Volcano Child - A YA Novel in Progress by Candy Gourlay
Two weeks ago, Mouse decided to dig his way to London.

02 September 2008

Life After The End of the World

This is what it’s like at the end of the world:

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

These are the new opening passages to Volcano Child, imagining what it is like in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption.

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.

Ashfall covers the landscape like snow.
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.

View of village buried flows of lahar. Photo: US Geological Survey

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.

Bright green paddy fields have been planted over the devastation.

A village shop. People got on with rebuilding their lives.

Just in case, concrete barriers were built to control lahars which
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.
The next volcano along: Mount Arayat

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).

San Guillermo Church lost six metres
of its bottom

Services are now held where
the rafters used to be

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.

Ghostly survivor of the calamity

A walk in the church grounds and there are more chilling reminders of the deadly lahar flood.

Rooftops are all that's left of mausoleums
and church buildings after the lahar

What's left of someone's house opposite the church.

Broken statuary in the church yard.

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.

From the top, one can see the gullies carved by the lahars flowing down the mountain.

The mountainside was smoking with small fires used by people to "clean" the land before planting it. Slash and burn farming like this is responsible for some of the terrible floods and landslides experienced in this part of the world

we stopped at a village on the way up the mountain. Most of the villagers were tribal people called Aetas. The number of Aetas who died are hard to count because they prefer to live deep in the jungles on the mountain. I asked one old man what the eruption was like. He said: "The sky was red and the children looked like little white statues in the ash."

A small community that has appeared since the area was evacuated

Aeta children crowded round us when we stopped at the village

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.

It was quite an adventure for the teenagers who came along:
my son, Nick, and his cousins, Misha and Coco (not in picture)

A thin stream rushed throught they strange riverbed made of volcano debris

Close up of Lahar and other volcanic debris on the riverbed

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!)

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