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Starting from the little harbour of Kato Fira (or Yialos, as the local people call it), the first lavas we come to on our way to Nea Kameni are the Daphni lavas. These are the fronts of the fiery rivers of 1925, which today are a mass of black, glassy rock. Their fragmentation in boulders is the result of rapid cooling as the molten rock met the sea. We leave the boat at the Erinia cove, stepping out onto the Daphni lava. The path we follow crosses this lava for only a few meters before beginning to ciimb the slopes of the dome of Mikri Kameni, the oldest lava on the island (1570-1573). The path to the top of the dome is for its entire length traced out over volcanic sand, lava fragments and bombs from the 1570-1573 eruption. On both sides of the path there are volcanic bombs, that is, fragments of lava that were ejected in a molten state and cooled very rapidly as they travelled through the air, thus acquiring a fusiform shape.

A typical feature of these bombs is their cracked outer surface, for this was the part that cooled first and then cracked under the pressure of the hot gases trapped within it. With this cracked surface, the bomb looks rather like a crusty loaf of bread; and, they are in fact known as "bread crust" bombs. Nea Kameni and Vulcano, an active volcano in the Aeolian island complex in southern Italy, rank neck to neck in the "bread crust" bomb producing field. Upon reaching the summit of the Mikri Kameni dome, the path passes to the right of its central crater before beginning its descent to the point where these lavas meet the lavas and domes of the Daphni sector. Shortly before this point, it forks, following the rim of the principal Daphni crater. The left-hand branch almost touches the Niki lavas from 1940-1941 as it passes by the foot of the Niki dome. The right-hand branch, the one most often chosen by tourists, strikes sharply upwards, following the western rim of the crater. A pause in the middle of this steep climb is recommended, not merely to allow one to catch one's breath, but also for a good look at the rivers of lava which, seemingly frozen in mid-stream as they spilled out of the Daphni vent, readily present to the imagination the fiery arms that once embraced Mikri Kameni.

Continuing our ascent, we come to the Fouque, Reck and Smith domes on the right. The slopes of these domes are littered with volcanic bombs, some as laige as 2 meters in diameter. A detour 'off the beaten path" to the summit of the Fouque and Reck domes is well worthwhile for the view it affords of their craters, the lava streams ot 1939- 3940 covering the western slopes of Nea Kameni, and a general panoramic view ot Palea Kameni. When the path reaches the upper areas of the island, we come to the two large 1940 craters, formed on top of the Georgios lava of 1866-1870. The eastern rims and cliffs of these craters are dotted with vents known as fumaroles, from which seep volcanic gases at temperatures of 93-97 degrees centigrade. The 1940-1941 Niki dome rears its head to the east.

From the summit, the right-hand path leads to the highest point (127 meters above sea level) on the isiand, from where one has an excellent view across to Palea Kameni over the 1940-1941 lavas. The usual tour of the island ends here, with the return journey following the same route in reverse. If you can manage without a guide, however, then you may continue the path towards the south. This will take you down across the southeastern slopes of the Georgios dome, with the 1950 lava field to your left. If you look carefully at fragments of these rocks, you are sure to see aggregates of large crystals of feldspars (transparent milky colour), pyroxenes (dark greenish-black) and olivines (ranging from dark green to clear honey-coloured). The path will take you to Ormos ton Taxiarhon (Archangelos Cove), over lava and volcanic sand from the Georgios crater, past (on your left) the darker and rougher 1940-1941 Niki lavas (be careful on the last part of the path, for there are sections where rockfalls of unstable block lavas are easily triggered). This is the only designated track on Nea Kameni. It is recommended that visitors remain on the path to avoid the danger of provoking land slips or rock slides, for in many places the lava blocks are precariously balanced. Visitors should wear hats and sunglasses, and sturdy shoes are essential. Hiking boots are best, but good quality athletic shoes will do. Do not be disappointed at the lack of other paths around Nea Kameni: a boat trip around the island will more than make up for it. By boat you will be able to admire, in comfort and security, the various lava fronts where they meet the sea in a spectacular contrast of stern black and limpid blue. In the isthmus between Nea and Palea Kameni, the boat passes over the sunken Islets of May (1866); while in the cove opposite, you can enjoy a swim in the warmest water around Nea Kameni (35-36 degrees, just across from the popular thermal springs of Aghios Nikolaos on Palea Kameni).

Another interesting cruise is that which takes you around Palea Kameni, with its spectacularly abrupt eastern shore, where a dome sliced neatly in half by the subsidence of the coast reveals its secrets to the visitor. It is fascinating to study the internal structure of the dome with its onion-like concentric layers, showing clearly how the lava flowed and cooled. Equally fascinating is the front face of a fiery river of lava on the southern shore of the island. For those who are not content just to take the traditional plunge into the warm (max. 37 degree) waters of the thermal springs in the cove of Aghios Nikolaos, and who prefer to climb the steep path to the island's summit, the marvellous view of Nea Kameni and the Islets of May is more than worth- while. The tremendous fissures some 30 meters deep and 2 meters wide in the Thia lava are startling and unexpected, as are the sudden flights of wild doves from their depths. Here the visitor can walk on lava dating from 726, and around the crater of the 726 eruption which today is a peaceful little lake among the lava rocks. Here too one must be extremely careful in walking across the unstable lava blocks. If at all possible, your visit should be made in the spring, when nature dresses the island in a robe of many colours. The profusion of wild flowers which grow wherever volcanic ash covers the black, inhospitable lava, provides a particular and unforgettable beauty to the island.

The Volcano of Santorini

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