By Antonio Malara
After “Mount Etna” and “Vesuvio”, Stromboli is the last post of the Italian trilogy of the Volcanos. With Stromboli I have always had a special relationship in the meaning that I have always loved its perfect circular shape. Circular because it is from the sky that I saw it for the first time on one of my air routes that took me to Rome from my city, Reggio Calabria. Today, perhaps the route has changed a bit but I remember that from the left side of the plane, Stromboli could be clearly seen just below when looking through the window. In 2012, upon returning from my last trip to America, before landing in my city, the pilot made a route that allowed me to photograph the island perfectly (unfortunately with an iPhone 4). Even if it’s not possible to see it from my city, it is enough to reach the seaside town of Scilla, which is 30 km further north, to be fascinated by this volcano. In fact, on days when the horizon is clear, it is possible to see Stromboli in the middle of the sea, despite being quite far away. Many times I made videos while I was reaching the town of Scilla to go to the sea and more than once I managed to photograph it with a tele zoom always from this town. Unfortunately, as with Etna, I had never been physically on the island, as a kid I was in some islands of the same archipelago but never there. In August 2016, after seeing on social networks that many tourists went to Stromboli especially to climb the summit, I decided to go and visit it and I found in my sister the ideal partner. We agreed to stop for just a couple of nights, armed with hiking shoes and swimsuits, we left without hesitation. Unfortunately at that time there was no ferry that took us directly to the island, so we had to make a first crossing to the city of Messina. From there, the journey towards Stromboli lasted about two hours and we arrived on the island in the afternoon.
The pier we arrived at seemed small to me, but shortly after, a ferry much larger than our, docked on the other side of it. A hundred tourists descended from there and a few minutes later crowded the black sand beach nearby. We later found out that those tourists were people coming on a daily trip from the ports of Calabria. Immediately after the pier there was practically the central part of the marina, the lower part of the center. The atmosphere was very nice, lots of people in swimsuits and sarongs, lots of restaurants, a central information point, then lots of kiosks with people offering tours around the island, all surrounded by colors.
The lady who had to rent the house to us also managed a restaurant that was located halfway between the marina and the main square of the village located on top of a hill. The road that led us to the restaurant was uphill but surrounded by white houses from where beautiful bougainvillea plants hung. Walking between people and souvenir shops, we found the place with ease. The landlord, she was a woman no longer young but very affectionate and helpful, she apologized for the fact that our house was not right in the center but she assured us that we would like it. She treated me and my sister as if we were her children and seeing how she addressed the young girl who helped her, I realized that the people there on the island were like a big family. In the end, our house was about 200 meters from the pier, on the road leading to the Ficogrande area. Walking on the marina I noticed that wherever we moved, the top of the volcano accompanied us everywhere. When we arrived at the address, we opened a gate surrounded by weeds and climbed a staircase adjacent to a wall that led us to our house which was actually a cottage with a veranda and a partial view over the sea. The lady was right, even if the entrance was wild, the house was well maintained and large enough to accommodate four people, all around only the "noise" of nature.
Together with my sister we decided to visit the upper part of the town, which was considered the center. Back on the road we had already taken to go to the lady, we continued to climb to the top. The road ended in Piazza San Vincenzo, where the modest Chiesa di San Vincenzo Ferreri stood out facing the sea. The large square full of people was an incredible vantage point, a large "balcony" overlooking the sea. An explosion of blue and green broke with the fuchsia of some bougainvillea plants that adorned the white houses. Looking out I also made the discovery of "Strombolicchio" a small square-shaped island that stood out in the middle of the sea, I remember that my sister made fun of the fact that I was unaware of its existence. Strombolicchio was a large block of stone where at the top there was the large lighthouse. Beyond its function, the islet was truly beautiful in itself, a piece of rock that nature had wanted to keep there, in the middle of the sea. Right on the vantage point there were so many people that we found it difficult to take some photos without someone coming out next to us, after a while we moved onto a sloping street where we found a beautiful and unpopulated photographic glimpse. Here we were able to take many photos with Strombolicchio in the background without being disturbed and also having a different perspective.
The nice thing about visiting a small and wild island that has no real points of interest is that you can explore it in the true meaning of the term. Leaving the upper part, we walked along another small lane to return to the sea. Without a precise destination we started to explore, continuing to walk along the marina until we arrived at what was another black beach called Punta Lena. This part was protected by large boulders that were flat and with a square cut, from here Strombolicchio could be seen very close. The very fine black sand, those strange-cut boulders and the large stone block in the middle of the sea, gave an alien landscape. These elements have given something special to the photos, truly an unusual scenario.
