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Expedition review:
The Volcanoes of Italy
13-22 November, 2017

Maps

Photos

  • Rod's photos can be seen here
  • Tracy and Kath's photos can be seen here

 

The Volcanoes of Italy
Paddling and Hiking the Aeolian Islands
Trip report by Kathy Mallory, November 2017

The plan was to paddle to and circumnavigate as many of the Aeolian islands as possible and climb the volcanoes on the islands of Vulcano and Stromboli and climb on Mt. Etna. While Rod drove his car, loaded with 7 sea kayaks, paddles, PFDís, spray skirts and personal gear from Milos, Greece to Sicily, the rest of us Sue, Dave from England, and Jakob and Pia from Denmark flew into Catania International Airport on Sicilyís east coast, miraculously arriving around the same time. Sue and Dave had hired a driver to get us all to our nightís lodging, called Agriturismo Il Gelsomino Ritrovato, a farm stay style hotel near Milazzo, the ferry port for the Aeolian Islands. And from then on, depending on ferry schedules and numerous weather reports, we made it up as we went along. 

 

And thus began our exploration of the Aeolian Islands, Our first day we spent exploring the mainland in Milazzo, a port town of Messina, In myth, Milazzo is the place where Odysseus was shipwrecked and met and blinded the Cyclop Polyphemus who was planning to eat Odysseus and his crew. We spent the morning paddling north along the coast, a 15 mile round trip day paddle, then once we got all the kayaks back on top and the 7 of us into Rodís 5 seater car, we changed into our town clothes and spent the late afternoon touring the hilltop castle, Castle Di Milazzo which dates back to the Byzantine Empire, and the evening dining at a small Sicilian restaurant in the port. The food in northern Sicily was a mix of pizza and pastas and a local wine, a bit too sweet. At dinner we hatched out the plan for the next day; the ferry to Vulcano, the nearest volcanic island to the mainland and the climb to itís summit.

 

The island of Vulcano, named for the Roman Vulcan God of Fire is a small volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is said that the Greek Wind God Aeolus lived on the island, which gave name to the island chain. It has only 750 full time residents, but in the high season thousands of tourists embark on the island to climb the volcano and partake in the famous mud baths and mineral spas and of course to enjoy the warm sea. Our goal for the day was to climb to the Grand Crater at the summit of the volcano and walk itís rim, a trail of steaming hot sulfurous gases. The volcano frequently erupted during medieval times with the last eruptions taking place in the late 1800ís, lasting two years. The climb wasnít long, but we had to navigate up and over deep ravines between the ash flows for a while until a wide black ash path led us to the windy summit. From the top we could see far into the crater, a 1500 foot wide and 600 foot deep depression and the length of the entire rim, in all it's hot yellow poisonous fuming glory. What an amazing thing to find myself walking down from the summit and along steaming fumeroles and burning sulfer. It made me feel so small to be on top of something that once rose up from the sea floor far below. From the top of the volcano we had great views of the other Aeolian islands of Lipari, Salina and Panarea, places we would soon be paddling to in our sea kayaks. The descent was a fun sprint down the ash slopes and we reached the car ahead of the approaching rain storm. Seven people in rain gear climbed back into the small car and through steamed up windows, we drove around the island in the hopes of just getting to see a little more.  Dinner that night was in town, where we hatched out our plan for the next 10 days, starting with loading the kayaks with our gear and leaving our car behind.

 

One of our main goals of the trip had  been to climb Stromboli, one of the most active volcanoes on earth that has been erupting for at least 2000 years. Originally, we thought we would get in our sea kayaks and paddle through the island chain, eventually reaching the most distant island, Stromboli, and then take the ferry back. High speed ferries were going between the islands daily, even in this off season time, but only the larger slow ferry would allow our sea kayaks on board, so we became victims to the following weeks ferry schedule. Upon close study, we realized that we needed to take the ferry to Stromboli that morning or risk not getting there at all. So we decided to go first to Stromboli and then spend the week paddling back to Vulcano through the Aeolian Island chain. 

 

That morning we packed the boats down by the ferry port on Vulcano and as the weather progressively deteriorated we waited in a cafe for news of our ferry. At last our ship arrived and we hauled all the boats onboard and sat and hoped that we were going to Stromboli. Relief came over all our faces as the ferry pushed away from the dock and headed out into the Tyrrhenian Sea. We arrived on the island at the town of Stromboli, one of two towns on the island. That day we circumnavigated the island, a cone shaped mountain rising up from the sea. We paddled south from the port, down the eastern edge, the lush green side of the island and around the long southern end, around several points of land that jutted out from the sloping hillsides and then passed the town of Ginostra and northward up along the black ashen slopes of the western coast of Stromboli and around the northern tip, where we arrived back near the town of Stromboli. Just about a mile off the northeast coast sits a large basalt rock called Strombolicchio or little Stromboli, a remnant of the original volcano that also built the island of Stromboli. Stromboli and Strombolicchio in the Odyssey may have been the ďWandering RocksĒ. Before heading to our nearby campsite, we paddled around the island, which hosts a light house and a long staircase to itís summit. We arrived on the black sand beach after dark and in the pouring rain. We walked a ways up from the shore and pitched our tents in a boat yard, just below the main village streets. We ate that night at a local restaurant, the only one open in the village of Stromboli.

