VIew of Etna from our villa on the morning we set out to hike it.
We got up early, and Liz, Mags, Eric, Melissa and I drove to the jumping off point for the tours of Mt. Etna
. We followed the road signs - didn't even bother with Sybil, the schizo GPS. There was a hike leaving in 10 minutes (9:30), so we rushed to understand how much hiking was involved (5 hours - 1 1/2 hours up, 3 1/2 hours down), what we needed for equipment, and arranging payment and food supplies. For 60 Euros, they provided everything (boots, jackets, backpacks, socks) but the food. Mags and Liz ran to the cafeteria and bought 5 sandwiches, chips, and bottles of water.
We started out on a gondola that took us to a midway point, and then we boarded what looked like a monster truck-bus.
Eric braves the stinky sulfur clouds.
Then they dropped us off and we began our hour and a half hike up over craggy lava rocks and horrendous sulfur clouds that were making our eyes water and our throats and lungs raw. The sulfur clouds got so bad that everyone started tying scarves around their faces. I didn't have anything, but our guide offered me an extra bandana he had brought. That helped. Eric had Liz's t-shirt tied around his face. My eyes were really burning, but I think Melissa was having the hardest time of it because she has asthma, and she didn't have medicine with her, and breathing was a problem up there even without asthma.
But the top was worth it - a smoking cauldron, and you could see all over Sicily at the bottom...we were really at the way top of Etna, and even saw bits of snow.
Liz and Mags on the climb up
It was a gorgeous blue sky, and with the contrast of the colors of the volcano, it looked pretty cool. Saw several areas where eruptions occurred over the years - many in the last 7 years, actually. And our fabulous guide, Antonio, who looked quite a bit like George Clooney, was very information about how the volcano works, the history, the flora and fauna, etc. He spoke mostly in Italian, but slow enough that it was easy to understand him, and he would repeat in English, French or Spanish if needed. Plus, of course, he looked like George Clooney, so he could have been talking about the dullest thing in the world and we would think it was fascinating.
After hiking down for a half hour, we took a half hour break for lunch, sitting on the ground away from the sulfur clouds.
I don't know what the hell my brother is doing here.
The hike down was supposed to last 3 1/2 hours...seemed longer than that to me. Although hiking down was fine for me - there were areas of soft black sand on the steep mountainside we had to go down, and in the absence of a pathway, the guide said it was best to run down it in a Z formation. I found that if I laid back really far, pressed into my heels and picked my knees up, I could get a nice easy run straight down, and I’d slide with every step - it was really fun, actually. Eric seemed to be doing fine once we got out of the sulfur clouds, and I was fine as long as we were heading down, but the Turqs and Mel said down was really difficult. Melissa apologized about a million times for holding us up, although interestingly, she was in the front with the guide most of the time.
Our intrepid travelers, Mags, me, Melissa, Liz & Eric, with our trusty guide Antonio looking on
Mags pulled up the rear, going at her own pace. A couple of couples opted out of the entire climb down, and they hobbled off to the gondola. I had a nice conversation with a French guy from Nice for part of it, and we wound up often chatting with a young couple from Holland, who were often at the rear of the pack with us.
Finally, about 7 hours after we started, and barely able to stand, we arrived back at the parking lot. After dropping off our borrowed equipment, getting our certificates of completion, and taking a photo with our Clooney look-alike guide, we immediately went to the cafe and a had celebratory beers. The Dutch couple was doing the same thing. After the beer, we were already so stiff we could hardly get up. Our legs (and knees, and hips) were sore for DAYS. When we got home, someone noticed I was a bandana thief - I had forgotten to give it back to the guide when we were giving back the boots, etc. Well, I didn't take any rocks from Etna (Antonio said you could really ruin your clothes from the chemicals on the rocks), so I guess my souvenir is Antonio's bandana! As the Italian Fiat commercial (featuring Clooney) said, "George not included!"