Volcanic Valentine

Many cultures throughout the world associate volcanoes with great legends. Most portray volcanoes as gateways to hell (e.g., Hekla, Iceland), or as the home of gods and goddesses of fire (e.g., Hephaestus in Etna; Pele in Kilauea). In Ecuador, however, volcanic myths are stories of love.

What better place, therefore for a belated valentine blog post than from the flanks of Mama Tungurahua?

Mama Tungurahua is the hottest volcanic lady in Ecuador and has attracted the attention of many suiters, including: Cotopaxi, Chimborazo and the Altar Mountain. Fierce duels fought with ash, rocks and lavas over many years eventually established the dominance of Chimborazo, his prize being the hand of the gorgeous Tungurahua. In time, Taita (“father” in Quechua) Chimborazo and Mama (“mother”) Tungurahua had a son named Guagua (“child”) Pichincha who we got acquainted with last week.

On Valentine’s Day we headed to beautiful Tungurahua. The four of us, joined by Marco, Diego, Freddy and Roberto from Instituto Geofísico, made a fine group of romantics. Armed with flowers and poetry (and state-of-the-art gas detection instruments) we started the two-day ascent, spending a short night on Tungurahua’s flank while electricity filled the air.

In the middle of the night, guided by the light of the full moon, we set out for the summit. But Chimborazo, jealous and fierce, blew his strongest kisses to his precious lady, covering us in an intense blizzard with gale-force wind and horizontal snow. Our headlamps would shine only as far as each other’s backpacks, but after five hours of ascent through the stormy night we finally reached the crater at daybreak. Conceding his defeat, Chimborazo dropped his attacks and the weather cleared to finally reveal Tunguraha’s glaring beauty.

 Visibility during the night climb... before the storm...

Visibility during the night climb... before the storm...

 Mama Tungurahua - Calm for now...

Mama Tungurahua - Calm for now...

At last we could express our unobstructed love to sweet Tungurahua: “Roses are red, sulphur dioxide is blue, and our volcanologists’ hearts beat only for you”

Disclaimer:  Tungurahua is Ecuador’s most active volcano. Access to the crater by unauthorized personnel is formally prohibited and extremely dangerous.