A tale of geological timescales and blind luck
It's now the 3rd of July and I was about to publish this post when I saw on the BBC that the volcano on Stromboli had just erupted, killing one man and causing many to be evacuated.

That shook me deeply because, one week before, I'd been standing on top of that very peak marvelling at the sight. I know it's all long odds, but if it had blown later that evening, about one hundred and fifty people would have been incinerated. It was also a personal reminder that in the slow context of geological timescales, I was too damn close to being one of them.

And so, on with the story.
When A said we were off to the Aeolian Islands and Stromboli, I thought, "Oh nice, that'll be interesting to see the origin of aioli dressing and such. Stromboli sounds like meatballs you can enjoy with a salad."

Now I know that the Aeolian Islands have less to do with food and more to do with volcanos, sparkling clear waters, and a much slower pace of life. I was lucky enough to see the Stromboli crater too, only one week before it dished up thousand-degree molten chunks of its own creation with explosive force. Even when I saw it, the energy there was incredible, with a sound that punched right through my chest.

K had done her usual stirling job finding a place to stay. It was a B&B with about ten beds, so we had room to spread out. Our host, Stefano, put breakfast out for us each morning and made a great coffee. All across Europe the summer heat was blasting down. Attempting to do anything between eleven and three was more than we could manage, so we hunkered down to find any shade we could.

Everything about Lipari was gentle and quiet
The habit of going out for a cool evening stroll took us to the harbour and a line of stalls selling cruises and such. One guy seemed pretty good in terms of what trips might suit us. We ended up choosing a boat ride to Panarea and Stromboli for the next day.

Enjoying dinner out seemed much better than cooking, so we sat down at a quiet restaurant on the main thoroughfare. One of the greatest things about travel is, like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates, "you never know what you're gonna get". That meal stands out as one of the best I've ever had. I had a salad of mushrooms, lightly fried in some sort of sharp sauce, olives, lettuce, tomatoes, and thinly-sliced prosciutto ham laid over the top. K had grilled swordfish and A tried the lasagne. The waiter was awesome and asked us about wine. We thought we'd get a litre of the house white, and said so. He said, "Half a litre, eh? Yes, half a litre is better. You get the half-litre. Keep it fresh." He was right, too.

That dinner wasn't just about the lovely food, or the company, or the service or the setting. It was how they all combined. We said as much to the waiter and he smiled, "thank you, it's my mamma is the cook!" How cool is that?
The cruise next day gave us a chance to see the islands, and how different they were to each other. We first anchored off a small bay and had the chance to expose our lily-white pasty parts to the locals for a swim. Oh my word, the water was so warm and clear, and everyone was tanned brown except us.

Sleeping Dragon
Eolie Strombolicchio, the old volcanic plug, complete with dragon.
The buildings in Panarea were painted perfectly white. Narrow cobbled streets ran between, just wide enough for the three-wheel contraptions that plied them: a cross of motorbike and minivan, they spluttered up and down, carrying anything that fitted inside or on top. Fruit, wine, stone blocks or people were all piled high.

Panarea was so lovely, I wondered where the people lived, and so climbed beyond the glistening white walls and blue-painted doors to find some exposed edges, so to speak. Against the cliffs above the town were backyards with three-wheelers parked haphazardly. Old furniture and broken trailers competed the jumble. Hens pecked about in the dust and shade. Most of Panarea was picture-perfect for the tourists, but it was good to find the quiet corners where life went on.

Ficogrande on Stromboli was a similarly clean and lovely village, but the grey volcano rising tall behind the town made its own statement. I had thought I wouldn't succumb to adventure tourism but, that evening, the boat took us below the crater and even from that distant vantage point, the sight of red-orange lava blasting upwards was incredible.
I decided I'd regret it if I didn't go, so booked myself on a trip back there the next day. I was a bit nervous and wondered what I was getting myself into. I'd had a lot of experience living through earthquakes in Christchurch. The thing I grew to hate most, was the sound. Up on Stromboli, I didn't want that kind of thrill. I'd had enough already, fifteen thousand times over. Would the ground shake when the volcano erupted? How loud would it be?

The ascent was steady but very hot for the first few hundred metres, until we broke out of the vegetation. Then it was just an open path zig-zagging up a lava scree, cooled by a soft breeze.

Three hours after setting off, we were standing on the top ridge just below the peak, with the sun setting peacefully through a soft haze. Then, one of the four vents blew. A fan of dark red lava sprayed out and pattered gently onto the slope. It was so obviously powerful and yet had a grace that I hadn't expected. To feel the immense pressure and sub-aural signature of an eruption coming up through my bones was exactly like waiting for an earthquake. But this time I felt safe and could just enjoy the display. Our guides were excellent, shepherding us with ease.
We waited a while longer then made for the peak, so we could see the whole crater and all of the four vents. One was concealed under a tall cone of ash and rock, a vertical fountain of lava rushing upwards every ten minutes or so. Another, larger opening, the one that had released first, cast its wide fan of molten rock another three times while we were there. One vent was a smaller double opening that bubbled and spat continually, looking like a cat-flap in the back door to hell. Then, the final vent suddenly roared and shrieked its presence in a narrow, incredibly fast jet of flame.

The enormous sound of it rocked us backwards and the guide laughed, "And that means, welcome to Stromboli!"

Over the next hour, we watched the black crater blast and bubble and scream, while the day's light faded on the horizon.

Looking back, I remember the sensing equipment at the summit and wonder now if the guides would have had any warning of an eruption.

This one showed itself every ten minutes
“I did what many other people had done: I'd wandered up to a natural spectacle just for my amusement and forgotten to respect it."

Super Yachts
For those on a bigger budget
We, of course, were blissfully ignorant of the potential danger. The only unpleasant part of the trip was the way down. It was easy on the knees, since the path was entirely on soft black sand, but fine dust rose and hung in the hot air. We had masks, but the clouds were so thick it was almost impossible to see. Vague silhouettes only a metre away faded to nothing, and we descended half-blind.

Finally, our path broke out onto a dust-free concrete way and, looking up, we could see the trail of headlamps coming down the mountain, highlighting the other punters on their way home. The boat ride back to Lipari was filled at first with chatter, then five hours of excitement caught up with everyone. Gradually, heads rested onto packs to sleep.

Our final full day was very low-key. We slept in then attempted a short walk, but it was too hot to stay out. The only thing of note for me was the sight of a super yacht anchored off the pier. I could pick out the name "Bayesian" on the stern and searched for it on-line. It was a little beyond our means, at thirty-five million Euro. Nice looking boat, though.
It cooled enough in the evening for us to explore around some ancient Roman baths and up through a cemetery. It was a little morbid, perhaps, to see old family names and crumbling vaults lining the paths, but was just another part of life.

Having admired the fast hydrofoils zooming past us for the last few days, I was a bit underwhelmed the next morning when we took one, heading back to Milazzo. For some reason I figured it would be obviously super-fast, but it wasn't. Everything was a bit hum-drum after a volcano I thought. Now I'm in a much more sober frame of mind. I did what many other people had done: I'd wandered up to a natural spectacle just for my amusement and I'd forgotten to respect it.

We picked up the car from storage in Milazzo and after consulting our map, deciding to use the SS185, a secondary road heading up over to Acireale via Novara Di Sicilia, instead of taking the Autostrada. We thought it might be fun, and show us a different part of Sicily. As long as the next legs of our trip aren't quite so action-packed as Stromboli has been, I'll be happy.

Let's see.
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