This blog was written by Filippo Menci, a good friend and a ‘real’ traveller. I met him a few years ago at Doha airport, on my way back from Tanzania, where we spent 4 hours talking about our trips and sharing our love for Africa; we’ve been in touch ever since. I asked him to write a guest post about one of his trips to Sicily and he got back to me with a piece of literature instead. Read about his incredible adventure and let him take you to the top of Stromboli and back.
I like travelling to a place without knowing too much about it. It’s true, without a good guidebook you’ll miss something out, but, on the other hand, everything you’ll come across will feel like a true discovery, and you’ll be forced to engage with strangers.
In Favignana I met Paula, a Spanish geologist. Besides offering me a free stay in Palermo in exchange for a ride, Paula told me about Stromboli, one of Sicily’s volcanic islands. It is thanks to this random encounter that a month after my first visit I was on my way to Sicily again; this time, with the best possible companions, my cousin Cristiano and Danny, a good mate from London.
At the end of September Stromboli is spectacular. Take an empty Hawaiian island, place it in the hearth of the Mediterranean and add perfect weather, crystal clear waters and just a touch of Italian architecture. There you have it.
But there is much more to be fair. With a short hike you can reach 400 metres of altitude and capture the exceptionality and rarity of this place.
It’s not easy to describe with words the beauty you’ll witness; if you’ve never been, a bit of imagination is essential. Picture yourself sitting on a small terrace on top of a cliff, to the left, 500 m above your head, the crater of Stromboli erupting every 15 minutes steals the limelight hands down – it all began with fire.
As your eyes follow the lava, dark boulders, some the size of a car, roll down towards the beach – the Earth is formed.
A deep blue desert meets the horizon and swallows anything the volcano throws at it, boulders or pebbles, it makes no difference – Calm waters are powerful.
The fresh marine breeze carries the scent of the Mediterranean and dries your sweat – The air, as invisible as essential.
A glance, a click, a single picture and nothing more. Stromboli lets you grasp the essence of the planet in a single moment. A dot of light in the dark.
Up and down Stromboli at night: fall into disgrace
In the darkness of a new moon night a beam of light reaches the peak of the volcano and comes back. It is the head torch of a middle-aged man. Cristiano says he made it in 40 minutes. I trust him. My cousin wears a watch on his wrist since I have memory of him.
You are not allowed to climb Stromboli without a guide, but, there is no one around and it’s our last night, if we don’t go now, when will we have another chance?
It takes us 5 minutes to plan the expedition; the screen of my Nokia will show us the way to the peak. Agreed, flip flops, shorts and t-shirts are not the best gear to climb an active volcano at night, but we are fit and we had enough wine to be confident. Off we go! Up and down in less than an hour is our prediction.
I am leading, and after 5 minutes the rocky path has somehow disappeared from below our feet and given way to a vertical sand wall. We are lost, in complete darkness and we are slowly sliding down.
The thought of a sleepless night in that condition is too much for me to bear. I confess – it took me 5 minutes to panic.
Thankfully Cristiano takes control. He climbs, Danny and I follow him; every two steps up we slide one down. It’s tiring, but eventually we find a rocky platform. We are lost, but at least we can sit.
As we admit our defeat and resign to the idea of spending a night out without seeing the crater, the ground shakes and a massive lava eruption explodes in front of us. Here I am – roared the fire.
Just the time to realize that we made it to the top and wondering whether we are safe or not, a cinder shower starts pouring down on us. Keep your distance – echoed the Earth.
We are forced to watch this spectacular show all night long. Sleeping is impossible; the fresh marine breeze turned into a freezing wind that makes us shiver. Run away – whispered the air.
And so we did, as the first rays of light came out. We don’t even get the time to warm up and a sudden rain soaks us to the bone. Don’t come back – yelled the water.
Our saviour is Salvatore, a local fisherman that offers us a lift on his Ape. While we share with him the best espresso of our lives, he explains us that overall we have been very lucky. Had the wind changed last night, Stromboli’s gases would have peeled our skin off.
Finally safe, from the boat and on our way to Milazzo, I stare at the smoking giant for the last time. The rough sea is making people sick. It’s the air again, invisible and essential, it never left our side.
Guest post by Filippo Menci.
Featured picture by Marco Lazzaroni.