VS Travelogue – Mount Etna

I know that Mount Etna on Sicily is one of the earth’s most active volcanos because it comes up in crossword puzzles all the time.  So it was with a bit of trepidation that I traveled to Sicily with a client two weeks back.  I stayed in Taormina which means you drive past Etna and then sleep in the shadow of the volcano.

The Sicilians do not refer to Etna as “volcano”; they prefer to call it “la montagna” since mountain is a feminine noun in Italian and they definitely believe Etna to be a mother figure.  More than one of the Sicilians I met said that they look to “la montagna” every morning to see the constant steam that rises from the top.

One person told me that they think of Etna as a properly functioning pressure cooker.  As long as she is emitting steam, she is not in any danger of exploding.  Of course when there is an eruption, the lava flow is very slow; a study of deaths in historical time reveals that only 77 folks have lost their lives due to Etna.

So feeling a little more secure we headed up Etna one morning on our trip.  First you take your car (or bus) up to the Lodge which is at 1910 meters.  Then you take a cable car up to 2500 meters.  THEN you get on a big 4-wheel bus (looks a little like the polar bear vehicles you take in Churchill) that climbs over lava up to 2900 meters.  Then you climb that last bits on the inactive crater just to the east of the main (active) caldera, up to 3150 meters.

It’s an eerie feeling, since everything you travel over once you get on the cable car is like a moonscape; totally black and crunchy; in 2001-2002, an eruption destroyed all the tourist infrastructure down to the Lodge.  And even though it was plenty warm at the bottom, it was windy and fiercely cold at the top.

Of course all this lava means that the regions around Etna are extremely fertile and the wonderful Etna wines can only be bottled with grapes grown on the mountain (kinda like you can only call it champagne if it comes from the champagne region of France).  We had a wonderful lunch at an Etna winery before heading back to the hotel that made me glad that I had visited one of the most active volcanos on the planet!

Have you ever visited a place you were a little afraid of?

38 thoughts on “VS Travelogue – Mount Etna”

  1. I was trepidatious about my volcano climb last year in Nicaragua. Cerro Negro steams and stinks – there was a big eruption in the 90s that sent ash into Leon (the closest city – about 45 minutes away by bus) and covered the nearby countryside. The farmland around there looks like rich, black dirt…until you realize it’s still covered in that layer of pumice-y ash. I wasn’t sure if I was up for the climb – it’s just shy of 2400 feet to the top. I am not a climber by any stretch, but I was told that going up was more like a hike than a “climb.” Okie dokie… I went because I figured I would regret it if I didn’t. And “up” really wasn’t too bad – it was tiring and it was more than a “hike” but it wasn’t really a “climb” either (it was a “hike” up the side of a rocky volcano with no path – no climbing equipment needed, but there were spots that required very large steps, and possibly a hand up from the person in front of you). The view at the top was gorgeous. The view at the place we paused about 2/3 of the way up was also gorgeous. Down…somehow in my head I thought there would at least be a handrail or something to go down. You go down on the side of the volcano that is all pumice. And it’s super steep. Like ski jump steep right at the top. There were a few minutes when I was sure I was going to be stuck on the top of that volcano. My group was going to have to send a helicopter to get me. Or I was going to have to figure out pizza delivery because I lived there now. A couple of panic attacks later, and with the help of our local guide and some of the folks in my group, I got down. I do not need to do that a second time. Once was good. I would go up another volcano – but not that one. And not one that requires that kind of descent. Nope nope nope.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Well now I feel better. One of the things I didn’t put in the story is that near the top I started to have trouble getting a full breath and it was Antonio, in the picture with me (the guide) who was very kind and lent me his arm to get up the last hundred meter and then back down to the level where the trucks were waiting.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. I am afraid when I drive in the mountains. I like seeing where I am going and what is coming at me. I also get altitude sickness and feel as rhough I am on the verge of a panic attack due to thin air and my heart working so hard

    My parents visited Pikes Peak in the early 1950’s. Dad was driving, and mom got so scared that half way up she insisted that he let her out of the car. She sat by the side of the road until he picked her up on the return trip.

