Our Europe expert Ali (below, far left) tells us about her close encounter with volcanoes on her recent trip to Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, where she came face to face with the challenges of nature and experienced how it really feels to live so close to an active volcano.
Living on an island already has its hardships – you have to be self-sufficient so as not to rely on food, water and other supplies from the mainland- but when you are sharing the island with an active volcano, you would think there are more urgent things to worry about..!
On Sicily, they say that when Mount Etna erupts, the local people go towards ‘her’. Whereas most of us would run a mile, the locals believe she will not harm them and almost worship her. It is really something when Mother Nature is beyond our control- and therefore you live your life a little differently, enjoying every day to the maximum and not worrying so much about the little things or material possessions- after all, a big eruption could take away all you have in one molten sweep.
The island of Vulcano is home to a semi-active volcano in that you can see and smell (as soon as you step off the hydrofoil) the yellow sulphur fumes. A climb to the top of the Gran Crater, or Fossa di Vulcano, is quite hard going with steep and uneven sections, but you are rewarded with amazing views across the island and to the other islands in the distance. Some dare to walk through the yellow sulphur ‘smog’ and even walk down into the crater to leave their mark on the clay surface, but the locals do not recommend this as the fumes can be quite damaging. Equally, the famous mud baths, whilst advertised as a fantastic skin remedy, can also leave your skin, clothes, sheets and towels smelling for three days, so these are only advisable if you are not taking a flight in the few days following your bath!
I experienced the inclement weather conditions first hand when strong winds kept me for an extra two days on Vulcano. The sea changed from a calm lake to a choppy current overnight and was too dangerous for any boats to travel. I was desperate to see the other islands, so I waited out my time and changed my schedule for the rest of the week on Sicily... and it was well worth it. Sadly, I didn’t make it to Stromboli, the most active of the Aeolian Islands, as the winds were still a bit too strong, but I stayed in neighbouring Panarea and could see the puffs of smoke emitting from Stromboli’s peak. I learnt you can take a boat trip or even stay on the islands, as the regular eruptions are more colourful and vibrant when lit up against the night sky. The views from Panarea were certainly good, but not as clear as I imagined... well, I will just have to go back!
Click here to read more about the Aeolian Islands.