The day started badly. Our taxi was 30 minutes late, which isn’t so awful considering we were on island time but we were desperate to beat the midday sun on our six-hour round trip to Mount Matavanu Crater. Despite this, we cheerily greeted our driver who dropped us off at the base of the crater.
We started off at a decent pace, our sturdy hiking boots serving us well. However, an hour in we realised that we had been stupidly complacent: with just one flask of water, already half drunk, we were going to struggle to stay hydrated.
No matter, we thought. Let’s continue. About 6km in, we stopped to survey our progress. There was 2km more to go which, at the time, seemed easy. In London, I could run that in about 12 minutes – surely we’d reach the crater within half an hour.
Oh, how wrong we were. By now, the 30-degree heat was in full force, beating down on us unrelentingly. I had to stop and rest every few minutes, feeling dizzy and dazed. At times, I actually felt faint – I’d never been so hot in my life.
When we finally peaked an hour later, I lay on the ground for a full five minutes before dragging myself up.
“This is gorgeous,” I said, still panting, “but I’m not sure it was worth it.”
“It was worth it,” said Peter, positioning his SLR.
Matavanu’s crater is half a mile in circumference and 200m deep. Its most recent eruptions happened from 1905 all the way to 1911, flowing over 40 square miles and destroying a multitude of villages in its path. In some areas, the depth of the lava flow was as much as 400 feet! It’s said that Matavanu will blow again sometime mid this century, sure to devastating if or when it does.
We spent half an hour at the crater’s edge, careful not to get too close to the vertiginous drop. The view was impressive but, surprisingly, it wasn’t the highlight of our hike – no, that would be Da Craterman, the larger-than-life character responsible for maintaining the track up to the crater.
Da Craterman lives halfway up the volcano in a ramshackle fale. He drinks rainwater which he keeps in a large cylinder and spends most of his time alone – and yet is one of the most gregarious people we’ve met on the road.
He told us that he had never left Savai’i but felt no regret as the world had come to him. He brandished his red book in which he fastidiously records the names and origins of every visitor that comes by the crater. He told us with pride that he had had visitors from 133 countries (including Madagascar, Congo and Iraq!).
When I told him that my family was Bangladeshi, he scoured his book – twice – before delightedly declaring me the first Bangladeshi to climb the crater. (I don’t have a Bangladeshi passport, but we decided that my heritage counts.)
We said our goodbyes and continued our descent, nearly fainting on the way. I won’t lie: towards the end, there are a few tears of exhaustion.
As luck would have it, three medical students had visited the crater in the morning and were driving down the trail. We flagged them down, desperate for a rest. They rearranged their car to make space for us and handed us big containers of water which we glugged gratefully. As I sat back, I wondered when was the last time Da Craterman had felt the cooling breeze of air conditioning, or had enough water to waste through spillage. It was probably months if not years. Funny – he seemed happier than I or my fellow Londoners ever do.