In April of 2010, while Pete and I were living in Baños, Ecuador, we experienced the wrath of Mama Tungurahua. The most active of Ecuador’s 31 volcanoes, she roared to life and shook us out of our sleep.
For weeks she rattled our windows, jerked the ground beneath us and stole our breath. We got to know the taste of ceniza and saw panic in faces of the locals. We stood our ground though – as we watched others file out of town, we stayed for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We got used to Mama’s frequent roars and her incessant need to remind us of her power just when we thought she was fading.
And when she finally settled down, I found that I actually missed her.
She made our stay in Baños a most memorable one, and thoughts of her will always hold a special place in my heart. I was sure that no matter what, no other volcano could impress me as much as she had. I thought she had ruined all other volcanoes for me.
That is, until I met Big Mama Etna.
Johnny, our driver and guide from Catania, rattled off dates as he pointed at random craters and lava flows all around us. 1892, 1983, 2003, and many more. Mount Etna is not your typical single smouldering crater, she has a total of four massive craters at the top (the largest being 600 meters wide), and a series of 315 smaller ones that have all exploded at different times. In the last 11 months, she has erupted 18 times, and is easily one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
The nearby city of Catania has been completely obliterated 7 times, most recently in 1669. And Mama Etna is just getting started – translated to human years, she is only 10-12 years old. She hasn’t even become a nasty teenager yet.
I asked Johnny why it is that so many people live in Catania, why people haven’t fled in fear of the volcano’s awesome power.
“We love Mama,” he said, “she gives much more than she takes. She has given us many clean rivers, we can grown anything here from the nutrients in the soil. We are the richest province in Sicily thanks to her.”
She is truly magnificent in her bounty, the beauty of her landscape, and her reminder of nature’s power. I was once again significantly impressed at how tiny we are as humans, how our lives can be enriched or broken in one fell swoop of Mother Nature.
Mount Etna surprised me. I guess I have room in my heart for more than one giant, noxious-gas-spewing, lava-bomb-hurling, city-destroying Mama.