Notes from the Volcano

We are innately drawn to volcanoes. Feared and venerated, sacred for some civilisations, the gates of hell or home to ancient gods and goddesses for others, there’s something visceral that attracts us to a mountain that expels fire from the inner core of the Earth. Following this natural impulse, one that transcends our natural survival instinct, I have travelled on a quest to find the most unique lava landscapes.

When a volcano erupts, violent creative forces mould and sculpt the Earth. It only takes a moment for an entire landscape to disappear, one that has been an eternity in the making. Craters and cones, petrified magma flows, amorphous rock formations, gravel and ash rise up–overwhelming, beautiful landscapes with the most incredible textures and colour palette.

Having read Jules Verne’s classic, Journey to the Center of the Earth, my first volcano had to be in Iceland. There are 130 volcanoes on the island, 30 of them active, which makes Iceland a geologically unique hotspot, a fantastical and surreal landscape carved out of lava and ice. The moment I stepped onto Thrihnukagigur I felt a kind of magnetic appeal that would not be easy to forget, I was going to enter the heart of the volcano.

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Yellow-green moss covers the black lava field that leads up to the crater. After a two-hour hike and a seven-minute descent in a lift, we were 120 metres down in the depths of the crater. Thrihnukagigur last erupted 4,000 years ago, but it still feels alive. Bright, dazzling colours cover the walls of the magma chamber and you could hear the hiss and the crack of the rock and occasional water drops falling into the Earth’s inner core. But it was the silence that you could hear the loudest, an almost sacred silence. I felt both powerful and vulnerable at once. 

I often remember the story of Maurice and Kattia Kraft, who devoted their lives to filming volcanoes and photographing eruptions, as close as they could get.

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Other volcanoes have come since the Thrihnukagigur in what has now become an ongoing lifetime project. I’ve found in Lanzarote my particular paradise, and I even managed to visit Piton de la Fournaise on Reunion island a few months after its 2017 eruption, with the earth still hot. Waiting for my next volcano quest, I try to get as close as to feel the Earth beating, to live under the influence of the telluric movements that have shaped humanity with fear, hope, reverence and curiosity.

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Words by Nuria Val and Photos by Coke Bartrina & Nuria Val