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?