 

The next day the sunshine returned and we had arranged an afternoon guided hike up the volcano to see the eruptions at night. We started the hike from the townís churchyard, where we were joined by several other foreign tourists and our guide, Manuel and the churchyard dog. The guide service gave us bamboo walking sticks, goggles and helmets for our excursion, Itís about a 3 hour hike up many switchbacks and by the time we were up on top, it was dark and the volcanic eruptions were happening every 15 or 20 minutes. During each explosion, fiirey red flames shot into the sky tens of meters high. These eruptions are small gas explosions called Strombolian and they jet large incandescent molton rocks from the lava filled crater out into the atmosphere and down the side of the mountain. The two towns are unaffected by these eruptions, but larger explosions have occurred, although rare. We had hoped to see inside the caldera from the summit, but when we reached the top the clouds had become too thick to see, so we descended back to where we could see the eruptions, where we just watched in awe in the cold for a very long time.  We descended back to the village in the dark, lit by our headlamps. What an incredible day. That night we ate out again and tucked ourselves into our tents back at the boatyard, before the rain came pouring down again. 

 

The next day we left the island in the rain and headed for the islands of Bassiluzzo and Panarea, both ancient volcanos and the smallest of the eight Aeolian Islands. We headed around to the west side of Bassiluzzo, a rocky crag with steep wave carved cliffs to admire and sea caves to explore.  Then from the southern point we crossed over to Panarea, and paddled through our first torrential down pour. When it rains like this, the sea is beautiful. As the sun tries to poke through the clouds, the rain sparkles as it dances off the water. It is truly a sight.  We reached our camp under clearing skies, on a black sand beach at the southern end of Panarea, a 20 mile day. That night we cooked in camp as the sun set on the horizon.

 

The next day we left Panarea for the island of Salina. With favorable winds we were able to first head south and cross over to to the northern coast of the island of Lipari for some exploring and then head back north to Salina, where we landed on a rocky beach, not far from a village of Santa Marina on the islandís east coast. Salina is an island with two rounded mountains and lots of lush greenery. It is famous for capers and Malvasia wine, a sweet white wine. We ate dinner in the village that night. The next day, not feeling well at all, Tracy and I stayed behind in camp, while the others circumnavigation the island. They had the hope of climbing one of the ancient volcanos on the island, but even with an early start, dark came too quickly and after the dayís long paddle, there was little time left in the day. That night Tracy cooked for Rod while the others went out for pizza.

 

We left Salina the next day and headed south to the western coasts of Lipari. Once we left the southeastern tip of Salina we paddled among some nice swells and then the torrential rains hit again. What was fascinating was the water and how the waves we had just been paddling through turned into rolling blankets of speckled water, not waves at all. Again, the water danced. We explored the western coast of Lipari dipping through the occasional rock archway and reached the southern end of the island, keeping a look out for a beach to camp on for the night. Then we paddled on up eastern coast to the town of Lipari for a break and stopped in at a cafe, where we had an hilarious conversations with he owner about the meaning of the word Piano in Italian, which we have seen on many signs throughout the islands. As was often the case, a straight answer was difficult to get, so Sue googled it and found the word has many meanings, including slow, gently, flat, smooth, level, floor, deck, plot and map. Piano, piano means calmly. So after that we got back in our boats and piano piano we took off for a hidden shallow beach in a small cove, beneath a wall of crumbling rock. We pitched our tent back against the cliff, praying there would be no rocks falling on us as we slept. We cooked in camp that night to once again a beautiful sunset. 

 

The next day we crossed over to the island of Vulcano. Today was really different from all the rest. It was a day of waves and white water paddling through arches, and being swung around as if in a washing machine due the reflecting wave action off the islandís steep cliffs. They are called Clapotis waves and they occur when the the energy from incoming waves  bounce from the high cliffs back into the sea over and over again. Once around the island we hiked into the port to check on the car and stop at a cafe. Then we took off again and headed to the southern most tip of the island, marked by the very old and in need of repair Lighthouse of Gelso, After an exciting day of paddling we paddled up to camp on one of the beautiful and renowned remote southern beaches on the island, a tropical paradise with a primitive beach bar for cooking dinner and a platform for our tent, which we nicely placed right under a shading palm. The sun had hit the beach in the afternoon, so while some swam and hiked, others lazed around enjoying the warm weather, all of us after a wet week, hung our wet things out to dry. 

 

In the morning we were greeted with sunny skies and calm seas. We headed slowly back up the eastern coast of Vulcano, dipping in and out of sea caves along the way. None took you back very far, but that didnít deter the grotto seekers. Our paddling ended on the beach near the port of Vulcano, where we took a moment to congratulate everyone for a successful exploration of the Aeolian Islands. Next stop, Mt. Etna. Some boarded the high speed ferry to mainland Sicily, while Rod, Tracy and I took the car, loaded with all the kayaks and gear onto the slow ferry. The others had rented a car to use on Mt. Etna, so we had become a two car family, at last. That night we were all back together at The Villa Dorata, a restored residence that once belonged to Sicilian royalty. We were greeted with comfortable rooms, hot showers and dinner in an elegant surrounding. The next day we would stand thousands of feet up in the snow on Mt. Etna, Europeís largest volcano. 

 

Our last day, windless and sunny, we took off for the mountain right after breakfast where we thought we were meeting a guide, but he was a no show and so we decided to embark off on our own. We got up the mountain via cable car and a four wheel drive bus and from there, at an altitude of just under 10,000 feet, we were in full view of the top of one of the most active volcanos in Europe. Due to the large amount of snow that had accumulated on the summit of Mt. Etna the week before we arrived in Sicily, no one was being allowed on the summit. Instead, from where the bus deposited us, we took off on foot to explore the mountain, going up and down and around craters, over old and new lava flows and across snow fields, all day long. We made snow angels, pelted Rod with snowballs and took photos of each other with our heads above the clouds. That was our wonderful last day of a trip that I will never forget, not only for the exploration of a new and unusual place, but for the friendships and smiles. Until the next one.

 

-Kathy