April 30th, 2011


It's such a perfect day

Yesterday was, without a doubt, the best day of my two week long trip to Sicily. (I say that with assurance given that the next two days are travel days - one to Messina and one to London - and today will mostly consist of watching the island get blown into the ocean). W and I had made plans for a half-day kayaking trip with http://www.sicilyinkayak.com (knew nothing of them, just saw a flyer at the Vulcano dock), and were picked up by Eugenio at 10AM at our hotel and driven to the departure point. The sea was glassy smooth, the sun just slightly obscured by light cloud - enough to provide a little protection from the glare - in short, it was a perfect day to be paddling a tiny boat on the waters surrounding an active vulcano.

W hasn't done any kayaking before, so he got a short lesson in basics - move the paddle by turning your torso (not your arms), match your partner's strokes, turn with leaning/strokes/rudder (he had rudder control). Eugenio said as a newb we were best sharing a boat, and I was glad - it reduces exhaustion for me (two people at 25% is still more engine power than one tired person at 25%) and makes it easier to talk. So off we went, just the 3 of us, heading for some promised sea caves about a 90 minute paddle away.

But, oh, the scenery, oh, the wow, and oh, the awesome, so much it must have been at least 2 hours until we got there. We first paddled on the water side of thermal bath/mud pot/radioactive slime pit, where we saw AN UNDERWATER FUMAROLE I shit you not. Big bubbles coming up from the ocean floor. SO FUCKING COOL.

Then came the slightly exciting bit where we had to dart across the lanes where the boats come into the docks. We had already had to deal with the rather intimidating waves cast by the hydrofoils, but fortunately they'd gone out again and only a luggardly car ferry was sitting around, very easy to get by.

Once we passed this bit we moved on to the long, slow curve at the base of the most active crater on Vulcano (Vulcanello, while newer, is dormant). Eugenio pointed out the striations in the rock above us ... layers not of sediment but of ash. Most of this giant mountain was laid down around 100 years ago, when the whole island had been bought by a Scotsman named Stevenson. His reward was 3 years of near constant eruptions and bankruptcy, plus, if I understood correctly, the death or escape of all of his employees.

As we continued on, Eugenio took us to a spot where actual smoke was coming out of the mountain. WOW. He pointed out the yellow streaks on the rocks next to it that were stained with sulphur from the fumarole. DOUBLE WOW. He also pointed out how the water was cloudy here from the sulphur dissolved in the water. I'm guessing the fish didn't care for it too much.

We then carried along on the waters edge, noticing the color changing to an insane deep blue that seemed almost impossible to exist outside of a tube of paint. Visibility was fantastic - twenty feet easy - and I was sorry it was just a bit too cool for swimming. After a bit Eugenio came up and had us put on helmets (and lifted the rudder) and we paddled into this neat little cave. E pointed out the dark red of the ceiling (from iron in the volcano's sputterings) and we saw more lemon-yellow sprays on the sides of the walls. As we paddled away, a gull made angry noises and flapped away; W and I saw two cute little gray fatties hiding at the back of the cliff face looking adorable. Aww!

From this point we passed a deep valley that marked the end of La Fossa (the active crater) and the beginning of the oldest part of the island (three or four extinct peaks). The rocks looked much more weathered; we saw ash layers with much more profound angles of striation (in keeping with a longer period for upheaval to take place) and layers of ash alternating with rubbly (pyroclastic?)layers. The water continued a gorgeous, dreamy blue, with the occasional sea-urchin covered rock beneath us. After about twenty minutes paddling alongside some steepish cliffs and rockfalls (making me worry I'd never find a place where we could land and I could go run behind some bushes), we finally found a tiny, sea wrack strewn beach, where we disturbed the resident goats by pulling ashore and having lunch. The bread, cheese, and prosciutto I picked up at a deli the day before were great. Our guide explained that southern Italians don't really go for sports on holiday; their first question for spending money was where could they get some great food. I did think a bit "oh wah, missing an oportunity to enjoy some fab Sicilian food," but actually even our budget deli meal was a sight better than it would have been if I'd got it at the Morrison's across from work.

E wrapped up the break by filling the hulls of the boat with some of the garbage from the beach, then said, "I want to take you to this point up ahead where there is a cave." So back in we went, me getting an unfortunate wave right as I went in the kayak and thus spending the next 2 hours with a damp butt. (Yay though I didn't get any sunburn, which was way more important.) After another 20 minutes or so we were rehelmeted, and E basically pointed us to the cave entrance and paddled around the other side to meet us at its exit. We went in gently, admiring at orange corals/sponges just below the water's surface and the glittering deposits on the ceiling that looked like they should be stalactites given time. We made it out, and E said we could go back through or go around to the left or right; I liked the challenge of the cave (for a bit we had to push ourselves forward just with our hands because it was too low and narrow to paddle) so I said, "Cave!"

In retrospect I'm so glad I did, because after we got through the narrowest bit, the water in front of us turned a brilliant, sun-infused blue, positively glowing underneath the dark rocks curving above us. W and I were just amazed. We were paddling into a glorious pool of liquid light. I can't even put words to how beautiful it was but it's burned into my memory.

After this, well, we paddled just a little bit further to another cave, which, well, was fun to go through but not life changing. E then asked if we wanted to continue, and even though I felt enthusiastic, I thought the return was likely to take a while and that I'd rather come back with 10% of my capacity left rather than go into the negatives. So back we went, passing on following the arch of the Porto di Levante bay in favor of cutting straight across with two stops for hydrofoils. W was clearly having to work during the return - he was expending a lot more energy than me due to this all being very new for him - and I was glad we went back in before the whole thing just became a chore. After we landed, W and I went to the pool behind the kayak storage area and rinsed off & had a swim. Drying off in the sun and staring at the smoking mountain across the bay, the guy at the snack bar behind the pool put "Dancing Queen" on, and suddenly I was having a moment where life was really just perfect.

Then today the wind blew in, a Scirocco, sending the waves crashing, the boats running for cover, and the island blowing into the sea. But my goal for today was to do nothing, and it was a perfect day for doing it, because yesterday had been awesome. And just for fun this evening I climbed the baby volcano on the other end of the island. So yay, yay, and yay. Tomorrow the wind should be quiet so we can cross back to Messina; Monday will be the return to London. But I can't wait to go kayaking again.