Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trek to the island of Magma

Having been somewhat disapointed in the lack of magma when we visited Mt. Etna, the smoking volcano on Sicily's eastern coast, we were determined to end our weekend trips with a bang (hehe) and venture to the island of Stromboli (pictured below). Stromboli is part of a strip of islands called the Aeolian islands to the north east of Sicily (we took a 7 hour hydrofoil ride straight from Palermo, whew! definitely some nausea during that trip). Stromboli has 3 active craters at its peak and is remarkable because of the length of time for which it has been in almost continues eruption (magma, here we come!). In February two new craters opened on the island in which lava flowed into the ocean from them, considering the small size of the island, I could imagine being pretty darn scared if I lived on such a volatile geographic landmark...
The main town of Stromboli is at the bottom tip of the island in the above pic, we stayed at a cute little bed and breakfast. Everything is painted white, with vibrant gardens and very charming, kinda funny since its surrounded by black volcanic rock and black sand beaches.
It was a harrowing trip, with choppy seas threatening to prevent us from getting to the distant island, and windy weather at the top of the volcano causing our tour troup to be canceled, but in the end we decided to trek up to the highest point you can without a tour, the Sciara del Fuoco ("Stream of fire"), a big horseshoe-shaped depression generated in the last 13,000 years by several collapses on a side of the volcanic cone. We started hiking around 6pm and made it there within 90 minutes despite the winding, rocky path which snaked around the edge of the island.

Ah, the top of the volcano! Almost time for sunset...
There was a deck to lay down or sit to watch the volcano. We were able to spot a few small eruptions, pretty awesome to be so close! However, we didnt want to be caught up so high (the path got really steep towards the top) when it turned dark so we descended down to a pizza restaurant with perfect views of the top.
A very tasty dinner after all that hiking, I was dying of thirst!

As the sunset on the ocean, we started to see glimpses of the glowing red magma. They really werent kidding when they said that it was continously active. Every 10-15 minutes or so we would see something like the above picture, I was so delighted we could appreciate it from the bottom of the volcano but also was jealous of those that stayed on the viewing platform much closer to the top. As night fell, those travelers strapped on their head lights (we got one too) and were making their way down the mountain like little fireflies. We sat at the restaurant for a long time just admiring the volcano and wanting to stay for the next explosion.. and the next and the next.. til we realized we should probably hike our way home. Because the island is so small, isolated, and energy concious, there were no street lights, but we and all the inhabitants were walking about with our flashlights and the quiet town. It was magical to appreciate the night sky filled with stars (little to no light pollution) and realize we were right next to an active volcano. wow, what a memorable experience!
Determined to milk all we could out of the weekend, Xiao and I woke up at 6am the next morning to make sure we could find a black sand beach and make it back before our hydrofoil ride back. Little did we know there was one just 10 minutes away by foot! The sand was gorgeous, so fine, and glittering black.

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