Monday, 9 July 2012


We slip away quietly from our anchorage in Panarea at eight in the morning before the rest of the bay awakes. Panarea lies on an underwater platform and unlike the bottomless bays of Vulcano and Lipari it is surrounded by shallow water and numerous reefs, where small day boats anchor and sleep away the hot hours of the day. The most dramatic of the surrounding islets is Basiluzzo which rears out of the sea, with dramatic rock faces of vertical grooved strata like giant organ pipes hanging over the dark caves below where the swell gurgles as it washes in and out. Gulls cry as they circle the cliffs high above us and we glide over the aqua marine blue sea with huge boulders on the sea bed passing under our hull. 

We are on our way to the island of Stromboli, an active volcano which is in a costant state of eruption; 3,000 metres high, of which 2,000 metres is under the sea. Its distinctive shape looms large on the horizon and it is easy to imagine it like an iceberg with the majority of its huge mass under the waves. We pick up a buoy in the small port and go ashore to prepare for our hike up to the crater, renting hiking boots and helmets. We are advised that it is a strenuous climb which will take 3 hours to get to the top, with an hour watching the eruptions and a further hour to make the descent. We set off at six in the evening in a group of twenty, following Franco our guide who is a huge colossus of a man, and he sets a slow and steady pace up through the lanes of the village and then into the scrub that covers the lower slopes of the volcano. We are soon sweating profusely in the hot afternoon sun as the slope gets steeper and we trudge single file on the black sand of the pathway which winds up the hillside.

Just as we are gathering our breath at one of the rest stops we hear the bad news: due to extreme activity in the crater, the path is closed above 400 metres and we are unable to continue. Franco offers us an alternative which is to circle the volcano and watch the activity from the northwest slope. We arrive as darkness falls: we are sitting on the rocks 400 metres above the sea. Looking up above us we can make out the jagged edge of the three craters that form the mouth of the volcano, from where there is a constant stream of white smoke. Suddenly there is a deep roar and huge burst of black smoke and ash blasts out of the crater high into the sky above us. Then, as the rock and debris lands on the mountain it rolls and slides down the steep slopes into the sea below where it hisses and pops as it hits the water. We eat our sandwiches and wait in anticipation, watching the craters which puff occasional clouds of smoke and ash. We are soon rewarded by another eruption, this time it is bright red as the magma bursts out into the darkness and showers the upper slopes with ash and glowing embers. It is an extraordinary sight and although we are disappointed that we were unable to reach the summit and look down into the crater, we feel that we have witnessed a glimpse of the explosive power lurking in the bowels of the earth deep below the island of Stromboli.

1 comment:

  1. Its the explosive power in Windsors bowels that should worry you more!

    Great photo's and a dramatic sight.....