|Arriving in Antigua in the morning, we had a quick look around, before jumping on a bus and going straight to the Pacaya Volcano. There are several volcanoes looming around Antigua, and Pacaya is still active. On average it erupts every five years, and has, in the past, caused considerable damage. They usually evacuate the nearby towns. The last time it erupted was almost six years ago, so it was filled to bursting point and expected to rupture its bloated udders at any moment. Clearly, this was the only time we would have even contemplated sticking our faces in it.
It took about two and a half hours to walk from the entrance of the national park to the summit of the volcano. It’s fairly steep but nothing more than what you would get in somewhere like the Lake District. It was, however, one of the rare times so far in the trip that we put our walking boots on and were surprised when our flip-flops actually separated from our feet! The path starts off through trees and bushes but soon the vegetation dies and you are walking on black volcanic rock. It’s a bit like walking on the moon, a rock hard, razor sharp splattering of unusual rock formations that, if a demented and unhinged child were to fire frogs from a catapult against them, the hapless frogs would literally explode in a sickening eruption of reptilian entrails. Even my boots had marks from the sharp rock, leading me to believe that one could experiment with far bigger and more robust creatures than frogs and still achieve the desired carnage to prove the simple point that life as we know it simply does not belong here. Thus, we pushed on, higher.
By the time you get near the summit, there were literally crowds of people snaking slowly up the paths. This agglomeration of bodies, however, did nothing to dampen our spirits when we received our bounty. Huge pools of molten magma lava action were literally spewing out the ground. Happy revellers had brought sausages on long sticks and were having impromptu barbecues. We stood and watched boulder sized rocks on fire getting inched along the ground, building up in a pile like those coin machines you get in arcades (where you put a penny in a slot and they all pile up at the bottom until there’s enough to tip them over the edge and into your hands.) until, finally, they would roll down the face of the mountain, bouncing and exploding in fire and sparks as they went, before finally resting in plumes of grey smoke in the distance. This was not, clearly, the side of the slope that people were walking up, though one of a certain dark disposition could not help but ponder the carnage that would ensue if, say, a busload of elderly sightseers had taken the wrong path...
Basically, getting this close to moving magma was awesome. The heat of it was intense, and there was no one there to stop you getting too close, no barriers, no people trying to guess your threshold to danger and oblivion. It was a diving holiday for people who like freediving in the abyss, a carnival of insanity and immensely entertaining. To cap it all, I managed to pull a handstand about ten feet away from malignant magma, which wasn’t easy due to the nature of the ground, and for a few glorious moments I hung inverted with the heat of nature’s breath wafting against my buttocks in an utterly pleasing sensation.
We stayed until dark and in the black of the night the fire looked even more impressive, like devils wrapped in a cape of pure evil. It was very Lord of the Rings, we’re tricksy hobbits in the middle of Mordor and Georgie keeps talking about rings etc. Only when we began our descent did the heavens open up and we became engulfed in a fog where you could only see a few feet in front, the rain was giving us a good licking and the ground was sharper than a Tiger Shark’s smile. By this point, we were part of a long chain of people, just snaking slowly down the volcano in some sort of sick conga chain in a disco in hell.
Anyway, suffice to say that we got back and both agreed it was a definite highlight of the trip so far. We’re now going to spend several days in Antigua, chilling out and praying for an eruption of unprecedented magnitude. At night I hear the volcano whispering to me in a throaty belch, the magma in my blood starting to boil...