>So after two cancelled trains, we are still stuck in Rome. I can’t seem to get out of this city! So, it’s time for a new episode:
Jeff and Dennis Climb a Volcano
Time of departure: 5:30 pm
Expected time of return: 8 pm
Actual time of return: 11:45 pm
So you can tell we were prepared for this hike. That’s us, the two guys with drawstring backpacks, no dinner, not enough water and no pants. “No pants? Go get pants,” the guide insists. Alright, so now we have pants. Maybe we should get some dindin. Chocolate croissants it is.
The way up isn’t too bad, albeit a grueling steep hike. When we stopped for a break and realized we were in the clouds, a bit of vertigo set in. Given that our footpath was less than two feet wide, and on either side was the unforgiving slope of the volcano, it was a little unsettling. Little did I know what we had in store for us.
Soon the vegetation ended, and the fog began. Our path was rocky and treacherous, the slope ever increasing. Up and up and up we went, fog so thick you could see it wisping between you and the person in front of you. “Put on your jackets and helmets, around this corner it’s going to get windy!” the guide warns us. We do as we’re told, and he guides us to the waiting area. At that point he instructs us to put on all our warmest clothes, since the wind is especially nasty today. And nasty it was! Windy enough that we had to move to the debris shelters to shield us from the constant gusting.
There we wait for the better part of an hour for conditions to improve. Not only does the fog persist, but the sun decides this is a good time to set. I notice that I can barely make out the faces of the people I am talking with. Everyone seems nervous about the wind howling around the shelter and the neverending fog. Our guide tells us it’s time to see some lava! We are instructed to “Stay in one line, and do not fall to your left or move any rocks! It is very steep!” Great news.
I am first behind the guide, and we step into another world. It consists of a metre of mountain on my right, another on my left, and beyond that, fog obscuring God knows how steep a drop off. Ahead, I follow Mario’s footfalls like a lemming. Behind me files a bobbing line of flashlights. I can only make out 4 people, the others swallowed up in fog. Only their torches assure me they are still there. We reach some more shelters near our final observation area. Five minutes or so of waiting seemed to satisfy Stromboli, as we begin to hear sharp rumbling. The fog begins to glow red. Suddenly, the fog clears and we have a clear view of not only the crater, but also the city far below and the sea beyond that. Lava spurts up into the air, in plain sight to all the happy observers. Amazing!
(Dennis managed to take this shot using my head as a tripod)
A few eruptions later, the fog cover moves in again, obscuring our view. Satisfied, we begin to move off. Mario tells us in his thick Italian accent to “STAY IN ONE LINE, follow CLOSE to each other because the fog gets much worse, and the sulfur smells but it is not harmful!” Great. Fog, wind, and now toxic gas. We begin our trek “down”, which for some reason is uphill, and boy was Mario right. The fog thickened so that I could barely make out the person two feet in front of me. The path is about two feet wide, either side covered in loose volcanic rocks that could trigger landslides down the precipitous drop masked by the fog. Mario keeps looking back nervously. “ONE LINE! ONE LINE!” He barks repeatedly.
(Dennis in sulfur ready gear…and yes, he wears his sunglasses at night…in the fog.)
The sulfur begins to smell, and burn my throat. Everyone begins to cough, and I use Dennis’ handkerchief to filter the smell. The girl behind me begins to have an asthma attack, and Mario stops. Luckily she has her puffer with her. Perhaps the gas and the wind were too much, because we turn around. Some of the group are worried that we’ve passed the same landmark 3 or 4 times now, but I’m sure the guides just want to play ‘scare the tourist’. “We’ll it’s working, can we go home now??” a lady from London comments.
Sure enough, we can. Another 20 minutes and the fog begins to abate enough that you can see the whole group again, and the wind dies down from a howl to a dull roar. Mario stops us again, saying that while it took us 2.5 hours to climb approx. 900 metres, we would be descending 400m in the next 25 minutes, and it would be too steep to stop. What followed was more like walking down a very large, VERY steep sand dune made of black sand. Sure enough, in 25 minutes we hit the 475 m mark, and we are allowed to take our helmets and jackets off. Relief washes over the faces of the group, some of whom were getting a little high strung at the summit.
After a long hike down, we found pizza, and went to bed for 10+ hours.
Next episode: Jeff and Dennis Fight Italian Train Workers for Striking so Often…and Not Paying their Taxes.