until there was virtually nothing left but various shades of grey and black. We were still several miles from the volcano yet even the trees and shrubs were beginning to disappear under the ash.

Beyond Uruapan, the ash lay on the ground in increasing depth. It was even inches deep on the road and seemed to be fluid as it cascaded off the wheels. Yet it was odd that as we drove along the usually cloud of dust behind the car was missing. The ash seemed to be too heavy or we were going too slowly to produce the dust plume we were used to. The increasing depth of the ash forced Dad to drive more and more slowly until it seemed we were just crawling along. We wondered whether we could reach Parangaricutiro where we were supposed to stop and get a guide and horses.

By the time we got to the village the road had almost disappeared and we were simply following the furrows left behind by the few vehicles that had preceded us. Dad was finding it really hard to keep the car going through the loose piles of ash and dust. At this point in the journey we could see ahead the source of all this destruction. It was a huge column of roiling dark grey clouds that climbed like a live snake into the dull grey skies above.

We could also hear distant rumbling and regular explosions. These were muffled by distance and the falling ash, but were sufficiently loud to tell us that we were not far from the volcano itself. Although it was only late in the morning it was as if the sun had set and evening had set in it was so dark. In the increasing gloom we could see lightning lashes in the dark column of smoke, but the thunder was lost in the general and distant rumbling background.

Finally we arrived at the stopping place just outside the village. It was really the point where it was impossible for wheeled vehicles to go any further. This stop was in the middle of what seemed to be a sea of black ash in which several vehicles had become stranded. A few poorly constructed open sided shacks made of timber poles and orange clay tiles provide shelter for animals and people.

Small knots of farmers and other local people were gathered there with their women, donkeys, mules and horses mingling with people who had driven in. A few cattle and oxen were also scattered about, several with their muzzles in the ash still trying to find grass to feed on. Beyond were the remains of the village. Several buildings were still standing including the church. All were stained and covered with ash. Behind the church there was a huge pile of smoking black coke like rock.

The locals were making the most of the catastrophe that had ruined their countryside and home village taking the opportunity to cater for the outsiders come to see Paricutin. Most tourists had been brought in trucks to see the site, but a few more intrepid or perhaps more foolhardy had ventured this far like us in their own cars.

The local Tarascan people had set up a small market. They were selling whatever they thought would satisfy a visitors need in this desolate place. The women were the ones doing most of the work hawking water carried about in large clay pots, also bottled drinks, fruit and even cooked food. How they managed to find and bring their supplies to this place was a miracle of ingenuity, persistence but driven no doubt by necessity. The volcano that ruined their normal livelihoods now provided an alternative way of surviving. Many of the trees and shrubs around the place still showed green leaves where the ash had failed to stick. This sign of life paralleled the hope shown by the Indians who still smiled and gave us a welcome.

We all got out of the car and waited for Dad to make the next move. He walked off to a group of men who were standing by several horses, donkeys and mules tethered amongst a copse of pine trees.

I could see him in earnest conversation with one of these Tarascan Indians. There was a lot of gesticulating of arms and pointing of fingers in the direction of the volcano. Having struck the bargain the Indian and another released enough horses for our small party and brought them over. It turned out that we were to ride the next few kilometres to the observation point nearest to the volcano. The horses were already saddled and ready to go. The two Indians were to be our guides.

It took a while for our group to sort itself out. Mum was especially particular about the horse she had to ride. Always game, she had no qualms about getting to the volcano, but she had to be sure of her horse! Eventually she was seated on the most docile of the lot. It was to be lead by a tether to the guide’s horse. The rest of us mounted n the old style Mexican saddles with the horn in front and heavy stirrups fitted with the traditional pointed leather shields to guard against cactus and other sharp-spined vegetation along the way.

I brought up the tail end of our group as we set off through the village towards Paricutin. My horse was a small skinny one and appeared to be well behaved as it walked along at the end of our Indian file. However, for some reason it took a dislike to the horse ahead and started trying to pass it. Nothing I did to control the beast seemed to have any effect. As it tried to barge past the horse ahead decided to take evasive action and lashed out with its rear feet. My animal reared and pranced about totally out of control. There was a lot of commotion and things were a bit chaotic for a while. It was all I could to stay on board by hanging onto the saddle horn for all I was worth. Eventually the horse calmed down, but not before the guide had come back to grab its reins and chastise it with his stick. He then chastised me too telling " Niño tienes que commandar tu caballo con fuerza" and then left me to it.

