Competition: Literally Lost Number 58

THIS EXCERPT is taken from a work of travel literature. Readers are invited to tell us: a) where the action is taking place, and b) who is the author? Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30 worth of book tokens to the first correct answer pulled out of the hat. Answers on a postcard, please, to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual competition rules apply. Entries to arrive by this Thursday.

2 March

I mounted a mule and rode up the mountain through vineyards. Then I walked across the lava flow of 1771 which was already covered with a fine but tenacious moss, and then upward along its edge. High up on my left I could see the hermit's hut. Climbing the ash cone, which was two-thirds hidden in clouds, was not easy. At last I reached the old crater, now blocked, and came to the fresh lava flows, one two months, one two weeks, and one only five days old. This last had been feeble and had already cooled. I crossed it and climbed a hill of ashes which had been recently thrown up and was emitting fumes everywhere. As the smoke was drifting away from me, I decided to try and reach the crater. I had only taken fifty steps when the smoke became so dense that I could hardly see my shoes. The handkerchief I pressed over my mouth was no help. In addition, my guide had disappeared and my steps on the little lava chunks which the eruption had discharged became more and more unsteady. I thought it better, therefore, to turn back and wait for a day with less cloud and less smoke. At least I now know how difficult it is to breathe in such an atmosphere.

Otherwise the mountain was perfectly calm, with none of the flames, rumbling or showers of stone there had been during the weeks before we arrived. Well, I have now made a reconnoitre, so that I can make my regular attack as soon as the weather clears.

Most of the types of lava I found were already known to me, but I discovered one phenomenon which struck me as unusual and which I intend to investigate more closely after I have consulted experts and collectors. This was the lining of a volcanic chimney which had once been plugged up, but then burst open and now juts out from the old filled-up crater. This hard, greyish, stalactitic mass seems to me to have been produced simply by the condensation of the finest volcanic vapours, unassisted by moisture or chemical action. This gives matter for further thought.

3 March

Today the sky is overcast and a sirocco is blowing - just the weather for writing letters.

Besides, I have seen quite enough people (and a mixed bag they are), beautiful horses and extraordinary fish.

Literally Lost 57: Last week's excerpt was from `The City of Light', by Jacob D'Ancona. The action took place in Zaitoun, the modern city of Quanzhou in China. The winner is Neil Herman of London.

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