Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mt. Etna, Sicily

By Claire
How do you describe a truly spectacular day? It started with a perfect sunrise.

We met Gino and Denise last night at the chestnuts and wine party at the campground. He is Italian, living in Wales and she is English, also living in Wales. They met 6 months ago and are completely in love. Oh, and he’s 71 and she’s probably 59. What a wonderful couple. They have a September wedding planned.

The party last night was in honor of a saint’s day, San Martino. If you happen to travel to the island around November 11, the day dedicated by the catholic church to Saint Martin, look for signs announcing the local Festa del Vino or "Festival of the Wine". It is believed that on this date the new wine is ready for consumption, hence the saying: Il giorno di San Martino il mosto diventa vino or "On Saint Martin's Day the grape juice becomes wine". We had a great time meeting everyone and in our conversation with Gino, he decided to join us today on our trek to Mt. Etna. He has done it before and wanted to take Denise.

Sicily's greatest natural attraction is also its highest mountain: Mount Etna, at 10,990 feet, is the most active volcano in Europe and the oldest recorded active volcano in the world. Sounds like a must see to me!

Promptly at 9 am Vincenzo arrived in his 4 x 4 Land Rover and off we went to Mt. Etna. We were outfitted in wool, top to bottom, boots, trekking poles and packs. We even brought ear muffs, hats and gloves. There is snow up there and even though today was supposed to be in the seventies in Catania, it can get to freezing up there. As it turned out, we had the best weather we could hope for—blue sky with some beautiful clouds and yes, a bit of snow. Mt. Etna was swathed in clouds a lot of the time but everything around us was green except for the trees in various shades of orange, yellow and red. The lava was fascinating. Some was pure black and some was gray. Lichen had begun to grow on some of the older lava. I won’t begin to give you the geological lesson Vincenzo did; just know that it was probably my best day yet in Europe.

Black lava and lichen

Fall colors

On top of a crater

Vincenzo handed out hard hats and off we went to visit a cave formed by an eruption long ago. The people would shovel snow down into the cave and then in the spring and summer, cut it into blocks of ice and bring it down into town for refrigeration.

We actually climbed down into this hole!

Inside the cave. Gino didn't join us as he is suffering from an attack of Gout. Otherwise, he is amazingly fit and active.

Vincenzo took us up through the black sand to the top of a crater and down into a crater on red sand, explaining everything as we went.

Group on black sand

Vincenzo telling us about craters

Hiking the crater

Castelignone, a hill town along the way

The day really was perfect--the kind where you want to hug yourself, or your partner if he's handy. We all got along so well with loads to talk about and Gino was able to help with the communication, even though Vincenzo's English was quite good. By the end of it, we had driven 150 km, arriving home at 6 pm. A very satisfying day for all!


paroshep said...

Hellooooo! Really enjoyed your hike up Mt. Etna....and the town of Castelignone....a true wonder! We have an ancient cave here on Paros where the slaves of long ago mined marble. The entrance to yours and the one here look very similar. "Kudos" to you, I have never been brave enough to go in! Isn't it an extra bonus to meet nice people...and share the experience!

Karin on Paros

Chuck and Claire said...

I definitely helped to have Vincenzo leading the way. I'm also very glad we had helmets. I banged mine very hard against the low ceiling. Meeting nice people is the best part.