Looks Peaceful, Doesn’t It?

Looks Peaceful Today, Doesn’t It?

It was during the American Revolution that one of the world’s great climatic disasters occurred. It happened at Lakagigar—“The Craters of Laki”—where a volcanic fissure opened up during an eight-month period between 1783 and 1784 near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur in South Iceland. Before it had finished, it had pumped 3.4 cubic miles (14 cubic km) of basaltic lava, hydrofluoric acid, and sulfur dioxide that killed 50% of Iceland’s livestock and, after the ensuing famine, 25% of Iceland’s population.

The effluents from the eruption caused a drop in temperature that caused massive crop failures in Europe and a drought in India. According to Wikipedia, in the end as many as six million deaths were attributed the after-effects of Laki. That would make it the most deadly eruption in modern times.

Today, the moss-covered mountains are crowded with European tourists visiting Vatnajökull National Park, of which Laki is now a part. In her column in the Iceland Review, writer Zoë Robert complains of the tourists’ heedlessness:

While chatting to the park ranger the next day, I expressed my shock at the recent incident at Þingvellir National Park where several campers ripped up large amounts of moss in order to insulate their tents, causing many open scars in the land. While the ranger too indicated her dissatisfaction, she pointed out that large moss areas, like those which exist in Iceland, are rare in other countries and that some people may not realize their true value. This I understand, but I still find it difficult to accept that people can willingly uproot large areas of vegetation, especially in or near a national park, and think that is admissible.

Hua Hum? Ho Hum!

One of the Border Crossings from Argentina into Chile That I Was Researching

One of the Border Crossings from Argentina into Chile That I Was Researching

As of yesterday, the 20 km danger zone around the Chilean volcano Calbuco has been lifted, restoring normal traffic between San Carlos Bariloche and Puerto Varas. Although the volcano is still listed as red for a potential eruption, in terms of actual danger, it has been downgraded to orange.

In a way, I am disappointed. I had been researching the other crossings over the Andes and discovered a little-known one at Paso Hua Hum near San Martin de los Andes. By way of a lake crossing, it takes me to Puerto Fuy, from which I can go to Valparaíso by way of Temuco or Valdivia. From pictures I’ve seen, it is every bit as scenic as the famous Lakes Crossing from Bariloche; and it is well off the normal tourist circuit.

This kind of research is part of the fun connected with my vacations. There is always a “problem” to be solved. For Eastern Canada, it was how to find a place to sleep close to Québec City while avoiding the traffic problems. For Iceland, it was how to see the bird cliffs at Latrabjárg in the Westfjords. For Peru, it was how to avoid coming down with acute mountain sickness. All these problems were successfully solved, which made for no small part of the satisfaction I felt from the vacation as a whole.

Volcano? What Volcano?

I’m Tired of Being Pushed Around by Natural Disasters

I’m Tired of Being Pushed Around by Natural Disasters

In 2011, it was Puyehue-Cordon Caulle that forced me to change my itinerary. This time, it’s Calbuco (see above). I guess I could just pussyfoot around until it’s time to go and switch my plans once again. This time around, I decided to bet that, by mid-November, Calbuco will be all played out. (Of course, Sernageomin still rates it as red for imminent eruption or eruption in progress.)

Consequently, today I decided to fly into Buenos Aires and, in true “open jaws” style, return via Santiago, Chile. That means I will take the lakes crossing trip from San Carlos Bariloche to Puerto Varas. If Calbuco still insists on spewing crap along my path, I will just go around it. There are other border crossings that are perhaps less convenient, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Why am I going home by way of Chile? First of all, I’ve always wanted to visit Valparaíso. My reason for it goes back more than half a century. While a student at Dartmouth College, I saw an almost impossibly poetic documentary by Joris Ivens called … à Valparaíso (1963). If you have a half hour to spare, and don’t mind the French narration, you can see it here on YouTube.

I plan on spending several days in Valparaíso, visiting the homes of poet Pablo Neruda, climbing the endless stairs, taking the funiculars that ascend the forty-two hills of the city. Some people prefer the beach. I’ll take poetry and beauty any time!

Cabulco, Calbuco—Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off!

Okay, So I Misspelled It!

Okay, So I Misspelled It!

It appears that I have been applying alternate spellings to the name of the Chilean volcano which is threatening the itinerary for my next vacation. No sooner did I decide to cross over the Andes between Bariloche, Argentina, and Puerto Varas, Chile, than the volcano Calbuco, which hadn’t erupted for decades, decided to erupt three times.

Above is a map from Chile’s Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Sernageomin) showing the zone affected by Calbuco as of yesterday. The diagonally striped red lines show the dispersion of ash. The solid black area right around the rim of the volcano shows evidence of being changed by the eruptions, and the solid red areas are considered danger zones for any future eruptions.

I plan to go by bus from Petrohué to Puerto Varas (at the left edge of the map).

My hope is that the volcanic activity abates, allowing me to sneak by without getting caught up in the mess. Keep your fingers crossed!


