We awoke this morning to sunshine and puffy clouds, little did we know that by days end we would be trying to outrun a huge storm in a 40 foot fishing boat. The plan for the day was a boat tour of Lipari, Vulcano, and Salina. We were picked up at 10 sharp and dropped at the fishing boat docks where we men Nando, who we thought was our guide for the day. Instead, he put us on a small boat with several other passengers (neither crew nor fellow passengers spoke any English) bound for the nearby island of Vulcano. This wasn’t the itinerary that we had been told we would have, but we thought that the order of the trip had changed. We were then dropped off at a dock in the middle of nowhere next to an abandoned hotel complex and told that we can be picked up at either 1 or 4pm. The boat then left us standing on the dock befuddled. We phoned our travel agent, Angela, who told us that the problem with the Aeolian islands is that the people were “particular” which meant that they were pretty weird. Basically, this was not what she had planned for us, so she was going to arrange a private boat to come and get us early afternoon and take us to Salina. In the meantime, we would hike to the top of the smoldering volcanic cone from which Vulcano takes its name. This volcano, known as the Gran Cratere, is still active with its last eruption just over 100 years ago in 1890.
Our next task was to find the trail to the top of the crater. We meandered in the direction of the cone, and asked a group of hikers coming in the opposite direction for tips on how to find the trail head. They turned out to be Canadians with a second home in Stowe, so we spent a few minutes talking to them, enjoying the sound of English (albeit Canadian English, eh?). We soon were on the right trail, and began our ascent. We quickly encountered a woman selling tickets to hike the mountain at 3 euros per person. We were pretty sure this was a scam, but couldn’t figure any way around it, so we shelled out 12 euros for the privilege of climbing up into sulfuric acid fumes. To make matters worse, she only had information in Italian. The hike up was beautiful, though with great panoramic views of Vulcano Harbor and Lipari and Salina in the distance. As we approached the top, the sulfur fumes became more intense, burning our eyes and throats. At the top we found multiple smoking vents surrounding the crater rim of the volcano. We hiked around the rim trying to avoid as much of the caustic fumes as possible. I was more concerned about the effects of the sulfur vapors on my camera than my lungs, so after sufficient photo ops, we began our descent.
When we got to the bottom, we found signs to two different ports, the small “portente” where we were dropped off, and the actual town port. Angela gave us explicit directions as to where to wait for our fishing boat in the main port. This location was a bar right on the waterfront(where we had our worst meal of the trip-pizza of all things). At 2:30, the appointed time, no one showed. We called Angela, who was now quite upset with the Aeolians, and she found out for us that the boat was waiting for us back at the “portente” and the captain wanted us find our way back there. After getting lost and asking for directions (in Italian), we finally found the dock. But, no one there spoke English, and we did not know the captain’s name or boat name. After another call to Angela, and having her speak to one of the people on the dock (who turned out to be the guy we were looking for), we boarded our boat with Gilligan and the Skipper. The beginning part of our trip to Salinas was very pleasant, sailing along the lee of Lipari, passing the Gates of Lipari (two monoliths that seem to guard Lipari Harbor), squeezing through narrow slits between rocks, and sailing right into a grotto. Looking over our shoulders, though, we noted storm clouds now covering Vulcano which only a few hours earlier was bathed in sunshine. Our captain assured us not to worry. We then crossed the channel between Lipari and Salina, and things began to get exciting. Molly and Dave were heavily dosed with antiemetics, so seasickness wasn’t a problem for them, and as long as we were moving, I was fine. Jeri rode through a hurricane at sea with no medications, so she, too, was fine. Now if we could just stay on the bucking bronco. We finally reached Salina and our captain gave us one hour shore leave. We walked around the town and visited the two churches there. We were interested in the architecture, but deep down we were all praying for safe return before things got real exciting. I knew we were in trouble when Gilligan closed up the cabin and rolled up his pant legs. As we started to cross back to Lipari, the seas increased dramatically and we all hunkered down in the cabin. Several times we experienced weightlessness as the boat dropped off the top of a wave into a trough. This was when Molly asked if they had life jackets (none were in sight) or a radio. I guess it was a little late to worry about that now. We decided that if we made it back alive, there would be a good tip in it for the Skipper and Gilligan, and if we didn’t, we would stiff them. The pounding lasted about 45 minutes and we finally reached Lipari’s harbor. It looks like they would get there tip after all. As we disembarked, we noted flashes of lightning from the direction in which we came. We briskly walked back up to the hotel, and got to the door just as the storm hit with incredible lightning flashes and an impressive downpour. Tonight we eat in the hotel!
Tomorrow we were to go to Stromboli to hike the volcano at night, but due to the weather, this is now in question. I guess we will find out tomorrow.