Lava! Lava! Lava!

Sitting on lava field in church.

Ted wouldn’t like it here. The lava would be too hard for him to walk on. He’d fall over and singe his hands.

Teresa wouldn’t like it either. So hot, her ice-cream would melt after a couple of licks. Her mascara too, dripping down her face like boysenberry jam.

We like it though. Hot and hard, but quiet too – especially as Ted and Teresa aren’t here.

We’re visiting the Sale’aula Lava Fields in the north-east corner of Savai’i, where a volcanic eruption sent a sheet of lava flowing all the way to the coast in 1905. The molten lava obliterated everything in its path – houses, villages and roads – leaving only the London Missionary Church and the grave of a chieftain’s daughter intact.

Grafitti – old and new – on wall.

Today the lava field spreads out like a huge puddle of black toffee, baked so hard not even a diamond tipped knife could cut it. In places, the lava has cracked and uplifted, allowing trees and plants to grow through. Most amazing of all are the patterns in the surface of the lava, multiple repeated folds like the toffee was dripped out from a jittery saucepan.

“It looks like a big cow pooh,” says Kate. “All shrivelled up. Or elephant skin, the wrinkles around Grandma Elephant’s eyes.”

“Or dark oil paint, stippled with Van Gogh’s special brush,” say I.

Lava pattern.

“Don’t get clever.” She stares at me reproachfully. “I went to the Tate Gallery once. The cafe anyway. I had a Salvador Dali muffin, except there wasn’t as much icing as it looked. That’s another thing the lava reminds me of, cake mix before you spoon it out.”

“Or the skin on gravy when you pour it down the sink.”

The lava is oven hot too, its blackness absorbing and re-radiating the sun’s heat. Our jandals are almost on fire, so we walk over to the church seeking shade. But the church has no roof, no altar, no pews, no floor. Only a monstrous heaping of cracked, black lava inside, a basalt sculpture gone horribly wrong. When the molten lava came down, somehow it flowed around the sides of the church, then burst in through the front doors. Now only the sides of the church, and the lava mound inside, remain. The rest of the church has fallen away and a huge Fetau tree grown up in one corner instead.

Virgin’s grave – surrounded by lava.

It’s so quiet, the silence is deafening. Yet welcome too, after the sound apocalypse that is Apia. Then as if mocking us, a cockerel crows. Someone’s stereo booms, and a lorry revs its engine on the road.

The church that defied an eruption is no match for modern Samoa’s sound-scape.

We take a few more pictures, our cameras clicking loudly, then leave.


2 thoughts on “Lava! Lava! Lava!”

  1. Assume this is a reference to the film, ‘Tora, Tora, Tora’?

    If you remember, dad was adamant that you should not go to see a war film (and it was an AA certificate – minimum age of 14).

    But we went anyway, didn’t we? Great film and I was under 14, I think.

    Happy memories!

    Liked by 1 person

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