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fire and flame
The Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily are not without good reason the seat of the fire god Vulcanus: The earth lets off steam from many holes here, and the Stromboli volcano is one of the most active in the world – a spectacular spectacle observed from the saddle of a Vespa.
I almost have to laugh when I bring this little engine to life. So delicate, so soft, so easy to kick, like grandmother’s sewing machine. And it starts to rattle right away, just drives off with me – I’m almost amazed – whirring. But bella Italia, you have your own rules: the rear brake grabs nowhere, the front brakes on the other hand, as if it belonged in the wheels of a sports car. A helmet is only available from the scooter rental company if you are persuaded, and mirrors or functioning indicators and brake lights do not seem to be standard on Lipari, the main island of the archipelago of the same name. But that doesn’t bother anyone here; it smells of cappuccino and two-stroke exhaust gases as I begin my tour of the island past the street cafes. Then suddenly the smell of sage and gorse as I turn onto the winding coastal road after the last colorful houses.
The slopes of the volcanic island of Lipari are covered with yellow spots of the blooming gorse bushes, and I feel a wonderful feeling of lightness as I drive on the little road to the northern part of the island. No, it doesn’t always have to be a large motorcycle. The Vespa goes well with these handy, small islands and leaves time to look and smell, for example when I pass the Panificio in Canneto and drive through a cloud of scented freshly baked bread. Unfortunate drivers who hide such smells behind their windows. For us two-wheelers, they are the spice of life. I reach the beaches of Campo Bianco and suddenly feel transported to the Caribbean. White sand in front of a turquoise sea and behind it the silhouette of the island of Stromboli, which with its plume of smoke seems to float over the sea like a huge steamship. But here it is not coral sand that conjures up the tropical-looking postcard idyll, but white pumice stone. Pumice looks like a petrified sponge, created from gas-rich magma that was thrown high into the air in huge explosions, expanded and closed the innumerable gas pores as it cooled. Curiously, pumice is also the only rock that floats.While volcanic activity has ceased on Lipari today, on the neighboring island of Vulcano you can already find more distinct expressions of the hot magma in the depths. There is a steaming crater that is reminiscent of a lunar landscape with no life at all, and there is bright yellow sulfur efflorescence, caustic fumes and hot springs. It is true that the last real eruption of the Gran Cratere was in 1888, and one might think that that was the end of the matter for the volcano. But the numerous weekend houses and hotels that were built here in the 1960s are by no means on safe ground. Vulcanus, the god of fire in the depths, only pauses. The homeowners would have asked the scientists better than the greedy realtors if a powder keg building is a safe bet. Because the island of Vulcano is like a steam pot with a clogged valve that can eventually blow up. Nobody knows when the time will come, but I’m far from such speculations on Lipari.
After Acquacalda, the first thing is hard work for the Vespa. It goes 300 meters up to the edge of the cliff, and while the exhausted little motor cools down above, I am amazed at a parade view of the opposite island of Salina. Filicudi and Alicudi are also shadowy on one side, Panarea and Stromboli on the other. Almost the entire archipelago presents itself here on a clear day. A place for painters and dreamers, a place where you think you are floating. But another vantage point on the island offers even more: further south is Quattrocchi, »Four Eyes«. And that, said one poet, is what you need to be able to grasp the entire beauty of this gaze. The man did not exaggerate. The Vespa simply stops at the side of the road, because with so little traffic it doesn’t bother anyone. And I look and watch, on the steep cliffs in the south of Lipari, on the bizarre rocks that rise like sunken castles from the sea, on the crater of the island of Vulcano, which rises behind it with its unreal pale colors. You have to give Vulcanus one thing: he knows how to create a fascinating landscape out of fire and lava. Antonio Buongiorno deserves its name. I cannot imagine that someone could wish a “Buon Giorno”, a good day, happier than he does. Three days later and one ferry passage further down, I enter his small office on the island of Salina. Antonio is in the process of cleaning his 50-year-old Vespa, the figurehead of his two-stroke fleet. But the two-wheeled Methuselah is only a collector’s item and cannot be rented like the other scooters. Antonio tells how he brought the broken piece of the “Grande Isola”, the main island of Sicily, over and lovingly repaired it over the years. At that time he had started renting out two Vespas to tourists. Today it has become a rental stable with a fleet of almost twenty scooters. But they are only fully booked on the remote island of Salina on a few days in summer, when mainly Italians spend their summer holidays here.
