We weren't trying to get to the top of the volcano. I'd like to think that we are not selfish enough that we would consider dragging our four year old on a five hour trek in the darkness to overlook the volcanic crater of the famed Stromboli. But we all really really wanted to see this magnificent volcano that has been actively erupting into the Tyrrhenian Sea for the past 2000 years. In fact it was one of the things that most excited us about this journey in Sicily. From what I read there were two good options to accomplish this.
The first was to hike to a lookout at 400 meters, which is the highest you can go on the volcano without a guide. The second option was to take a boat ride around the island at dusk to watch the lava from the Sciara side of the island. We planned to do both in order to maximize our chances of seeing the volcano erupt.
Our adventure began at the port of Millazo in Sicily where we boarded the hydrofoil boat that took us to the Aeolian Island of Stromboli. Finn was beside himself with glee when the boat's "legs" came out and we began to "fly" across the ocean. At that moment he decided boats are his favorite mode of transportation and cast off his former love, the boring old train.
We arrived at Porto Scari to find a tiny white-washed town sprinkled with all variety of succulent terracing up the side of the volcano. The island itself is a big green and black mass rising out of the turquoise sea and is shaped stereotypically just like a volcano topped off with smoke puffing out of the top and the occasional thunder-like rumble. With only two days on the island, we immediately found our airbnb, dropped our stuff and set off to hike to the Sciara del Fuoco lookout point. Our Lonely Planet told us that the Osservatorio pizza place was a perfect half way point to refuel and recommended reaching the lookout point at sunset in order to properly see the eruptions.
The path was paved with smooth stones that switchbacked between tall cane, the whitewashed buildings of the Piscita village, and then gave way to views of the sea. Though we are regular hikers at home, Finn hasn't quite embraced the hobby. I've learned that bribery is really the only way to get him up mountains and even jelly beans and gummy bears are not a sure thing. This day was different however, and the volcano proved to be a more powerful motivator than sugar. The chocolate that Paul carried and the gummy bears in my pocket certainty didn't hurt.
We chatted happily as we reached the Osservatorio only to find that it was closed and our dinner plans were dashed. Setback. Any parent of a small child can tell you that a full belly is a key requirement for an agreeable child. Paul and I exchanged a worried look. I gave Finn a meat-stick out of my backpack and we continued on. There were just enough clouds in the sky to make for a spectacular sunset over a calm sea, which we enjoyed as we slowly climbed the mountain. As the darkness descended we met a mom with two girls who warned us that the path ahead would be too hard for Finn. He was undeterred. We were skeptical, but determined.
The cobblestones gave way to loose dirt and the trail became a vertical scramble. I heard Finn saying "I think I can, I think I can" as his small legs marched up and up. Uncharacteristically, he did not complain, not even a peep. Strombolli was calling and Finn was listening! The sun finally dropped beneath the horizon and it started to get dark.
Paul was in front, holding Finn's hand, essentially pulling him up the hill and I served as the sweeper in case of a fall. The wind was blowing hard and we were watching the black scar that runs from top to bottom of the volcano in search of any signs of lava. The trail wound around into an unexposed area where we weren't able to see the volcano above us. We had to be close. At that point we had been hiking for about two hours. Doing the toddler math, our chances of getting down without having to carry Finn were slim and growing slimmer by the step. We took a chocolate break and Paul ran ahead in search of the end of the trail. No dice. We were still far enough away that our chances of making it to the point without carrying our 40 pound boy or tripping in the dark were improbable. We aren't used to giving up at this point in a journey and this is the point where the selfishness kicked in. Perhaps Paul and I could have made it to the lookout by taking turns going up. But the calculus of parenting is different- the little person in the equation tends to count more than my own wants and safety is the obvious priority. Darn.
We made the safety call and told Finn that we weren't going to make it to the lookout. His face dropped. He was clearly disappointed. We all were. I held my breath and waited for the temper tantrum, the negotiation, the tears. They didn't come. Instead he said, "Well we will probably get a better view from the first lookout that we came to down below." Paul and I looked at each other in shock, confusion and relief. Was this our son talking? Had he managed an enormous emotional growth spurt in a matter of two hours? Yes, Finn, you're right! We had a great view from down there, let's head back. And we did. And he was right. As we huddled together in the wind at the lower lookout point we heard the belly-rumble and we saw our first explosion, like low fireworks tumbling down the a mountain. It was just as you would imagine. Nature's fireworks, spectacular! We danced and high-fived and felt so lucky to be there.
We made it back down the mountain without incident. There were lots of questions about what kind of wild animals live on Stromboli, indicative of the fear that walking in the dark around a strange volcanic island can cause in a small boy (and grown-ups too). I only had to carry him for a few minutes.
Before we left on this trip my friend Lindsay shared this with me:
"Parenthood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you'd have. It's about understanding your child is exactly the person they are supposed to be. And, if you're lucky, they might be the teacher who turns you into the person you're supposed to be..."
Well said. Thank you Finn!
Next up a recap of our adventures, exploits, mishaps and good eatin' in Sicily!
Most photos in this post are taken by Paul on a real camera, and no, we weren't quick enough to capture the eruptions with the camera. There are lots of great images taken by other volcano gazers online though...