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Stranded on Stromboli

The Stromboli Story - being stranded on a volcanic isle.

I want to share my experience on the volcanic island of Stromboli, which lies off the Northeast coast of Sicily.   One of the most active volcanoes in the world, Stromboli is constantly emitting rocks and smoke.   However, it is only every few years where the volcano will erupt to a point where it causes serious damage to the landscaping.   I believe only once or twice in recent history that the island had to be evacuated.   Stromboli is part of the Lipari Islands, also known as the Aeolian Islands after the Greek wind god Aeolus.   It is even reminiscent of a Greek island with its white houses.   You can also find bougainvillea, almond blossoms, grapevines and citrus trees.  

I had the pleasure of visiting the island in March 1998.   The island is a popular tourist attraction or many Europeans.   In March, the number of people on the island was approximately 400.   During the summer, that numbers rises to approximately 8,000.   You can reach Stromboli by boat or hydrofoil.   The trip by boat takes about 3 hours (1.5 hours by hydrofoil) from the Sicilian port town of Milazzo.   You can also take a boat ride from Naples (8 hours).   You will see a nice "fireworks" show arriving from Naples in the summer as the volcano is constantly emitting rocks out of its' crater.   Ferries, a popular mode of ocean transport in Italy, do not stop at Stromboli.   There are no cars on the island.   You will, however, see mopeds and a three-wheeled motorized vehicle similar to a golf cart and a pickup truck.   No kidding!   Therefore, a good pair of walking shoes is a must if you visit the island.   And if you plan to take the hike up to the volcano summit (approx 3,000 feet), a good pair of hiking boots is advised, along with plenty of water.  

My original itinerary was to spend two days and one night on the island.   I arrived on a Monday afternoon.   The following day, I wanted to take the 4-hour hike to the top of the volcano and leave for Palermo on Tuesday evening.   However, it quickly turned into a five day / four night affair.   A cold front moved through Europe the day I was supposed to depart.   All of the boat departures had to be canceled because of the rough seas.  

The first day I arrived was a beautiful spring day in Sicily.   Temperatures were in the upper 60's and there was not a cloud in the sky.   Arriving in early afternoon, I checked into my hotel "La Sirenetta" or the Mermaid which overlooks the black volcanic sandy beaches.   I ventured off for some dinner around 7 PM, early for Italian standards, to a restaurant called "Barbablu".   It is a family run place with great food and an abundance of local wines from grapes grown in the nutrient rich volcanic soil of the island.   After dinner, as I walked from the restaurant to the hotel, I quickly realized that there are no street lights on the island! Not knowing my way back to the hotel, I had to listen for the roar of the ocean to gather my sense of direction.   It felt like I was stumbling around in my bedroom with my arms in front of me trying not to bump into a car! I soon learned that a flashlight is a necessity when traversing the island after dark.   I finally made it back to the hotel room, without bumping into anything.  

The next day, the weather conditions deteriorated.   A cold front moved through Europe.   The wind was picking up and it started to rain and the temperature was dropping into the low 30's.   The hotel proprietor warned of possible boat cancellations, so I quickly checked out of the hotel that morning instead of climbing to the top of the volcano, as was my original plan.   When I arrived at the dock, I was informed that there were no more boats leaving the island that day.   "Forse domani" or "maybe tomorrow", the port master said. Not much else to do, but check back into the hotel. It was then that I met a German woman, a Swiss couple, a Canadian man, and an American and British entourage working on a photo shoot for Jane Magazine. We were all on the same boat, no pun intended, and as they say, misery loves company. So we all ended up making the best of a bad situation and got to spend a lot of time together. We ended up back at "Barbablu" for another wonderful dinner.

On Wednesday, we all woke up early to catch another boat that is on its' way from Naples. We check out of the hotel and catch a 3-wheeler station wagon to the dock. We get stuck in the narrow street because there was another one heading in the opposite direction. A third 3-wheeler had to give us a shove to lodge us free. The weather is still bad and it is raining lightly. We get to the dock and as it turns out, the boat from Naples never left! No boats were coming and going from Stromboli on that day.   In fact, the ports of Naples and Genoa were closed - a rare event.   "Forse domani", said the port master.   Back to the hotel for check-in.   Later on that day, the rain stopped.   We decided to take a walk up to the volcano.   We went about halfway up and the rain stared again and the temperature was dropping once again.   Visibility was diminishing, so we decided to turn back to town.   For dinner, we went to "Barbablu" again.   Luckily, they had a different menu every night, although, the options such as fish and meat were diminishing, as there were no supply boats coming in on a daily basis as is customary.  

The next morning (Thursday), it appeared that the worst was over.   The rain and clouds stopped and the temperature was starting to rise.   The sun came out.   However, the seas were still rough and the wind was still a strong northwest wind.   We tried another attempt to climb up the volcano.   This time we made it approximately three-quarters of the way up.   The climb at this point was getting very difficult.   We were able to see the NW slope of the island, called "Sciara", where the lava flows into the sea.   It was a magnificent sight to see and you could even hear a thunderous roar from the ocean below.   Looking on the horizon, we saw a ship.   We thought that there might have been a boat leaving the island back to Sicily.   We quickly rushed down to the dock only to determine that there still were no boats departing from the island.   To this day, I am still disappointed that I did not make it to the top of the volcano.   We spent another dinner at "Barbablu" - there are not too many choices of restaurants when you go in the off-season. However, we had another delicious meal and got to savor some of the excellent island wine.  

Friday morning came and we were told by the hotel staff that a boat would be forthcoming around 10 AM.   We checked out of the hotel and headed down to the dock.   The crew from Jane Magazine had already missed their flights to New York and London - they were supposed to leave that Wednesday.   We were all ready to get off the island, to say the least.   I saw my new friend from Canada down at the dock.   "You're not going to believe what happened to me today?", he said.   "We were told by our hotel that a boat would be coming at 8 AM.   We were down at the dock around 7 AM and saw a boat coming towards the island on the horizon.   We ran up to the hotel to get our 40-pound backpacks, checked-out, and ran back down to the dock only to see the ship leaving on the horizon.   " A lesson in Italian time tables: they tend to rarely be exact! Another boat did arrive at 10 AM and we finally left the island.   We toasted our departure with an orange from one of the hotel gardens, since we did not have any champagne.  

In summary, it was an experience of a lifetime that I'll never forget.   I would definitely recommend a visit to the island if one should travel to Sicily or to Naples, as it can be reached from either destination.   Pay close attention to the weather forecasts should you go.   I will definitely go back one day to get to the top of the volcano.   The best time of year to go would be in April, May and September.   The summer months are nice, but you would have to deal with an onslaught of crowds.   It is, however, an island of unsurpassed beauty that makes you marvel at the forces of Mother Nature and the beauty of the Italian islands.

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