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February 05, 2009
From Catania, we drive 90 minutes to the base of Mt. Etna. From there, we wait a short time for an old, dilapidated mini-bus--it has good enough traction, however, to get us through the ash--that takes us to 6000 feet above sea level. Spectacular and harrowing all at once.
The early Romans believed that Vulcan, their god of fire, worked at a hot forge in Mt. Etna, striking sparks as he made swords and armor for the other gods.
Off the bus, not surprisingly, there is the requisite shop for tourists (lava rocks and beads), even in this remote location.
Our guide communicates with the cell tower at the crest. It seems we're not welcome up there today. Mount Etna has been active for more than 2.5 million years.
Jebel Utlamat, the Mountain of Fire in Arabic, Muncibeddu in Sicilian and Mongibello in Italian, is percolating today. Our climb is to be downhill only!
Although we're wearing hiking boots, we slip on the ash, which renders all our apparel a sooty black. I'm beginning to wonder if it might not have been easier going uphill. The panoramic views mitigate all physical hardship. I can see the village of Taormina, the cerulean blue of the Mediterranean, and the verdant neighboring hills.
An hour and a half later, roughly the mid-way point, we reach a restaurant. We've just passed the remnants of a village destroyed in 2002, the last time Mt. Etna erupted. More than 150 eruptions have been recorded since ancient writers mentioned eruptions 800 years before the Christian era. The first recorded eruption was in 1500 BC.
The evidence has been almost entirely buried in ash; only the commemorative pictures that mark the site bear witness to its former existence.
It's been a long dusty road, and my throat is parched and dry. I order a lemon granita, then another.
Lunch is far from memorable but the vanilla gelato is bustoso (perfetto).
Our bus is here to meet us several hours early, given our short-lived excursion. Mother Nature reminds us once more that she is the ultimate day-planner.
The sign reads: The Guinea, Established 1675. My London redoubt was founded just two years after the coin of the same name was first struck.