Still with the top of the volcano watching us from above, we continued walking on the marina until we reached Ficogrande. This was a place with many houses, with a large beach and another pier that had the appearance of being abandoned. We stayed there until sunset came and I have to say it was worth it. The dark brown of the mountain with the red of the sunset behind created a beautiful effect. What I liked most was the perspective where the top of the mountain reached the sea, that top was the characteristic of Stromboli, from whatever side you looked at it. Leaving those scenery we went back towards the center, we had been recommended a nice restaurant that was located on top of a hill, we went there to have dinner and end our first day in Stromboli.
The next morning we woke up late and after breakfast we went for a couple of hours at sea. We headed to the large beach of Ficogrande but exploring the area we decided to settle on a more private beach that could not be seen passing by the marina. Although somewhat isolated, there were tourists scattered here and there but everything was quiet and peaceful. The sand was very fine and black and the sea was warm, the only problem were the rocks present in the bottom which created some problems in entering the water. Right nearby we discovered a large rock in the water that reached the beach, it was positioned in front of another rock which, however, was attached to the mainland. Exploring it we discovered that it was possible to climb it, with a little attention, my sister and I climbed it, starting an endless series of photos. The rock was also fun from below, as the sea, entering the small crevice between the two rocks, sprayed water everywhere in a shower style. After the fun on the beach we went back to the center for lunch, that evening we had planned the guided excursion to the top of the volcano so we spent those early afternoon hours lazing around and resting a bit.
We went to the meeting point around 5 PM, and with amazement I saw that so many people were getting ready to climb with us. All the people present had a reservation and after a quick call we gathered under a canopy and our guide began with the explanations. My sister and I already had shoes and accessories, what we lacked was only the element and the light bulb. The first was needed only after reaching the top, while the light was needed for the descent. Once we were ready we set off, I personally had a GoPro mounted to my left wrist and my heavy DSLR hung around my neck. I didn't have a clear idea of how to use the two devices because I didn't know what would await along the way, and it was also my first real hiking experience. The climb showed up immediately and someone abandoned the group, at which point I realized it would be challenging. Fortunately, even if the climb was constant, it was not steep, the first part of the route was rich in vegetation and parts of the bush, after a while, arriving on open spaces, the effort was rewarded by the view of the sea. As I climbed I began to use the GoPro making short videos but in a continuous way, practically a sort of vlog with my face and everything that was behind or beside it. The nice thing was to see the village get smaller and smaller as we climbed, then the vegetation stopped shortly before reaching an altitude of 500 meters in a space where we found ourselves just below the top. I mean that at that point there was only sand between us and the summit plus some wedged rocks. After a long curve on the left we reached 500 meters of altitude, the journey up to there had lasted about 40 minutes. From there, the view was breathtaking, the white village of Stromboli could be seen very small and on the other side the mountain had become rocky. The guide warned us that those who wanted to give up could only do so at that point as from then on you could only go up. Resuming the walk I understood why the route did not include a U-turn. After passing a path that flanked a valley so steep that it ended directly into the town, we literally climbed the rocky ridge. Here the slope was at the limit, personally I could not even stand upright, in that position I felt like I was hanging rather than on land. We climbed a series of rocky steps along small stretches that veered from left to right. From that point on I just shot with the GoPro without knowing exactly what I was framing. On one side the sea on the other the mountain, so we climbed, in single file, exhausted and more by inertia than by will. At that stage I realized how dangerous, beautiful, fascinating and adventurous it was, but still so dangerous. Moreover, if I had lost my balance I would have fallen hitting those of the group behind me, rolling together endlessly. Before arriving on the plain we stopped for a few minutes both to rest and to see the sunset which at that point was just behind one of the smoking craters, there I was able to take some photos. Shortly after we arrived on the plain, there at 900 meters above the sea level we prepared for the other phase which involved wearing a helmet and a sweatshirt before continuing on the journey. This led us to the observation point which was located above the two craters. This plain was quite wide and long but in the middle of two other peaks, we positioned ourselves in the direction of the craters which were much lower but close enough. At this point we just had to wait for the show of the volcano, something that could or could not happen. While our guide told us stories about the various climbs he had done in his life, I was listening to him in the background and photographed the sky that from that dark altitude was a unique spectacle. We were lucky because after about 15 minutes the first roars began, then explosions, familiar noises that were amplified in an exaggerated way. Then suddenly the explosion and the first jet of red lava was below us! It is impossible to describe the experience, we watched that red lava rising high as if we were at the cinema regardless of the danger. In reality, that was only the last step of an experience that had been 100% dangerous but was worth it. The two craters alternated in the eruption, at which point I abandoned the GoPro and immortalized the eruptions as I could using the camera. After an hour of show we got ready to make the descent. This took place on the other side of the mountain which was totally sandy and less steep. The rule number one was letting go, in other words once we left, the difference in altitude made us pick up speed, so we couldn’t stop otherwise each of us would have fallen on the other. I have to say it was a lot of fun, in some places the sand was bigger and it sank even more, I came to the end that I had an incredible amount of sand everywhere not just inside my shoes. Back in the village we stopped to book two sets in a pizzeria, after a rewarding shower we returned to the restaurant at midnight and we had dinner eating a delicious pizza which represented the second reward of an incredible day.
