Let’s face it! What do we expect from a volcano? Right! Some action!! Most would happily forego an eruption and spewing lava but a bit of gurgling and hissing does the trick.
The Greek island of Nisyros is a volcano and action there certainly is. Hundreds of people arrive every day, thousands every week in the summer months, on day trip ferries from Kos, take a coach to ‘The Volcano’ (really the floor of the caldera, the hole in the middle of the island), park next to the taverna, walk to the edge of the large crater (now protected by a piece of string, the EU funded wooden safety fence lying halfway down the precipitous drop after last winter) and take photos of each other for the folks back home.
Then the brave and the stupid swarm like ants down the narrow, glaring white path to the crater floor, wander around and photograph each other again amid the gurgling and steaming fumaroles. Some openings are larger than the entrances to cave systems I have been in. The many holes belching sulphurous gases are too hot to put your hands near. Bubbling water leaps into the air.
Few people will have seen the signs in 4 languages on the walls of the taverna telling them that on the crater floor they are walking on a thin crust. Young children run around in flip flops unsupervised, ignorant of the potential risk. Adults squat down next to the action and smile for the camera or leap around in pretend slow-motion, imitating astronauts in the moonscape. Boiling water bubbles to the surface, clear and present danger, but in places it is also just below a soft, spongy layer. Stand still too long and it starts to well up over your sandals and nip at your toes, a reminder that this is no theme park.
The large Stephanos crater beyond doubt takes the ‘Most Visited’ prize because it is closest to where the coaches stop and so involves least walking. It’s also closest to the tree-shaded taverna and the loo. .
But what about other action on offer? True, the only boiling liquids are in Stephanos but there are more fumaroles hissing and spitting out sulphur gases in other craters and active spots in the caldera than there are in Stephanos. Arguably the most recently active Polyvotis crater (blew in 1873, a mere 140 years ago) is more dramatic and is virtually unvisited despite being the same walking distance in time as the floor of Staphanos. But that’s fine by me! I get the place to myself.
Coach trips give an hour to look around, just about enough time stand on the rim of Stephanos then join the crocodile straggling down to the crater floor and up again before whisking you back to Mandraki and retail therapy. Walking there from either of the caldera-rim villages or over the col from Mandraki allows more time to appreciate just how dramatic this place is.
But enough words. Rather than me trying to describe it, take a look at some images.