The eerie silence on Mt Vesuvius

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Flag of Italy  , Campania,
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

An eerie silence

Sitting down on the
rough surface thousands of feet above sea level on a hot, sunny and cloudless day
without a soul around I was instantly startled by the eerie silence. Without a care in the world I took in theviews that swept down to the beautiful Bay. I enjoyed the silence for it had been a long time since I could honestly say that I could hear a pin drop. Ironic considering I was sitting on a past and future time-bomb 


 T
he public bus to the summit of Vesuvio (Mt Vesuvius) departed near to the main entrance of Pompeii Scavi (excavation site).  On the warm summer morning I stood with all the other tourists who were waiting at the bus stop. Coach loads of tourists were pulling up close to the entrance of the famous ancient Roman town buried by volcanic ash in AD79. I had visited the
site the day before, unaccompanied by a guide.

The bus headed north and as it sped along the highway I gazed out of the window.  I couldn't help noticing how Vesuvius took on a different appearance from a different angle.Suddenly the bus just turned of the highway and headed up a residential road passing houses built on the slopes of the Mt Vesuvius.  The bus wound its way up the mountain passing through pine forests and ancient lava flows – ancient lava flows that have broken up over time to form clumps of volcanic rock. As the bus approached each bend in the road, the driver hooted the loud horn to warn oncoming cars.  The views of the bay below were breath-taking.  As we ascended the views gave way to pine forest on either side of the road which obscured the scenery
below. 


Half way up the mountain we pulled into a car park so the driver could have a rest for 10 minutes. There wasn’t much to see at this location except gaze up at the tree covered summit which loomed overhead. My imagination started running away with me and I had visions of the volcano erupting, in fact when I was on the crater itself I overhead a young fella saying to his
guide.  "What if this mountain erupts, like, right now" Needless to say I didn’t hear a response from the guide.

During the last leg of the journey to the summit I was getting a bit annoyed with the driver for suddenly breaking before each bend in the road, it made me feel nervous and I felt as if the driver was speeding but that may not have been the case at all.


 
The ground levelled out and the pine forest disappeared as we entered the ancient crater – the AD79 crater. The road was slightly elevated
about the grey coloured lava flow (from the 1944 eruption) which ran parallel to
the road.


The car park was already packed with cars belonging to enthusiastic tourists. The driver reminded the passengers of the schedule for public buses returning to Pompeii.   I paid for my entrance fee and was issued with a ticket which was taken from me at the 'entrance’ were I was handed a walking stick which I declined.   


Dressed in short shorts and white vest top I stepped onto the man-made path and felt the earth beneath my feet which was probably made out of crushed volcanic rock. Fortunately I had a good grip on the soles of my trainers. I found myself zigzagging up the winding path but stopped every few minutes to absorb the views and take photos. I wondered if I should have taken the
stick which I had declined, but then I needed my two hands to take photos. The view of the ancient crater gave way to a view overlooking the Bay of Naples. As I stopped to pick up a few small volcanic rocks as a souvenir I gazed up at the small number of volcanic boulders sitting precariously on the slope –hoping they stayed in place.


Good visibility allowed for splendid views over the Bay. I barely noticed the large crowds who passed me in either direction. I sensed people rushing and not taking the time to enjoy the experience of being on one of ‘world’s most dangerous volcanoes’. On reaching the crater 'Gran Cono' I realised I would have to watch my step as little rocks protruded out of the path.

 
Looking into the crater for the first time I was amazed, but at the same time I was surprised that it was smaller in both circumference and in depth than I expected it to be – maybe that was just a trick of the mind.


The public aren’t permitted to walk the whole way around the crater and it seemed I walked around about two thirds of the crater. I viewed the crater from different angles but didn’t take much notice of the steaming fumaroles (due to a slight haze) which indicate the volcano is very much alive as opposed to being dormant (which I always believed it was) Somehow telling
people I looked into the crater of an active volcano is out of my league. Vesuvius is monitored 24/7 and the monitoring equipment is visible at the crater. I though about the girl back at the hostel who told me she was to scared to hike to the crater and felt sad that she had missed out on the experience, but maybe she had been misinformed about the level of danger at that time(which was miniscule) from people who had never been there. Sections of the crater are
obscured by volcanic rock and it was here were I took an urge to sit down and relax and take in the stunning views of the Bay and Pompeii in the distance. Crowds of people had dispersed and it felt like there wasn’t a single soul around besides me.  Here I was alone on Mt Vesuvius and it was the silence that hit me, an eerie silence. Considering the scientists predict there will be a catastrophic eruption in the future to equal that of AD79 made the silence seem even more out of place. I sat under the warm sun far from being ignorant of this ominous prediction. Did I feel fear? No.  Well maybe just for a second.
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