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Friday, August 1, 2014

Blown Away On Top of Mount Etna, Sicily's Volcano

The wind was shoving us so hard, we had to crouch low, or simply sit, for fear of being blown off the thin black ridge of the crater.  We were on a sort of shifting sea of black lava gravel, on one of the summits of Mount Etna.  You can see the dust cloud created by the "jet stream" flying off the top of Etna here.

. Nearby, other people were sitting down, turning around, or debating whether to go forward.  Still others forged ahead along the ridge, hunched over, gripping hats, leaning into the wind.


Not a living thing in sight.  No trees, bushes, or even weeds. Recent eruptions burned, buried, and otherwise wiped out, all signs of life

This powerful wind is created as the air mass moves up the 11000' slope of Etna, which is many miles across, and gets compressed into a jet blast just as it reaches the lip of the crater. We had our doubts.  After a few minutes of taking photos, we decided to turn around, partly because the view from the other parts of the rim were no different from where we'd already reached.  I have to admit there was a bit of self-preservation that went into the decision.  I've been through several hurricanes in Houston, but this felt far, far stronger than anything I've felt before.

In the photo below, the Mediterranean Sea and a very long beach appear in the background, miles away.

When Obi Wan Kenobi turns Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader by dismembering him and leaving him to die, George Lucas used a major eruption of Mount Etna as the background footage: Obi Wan Kenobi vs. Anakin Skywalker.  Here are some excellent photos of the Etna eruption, without the light sabers.  Thinking about those eruptions, we wondered about the reliability of the Sicilian authorities' volcano monitoring program.  We didn't have the privilege of seeing such awesome eruptions. but we did see clouds of brownish smoke ejected  from another crater that was closed off to hiking.  So, we can honestly say we almost DIED!

Down at the lower altitudes a few alien plants have begun to reestablish themselves on the desolate black lava gravel.

We were staying in Taormina, a town on the water, only an hour drive away from the start of the Mount Etna hike.   It's a small town, with an impressive Roman theater sitting at the top of the hill.  This is a view from the seats toward the stage.  These Romans had a pretty nice life, except for the slaves.

This cactus, and these trees full of yellow fur-ball blossoms were growing on the hill behind the Roman theater seating.  [A smart person on the Lonely Planet forum read this post and told me these trees are mimosa trees.] A yucca cactus of this size and coloration reminds me of Mexico, so it was weird to see it there.  I'd never seen trees with blossoms quite like these either.  

Taormina had a lot of great gelato.  I've been missing it ever since returning to Paris.

Click here to see our photos of the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily.

Click here to read about mosaics at a Roman villa in Sicily with tiger hunting and more. 

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