In our infinite wisdom we decided to wake before dawn, to see the sun’s beautiful light from the other side of the sea, and to get some good photos. But the horizon was a little hazy, and the sunrise disappointingly unspectacular. Still, it didn’t stop Sam wandering the deserted hotel trying to make an image worth keeping. I meanwhile returned to bed and tried to stay awake until she returned, after all, we only had one set of keys, and she didn’t have them.
Today’s itinerary read as follows: breakfast, pool, volcano. Salmon on toast was replaced with tuna steak on toast, and at the pool we donned our fluorescent green flip flops and bagsy’d the best sun chairs. In A Brave New World, Bernard Marx was headed out to see the savages, and above me an unmarked army helicopter and then a low flying cargo plain flew by, weaving between the islands, practically at eye level. It upset the tranquility somewhat, but Sam missed all the palaver, she was downstairs getting a tour of the spa.
For lunch we ate a stone baked pizza, with fruit and vanilla milkshake. Most of the afternoon was spent sitting with our new friends Susie and Brian, honeymooners, one scottish and one south african. Samantha has a unique ability to befriend strangers, and I tag along for the ride. They ran a shipping company, liked Game of Thrones and were big rugby fans.
At 6pm, and thoroughly relaxed, we set off to scale Vulcano, to go up when the light was right, when the heat wouldn’t be overbearing and when it might all be a little bit perfect. Sunset was 8:30pm, and we reckoned two hours was enough to get us to the top. From the minibus, through town, up to the gravel entrance, and onto the sandy ash path. It was like climbing a beach, or a sand dune, sliding down slightly with every rising step. Sam, in all her preparedness was carrying far too much and wore too many clothes; red faced and panting she was overheating, and we were only 200m into the climb. She had her walking boots, trousers, t-shirt and a shirt covering her shoulders; I was in sandals, shorts and an unbuttoned short sleeved shirt. We took it slow, I carried the tripod, and Sam took tiny steps, which made it all the more arduous, every step had a cost. 300m, 400m, 500m, 600m, and finally the sand gave way to encrusted mud — a path carved out of the volcano wall, and the trek became easier. Beneath us the town, Vulcanello and the Aeolian islands spread out, with the sun casting beautiful shadows across the hills.
The climb was 900m in total. At the top we found ourselves on the precipice of the volcano’s crater, Gran Cratere. It wasn’t spewing lava or anything, it had collapsed in on itself one hundred years ago, but there were thick sulphur fields to the East, blowing plumes of toxic smoke out into the world. And that’s the smell that hits you at the top, yucky bad eggs. Still, the crater was enormous, and the eruption must have been a sight (it’s a Vulcanian type of eruption, namesake and all). Sam was in a mild state of delirium, overheating, red faced and being irritable — yet this wasn’t the finale, we still needed to circumnavigate the crater to reach the tallest peak on the south side. Sam let out a sort of moan, but we continued.
Around the crater there’s a thin path, trekked by a hardy few. Avoiding the sulphur fields, we took the long route round, to our left the sharp decline into the crater, on the right a larger drop, down the side of the volcano. A sombre cross with flowers highlighted the danger. As we trekked onwards the sun drew closer to the horizon. And all the bugs were out, tiny little black things determined to bite and nibble at you unless you keep moving. We eked round to the peak, and guzzled down most of our juice and water. Just as Sam made it to the pinnacle, and as she wearily raised her hands in success, a jogger breezed past her, without a bead of sweat on his brow, casual as you like.
What a magnificent view from the top. We could see all eight Aeolian islands, in all their glory, spreading right across the horizon. The light had turned red, and the sun began to dip behind Filicudi; perfect timing. With a bit of a rest and some fluids Sam was back to normal and we setup the tripod and had a bit of fun. The angle wasn’t quite right, so we jogged down the zig-zag path, back to the rim of the crater, and towards the sulphur fields; the smoke flowed over the cusp of the crater and down, mesmerising. We paused and watched the sun disappear, just like the night before, and the one before that, perfectly and smoothly collapsing into the sea, gorgeous, you can’t ever grow tired of it, beautiful and fleeting, a little bit of planetary magic, and then it was night time. And then we were on a volcano at night.
After all that photo taking, and with the sunset over, we had the mild problem of getting past the molten sulphur field, in the dark, and in sandals. We found a thin path upwind, and avoided the worst of it. But some sulphur vents were a little too close for comfort; they whizzed and hissed as we crept by, angry yellow chimneys with yellow slug trails. Where we couldn’t avoid the smoke plumes we held our breath and ran through, the air warm on our legs and sharp on our nose. Hop, dash, jog, and done, nothing too bad.
It took us a mere 20 minutes to get down again, including the occasional night shot. Sweaty, and without doubt pungent, we entered the relaxed Ristorante Vincenzino for our evening meal. It was a nice little place, fairly casual, and the food was great; I chose randomly and had tuna steak pasta with fennel, raisins and pine nuts, and plenty of olive oil. Sam took the waitresses suggestion and had lovely pasta and prawns.
We finished up just in time for the 11pm shuttle back to the hotel.