Day 20: Island Hopping the Aeolians

This morning we were up by 7:30 and out the door by 9:00.  We had things to do.  After we arranged to stay at the hotel another night, our first stop was back to the boat tour company, Compagnia Marina Corta, to officially sign up for the 9:30 tour to the neighboring island of Vulcano that would include a swimming session (or two) off the boat in one of the brilliantly turquoise bays (€15/each).  That was what we were looking forward to the most, as most of these bays were only accessible by sea.  Because we were early, as usual, we had time to kill so we wandered around town, running straight into Luciano from the night before.  We’d been on the island only 16 hours and were getting to know people.  Or, person, as it were.

Motoring away from Lipari's smaller harbor

Motoring away from Lipari’s smaller harbor

Chatting with him took us up to 9:30, when it was time to head down to the small harbor to shove off.  There were only six of us on board plus the captain, including a sweet senior Australian couple and a couple who very peculiarly told us they were Australian, too, only it turns out they are from Minnesota and have lived Down Under for a few years.  We had each signed up for the same Vulcano tour but through three different agencies in town.

Lipari's boat-accessible only beach, where only the gulls got to swim

Lipari’s boat-accessible only beach, where only the gulls got to swim

Because it was the end of the season, and because there wasn’t much demand for a boat tour to Vulcano on this particular day, it turned out that all the tour operators in Lipari joined forces to combine their customers so as not to send out three separate boats going to the same place.  They never told any of us this was what was happening, but it made perfect sense once we started talking amongst ourselves and figured it out, and we were all on board with this sensible plan.  However, what we weren’t on board with was the fact each agency had told each couple a different story.  The pseudo-Australians wanted to hike the volcano on Vulcano but not swim, so they were told they’d have ample time to do so and that there would be no swimming component.  The genuine Australians had mentioned they didn’t want to be gone all day, so they were told they’d be back to Lipari by 16:00 at the latest.  And WE were told we’d have a couple of off-boat swims before getting to Vulcano, where we’d have the rest of the day free to swim and wouldn’t get back until after 17:00.

Lava rock formations

Lava rock formations

Well, now.

I wouldn’t necessarily call this situation a pirate attack like we experienced in Siracusa, but there was a lot of silver-tongued swashbuckling going on to sell tours.  As it turns out, disappointingly there were no off-boat swims but we did have a lovely boat ride along the southern tip of Lipari, where we were able to see caves and interesting rock formations before heading over to Vulcano to be dropped off.

Is Vulcano's town getting farther away?

Is Vulcano’s town getting farther away?

Once in Vulcano the pseudo-Australians peeled off to hike and the genuine Australians and we decided to find town and maybe a coffee stop.  Now, Vulcano is a small island and “town” is a sleepy enclave encompassing only a few square blocks.  But somehow all four of us missed the sign for how to get to town from the harbor, as a short time later we found ourselves about 1/3 of the way across the island and the terrain was getting more and more rural.  It was no matter, however, as we were thoroughly enjoying the company of the genuine Australians and this allowed us to continue our conversation and see a large part of Vulcano at the same time, including viewing the beautiful wildflowers up close, lightening fast lizards, and breathing in that sulphur-laden air from the volcano.  Eventually we came across another road that would cut back right into town, and after quite a bit more walking we sat ourselves down at a café no more than 150 yards from where we’d started.

Chillin' on the black sand beach

Resting far-traveled feet on the black sand beach

Once recharged we all decided to head to Spiaggia Sabbia Nera, the famous volcanic black sand beach, for a dip into the Tyrrhenian Sea.  We set up camp on the beach and had the volcano at our backs, the sea at our feet, and views of distant Aeolian Islands in front of us.  It was heavenly.  We were in and out of the water for the next couple hours, stopping only to run into town for a quick bite to eat, before we had to meet back at the boat at 16:00 to head back.

As an aside, Vulcano Island is known for its fanghi, or sulphurous geothermal mud bath.  Rolling around in the thick mud that reeks of sulphurous gas is supposed to cure all sorts of ailments.  However, it’s warned you are not to stay in the mud bath longer than 10-15 minutes and that it’s slightly radioactive.  Erm, come again?  Oh, and you will smell like rotten eggs for a solid 3 days afterward and any clothes you wear into it will be destroyed.  We considered doing this to make about as much sense as hiking up Mt. Etna when you can ride comfortably in a Unimog.

On the boat back to Lipari, just like the jet-set

On the boat back to Lipari, just like the jet-set

Once back on the solid ground of Lipari we headed back to the room to clean up for dinner.  There was no question about our restaurant of choice for the evening; it was to be at Ristorante 25.  Once again we were there practically as they opened their doors at 19:30, greeted warmly by Luciano and this time his doll of a partner, Natalie, was there, too.  They took very good care of us, and dinner consisted of a fantastic olive oil-brushed rosemary bread, fresh local fish steamed in foil and seasoned perfectly, Angus steak that Luciano has shipped in from Ireland, sides of a broccoli-spinach-type vegetable, a whipped chocolate-y dessert, a bottle of Cusumano red wine, and an after dinner drink of Malvasia wine, a local specialty.  It was a spread fit for a king.

Natalie and Luciano sat with us for much of the evening, where we shared stories and were filled in on some of the goings-ons around the island.  It felt like we’d known each other for years.  We also met their daughter, and before we left Natalie, a jewelry designer, gifted us with a statue she’d made using sea glass that had washed up on Lipari’s beaches.  It was after midnight before we got back to the hotel, which concluded one of the most spectacular days we’d had on a trip that included so many spectacular days.

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