Only just recovered from the high alpine of Tungurahua, the team had a very different challenge ahead: the savage and verdant Ecuadorian jungle. Multiple sources suggested that to the East of the team's Quito headquarters, beyond the Andes on the Amazonian plain, there lived a character ominously named: EL REVENTADOR a.k.a. “THE EXPLODER”.
EL REVENTADOR had been putting on a show for at least 15 years, with up to 40 explosions per day, regular pyroclastic flows, ballistic bombs and lavas. Some might cower at the thought of such a spectacle, but the TRAIL BY FIRE team, with I.G. colleagues Freddy, Diego, and Silvana, were yearning for front-row seats. The cars were packed with instruments, luxurious snacks and portable suites (read: crappy tents) and a big dose of optimism for what was to come. EL REVENTADOR was to be the next chapter of TBF 1.5.
The impenetrable jungle holds many secrets, and does not give them up willingly. The approach to EL REVENTADOR is no straightforward comedy. It is an unending purgatory that one endures in order to reach a paradise that is itself an inferno. The dawn of departure was shrouded in dark clouds. The air was a thick scourge of mosquitoes. The ground was a tangled snare of vegetation. Snakes, pumas, bloodthirsty millipedes and rhinoceros beetles were to be the only witnesses to the team’s plight; and through it all, no hint of a volcano in sight.
Gumboots and Supertrousers became the team's best friends; and João “The Rookie” got stuck right in to the (rubber) boot camp of volcanology. But we had our eyes on the prize, and nothing could stop us from "machete-ing" our way to the fabled Amazonian arena of the greatest show on Earth.
When we reached the campsite in EL REVENTADOR’s caldera, it was hardly a warm welcome. It was wet. Heavy rain was driven at us from all points of the compass. The wreckage of a rough-hewn shelter was all that awaited the team. Carving out a soggy existence, the team struggled to keep the fire alive... and waited...
Until at long last… From behind the clouds… It came… BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM.
Dinner was served. Clouds parted. Fresh lava flows steamed in the distance, the explosions held a deep bass over which ballistic Rolling Stones played melodies of destruction. The near horizon was the dream of dreams for every volcanologist.
And so the team’s work began. Just as the jungle guards its secrets, so too does EL REVENTADOR. Except for some some petrological and thermal studies, “The Exploder” has largely eluded scientists. Before the team’s visit, measurements of the flux and composition of gases from this tempestuous beast had never been obtained. The team set to work under variable conditions: heavy rain punctuated by intensive equatorial sun. They were vigilant into the night - watching the natural fireworks of incandescent rocks, and into the early in the morning – hoping to catch glimpses before the respiration of the Amazonian forest closed in around them again.
When it rained, the team scrambled to collect ash from leaves and tents. When it briefly cleared, they trained their instruments on the sky, scanning for hints of UV absorption with which to quantify this character’s temperament.
For three days, the symphony of EL REVENTADOR’s rumbling and rolling was joined by a chorus of awed gasps and cries… the tell-tale that TRAIL BY FIRE had reached one of its finest destinations.