The next day, after breakfast, we decided to go around the island by boat, we opted for a two-hour tour that started just before 11 AM. Left heading south, we saw the mountain that even in the covered parts from green vegetation, it almost always had brown streaks that were the result of old lava flows. After a while the "captain" of the boat stopped in a rocky part and showed us what was called the "dead man" or something like that, at this point a strip of rock about 10 meters long had assumed the shapes that were identical to those a person has inside the coffin, straight, stiff and with his hands in his lap. The view was surprising and beautiful even if it represented a dramatic image, it was striking above all for its size. The navigation took us to the next visit which was Ginostra, the second inhabited center of the island, a place that could only be reached by boat. Here we had about an hour to spare and with my sister we went to visit a friend of hers who lived there in the summer. Together with his partner, she took us a bit around the town, we visited a church that had been damaged, I think, by an earthquake, it had a crumbling ceiling secured but it could be visited because it was not closed. After a drink all together, my sister's friend and her partner took us to visit their home, a beautiful place between the mountains and the sea. After the goodbyes we returned to the boat to continue the tour. Leaving Ginostra we headed to Sciara del Fuoco, this was a place I knew through the TV and I must say that live it was even more magical. This was the part of the mountain that faced north-west, this part which was very large, was completely marked by the flows. An immense brown descent, with a smooth appearance that from the top reaches the sea, where in reality the lava had arrived some time before, making an incredible smoke upon contact with water. The place was magnificent and surreal, an alien landscape that has led me amazed. The captain stopped us there and advised us to swim in that unique setting. The experience was fantastic, swimming in that strip of water where all the elements of nature were present. The impressive thing then was diving with your eyes open, the seabed there was scary in the true sense of the word. Even though I didn't have the mask, it was possible to see what one could simply call the abyss. I liked the place so much that I started photographing it again after the restart, until we toured the island and never saw it again. After Sciara del Fuoco we were almost back to the starting point but the captain veered towards the last visit which was Strombolicchio. When we got close to the islet we noticed a staircase leading up to the top, unfortunately the captain explained to us that it was forbidden to go up to visit it even if technically possible because there was no garrison. The nice thing to see while turning inside Strombocchio was the possibility of noticing how it changed shape, in reality it was not a square as seen from Stromboli, it also had narrow and tapered parts, perspectives that gave the impression of visiting another place. The captain stopped us in a cove to let us take another swim, the peculiarity here were the colors, both of the ridge and the seabed, a sort of beach right under the water next to the ridge. Before leaving, the captain showed us something that rewarded his skills as a helmsman, in fact, having reached a point he knew and positioning the boat in a millimeter-accurate way, he showed us another peculiarity of nature. Part of the rock of the ridge, which from that perspective gave the shape of a man's profile, the image was three-dimensional, in fact there were more rocks that gave that result, this can be seen in one of the photo I show below. The return to Stromboli was truly spectacular, in fact the crossing from Strobolicchio was the one that gave the most beautiful view of the island of Stromboli, in that stretch of sea it could be admired in all its breadth. That day Giorgio Armani's yacht was anchored on that stretch of sea, a very large boat made even more elegant by the black color.
After lunch we had to leave the house, we packed our bags and left them at the restaurant where the very kind lady kept them for us. As our ferry left in the evening she told us that if they wanted to use her shower before departure, there would be no problem. We took advantage of her kindness and in doing so we went to spend a couple of hours on the beach. That evening after the shower we bought some arancini and there we ate in an area near the pier watching the colors of the sunset over the sea, the last gift of that short and unexpected adventure.
Stromboli, this round dot, seen for the first time from a plane and then found in the distance from the coast of my city on a clear day, surprised me more than I thought. I waited a long time to visit it and it all happened unexpectedly with a few days schedule. A unique place, which made me experience an adventure immersed in all the elements of nature.
Please Note: at the end of last year I managed to edit the videos shot with the GoPro, it came out a nice video (which I post below) of all the climbing to the top. Have a good vision.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800