This article appeared in the October 22, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Reporters on the Job: What being trapped by a volcano taught me

Borja Suarez/Reuters
A man walks along an El Paso road while observing a large ash column from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain, Oct. 4, 2021.
Colette Davidson
Special correspondent

When I was growing up in Minnesota, “Joe Versus the Volcano” was one of my favorite movies. I longed to be swept away to a tropical island. But as I found myself in La Palma reporting on the Cumbre Vieja eruption in the Spanish Canary Islands, I quickly realized that there’s nothing romantic about volcanoes or being stranded – even on an island.

I had come prepared – an N95 mask, baseball cap, and a ridiculous-looking turquoise swimming mask my Spanish mother-in-law lent me. But nothing could prepare me for the invasiveness of the volcanic ash. It fell from the sky like a rainstorm, lining streets, covering doorways and windowsills, and filling the crevices of my ears. 

It wasn’t long before the airlines canceled all flights. When tourists began panic-buying all the ferry tickets as I was interviewing residents about their futures, I realized I had, quite literally, missed the boat.  

For two days, I wandered empty streets awaiting the resumption of travel, carrying a backpack and feeling progressively stuck – and at times panicked.

And then I realized I was being given the chance for deeper insight. Here I was experiencing, albeit in much lesser degree, what the people I was writing about were feeling: uncertainty, frustration, and fatigue from living next to an erupting volcano with no end in sight. 

Like the people of La Palma, I leaned on others to get me through – from the English woman who gave me a bag of oranges from her garden to the church that let me use the bathroom after being stranded at the top of a mountain.

As I finally left – via boat – I realized how grateful I was to have experienced the humanity of the people in La Palma in the face of crisis. I know it’s what will pull them through it. 

This article appeared in the October 22, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 10/22 edition
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