My alarm was set for 7:30, but I was up before then. The creaky beds had once again made sleep impossible. No problem, I would just be ready early. I had my breakfast and then as I was waiting for my day trip to Mt. Etna I ran into Catrina and Summer from Siracusa. They were there for the tour as well, but they were only doing the half day tour.
After some confusion (they lost my reservation) there were 9 people squeezed into a very tiny Range Rover. At first I was seated in the back and it was all I could do to keep my breakfast down. Our group consisted of all English speakers, Jeremy and a couple from Australia, Allie and a couple from the UK, and myself and Kevin from the US.
The drive up wasn't remarkable until we hit a lava flow from about 300 years ago. The ground was black, and looked injured by the dried lava rocks. Our guide didn't speak too much English so I am sure that I lost a lot of the day in translation.
After checking out what I can only call a lava field we were headed to a lave cave. Ernesto, our guide, pulled over at what seemed like a pretty random place. He pulled out headlamps and helmets for everyone. None of us could figure out where the cave was. It turned out it was a tiny hole right next to the guardrail.
From what I could gather caves like this are formed when hot air gets stuck between layers of lava. The cave was very rough going, I kept almost tripping and I was grateful for the helmet. I could either look at my feet or at the ceiling. I decided to concentrate on my feet and that meant a lot of hitting my head. It was also pitch black. We followed the cave back for about 10 minutes, but it felt much longer when we couldn't see an end.
After the cave we stopped at the location of the crater from the 2001 explosion. Climbing up and around the rim of the crater was daunting as well. I'm not known for my balance and the black sandy surface would have been easy to fall on. The top was also very windy, I felt like I should have been holding on to something besides my camera. Still, it was beautiful in a melancholy manner, everything was covered in black rocks.
Lunch was quite good, lots of Sicilian delicacies including cheese, sausage, artichokes and pistachio nuts. I was so stuffed by the time we had finished that I wasn't sure I could do anymore walking.
The last real stop of the day was to get a good look of Mt. Etna itself. From the vantage point that we had we could see smoke and solid lava from pasts flows. When we were quiet we could here the volcano making rumbling noises. It was the type of place that I would have really loved to have to myself for a bit, to just sit and enjoy nature.
Before returning to Catania we spent some time sitting at a mountain cafe. Ernesto seemed to want to hang out forever, but one of the women who spoke some Italian told him that I had a flight and didn't have all night as well as all day.
As soon as I got back to the hostel I said quick goodbyes, although part of me wanted to stay and go out with everyone that night. I grabbed my things and headed straight for the airport.
I had thought I would just make it, but instead I had to wait about 25 minutes before they even opened up check in. I ended up talking to Emanuel, a Maltese guy in Catania for business. We continued the conversation throughout the flight. I know very little about Malta and he gave me a brief history, along with suggestions about what I should visit.
When I landed I was literally the only person going through the non-EU immigration line. When the guy there asked me when I was leaving and I answered the 29th he told me that was his birthday and that I was going to miss the party. I knew right then that I was going to like this place. This was the first time an immigration officer had ever shown any humor when I was getting into a country.
As soon as I passed the gates I entered my 9th country on this trip and the 30th country that I have been in all of my travels.
I was picked up through my hostel and we were there in just a few minutes. I was happy to see that I did in fact have my own room and bathroom. The price was so good, I had thought that I made a mistake. I also had a fabulous view of Valletta, Malta's capital.
I quickly fell asleep. It's not every day that I climb a volcano and reach a milestone.