Mount Etna: the third active volcano in a week!
09 September 2013 | Taormina, Sicily, Italy
We sailed from Stromboli through the Messina Strait to the east side of Sicily. The Messina Strait is a narrow strip of water between two rocky, mountainous coasts; and similar to the Straights of Gibraltar and Bonifacio, the wind funnels through and can get pretty nasty even when the forecast calls for mild weather. True enough! We entered Messina early in the morning motoring with no wind and forecast to stay less than 5 knots. By 10 AM, the wind started at 10 knots, half an hour later was 15 knots, and before 11 AM reached 20 to 24 knots. But with the wind being from the north, coming from e stern of Por Dos who was to complain. We were moving along at a good pace even with a strong current against us.
There are not many anchorages or ports on the east side of Sicily. As we apporached, I had been calling all of them looking for a place to leave Por Dos for a day while we went up Mount Etna. The fees I was quoted are not for the faint-hearted. The closest port to Mount Etna asked for 274 EU per night - one wonders (and hopes) what other services they provide for that amount! I also checked in Messina with the idea of renting a car to take us to Etna. Their price was a mere 190 EU/night :-) In the right direction but, seriously? On my last effort I got offered a mooring ball for 170 EU/night. We decided to check the only suitable anchorage near Mount Etna, a place called Taormina. It was protected from the prevailing winds but fairly deep. We were pleasantly surprise when we found out that not only were there laid moorings where we were planning to anchor but at 45 EU/night were very reasonable priced (by comparison they were right cheap). George, British expat and the mooring owner, was very nice and helpful. Through him we arranged to rent a car for next day and settled in for the evening. Just then, fireworks started. We had fireworks on and off for most of the evening in different spots along the coast. It culminated with a major display at midnight less than half a mile from us. They really welcome you here! :-) As it turns out, they had a whole week of celebration for their "Madonna" and Sunday was the last day of festivities.
Early the next morning, we drove to the base of Mount Etna. From there, we tried to organize a climb to the top (3350m). A guide must be hired for this, same as for Stromboli. Unfortunately, the top had been closed to visitors for the last two days as Mount Etna was burping noisily. Apparently, just the day before, there had been several explosions and part of the main dome had collapsed. We could go to the caldera formed in 2002 (around 2600m?) but no further. Oh well! So we took the Gondola (together with hundreds of other tourists) to the top of the only ski resort in Sicily (it is open from mid-Jan to end of Feb :-). Then, we took a four-while drive bus to the top of the 2002 caldera. This whole area had all newly formed in 2002. There a guide was waiting, he took the whole group from one bus and gave us a tour of the area. We went around the caldera, touched the warm ground, looked at the steam coming out from this 2002 caldera, looked at the volcano bombs that had erupted from the main caldera (the one that we could not go to) last March and got almost all the way to the gondola. We looked, from afar, to the top of Mount Etna, happily spitting sulfur fumaroles and water vapor (no explosions while we were there). Then, we reversed our tracks back to the car. To return to Taormina, we continued our circumnavigation of Mount Etna by car. The south end had been dry and mostly maquis and low vegetation. The north side on the other hand had beautiful tall forest. We could see the beginning of many hiking trails. Such a contrast!
We drove back to Taormina, the town on top of the high cliffs where Por Dos was moored. This is an old tourist town, famous with tourists for the last two centuries, and still with lots of its charm. We walked around the main semi-pedestrian center, where only locals can drive, and to the greco-roman amphitheater, where a classical orchestra with young musicians was preparing for an evening concert. From the amphitheater one can see Mount Etna and the sea at the same time. Beautiful spot.
The next morning we said "Hasta la vista, baby" to Sicily, but "We will be back" after moving on to Greece for a month.