Dave the motorhome has taken refuge in a picnic spot further down Mount Etna, below the snow line (N37.69924 E15.05389)
Last night we slept very badly. Jay has the man flu, so was shivering cold despite being under a duvet, two sleeping bags and a blanket – and fully clothed! We watched the sun set and the clouds cleared as the twinkling lights of the town of Catania grew brighter. We were treated to a free fireworks display down in the bay, which looked even more impressive than usual viewed from above. All was good until around 11pm when outside the wind started to pick up. Soon it was gusting and rocking Dave – not conducive to a good nights kip.
This morning Dave was still being buffeted and we were woken by it around 6am, opening the curtains we watched an incredible sunrise, the orange glow making the world seem a much warmer place – that and the fact that we had cranked the heating up to full. Wide awake and in a rocking van we got up, dressed, had breakfast, walked Charlie, left Charlie in Dave and were first to the gondola when it opened. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms in the afternoon so we wanted to get up and back sharpish.
Jay was still feeling poorly so we decided to take the gondola then the off-road bus up to the highest point you can get – it can be walked in a couple of hours, but we didn’t fancy that today. At the gondola office the ticket man broke the news that the bus wasn’t running, but as we were there we figured we’d go up and have a mooch around, so we coughed up €58 for both of us, and with a quick phone call to make sure things were OK at the top we were off.
Swinging in the breeze is never a good thing on a gondola, but at least it was a covered in one. We looked out at the lava flows below us as we slowly crept up to the top. Arriving we took the advice of the Helens and went up the stairs to the gift shop where there was a display of Etna images from throughout the ages – we were so early, the lights weren’t on and a woman was sweeping the floor.
Walking out of the cable car station a sign reminded us that we were on a volcano and must stick to the paths – the only problem was that the paths weren’t that clearly marked, well actually not marked at all. With no map or clue where we should head we followed footsteps in the snow and tyre tracks of the off-road buses up towards the top of a button lift. Yes in the winter crazy people come up here to ski, but there’s not enough snow right now.
The biting cold wind was howling and my fingers were going numb even though I had my gloves on. As we climbed up to the button lift station it got harder to stand up as the wind gusted around us. We hid behind a hut to get a break from it and catch our breath; a combination of altitude and fighting the wind (coupled with man flu for Jay and general unfitness for me) had us both gasping. Next to the mound we were sat on was another one, this time much higher – well it would be rude not to climb it, so off we went. This time the wind was behind us so we breezed up the slope, but had to take care not to fly off the ridge on the top – I resorted to sitting down just to be sure.
Weighing our camera tripod down with lumps of lava we took a couple of pics, but the wind was whipping up the stones around us. Bits of grit bounced off the camera lens putting a stop to our photography session and tiny specks of dirt found their way around my sunglasses into my eyes. Although the views were amazing, it was not a pleasant experience and flipping freezing. I had thermals on under my jeans, a thermal top and several other layers including a ski jacket, but I felt cold to the core – I certainly won’t be planning any trips to the Arctic in the near future.
Above us huge craters spewed smoke, around us a monochrome world of black lava and white snow undulated as if it was still flowing. Huge craters went unseen close to us as we gazed in awe at the view across to the sea – it really was a magical place, but if you ever plan to go make sure the bus is running or it’s not windy!
After a couple of hours we made our way slowly back to the cable car station, too tired to flight the wind any more. The gondola back down stopped many times as the cabins swung, making us glad when it was our turn to get off. Back in Dave a sleep Charlie greeted us, the sun streamed in Dave’s windows so we all had an afternoon nap.
Checking the internet the weather forecast for the area we were parked was for snow overnight and tomorrow morning. Jay wanted to hold out for the snow, but I whimped out and insisted we head for a picnic area below the snow line – I even offered to drive us there as he wasn’t feeling well. Jay wasn’t convinced though so I took Charlie for a walk. After struggling to get Dave’s door open as the wind blew against it we didn’t walk very far as Charlie kept getting blown around, at one point he was blustered into my legs. The wind was getting worse and one gust made our closed skylight move. Knowing how expensive skylights are to replace (we lost the original one on day two of our tour, before we’d even left the UK!) and suspecting we’d be in for another sleepless night in a rocking Dave Jay agreed to drive us down to the picnic area.
As we left the car park I asked Jay to pull over next to a crater so we could get a good shot of Dave next to it. Jumping out of the door we were facing the opposite direction to earlier and the wind caught it and pulled it from my hand. I grabbed at it and managed to get it shut – thankfully no damage done. I got the shot and then opened the door to get back in, the wind, annoyed that I had won the first round, put up a much stronger fight and once again ripped the door from my hand; snapping one of the hinges. Not daring to open the door again to survey the damage while the wind still gusted we set off down the road winding our way through the lava fields
If you’ve read updates from earlier this year you’ll know we snapped a door hinge in the Mistral wind in France and struggled to get it replaced – it took several motorhome dealers and around six months to finally track a new part down. So of course the hinge that snapped this time isn’t the same one, it’s a different one, so a different part number and just to help matters the bit that snapped off has gone never to be seen again. I’ve emailed the guy in Germany who managed to track down the last one for us – the hinge saga part two begins!