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A thin trail of smoke rises in silence from the crater. I’m on my back, floating on the warm Mediterranean tide just off the island of Stromboli.

While it’s peaceful down here, up there unseen molten lava is bursting skywards.

I’ve only seen lava on documentaries and disaster films before, so I can safely say I’m pretty nervous about the prospect of coming face-to-face with the stuff.Looking back at the island while swimming offshore, however, is magical. Mount Stromboli, one of Italy’s three active volcanoes, sticks up on the horizon in the shape of an incisor. It’s a perfectly volcano-shaped volcano.  

It’s also one of the most active in the world. In fact, every night on this island off the northern coast of Sicily, you’re basically guaranteed a spectacular light show of burning orange. These continual eruptions give the island its nickname, ‘Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’.


Bird’s eye view: the smoking volcano

I’m staying in the main village – also called Stromboli. Unsurprisingly, for a village clinging to the edge of a volcano, the streets are steep – real steep. The hodgepodge of white-washed buildings means that roads are just wide enough for the rusty three-wheeled electric carts that trundle up and down packed with daily supplies (and with local kids hitching a ride on the back).

Eventually, I’m forced to haul myself out of the warm sea and head towards the offices of Magmatrek, where I’ve booked a tour to Stromboli’s summit, knowing full well it will bring me up close with the blistering lava. 

As I stroll along, I realise that even though this tiny island is remote, it’s still very much Italian. I see impeccably dressed waiters dishing out perfect espressos and sugary Sicilian treats, such as sweet ricotta and pistachio-stuffed cannoli. But, alas, there is no time for me to indulge – the group of hikers is gathering. 


Remote: the island’s white-wash villages

A young Canadian guy, Jamie, is getting ready for the walk as well. He peers upwards at the monster we’re preparing to conquer. “Look at that…” he says, pointing at the tiny figures making their way up the steep mountain trail, “…that’s going to be us.”

Our Magmatrek guide lives and breathes the volcano and respects it accordingly, taking eager travellers up every day of the week. He hands out yellow and red hard hats to everyone. Yellow helmets are for the group that will trek up first – the people he has deemed to be the fittest and most able. 

I look down and in my hands is a bright yellow helmet. This is momentarily flattering, but also means I will have to keep up with some pretty serious, seasoned-looking climbers.

Our yellow-helmeted group departs first, snaking up the small path away from the town. The incline of the dusty, rocky track increases the further up we go. As we climb, the detail of the land beneath becomes harder to make out, until the waves on the sea are no longer visible and the ocean looks like a perfectly flat slate of marble. 

Before we even reach the crater, we can hear it – eruptions booming like waves crashing against rocks. 

In total it takes about five hours to reach the summit. The guided treks are perfectly timed to reach the top at sunset. The sky steadily turns orange and an evening mist settles over the sea below. Other Aeolian islands, Vulcano and Lipari, peek up through said mist in the distance.We are looking down upon the volcanic crater from our safe vantage point on the summit. Plumes of dirty smoke explode upwards every few minutes. 

I feel the rumbling first – frightening and incredibly loud, like a jet engine roar. Members of my group look at each other nervously. We can’t tell which of the many vents below is getting ready to explode. 


Talkback


Into the inferno: Trekking the active volcano on Stromboli island, Italy
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