This is what it’s like at the end of the world:These are the new opening passages to Volcano Child, imagining what it is like in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption.
The sky is blue, deep and rich like an ocean, and yet so bright it hurts to look.
It is silent, the cocks do not crow, the dogs do not bark, the water buffalo do not low. The silence is piercing. It hurts my ears.
It is hot, the sun sits forever at its zenith, turning the blood in my veins into molten rivers.
And at the end of the world, there is nothing.Excerpt from Volcano Child
My novel is based on the eruption of Mount Pinatubo after my younger sister took me on a trip up the mountain in 2005, 14 years after its eruption (the second biggest in the 20th century) which destroyed huge swathes of countryside.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The eruption taught us Filipinos a new word - Lahar - water and volcanic debris combining to create a cement-like torrent that swept the countryside. In some places waves up to six metres high were reported.
By the time we visited in 2005, many of the towns and villages had been rebuilt, there were acres and acres of bright green paddy fields, and people had somehow rebuilt their lives.
occasionally still flow down from the mountain.
Life simply carried on ... even with the shadow of another volcano - the massive Mount Arayat - glowering on the horizon.
We visited San Guillermo Parish Church (originally built in 1576 by Augustinian friars) - or what was left of it after lahar buried the church to half its 12 metre height in a flash lahar flood (if you can call a lahar a flash flood).
It is only when you go inside that you realise how much of the church was lost. The new floor occupies the space where the rafters used to be. Windows are the tops of the old arches.
A walk in the church grounds and there are more chilling reminders of the deadly lahar flood.
The only vehicle that could cope with the rough mountain road was this massive juggernaut kindly lent to us by the mayor of Porac Town at the foot of Pinatubo.
Our massive truck couldn't make it all the way up the mountain because of a landslide the night before so we switched to a small pick-up truck and followed some really scary windy unpaved trails down to the 'riverbed' carved by the lahar.
The lahar 'riverbed' is flanked by five to six metre walls of compacted debris from the volcano, now overgrown by vegetation. It is like a moonscape, fragile and crumbling.
my son, Nick, and his cousins, Misha and Coco (not in picture)
Hot springs have sprung up where there were none, and the original river's flow has diverted elsewhere. It was an amazing trip, but I felt somehow a bit reckless, because driving on that river bed (our guides often had to climb out with shovels and dig us through) on the fragile moonscape, we were lucky not to get caught in a landslide!
We visited the Philippines two years later and I was amazed to see this poster (right) in the airport, advertising the lahar riverbed and the crater of Pinatubo as a tourist attraction!
Photographs unless otherwise indicated by Candy Gourlay (Please let me know if you want to use them!)