Mt Etna is Europe’s largest active volcano located in Sicily, in southern Italy. Mt Etna has a complex geologic and tectonic history and has been the centre of many devastating eruptions in the past several thousand years.
Mt Etna erupted early this year, causing a BBC news crew to evacuate the mountain quickly as they were pelted with heated rocks and ash. Even with all the monitoring it is never quite sure when Mt Etna will erupt so there are strict guidelines with tourists visiting the area. The name comes from the Greek word Aitne, which is from aitho, meaning “I burn.” Its topmost elevation is about 11,000 feet (3,350 meters), depending on the effects of its most recent eruption. The Sicilian name is Mongibello.
One of the highlights while visiting Sicily was the excitement of being able to not only see the amazing Mt Etna but to be able to actually walk around one of the huge craters.
We were up bright and early the morning of our Etna tour. I looked out the kitchen window, as we had been unable to see the mountain due to billow of smoke/steam clouds and was surprised to see just two little puffs of steam floating from the top. Wow, my first proper sighting, the excitement grew and I couldn’t wait to be close.
We walked on down to the bus station where we were to catch our tour bus. We noted along the way how great it was to be out early and not have to fight our way through the sea of people that usually frequented the Main Street.
We arrived way too early as usual, it’s hard to get into Italian time where most things are on time, usually 5 to 15 minutes later. We had a coffee at a wee cafe, (not sure how I’m going to be able to just go back to normal coffee) while we waited.
We hopped on our bus with Mario the driver and Elizabeth the tour guide and headed off with Elizabeth filling us in on the history of Etna in a couple of different languages, through smaller towns and up the winding road to the magnificent sight of Etna finally in our reach.
Arriving at the 2000 metre mark we had the option of staying there to look around the many shops and cafe’s or catching the cable cars up to the next level. As far as we were concerned it was always going to be onwards and upwards. The line to the cable cars was getting longer by the minute, being on a tour, we by-passed all that and in no time were heading up the mountain. We shared our cable car with two ladies, one from Ireland and one from Australia and Lisa & Al from the UK. There was an eerie silence as we made our way up to the 3000 metres and the ground turned to a black dry surface splattered in places with green from plants trying to re-establish themselves after many eruptions.
The steam from the active craters rose above us as we neared the drop off point. We had read many reviews saying how cold it was going to be and the smell of sulphur being present but as we stepped off our cable car the air was warm and just the slightest hint of sulphur. Etna was making sure we had a great experience although I wouldn’t have minded just a little hot lava and a sprinkling of ash for some dramatic photos.
We had a guide to show us around a crater and answer our many questions, he would dig a little bit into the ground to show steam rising so close under our feet. Just standing in its true magnificence we knew Mt Etna commanded respect. One that should not be taken for granted.
The trip reminded me of how quickly life can change, how much we take for granted and how precious these moments are. What an absolute privilege to be able to visit something that can turn so fierce in a heartbeat, yet today it was just so calm and beautiful!
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