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Of ash and lava: in the intimacy of volcanoes

They are sometimes kind enough to let us observe their whims. From the Moluccas to Vanuatu, getting close to their jolts, listening to their breathing, and feeling their breath is an unforgettable experience.

A volcano is to be earned. The spectacle of nature is often given only after hours of flight, boat or dugout, as much time spent on roads, then tracks which put the mechanics to test, to finish with a day of walking over difficult ground on often-steep slopes. But the game is worth the candle for those who are not cold in the eyes! In the Moluccas, the Dukono played with our nerves. After a climb with headlamps to “see the red,” we had to come back down in a hurry, a storm having started at the top. Soaked to the bone, despite good equipment, we left at dawn to admire, wide eyed, the festival of explosions that we had been hearing and feeling in our guts since the day before. With our heads above the crater, a miner’s mouth full of ashes, smiling at the clouds rising towards us like atomic mushrooms, we could have died there, blissful. The same ecstasy was waiting for us in Vanuatu. On the island of Tanna, the Yasur’s sprays were a well-tuned firework display, with only a few minutes separating the belching of the fire breather, whose bombs we were carefully monitoring in the sky. In Ambrym, the lava lakes of Bembow and Marum are engraved in our retinas. Like insects on the rocks above these monstrous cauldrons, we held our breath in front of their boiling, the smell of sulfur carried by the winds. The protective offering of the virgin forest was favorable to us. For to have the right to see the earth live, one must respect it. These volcanic experiences were also human adventures, and we will never forget the moments of sharing with the people living at the foot of these magnificent monsters.

Thanks to Guy de Saint-Cyr, my accomplice, without whom nothing would have ever happened.

Sophie Reyssat