I've been coming to the magical island of Stromboli for the past 8 years now. I just couldn't help it. I would come here every summer and most winters. I worked on the island as a waiter and after about 3 years I've managed to save enough to buy a house here. To me the island is full of magic, one falls in love with it instantly. The sea surrounding it, the black sand covering it and the most amazing feature, its beating heart, the iconic symbol of the island, which is the active volcano Stromboli. We locals prefer to call it IDDU, which in Sicilian means "Him".

Last year (2015) I decided to hike to the so called mouth of the volcano. I’ve been on this island for so many years, I could not resist anymore. Usually the organised tour starts in the afternoon in order to get to the top as the sun sets. The darkness will allow you to can see the fireworks and explosions in the best possible way. Did I forget to mention that Stromboli is one of the most observed volcanoes in the world, currently active, there is an explosion about every 15 minutes on average. Sometimes it gets crazy, sometimes not, the locals love it and do not have the slightest fear of ” Iddu “. They love the spectacle, the drama, its sheer explosive power and its incredible beauty. There is an agency on the island that organises tours to the very top of the volcano. They’ve put together a neat group of travellers together and asked everyone to be ready at 5pm in the central square of town. Off we go, we find ourselves climbing watching the sun going down into the surrounding sea. 

On average it takes about 3 hours to get to the top but this group consisting of 30 people was not particularly fast. Some of the participants haven't done much walking in this type of terrain at all. The climb was slow, much slower than I anticipated.

The path was quite busy with different groups descending from the trips they took earlier in the day. I thought to myself this volcano is like a gold mine for the tourism industry. I can’t remember exactly what I’ve paid for the pleasure but I think with all the rental boots and other climbing equipment it must have been slightly over 40 Euros. The price didn’t matter much to me. If you find yourself in this part of the world you have got to climb the volcano. Iddu will be calling you from the distance and you won’t be able to resist. Each group had a personal guide, our guide was called Zazà. He is an amazing person and it’s more likely that he knows more about the island and the volcano then anyone else out there. The volcanic ash is in this guys DNA.

The sun was still quite high up when I've noticed that some people in the group started to struggle with the climb and the conditions. Fortunately for them, Zazà brought a second guide, a guy called Manuel. Everyone who had enough of the heat and the steep angle of ascent could decide to head back down with him. Only a handful of people made the choice. The majority kept climbing.

Stromboli is 12.6 km2 total area, rises 926 meters above the sea level and is surrounded by depths of up to 2,500 meters below the level of water. There are two settlements on Stromboli. On one hand San Vincenzo also known as the village of the island with approximately 400 inhabitants and on the other hand reach only by boat, Ginostra. It’s a little exclusive village inhabited by only 40 people, a little shop selling absolutely everything and a mule that will carry the goods from the port to the village. 

One of many particularities of Stromboli is the so called "Strombolicchio". Loosely translated into English it means "StepStromboli" or maybe more accurately "Little Stromboli". Geologist would call it a neck, which is the volcanic cone of an ancient volcano, dating more then 200,000 years into the past. It would be fair to call that neck the old "Iddu".

While we climbed up we admired the sea surrounding the island, the other small islands in the distance and the narrow dirt path leading us towards the peak. One of my companions Alessio who was climbing with us started to feel seriously ill. It was a very hot and humid day and on top of that Alessio had far too much of the Sicilian rice “arancino” when we were down in the village preparing for the trek. I’m absolutely convinced that absolutely nowhere in the world you can eat “arancini” as good as in Sicily. I had to stop and wait for my friend to get a little bit better before continuing the climb.

We were quite high up now. The vegetation began to disappear, so has the sun, which went straight into the sea. The heat was gone along with the sun. The atmosphere has changed completely. With the darkness came mystery, emotions amplified. I felt so good in the moment, excited being so close to where we intended to be. Below us, we could see the beautifully illuminated village of Stromboli. Everything so far has exceeded my expectations.

The path closer to the peak is incredibly rocky. Sometimes it’s difficult to see it. We were very close to the summit.

The sunset from the peak was incredibly spectacular and surreal. The photos really don’t do it justice. You just have to be there and see the beauty of it all with your own eyes. It’s quite difficult to convey the emotion through the medium of photography, let alone writing about it, but I assure you from where I was standing the show was amazing. Aided by the time of day and how beautiful the entire day was, plus the satisfaction of making to the top and  making it there on time to witness the sunset made it for me one of the top sunsets I have ever seen. It was truly amazing.

I’ve assembled my tripod and mounted the camera on top of it. I was hoping to photograph something, some kind of an explosion, some form of lava ejection. The task was more difficult than I thought it would be. The explosions took place about 15 minutes apart. Plus / minus a minute maybe. The problem was that the volcano has multiple mouths which means you kind of have to guess where the explosion is going to take place by listening to noise coming out of the mouth. I got a bit frustrated as I wasn’t getting much out of it. I decided to have a chat with Zazà and ask the expert if there was a method to predict the explosion. He brushed the question of as if he wanted me to look and admire the environment with my own eyes.

The whole experience was incredible. There’s absolutely nothing I can compare the experience to. Feeling the living earth beneath you, like a massive beating heart. Stromboli is exciting, Iddu is exciting. Everyone was very silent, we were all frozen in time observing, watching the dramatic ejections, the majestic force of nature, nature that we tend to underestimate so often giving us signs of its infinite power. It was one of those moments where you have to stop and think about your place in the universe, about how fleeting it all is and appreciate where we all come from. I don’t want to romanticise the moment too much but I felt like I was surrounded by pure magic.

I conclude the story with this photograph which was taken on another occasion. Here Iddu was making a big racket which lasted for about two weeks. Uncontrollably spewing lava into the sea. I love looking at it and I feel some strange form of tranquility from it. If you find yourself in this part of the world you have got to make time for Iddu. He will not disappoint you.


Aristide Russo