    I vaguely remember a camping trip to GlacierPark when I was quite young when my mom got scared because there were bears walking around our tent. She and I spent the night in the car, leaving dad to be devoured by bears.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I visited a place called Superior Reef once. It is a tiny area in the middle of Lake Superior, almost exactly in the middle. We got there by running east from the tip of Isle Royale. The water out there is generally 200 to 300 feet deep, but in this one spot the bottom comes up to within 20 feet. I felt confident about our boat until we lost sight of land, and at that point I began to feel overwhelmed by the vastness of Superior. We motored at top speed for close to two hours when no shoreline could be seen. I was quietly anxious until we finally got back and could see shorelines again.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Yes. The water is pure out there and carries no sediment in it. Looking down you can see parts of the reef. But you would not see it if you were not looking down.

        We were there to catch fish, lake trout. The trout on that reef are genetically pure and original, and they look like no other lake trout in the world. Their skin is intensely colorful and their fins are outlandishly large. Fishermen used to call that subtype of lake trout “reefers.”

        For decades–even centuries–ships mysteriously disappeared in the middle of the lake. People now think they were hitting Superior Reef and slipping down into the depths of the lake. The reef wasn’t discovered and put on depth charts until after WWI.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. I remember being alarmed when I was 18 and was in the Rome airport and it was almost time for a national election in Italy and there were soldiers with machine guns patrolling the corridors.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I remember when we visited Edinburgh castle there were armed soldiers on the site. I found that off-putting, to say the least but was amused that they were dressed in jungle camouflage and stood out like a sore thumb against the ancient stone.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. We were on The Big Island of Hawaii in 1991 and visited Mauna Loa/Kilauea – it wasn’t too scary, just a trickle of lava into the ocean at that time, that we could see from the very edge of the cliff. Our hike there was just as Anna described – though ours wasn’t steep. Moonscape is the right word, VS (she said, as if she had been on the moon).

    I just found these photos of Kilauea in 2012:
    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2198591/Daredevil-photographers-brave-boiling-waters-capture-drama-searing-hot-lava-crashing-seas-Hawaii.html

    Other scary stuff would be steps up a cliff to some view, not sure where. Or even inside the Statue of Liberty. I don’t like looking down from the top and seeing all those flights of stairs…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. driving on those one lane mountain roads that have one side of the car looking straight down the cliff gets me tingling. i love the adrenalin rush
    it’s even better when i am walking on the trails that have those points. i love the tingling in my legs and belly.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Not the place per se, but I feel trepidation if I’m going to be driving in a foreign country. In the UK that means, on top of everything else, having to drive on the other side of the road while sitting on the other side of the car but at least the traffic signs are comprehensible. Both in Scotland when we were there and in Wales more recently all the rental cars were manual transmission. I’m comfortable driving a stick but shifting with the left hand requires a measure of mindfulness. In Scotland, for the most part, at least the roads were wide open. You could see what’s coming. In Wales the roads were much more closed in between hedgerows, often a single track with scant pull-offs and the locals drove them at speeds I couldn’t match. Either I would have a line of impatient drivers piled up behind me or I would suddenly find myself face to face with a car bearing down on me at 30 mpr. One thing I hadn’t appreciated before getting into the car in Wales was how much my sense of the outer perimeter of the car depended on the side in which I sat. The second day out, I took the passenger side mirror off against a stone wall. Driving was so stressful that I would go to bed at night unable to unclench my hands.

