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24 sept.

we get our tickets on the ustica hydrofoil to stromboli. we also make a decision to buy a parking pass for the beast and leave it on the main drag of milazzo until the next day.

at 1430 hrs, after having got baked under the sun for a coupla hours, our boat arrives and we board without incident.

we are heading to the Aeolian Islands, a chain of seven islands in a volcanic archipelago that straddles the gap between Vesuvius and Etna. The largest island is Lipari, and the other islands include Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi, and Panarea. Vulcano is famous for its fango baths....whatever the heck those are. The islands are a popular tourist destination in the summer, and attract up to 200,000 visitors annually.

we stop first on vulcano, followed by lipari. it's volcanoes are considered inactive, though steaming fumaroles may still be seen. As a result of the volcanic origins, the island is covered with pumice and obsidian. Pumice mining has become a large industry on Lipari, and the pale pumice from Lipari is shipped internationally. The pumice stone from Lipari, known as rhyolite, is indigenous to only one other island in the world, Niijima, Japan. Its position has made the harbor of Lipari strategic. In neolithic times Lipari was, with Sardinia, one of the few centers of the commerce of obsidian, a hard black volcanic glass prized by neolithic peoples for the sharp cutting edge it could produce......gonna remember that...there could be a test sometime.

Salinas comes and goes...l observe more and more people leaving the boat. they know something l don't know...l mean, other than calculus, how to make a soufflé, and crap like that? 

Panarea is the smallest of the seven major islands in the Aeolian archipelago, and it can be considered some kind of the "St-Tropez of Southern Italy" for having attracted VIPs from all over the world. Many of Italy's richest possess holiday homes on the island, which lives a relatively brief but intense (compared to its neighbour islands) tourist season, mainly concentrated during the month of August. Starting in September, the island becomes unusually quiet and remains so until the late spring. However, there is not only jet-set tourism on Panarea. The island has one of the most important archaeological sites in the Aeolian archipelago at Capo Milazzese. needless to say, we do not get off the boat here...but some do. there is some sort of sailing boat leaving the port as we arrive: odd, rich people going slowly and the rabble is on a hydrofoil.

we soon set off for stromboli and slowly it begins to rise out of the sea in from of us....for all intents and purposes it looks to me like the archetypal dinosaur island of film lore. l've read that in Jules Verne's novel Journey to the Center of the Earth, Axel and Otto emerge from their subterranean journey from the volcano on Stromboli and J. R. R. Tolkien, in his connections of Middle-earth and modern-day Europe, had always thought of the tower Barad-dûr as being located on Stromboli. hmmm...perhaps a test question, here.

Stromboli is a is a corruption of the ancient Greek name Stroŋgul which was given to it because of its round swelling form. the island stands 924 m above sea level, but actually rises over 2,000m above the ocean floor. There are three active craters at the peak and a significant geological feature of the volcano is the Sciara del Fuoco ("Stream of fire"), a big horseshoe-shaped depression generated in the last 13,000 years by several collapses on the north western side of the cone.

Stromboli is remarkable because of the length of time for which it has been in almost continuous eruption. For at least the last 2,000 years, the same pattern of eruption has been maintained, in which explosions occur at the summit craters with mild to moderate eruptions of incandescent volcanic bombs at intervals ranging from minutes to hours. This characteristic Strombolian eruption, as it is known, is also observed at other volcanoes worldwide. Eruptions from the summit craters typically result in few second-lasting mild energetic burst emitting ash, incandescent lava fragments and lithic blocks up to few hundred meter high. Stromboli's activity is almost exclusively explosive, but lava flows do occasionally occur - an effusive eruption in 2002 was its first in 17 years.

