Thursday, November 12, 2009

Top O' the World, Ma

By Chuck
Well, Mt. Etna is not really the top of the world and we did not get to the top of it; but, we did have a spectacular day surveying the lower regions of Europe's tallest and most active volcano. They refer to all the craters and volcanoes in this region as mountains, rather than volcanoes; I believe this is to help the people carry on as if they are not a serious threat. In fact, Etna is a very considerate volcano and generally moves very slowly, allowing impacted populations to leave the danger area in time to avoid disaster. I am told that when Etna exploded in 1696, destroying the entire city of Catania, there was no loss of life!

Mt. Etna in the clouds

Our guide, Vincenzo, appeared at 9am to pick up Claire and me, along with our camping neighbors, Gino and Denise. We had an incredible day touring Etna from the northern side. We made multiple stops to see various aspects of Etna and surrounding craters. It is not possible to go to the top these days, due to volcanic activity. The surroundings continue to amaze us, with mountains all around, the fall change of colors lingering behind on the trees and the sheer bulk of the volcano and all the lava it has spewed over the centuries. The lushness of the hillsides is surprising to me, until I recall that Hawaii is volcanic and lush. I once read that if you counted mountain height from the base, rather than from sea level, Hawaii – not Everest – would have the world's tallest peaks -- and it is all lava. We were able to see the lushness, which takes hundreds, if not thousands, of years to develop; we also saw bare volcanic rubble from recent lava flows; and we saw the first stages of the re-emergence of vegetation in the form of lichen on lava.

House partially buried in lava

Lava all around

More lava

Along the way, we stopped for cappuccini. They were delicious, of course! I even rose to accept the challenge to taste a strong, red liqueur; but, I cheated – I only sipped it. Later, they told me that in quantity it can ruin your liver. Well, I only had a little bit; but, maybe I should learn to ignore a dare?

At about 2pm, we stopped for lunch at Azienda Agritouristica “San Marco.” We were served delicious authentic Sicilian cuisine produced right there on the farm. Everything was excellent – even the bitter black olives that Gino and I polished off. We even were offered a taste of local grappa.

The owners and Vincenzo

The Farm

What a nice place this would be to stay

Having Gino and Denise accompany us made it possible for the tour company to provide us with the authentic lunch, rather than the standard bag lunch. This made the trip even more delightful.

Leaving Etna, we drove to the Alcantera River Gorges. The water was low; but the rock formations were most interesting. It was worth the “300” steps down to the water. In summer, when the water is warm and high, there is an optional trip that allows you to float down the river.

In summary, I would have to rate this as one of the high points of the trip. A day filled with fun, food, adventure and congenial companions. We even have the offer to join Gino and Denise for a hike near their home in Wales when we visit that area next summer.

The only downside of the day, other than being too full to have any dinner, was to return home to find an email from René that washed his hands of responsibility for any problem with our sychronization ring of the rebuilt transmission that he bought and installed only a few weeks ago. He counseled us to take our chances and be prepared to double-clutch if disaster strikes. We'll sleep on this and consult with Gino, a retired engineer with numerous local contacts, tomorrow. Wish us well.

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