For our good friend Nikolay Tzanevski
In august of 1976 there were indications that La Grande Soufrière volcano in Guadeloupe will erupt with an expected explosion the size of 6 atomic bombs.
In August 1976 all inhabitants of the island’s capital and biggest city Basse-Terre situated right at the foot of the western slope of the mountain were evacuated, for, the scientists agreed, a catastrophe of great magnitude was inevitable.
A filmmaker and his crew were allowed to fly to Guadeloupe and film the final moments of its deserted capital. That filmmaker was Werner Herzog who found an eerie ghost town full of starving dogs, a bay full of dead snakes who have fled the mountain only to drown in the sea, and a homeless person who has refused to leave.
There were tremors and shock waves, 1257 earthquakes recorded, dense poisonous sulfuric clouds gushing from the mountain craters, yet, magically, nothing happened. Never before seismologists had measured signs of eruption of such magnitude, yet an eruption never occurred. The people who thought they would never again see their homes in Basse-Terre returned. La Grande Soufrière went back to slumber.
In August 1976, back in Bulgaria, my mother gave birth to a baby-girl. That baby was me. I am a Leo.
This year, to celebrate my 38th birthday and the 38th anniversary of the active volcano’s failed eruption, we climb La Grande Soufrière in Guadeloupe.
The top of the volcano is also the highest point on the island rising 1,467 m (4,813 ft) above the sea.
The hike starts from a road east of Basse-Terre. There are no entry fees to the park and tons of visitors swarm the mountain slopes, especially on sunny cloudless days.
We start early in the morning sharing a car from Deshaies with our Australian mates Mel and Caryn. We have a long steep walk ahead of us.
The climb to the top is about two hours starting with an easy walk in the rainforest on almost flat terrain. The path is paved and shady. We pass by a small stone pool with hot volcanic spring water. Many people come here just for the hot springs and don’t go hiking further.
As soon as we are out of the forest we see the volcano, heavy and silent, standing before us, with a mantle of thin grey cloud. It’s all very strange and mysterious. It’s also a lot colder.
The nature here is out of this world: low vegetation, damp orange moss over huge boulders adorned with small purple flowers.
From the slopes, when the clouds clear, we can see Basse-Terre, the sea and Iles des Saintes in the distance.
But most of the time it’s foggy and the landscape is mysterious. Giant rocks are sticking out of the ground vertically, like teeth in the the low clouds, the result of some terrific Jurassic event millions of years ago.
The walk up is now steep and narrow, at places difficult, but pleasant all the way to the top.
We pass by deep shafts, ancient cracks on the slopes of the mountain, the result of seismic tremors and earthquakes.
We reach the summit, the highest point in Guadeloupe. We are now standing on top of a volcano.
The smell of sulfur near the craters is so strong it burns the eyes and sticks to the throat.
There are a few craters and a maize of small paths among jagged boulders, and in the mist of the fog we become disoriented and restless.
Evo heads for one of the craters gushing dense yellow steam of sulfur with horrific industrial noise. The sound is deep and muffled coming from the underearth, like suffering. I start after Evo but Maya is left behind, she doesn’t want to breathe the intense poisonous gas.
She is worried and I hear her voice calling us. Evo cannot hear her anymore, so I go back. We lose each other for a moment, each one of us looking for the others in a dense cloud of sulfuric smoke and mist, on an unfamiliar strange, unstable volcano.
I find Maya, Evo finds us, everything is OK. We are just a bit cold and bit scared.
We are also awe-stricken like never before. The place, the entire experience is sublime, beyond explanation.
Picture A Volcano: La Grande Soufrière