Earthquakes or Volcanoes?

SONY DSCI woke to the sound of buckets of water splashing against my window. I looked out, expecting to see the enthusiastic face of a window washer balancing at forty feet above the ground. Instead, I saw rain coming at me horizontally.

“Do we have to see Pompeii today? I asked, studying the blackest cloud Id ever seen.

“We have reservations.” Donna lay motionless for a while, then turned toward me. “Hopefully it will stop.” She added.

“Famous last words in these parts” I said.

I was elected to wear the only available rain poncho, everyone else had jackets with hoods. The kids told me I looked like a sleepwalker in a tent. By the time our tour bus arrived at the parking lot, the rain had lightened to a mist.

Pompeii was much a much bigger city than I’d imagined and crowded with people, as it should be as the second most visited archaeological site in the world (after the Egyptian pyramids). We spent most of the morning looking through ruins and seeing the plaster images of the dead. In spite of this wow factor, it was a let-down compared to all that Herculaneum had to offer. By the time we boarded the bus I was ready to go back to the apartment and take a nap.

“We’re going the wrong direction.” I said to Donna, noting the base of Mount Vesuvius consuming the front window of the bus.

“This is right.” She said nodding upward.  “We’re going up there.”

* * *

Our bus wound along the two-lane road. It was lush with trees that formed green tunnels in places. Our driver slowed down to show us a trail of lava that looked wide enough to take out a row of houses.

“From the 1944 eruption.” Our guide noted before reminding us for the hundredth time that the mountain was still an active volcano. After seeing all the wrath it caused, hearing this was unsettling to say the least. She calmed me when she described the sophisticated alert systems in place today that would provide advance notice for evacuation.

“How many people live within the danger zone?”

“Eight hundred thousand.” She said matter-of-factly, then as if to read the reaction of the group, added: “There are not enough roads to get everybody out.”

My heart started racing again. Sure, I’d been living in Southern California with the fear of earthquakes for most of my life,  but they aren’t in my face like this. I wanted our bus to get to the viewing area as quickly as possible so we could take some photos, then get back down the hill and across the bay to the safety of Sorrento.

The view outside the windows became suddenly foggy. The calm-looking hills and green trees disappeared and everything turned dull white. It was creepy.

“Our bus is now coming to the end of the road.”

 Finally.

“Here, you can climb to the summit on foot. We’ll wait here for ninety minutes.”

* * *

The kids were excited to climb to the top and see the crater. Heck, even Lee and Shari were up for the hike. We were stranded here for an hour and a half, so I figured, what the hell, let’s climb the damn thing and pray it doesn’t explode.

The path was steep and felt unstable under our feet – like climbing a big pile of tiny rocks. We’d hit breaks in the fog just enough to see ahead and realize we’d made little progress. The kids were well ahead of us. I was proud of Lee and Shari staying in such good shape to tackle a feat like this.

Sweating and exhausted, we finally reached the rim of the crater and met up with the kids. “This is so weird, follow me.” Alex lead us down a path. “There!” We found an incredible void below us and realized that beyond the fog sat the vast crater. What we could not see was impressive in its sullen silence. This made me want to see it more than ever. We made our way along the rim, hoping to find a clearing, but had no luck. It was disappointing to come so far and not see the crater or the view of the bay from up here. Heck, we could barely see each other. Eventually, Lee tapped his watch and suggested we head back down. Within seconds we heard gasps and cries from the fog as a miracle happened. The fog magically lifted and there it was – the crater in full view.

“Like” our Facebook for family pictures of our adventure up the mountain.

NEXT: The Italian Rock Star!

 

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