Walking in a Smoking Volcano on the Greek Island of Nissiros

My memories of our recent summer trip to this volcano, aptly named the “sleeping giant,” are still fresh in my mind this autumn. One morning we took an early morning trip to the nearby harbour at Kéfalos where we boarded a boat bound for the small picturesque island of Nissiros (also known as Nisyros). What a turbulent sea journey it was! However, although I normally get seasick quite easily, on this occasion I sat out on the deck and somehow the fresh air helped. Something else which greatly helped was the fact that I didn’t wander around the boat; I sat still, determined, keeping my eyes on one solid unmoveable object when conditions were at their worst. That solid unmoveable object did not include one of my fellow passengers – for they could quite possibly let me down in this respect, especially when most of them seemed to be having a hard enough time dealing with the conditions too!

Later I was struck by this wonderful spiritual parallel… when life presents us with some turbulent conditions; the only safe place is to have our eyes firmly fixed on the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, our unmoveable Rock and Fortress.

At one point I noticed a distant rocky and misty coastline and asked one of the Greeks where it was, to which he replied shortly… “That is Turkey.” On arrival at this little island of Nissiros, home to around just 1,000 people who are distributed over four villages; we boarded a coach which drove away up into some very barren, but fascinating countryside. As soon as we reached the site of the volcano, I was struck by the fact that this was a very unique experience for me and quite possibly something I may never do again in my lifetime.

Outside the coach I was immediately overwhelmed by the unpleasant smell of sulphur – I could only describe it as being like very rotten eggs mixed with dust and ashes. By now it was around mid-day and the heat in the area of the volcano was almost too much to bear but I was still determined to say that I had walked in a volcano!

Looking down from a height, I noticed tiny figures walking right in the crater and knew that soon I too would be another one of those distant tiny figures when we had reached it. The barren, lunar-like landscape of the area was strange and somehow overpowering and the smell of the sulphur reminded me of  a story that I had heard once of someone who had claimed to have had a vision of hell. He had described the smell there as being of ‘sulphur.’ Even the concept of hell is not a subject that anyone wishes to dwell on and yet I know that hell is a very real place and that Jesus talked more about this horrific destination than about heaven, for He is “not willing that any should perish.”

Clambering down into the crater, the soles of my feet felt extremely hot, as a fierce wind blew dust all around us. In fascination I stared for a long time at the smoking holes all around my hot feet and after a while decided that the mid-July heat that day, combined with the choking smell of sulphur was just too much! By now the water in my flask was very hot too (it is said that one can fry eggs quickly in that crater) and soon we were clambering up the slope again towards our coach which thankfully had the air conditioning running!

The “sleeping giant” is indeed an ever present threat to the people of the island of Nissiros. It is a very beautiful island in many respects but I could still smell that sulphur even when we had returned to the small village of Mandráki where we had some time to wander around the lovely narrow little streets before we once more boarded our boat for the return journey.

In 1996 and 1997 the islanders also experienced terrifying earth tremors for many months and some cracked dwelling places had to be vacated at this time. Scientists are constantly monitoring the “simmering giant” too, but what can mankind do against the forces of nature – but flee to safety when they receive a warning?

Boarding the boat for our return journey, I clutched a piece of volcanic ash – my souvenir from that unforgettable day trip. Staring back at Mandráki, I watched the waves of the sea crash against its ancient walls and then turned to see the sun go down over the sparkling waves on the horizon. I had left little John 3v16 Greek bookmarks with some of the villagers – and some in a monastery to which we had climbed from the narrow streets. But what are these among so many? Nissiros… 1,000 people and yet another lovely Greek island, for whose inhabitants my Saviour died. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Luke 10v2)

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