Things proceeded more calmly after that. I suppose my horse had run out of steam. We proceeded at slow pace along the trail over fields that once contained corn and other crops, outcrops of shrubs and many desolate and dieing trees. The horses’ footfalls were muffled by the ash as was most of the noise we created as we went along. The noise of the volcano itself also got louder as we approached and soon it was drowning out almost every other sound. The rumbling was like thunder, but punctuated by louder noises that sounded like the sharp cracking of a falling tree. These were explosions of noise following each eruption of the volcano.

We were now climbing a small ridge of black sponge-like rock and ash. The ridge also had large solid rocks lying on top of and buried well into the piled ash. On top of the noise the day had gradually warmed up until it was now very hot. The dark clouds above shielded us from the hot midday sun and I could not understand why I felt so warm. I later discovered that the ash and many of the stones and scoria were themselves the source of the heat. The ridge had been created by an earlier flow of lava and must still have retained much of the heat of that eruption. The ash on the trail was actually acting as an insulator so protecting bare feet and hooves from the heat below.

Suddenly as my struggling horse managed to flounder through loose sash at the top of the ridge I saw the mountain itself for the first time. It was really an awesome sight even though it was still several kilometres away. Beneath its snaking column of dark grey-black ash reaching seemingly forever into the clouds above there was a perfect cone, cut flat at the top where the crater was formed.

The ash rose out of the crater like an endless smoky column, but every so often there was a huge puff, accompanied by the sound of explosions and an enormous cloud shot into the air to thicken the column. Shortly after the slopes of the mountain were covered in small explosions of dust as the debris shot by the eruption fell back down to earth. This debris was made up of all sorts of solid stones and still partly fluid lava. At that distance it was hard to see what was falling from the smoke, but there was no doubting the eruptions of clouds of dust on all parts of the volcanic slopes. Its effect was mystifying, it reminded me of Jumbo shaking himself after he’d been in the water, only instead of water jets, the mountain was producing countless thousands of spouts of dust. It really looked as if it was shaking itself.

We continued along the trail for about another hour until we reached a small observation hut after climbing some more shallow slopes of cold lava and ash. This was still about a kilometre from the crater and the centre of all the overwhelming energy that pervaded everything. The guide said this was as far as he was taking us. It would be dangerous to go any further.

There was no doubting the guide’s advice. It was plain to see that we were on the very edge of the field of debris that had fallen that day. If the prevailing wind were to change the rain of stones, ash, molten lava and all else beside could well come our way. In any case the way ahead was blocked by what seemed an enormous pile of red-hot rock. It wasn’t really a pile but the end of a river of lava that was still moving. We were only yards away from it. Fortunately the rate at which the lava was moving was very slow and was really no danger as long as we kept our distance.

It was possible to walk with Dad and the guide to the edge of the lava. Approaching it against the background row of the volcano I could hear a tinkling cracking ringing sound made by the lava as it move forward. Bits were constantly falling off its face and sides exposing the red-hot rock behind. The heat emanating from this great threatening mass of black stone was like a furnace with its door open. I could feel the heat of the ground itself through the soles of my shoes. We stayed standing there only long enough for Dad to light his ever-present cigarette from a piece of red-hot scoria. After that he took a few quick photos before retreating back to the observation hut and the horses.

The hut provided a little shelter from the falling ash that reached us, but it would have been totally useless against anything heavier that fell from the skies. The volcano was erupting explosively every few seconds, each time throwing into the sky huge amounts of material that came showering down. The power of these eruptions was mind-boggling. Every so often a huge rock would come flying out of the crater, some of these were the size of cars and they fell onto the slope with a resounding thump that we could hear even at the distance we were standing.




© Copyright M.& M.M.O.Dealy
This page last modified on Tuesday, July 08, 2014