    It’s a hard choice, though. I’ve always felt that if you have to limit yourself to public transportation, you either spend a large share of your trip arranging rides or you are relegated to a kind of lowest common denominator—the popular tourist sites where transportation goes. We usually shy away from those places, preferring our own quirky itinerary.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Twenty years ago, I might have attempted the left handed shifting and driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Now that’s pretty much out of the question.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I think touring in the Alps in Switzerland on the back seat of a Vespa was the first time I realized that I could die. My roommate, Annette, was the driver, and she would often let go of one of the handlebars to point to some vista that she didn’t want me to miss. I was petrified. We obviously made it through unscathed, but two years later, back in Copenhagen, she was in a bad accident on that thing. She was in the hospital for weeks with her jaw wired shut to repair a broken jaw and miscellaneous other injuries. Vespas aren’t the safest of motor vehicles; add to that steep, narrow, winding mountain roads and a distracted driver, and your life could easily be in peril.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. My erstwife was chronically late for everything. Once (in France, I think) she was extremely late to catch an international plane flight. She called a taxi for the trip to the airport and asked the taxi driver to go as fast as he possibly could. When they came to a place where the road went through a tunnel cut in rock the driver chose the wrong lane because it would be faster, if no other car came their way. It was a situation where, had there been another car coming, they would have died in a head-on collision. Sorta like Princess Di. But no car came while they hurtled through the tunnel.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. From reading all your stories Its clear I don’t travel enough. Yesterdays stories were great too!

    Kelly and I were down in Phoenix in a rental car trying to figure out how to get back to the rental. There was this big intersection and a bridge and too many lanes and I didn’t know where I was going, but I was headed there fast. We thought for sure we were going to die.
    I just picked a lane and went for it.
    Guess it was the right one…

    Riding with a gentleman to a conference. Every intersection or green light he would say in a very deadpan manner: “Oh, we’re all going to die. Hold onto your socks” as he accelerated through.
    It cracked me up and I still use the socks line.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. A few years later, I was scared when I headed off to Moscow, which at the time was behind “The Iron Curtain.” Don’t really know what I was scared of, but I must have read and listened to enough horror stories to believe that terrible things happened to people who stepped out of line in the Soviet Union. Five classmates from high school (remember we were only fifteen in my graduating class) showed up at the airport to say goodbye), and that seemed ominous to me. Didn’t they expect to see me again?

    Of course, my trepidation was short lived. In a matter of weeks I was out exploring at every given opportunity. Probably the most dangerous thing I did there was exploring the Moscow subway system with three little kids in tow, and overindulging in vodka and caviar.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel was frightening, since you drive above and below the bay at intervals. I didn’t find tbe Chunnel frightening, though.

    Like

    1. After the collapse of the 35W bridge, I avoided the Lafayette Bridge for a long time. Now that it has been rebuilt, traffic is worse than ever, so now I avoid it for different reasons.

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  13. I’m finding myself more and more uncomfortable on big bridges. And it bothers me that it bothers me.
    The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge down in Charleston kinda started it…
    Don’t you think the sidewalls on bridges really need to be taller??

    Liked by 3 people

  14. One of my nephews was driving out here from Mpls for our son’s high school graduation and became so weirded out by the wide open spaces that he turned around at Fargo and went back to the Cities.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was part of a group hunting the Nebraska Sandhills. One fellow began screaming and acting wild. He calmed down during the cocktail hour and apologized. He was an Iowan, he explained, and had never previously been on open prairie. It terrified him to be in a place he could not see anything manmade.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’ll give you some idea of how I felt on my initial trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming from Greenport, Long Island. Driving cross country on I-80, only five days after arriving in the US, the landscape getting ever more sparse. By the time we reached Nebraska, I wasn’t so sure of what I had gotten myself into.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I had friends who had exactly the opposite problem. They were raised on the empty prairie that terrified many pioneer women. My friends loved the BWCAW, but only in small doses. All those trees made my prairied friends panicky and claustrophobic.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Reminds me of my dad’s comment when I took him and my mother on a road trip to northern Minnesota. As we were driving through Chippewa National Forest dad quipped: “Too bad there are so many tress, we can’t see the view.” He wasn’t trying to be funny, he felt overwhelmed by all those trees.

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