I’ve been so wrapped up in writing software, the blogging has suffered! Time to catch up:
Last time I wrote, we’d just left Selinunte, and had spent a night wild-camped on a hill overlooking the quite pleasant scenery near the road towards Mount Etna. So, we drove on, and caught our first glimpse of the volcano’s gigantic snowy peak soon after.
We drove on, into the sprawling suburbia south of Etna, stopped at a shopping centre to stock up and do some shopping (Katherine, anyway — I stayed in Nettle and worked on some software). Then on, through peak hour traffic, to Nicolosi, a town that’s a reasonable launching point for visiting Etna, and the only one we could find with camping facilities.
It was getting late, and the caravan park looked closed, so we parked at the edge of a a wide open paved area nearby for the night, and moved in the next day. We had a day inside, then ventured out to find the tourist information office — which turned out to be non-English speaking with only a German-version map. The good news, however, was there was mobile coverage outside the office, unlike at the campsite, so we were able to find out what we needed online.
The next day, we drove up Etna’s flank, perhaps a little nervously, not really knowing whether to expect precipitously steep dirt roads, or an easy, coach-friendly affair. It turned out to be the latter, passing through some quite pleasant wooded residential areas then up into a black lunar landscape of old lava and ash, overlooking the plains below, dotted with smaller volcanic cones (they want to be just like Etna when they grow up), with the sea in the distance.
We passed patches of birch wood, resplendent in bright autumn colours, and pine forest in deep green, then found ourselves in an even weirder landscape of ash and mini-cones, grey with patches of iron orange on one side of the cones as if lit by a sunset we couldn’t see.
We arrived at Rifugio Sapienza, the collection of car parks, tacky souvenir vendors and tour agencies perched on the hillside high above the clouds; we paid our insane parking fee, strapped on our cold gear and pack, paid our insane cable-car fee, and took a ride up.
The cable-car doesn’t go too near to the mouth of the main crater — there’s a tour ‘bus’ (more like a tank!) that goes there, but we were told the weather was too bad for tours. So, with no tours running, we weren’t going to get a look into Etna’s maw. Instead, we set off by ourselves to explore.
We emerged into a freezing black-and-white landscape of ash and snow and a howling wind. Conditions were such that where the wind blew over any bumps in the landscape, the lee side streamed with mist, making it appear like the entire place was smoking: This had us fooled for a while before we realised it wasn’t exciting volcanic action at all.
There was still excitement to be had, though; we wandered to the right of the road a little, following the recommendation of some guys we had met several days ago at the camping area, and who had just happened to have come up Etna at the same time as us; they wore shorts. We were rewarded with jaw-dropping views over the Valle de Bove, apparently an ancient crater that had collapsed, and had only recently been filled with an inconceivably immense lava flow, from the 2001 eruption.
The view was unbelievable.
We had planned to walk from there back down the mountain to Rifugio Sapienza, which is apparently quite a nice walk, but it was absolutely freezing (sub-zero plus wind chill, we were told), so it really was never going to happen.
Instead, we battled our way back to the cable-car station, paid the insane cable car fee, and rode our way back down towards a cup of tea.