The Volcano
Adventure Guide

Rosaly Lopes
(Cambridge University)
Unlike most of us, there are those who actually seek out volcanoes. We would put this in the same category as people who collect cobras or black widow spiders, or who compete in hot-dog eating contests, or who go on a Grayline bus tour of Tulsa OK. The only thing that we have every found remotely attractive about volcanoes are the associated words.

For instance, strómboli sounds like Italian succotash but it is a volcano island that grew up out of the Mediterranean all on its own. By all appearances, it is a very Italian volcano. It spurts forth with a "scoppi" and then settles down to nap ... until it burps again, twenty minutes later. Sometimes it goes on vacation. Once it waited seven years between eructations. Visitors to the island can visit Strómboli itself or any of its smelly fumaroles.

Another volcanic word suitable for your Sunday crossword is "aa" which is a common basaltic flow, forming blocks with razor-sharp edges. According to people in Hawaii --- and they ought to know because they collect volcanoes --- anyone walking on these cooled flows will be saying "aa" because it hurts. Hawaii also gives us crossword puzzle people "pahoehoe" which is a lava that flows through tubes like toothpaste; "Pu'u Pua'i," an outlook over the Kilauea caldera (the big hole at the top of the volcano); and Kilauea's vent, "Pu'u O'o" --- another one of those Hawaii words staggering about under too many vowels. It means "hill bird."

Besides blasting off the sides of whole mountains, volcanoes have been cited by the EPA for smoking too much and for emitting hydrogen sulfide. Which stinks. Bad.

Volcanoes have thus been prohibited in the United States east of Mount Rainier and south of Lassen Peak. Mexico, naturally --- being Mexico --- regularly violates these restrictions with unlicensed eruptions, pyroclastic flows, and smoking calderas. Mexico also collects volcanoes --- sixty-seven in all --- with names impossible to remember, much less pronounce or write: Iztaccihuatl, Chichinautzin, Cuexcomate, and Popocatépetl. Some people insist on calling this last "Popo," but, because of its meaning in Spanish, it is best not to bring it up in polite company.

For some strange reason, volcanology is considered to be an exciting career choice, but several of this number have died in the line of duty, including three at Unzen in Japan in 1991 and two at Galeras in Columbia in 1993. There are probably 1500 volcanoes in the world, including current blowhards, along with those which are extinct, at rest, on vacation or just playing dead. If you have a longing to see a volcano, Lopes recommends a trip to Iceland because (1) It is a nice country to visit and get frostbite and (2) the big volcano Krafla is accessible and beautiful. The problem is that the people in Iceland speak Icelandic, which is equivalent to languages spoken in Finland, Northern Spain and the Bronx in indecipherability.

The Volcano Adventure Guide is filled with practical hints. If you are visiting, say, Vesuvius and the ground begins to shake and bombs shoot up (rocks being thrown in the air by eruptions are known as "bombs") and lava overflows the caldera ... you should leave. The author also tells us that if you are walking over lava and smell burning rubber it might be your shoes.

If you want to visit one of the many volcanoes in Costa Rica, she advises renting a car or a helicopter because "buses tend to go to towns rather than to volcanoes." I once went to visit a volcano in Costa Rica --- I think it was Irazú --- but when I finally got up there, I felt pretty dumb. There was just a big hole in the ground with a dirty green little lake at the bottom and no end of ugly black lava, dust and rocks on the hillside. A big wind came up and damn near blinded me and then a sudden fog moved in and we could hardly find our way back to the nearest cantina. "God knows," I found myself thinking, "I might have had more fun if I had gone on a Greyline cruise through Tulsa."

--- Gretchen Ryder, MA
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