Monday, 18 July 2011

Interlude with a volcano

I was going to write about mating moths this morning after an intimate discovery on the side of my garden shed. But I was reading online last night about the latest Indonesian volcanic eruption and I suddenly thought: 'Mount Lokon? That rings a bell.'

Indeed it does. Here it is in December 1985 when I was standing at the bottom trying to work out a way to the top. The smudgy zigzag to the right of the peak looked promising; it was a rare day of sunshine in usually humid, cloudy Sulawesi (formerly Celebes); and the whole scene was pleasantly reminiscent of Blencathra or somewhere like that.

In the event, what appeared from a distance to be springy turf was head-high elephant grass whose leaves have edges so sharp that you're sliced before you know it. The five of us (on an expedition organised by the Royal Entomological Society, which is at least a link with moths) soon looked like members of a flagellants' club. Worse was to come. The summit seemed a humdrum place with several empty bottles of Bintang (Star) beer dumped by previous visitors, but the descent was a nasty reminder that volcanoes need treating carefully. We were puzzled by the apparent absence of a crater but soon found ourselves unable to see anything more than 20 yards away as we climbed down into a thick, hot and sulphurous world of steam.

The climb became a slither, but luckily the eerie canopy lifted in time for us to see that too much more sliding on the rust-coloured scree would take us - woosh, plop! - over the rim of the crater into bubbling, boiling water to add flavouring to what looked un-nervingly like pea soup. I can genuinely say that the colours in my very amateurish watercolour are more true to life than the muddy effort of my then inadequate camera. We returned to base camp in the Dumoga-Bone rain forest wiser and more cautious than we were before.

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