The continuous mildly explosive eruptions are also occasionally punctuated by much larger eruptions. The largest eruption of the last hundred years occurred in 1930, and resulted in the deaths of several people and the destruction of a number of houses by flying volcanic bombs. Large eruptions occur at intervals of years to decades, and the most recent large eruption began in 2002, causing the closure of the island to non-residents for several months. The eruption started with a lava flow (29 December 2002) along the "Sciara del Fuoco" flank that rapidly reached the sea. On 30 December 2002 a huge volume of rocks collapsed from the "Sciara del Fuoco" generating at least two landslides and many tsunami waves. The highest wave was 10 m high and caused serious damages at the Stromboli village. On April 5, 2003 a strong explosion from the summit crater ejected rocks that reached the Ginostra village, damaging some houses. The eruption terminated on July 2003.

we arrive at the dock and are among a handful of people getting off the boat. jim finds us a guy who is running a bed and breakfast and we are soon off to his place. we ride in the back of a golf cart, apparently the vehicular standard here. 

we pass through what passes as the village and see people beginning to queue for the hump to the volcano. we arrive at our bed and breakfast long enough to throw our luggage into the place, gather our gear and push off to the volcano.

we have already decided not to pay 50 eu each to climb the volcano with a certified guide, despite signs at the harbour that indicate we cannot climb without one. we also decide to ignore the "lonely planet's" suggestion to do the same. we don't need no stinking guides.....l mean, the volcano is right there ( l am pointing to it) and it sounds like a jet talking off every 20 could we ever get off the beaten path.

fortuitously our b/b is located at the intersection of what appears to be a trail up the hill so we take it. it is now 1745 hrs, light is beginning to fade, the humidity is fierce and it is probably still over 30 c.

we spent the next hour heading thru 10ft high grass that begins to thin just as the sun sets. we now can see climbing parties on the horizon above us.

the trail is now only a foot or two wide and begins to switchback upon itself every 20-30 meters. there is nothing here but rocks and volcanic sand....and cliffs and gullies and other bad things. the noise from the volcano is now becoming deafening.

jim sets a blistering pace and we are soon on the heels, literally, of climbers who have started hours ahead of us.....and there is a small price to pay ie my legs are going to explode from lactic acid buildup. l have not had leg cramps like seems like for hours earlier ie vesuvius:)

we stop and decide to get some pictures. we also take stock of a coupla things. is getting dark. two, my rechargeable batteries in my camera are dead, and jim's camera packs it in soon thereafter...fitting.  three, it is getting dark and we are on the side of an active volcano in the middle of the Mediterranean and it is beautiful and loud and perhaps a little dangerous. it is also going to be a real treat when the time comes to head down.

we arrive at the summit just as the team ahead of us does and we mingle, albeit in the dark, with them. an australian voice seeks us out in the dark...apparently she has heard us jabbering and thought we were americans.  we listen to her horror stories about the trip up and we share our rations with her ie beer, bread and some horrific sausage l've been carrying in my gear for days. her traveling companion, an italian girl she met on the hydrofoil, offers us a joint in return. we pass....the trip down the side of this thing is gonna be fun enuf with the beer inside of us.

these festivities are interrupted as a guide separates himself from the darkness and noise and informs us that we are not allowed to be here without a guide and under no circumstances are we to push to the crater edge a couple hundred meters up, without one. sure...ok...whatever.

we promptly ignore him and follow his team to the summit where we are assaulted by the noise for the better part of an hour. try to imagine an aircraft taking off about 100 m from your vantage point, every 20 minutes..... l yell as loud as l can but cannot hear myself.  l am less impressed by the light crater does it's thing every 20 minutes while its colleagues think about it. of the 4 major lightshows, we see each one fire perhaps one or twice and nothing is bigger than probably 20 m in the air.

we know that the guided tours go down an easier way off the crater and end up taking a boat ride back to town so we  decide not to follow the them as they leave the summit. as they leave l turn on my headlamp, and jim has one of those little thumb lites that you wear on a zipper. l quickly decide we need a lot more alcohol than we carried...this is going to be interesting. the first couple 100 meters are on a knife-edged arête and the trail along the ridge is the width of the trail along the ridge. anywhere off the trail up here is gonna be a bad thing.

there is zero reference to the trail with the exception of some light pollution from the village far below us. we avoid instant death, broken limbs and only get sidetracked once, following a sidetrack to another lookout below the crater. no big deal, climb most of the way up the summit and start again.

we arrive back at the b/b only a bit chastened....this would have been hellish if we had done it earlier in the summer. we have done the crater and back in 5 hrs....7 is the average. and 80 % of it we did in the dark. who needs a stinking guide?  

click on a picture to see a larger image. hit arrows at either end of the slideshow for more pictures.


stromboli and cat

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