Oh, No! Not Again!

Chile’s Calbuco Volcano in Eruption

Chile’s Calbuco Volcano in Eruption

It’s getting to be downright monotonous. Four years ago, when Martine and I were planning our trip to Argentina, we had originally decided to included San Carlos Bariloche on the eastern slope of the Andes on our itinerary. But then, a Chilean volcano decided to trash the whole area. Here’s what I wrote at that time:

It looks like some sort of ghastly aviation accident, doesn’t it? But no, what you are seeing above [actually below, in this posting] is a grounded aircraft in San Carlos de Bariloche covered in volcanic ash from the eruption of the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex in neighboring Chile. Not only was the airport at Bariloche closed for lack of visibility, but the ash drifted eastward over the South Atlantic by Trelew and Puerto Madryn.

I have just named three of my main destinations for our upcoming trip to Argentina five months from now. No doubt the eruptions will cease soon, if they have not already done so.

One thing we can expect is that there will be a lot more blowing dust and ash given the prevailing winds in Patagonia and the huge amount of ash generated by the eruption.

Our plan is to go to Bariloche via one of the few remaining long-haul passenger railways in Argentina, the Tren Patagonico connecting Viedma with Bariloche. Viedma is five hours north of Puerto Madryn by bus, so we’ll have the opportunity of seeing more of the Atlantic coast between the two cities.

Plane Covered with Ash at Bariloche’s Airport

Plane Covered with Ash at Bariloche’s Airport

Well, the eruptions from Cordon Caulle kept going until several states along the Eastern Andes were declared a disaster zone. So we skipped Bariloche and went to El Calafate instead, which did not disappoint.

Now the Chileans are doing it again to me, with Calbuco in eruption. And, of course, I am planning once again to visit Bariloche in November. I can only hope that this particular event does not last as long as the one four years ago. So far, the only area in Argentina that has been affected is around Neuquén, several hours to the north of where I’ll be.

I just noticed that the ash has already made its way to Buenos Aires, closing all international flights from Ezeiza airport.

The Buenos Aires Herald has included a great video shot by a Chilean tourist at the moment Calbuco blew its top. You can find it by clicking here.

I Have This Thing About Volcanoes

The Volcano Sabancaya in Eruption, seen from Colca Canyon

The Peruvian Volcano Sabancaya in Eruption, seen from Colca Canyon

I can tell you the day and time when it first started. It was at 6:00:41 am PST on February 9, 1971, when the earth started shaking. I held on to my mattress for dear life, even as it was sliding onto the bedroom floor from the massive jolts. The noise was deafening with all those structures shaking, and all the kitchen cabinets being emptied onto the floor. I had just lived through the Sylmar Quake in which 58 people lost their lives.

It was then that I realized we as a species were not exactly in control. Man inhabited a thin crust which was criss-crossed by earthquake faults and floating atop oceans of magma waiting to break out at points along the globe and cover our puny undertakings with layers of lava and ash. And there I was, right on the famed Ring of Fire, in a state with hundreds of faults and not a few volcanoes.

Since then, I have been to Iceland to see Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull, which at various points in history—the latter in 2010—caused havoc worldwide. And now, even as I write, it is Bárðarbunga which continues spewing lava after several weeks.

In September, I saw two volcanoes in Peru’s State of Arequipa spewing ash: Sabancaya and Ubinas. Both are highly active and may continue erupting for some time.

Our lives on this earth are incredibly fragile. I am most impressed by earthquakes and volcanoes, but there are other terrestrial and atmospheric events that can cut our short lives even shorter. That’s not even to mention microscopic bacteria and viruses, slips and falls, tree branches crashing down on our heads, automobile accidents, or any number of causes. Life is magnificent even when it is at its most destructive. Enjoy it while you can!


Mucho Magma

Magma from Holuhraun

Magma from Holuhraun

It’s actually a coincidence that my last two vacations were spent in countries where there are many active volcanoes. Iceland, where I spent part of Summer 2013, is now experiencing a huge eruption that is five to six times bigger than 2010’s eruptiojn at Eyjafjallajökull, which put a stop to much of Europe’s air traffic because it reduced air visibility over a wide area. It is also four times greater than Grimsvötn in the following year, which also was a major spewer of ash.

The difference with Holuhraun is that, although it has blanketed Iceland with dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide, it is known more for the massive amounts of magma produced. To date, one cubic kilometer of lava has been produced. According to The Iceland Review:

In terms of volume of lava, the Holuhraun eruption is now the biggest in Iceland since the 1783 Laki eruption (aka Skaftáreldar). The lava which surfaced during that disastrous eruption is 14 times the volume of the Holuhraun eruption.

“It now covers an area the size of Reykjavík and in some places it is 10-20 meters thick,” geophysicist Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, who is on the Civil Protection Department’s Scientific Advisory Board, said of the new lava in Holuhraun.

This year I spent three weeks in Peru, where I saw the Volcano Sabancaya in eruption. What’s next for me? Krakatoa?