The smell of fresh wild mint hangs in the air as we stand absorbed in the sight before us, the caldera of the world’s second largest active volcano: Sierra Negra. The base of the caldera is a uniform grey black alleviated only by stripes of shiny silvery black where the lava flow has contained less gas and has not broken into shards.
Glowering clouds hang over the far rim of the caldera obscuring some of the eight by ten kilometre circle.
There’s no sign of steam of sulphur vents here; the might volcano might well be sleeping, but the Galapaganians know better; the vent that feeds her power plunges four kilometres into the heart of the earth. But nature is tricky, the great pressures don’t always come out at the same place. The giant mother volcano has parasites riding upon her sloping sides. Small fissures develop off the main cone causing eruptions kilometres away.
But there’s no signs of eruptions as we wander the pleasant countryside of the mother’s rim, stopping here and there to find ripe yellow guavas off the trees which have colonised the mountain top, before beginning our descent onto the lava crust that stretches for kilometres along the island’s coast.
All around is grey black and sharp “ahha” lava – so called because of the oise you make it you tread on it with bare feet…Cacti and hardy wildflowers press through the harsh terrain, claiming tiny bits of the landscape for themselves. We pass collapsed lava tubes and tiny craters where the unlikely fronds of ferns are a burst of green.
Walking for an hour, we’ve climbed down the mother’s gentle slop and up again into a terrible landscape of craters and confusion where the parasite volcanos have erupted and left their mark like acne pockmarking a terrible face.
Summiting a smaller crater – that erupted only a decade or so ago – we can look back against the side of Sierra Negra with her tousled head of guava green hair, or our towards the centre of Isabella Island stretching into the distance, with the arid acres of the volcanic slopes stretch before us. Sierra Negra is at the northern tip of the islands and her babies spread south, creating as they go a new shoreline for the might Pacific.
Isabella is a “new” island, barely 700,000 years old, created by the uprising of the very mountain on which we stand. There are regular eruptions and this beautiful island will see many changes before the wilderness deep inside this mother settles into peace.
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