My first encounter with volcanoes happened when I was 5. I remember everything: burning lava, dozens of people frozen with fear, feeling of despair and devastation. I couldn’t sleep for several nights after, as I was haunted by terrified faces, which were crying for help, hoping to escape the inevitable.
All right, I did not exactly witness a real eruption, but god knows what tricks can a kid’s imagination play. In my case, it was triggered by a painting from a famous Russian artist Karl Briullov “The Last Day of Pompeii”. The visual effect was complemented by my mom’s story about almighty Vesuvius, a volcano, which wiped a prosperous city off the face of the Earth in a matter of minutes.
Fear and compassion were not the only feelings that I experienced when thinking about the tragedy though. More than that, I was fascinated by the power that volcanoes have and I was charmed by the beauty of eruptions. To my shame, It took me almost 20 years to finally make it to a real volcano.
Etna was not the first volcano that I hiked, just a year before I did a 20 km alpine crossing in Tongariro, New Zealand. However, it was the first time that I got so close to the craters. Etna has the longest history of recorded eruptions, yet unfortunately as in case with Tongariro, which erupted just 4 months after I had left, my timing was not perfect to watch this fascinating natural phenomenon.
From a distance, Etna looks like a relatively easy hike, but it is not, despite the fact that it will not take you more than 3-4 hours to go all the way up with a normal speed. There are no proper trails (except for the short ones, which would not be enough if you hunt for rather “wild” views), everything is literally covered with lava which is able to kill any shoes, and the wind can become absolutely unbearable – they say that every other year a curious tourist is blown into the crater (I believe that it is quite an exaggeration though 😉 ). In general, the mountain seems to be more bus- than hiking friendly, but it has a positive side to it too: except for craters, other parts of Etna are never flooded with tourists. Besides, the views are utterly rewarding and very different from what I expected to see: at some points I was not sure anymore, if I was still on the Earth or if I accidentally jumped to a different planet …