I have to admit, seeing a volcano erupt before my eyes was never on my bucket list, but it happened. It was only afterwards that I realised how awesome it was. Stromboli was not the actual destination, and the Aeolian Islands weren’t even part of the plan. I would definitely recommend a short visit though.
I’m not sure what I imagined a volcano to look like but it was probably close to the images of volcanoes I had seen in dinosaur cartoons, where the mountain is a perfect cone shape. There would be tangerine streams of lava trickling down the sides and angry puffs of ash spurting from the crater. Was Stromboli like this? Well, not really. The stage of eruption I saw was close to the end, in June 2003. This particular episode in Stromboli’s history started in December 2002 and finished in July 2003. It was only years later that I read about Strombolian eruptions and how they can be quite different in nature to the type of eruptions seen in other volcanoes. They are eruptions, nevertheless.
The volcano itself was confronting, due to its sheer size and the scarlet river gently trickling down the side. I had a fight-or-flight moment when I saw the lava for the first time. I knew I was safe since I was sailing around that side of the volcano and not actually in any danger. What I wasn’t prepared for was how serene it was. There was no smoke or ash and nobody was running for their life. The ground wasn’t shaking. The sea wasn’t affected at all. In fact, there were houses dotted around the island. Tiny hamlets had built up in this place where I suspected only crazy people would live. Perhaps it’s normal for them. I could see them from the distance, just going about their lives. It didn’t compute.
I sailed around the island at night, in still waters, which added to the eerie calm. It was a perfect contrast to the drama of the molten rock cascading down the side of Stromboli. With no street lights, the inhabitants used torches during the hours of darkness and the only light pollution was from the dimly lit homes. I hear that’s changed now and I wonder if those who have similar experiences to mine in more recent times lose something or if the ambience changes.
I only visited Stromboli for only a short time but it will stay with me for the rest of my life. A few years later, during a trip to the Bay of Naples, I smelled that sulphurous stench when we were close to Vesuvius, even though it wasn’t erupting at that time. It’s funny how a smell can take you right back to somewhere else. That volcano smell had that effect on me and I was right back there, sailing around Stromboli, feeling confused and inspired and a million other things.
I had so many questions that nobody around me could answer. What happens when the lava hits the sea? Do those people ever evacuate? Is it always this calm or does it have major, violent eruptions? That’s something I miss thanks to modern life. What did we do with those questions before Google? I like a mystery. Sometimes it’s good to wonder.
Disclaimer: The images used are stock images. I used an old-school disposable camera during my trip and when it got developed, the man at Boots decided that a black picture with a red line was some kind of damage to the film so didn’t develop the pictures. I tried to explain it was an erupting volcano but he looked at me like I was some kind of weird liar.