“I have heard the sound of earth for the first time in my life. I felt small.”
Whilst most people think holidays as lying on the beach, relaxing, sipping a nice cocktail and do nothing; I prefer exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I go to the beach and do nothing too, but I feel less fulfilled than exploring a unique place and learn something about it. This summer 2018, I had the chance to visit Sicily (Italy), sailing for 10 days from Palermo to Catania and ended up visiting a unique place, the Mount Etna. (Images available at the end of this article)
Mount Etna (3,350m) is an active volcano that lies between the African and the Eurasian plates in the East part of Sicily. Catania is the main city that is located near by and has clearly suffered from many eruptions during the last decades. The last eruption (still ongoing) has happened last month (August 2018), a week after my visit (thank god) but I had the chance to hear the sound of some gas explosions which was already very impressive. I was simply speechless.
Mount Etna is classified as a stratovolcano with its conic shape which is pretty classic for a volcano. It is known as one of the most active volcano in the world which erupts pretty much few times per decade. Quite scary right? With its conic shape, the eruptions are not that threatening to the cities and villages located lower down the black slopes. The main threats are ash eruptions as they can spray ashes over the cities located near by or even hundreds of miles away from the volcano itself. Ashes from Mount Etna have been found in the Sahara desert. Just that.
I have been exploring volcanoes. Few trips to Iceland made me very interested in climbing those powerful mountains but climbing an active volcano is whole different thing.
As tourists, we booked a tour with a guide for the entire day. Walking up to the very top would take more than a day so we jumped on a 4×4 to reach 2,900m of altitude. We had about 400m left to climb but believe me, I workout everyday, this has been quite a challenge. You all know why I guess. We’re missing oxygen up there! Going up to 2,900m quite fast with our 4×4 was some sort of a mistake as the body cannot get used to the lack of oxygen that quick. Standing up looking at one of the darkest scenery is fine. But as soon as you start walking, after the 5th step, your heart rate goes to the roof. I am used to it, but not after walking 5 meters. It felt like nothing before. Looking at the top which looks quite close to us makes you want to run all the way up, rest and stare at the landscape. One thing you learn quickly whilst going up is to keep a steady pace. One step after the other and stay focus. I clearly felt like drunk all the way to the top. It took us about two and half hours to reach the top. On the way, we took some breaks, to look around us, taking pictures of the steamy black mountain and learned about its geological history. I learned that ash, as a material, is very good at isolating and some chunks of ice are even hiding beneath it. We found one, I tasted it and it felt pure. The way I like it!
Once we reached the top (3,350m), it looked like what I was expecting from many of my experiences in Iceland. A dead world. Weird steamy white, grey, soft yellow, reddish stone structures and a big, very big crater. There was way too much gas that I couldn’t see the other side very well but it felt big, very big. One thing I love about exploring volcanoes is the quietness. Dead silence. It makes you stop and think. But this silence didn’t last long as the volcano made itself heard. From deep inside the crater, I heard a very dry, dull sound and I even felt the power of it under my feet. It did shake a little bit. What followed was a giant ball of gas going all the way to the top. The power of it pushed away the current cloud of gas in front of me and made me feel very small but not scared. Just fascinated.
We stayed for about 30 minutes, walked around the crater, learned about the latest eruption and made our way down.
The Descent (the fun part)
A thunderstorm was on its way and we basically had to rush down. Even going down was tiring as hell. Still missing oxygen! Now here is the thing: We found ourselves trapped in a thunderstorm by 5 degrees Celsius at 3.300m of altitude on a conic mountain full of iron. You get the picture? What can you do. Switch off you phone, keep walking and pray. I loved it.
Question: Have you ever been inside a thunderstorm? I mean, in the actual dark cloud of it? As you can guess, that was my very first time. What really happens is that the sound of the lightning happens about 1 second after you see the flash. That close yes. So we ran in the rain. Great fun. Everyone was worried, I was simply fascinated. We managed to find the meeting point and waited for about 40 minutes for the 4×4 to come to pick us up. We were basically lost in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a thunderstorm. The truck finally arrived and drove us all the way down.
What an experience it has been! I would do it again, now, if I could. Shout out to David, our guide, who made this trip unique. We learned a lot thanks to him and managed to stay safe during the storm. Please, if you’re planning this trip, bring with you, water, protein bars, sunglasses, warm clothes and hiking shoes.
My advice: Keep smiling and enjoy the power of earth.