Now in the preseason, Antonio Buongiorno has little business and a lot of time. And so he likes to tell nice stories about the island – as a bonus to the rental contract for one of his Vespas. You have to mention the Oscar-winning film “The Postman”, which was shot here on Salina. And of course Antonio Buongiorno knows every step that the film people have taken, as his son was engaged in a small supporting role. We have a cappuccino in a small bar, I buy a map, and Antonio gives me the last tips for our discovery tour on the island. “Que buon giorno – what a good day!”
The sun is shining as we leave Santa Marina Salina and screw our way up a small road onto the flank of the double volcano that dominates this second largest island in the archipelago. And there it is again, the Vespa feeling of lightness and slowness, of a time- Rhythm that, like the little two-stroke engine below me, is leisurely. Vacation without high revs, but with plenty of time to look. I drive over to Rinella, a tiny harbor nest, as it looks very sleepy when I arrive. But several times a week the place awakens to lively life when the large ferry or one of the lightning-fast hydrofoil boats docks. Pollara, located on the west side of the island, has no such sensations to offer. Here you can still meet the original Salina, as it seems to have been forgotten by time and as the film about the postman brings it closer in such a soulful way. Salina is the green, tranquil island. Its two volcanoes are only reminiscent of their identity as fire-breathers through their regular conical shape. Grass has literally grown over the consequences of their eruptions – and a dense pine forest that is carefully tended to serve as a water reservoir and erosion protection. But what would a visit to the Aeolian Islands be if you could only enjoy tranquil greenery and gentle shapes. We feel like visiting the real fire gargoyle of the archipelago, which has been dubbed the lighthouse of the Mediterranean: the Stromboli. ” There, a new eruption, straight from the mountain. Almost at the same time a terrible crackling and sliding. The mountain above is heavily clouded and the crackling is approaching at breakneck speed. And now a barrage goes off: to the right and left, in front of and behind me, bullets hit, stones the size of a backpack. ”This was reported in 1930 by a German tourist who involuntarily witnessed one of the largest eruptions in Stromboli. With an explosion, the thunder of which could be heard over 60 kilometers, the volcano had thrown rock blocks weighing more than 30 tons high into the air and destroyed 14 houses in the settlements nestled close to its flanks. A cloud of glowing ash and cinder fell next; Then there was a glowing avalanche with gases at least 700 degrees Celsius, which rushed down the mountain into the sea, which then began to boil. After the outbreak, many residents left their island forever, many of them immigrating to Australia.
Anyone who comes here today will not notice any more of this. Stromboli is a tempting destination for a real volcano tourism; the formerly abandoned houses are coveted objects of an international dropout and artist community. As long as the 924 meter high Stromboli with its spectacular but relatively harmless continuous activity lets off photogenic steam, dancing on the volcano remains a calculable low risk. People can only get from one side of the island to the other by boat – nothing has changed today. And if you add up the drivable routes on the entire island, you will hardly get more than five kilometers. It is all the more astonishing that I discover a brand new Honda Shadow, the proud owner of which has demonstratively parked it in front of the cafe on the piazza of San Bartolo, the trendy meeting place on the island with just 400 inhabitants. But Paolo doesn’t want to know that – as I ironically say – this is not exactly an ideal motorcycle area. He likes speeding through the tiny and narrow streets on his bike – and annoying scooter drivers. But they are rare here.
Those who come to Stromboli usually have other plans. No machine helps you to climb the volcano, you need your own pump. No sonorous humming of the engine, just your own heartbeat, the pounding of the pulse in your temples, your own breathing, the steady step of your feet. Muscular strength is required there, on the steep ash slopes of Stromboli. Observing the nocturnal eruptions of the volcano is a little adventure that is attracting more and more volcano disciples. It has been called the most industrious volcano on earth, the Stromboli. Almost programmed, his eruptions come at intervals of between ten minutes and an hour. The volcano has also created its own gallery for visitors. The remainder of an old crater rim lies high above the currently active eruption centers and allows a relatively safe observation of the spectacle of the apparent end of the world. A sloshing and hissing from the three craters is a constant reminder that the volcano is boiling on the magma soup that it is about to overflow. And so I sit up there in the middle of a scenario from a completely different world and watch the sun sink red-hot into the sea.
Then the outbreak, long and eagerly hoped for and yet unexpectedly sudden, tough, indescribably powerful. A fountain of glowing lava rocks shoots skyward with a metallic hiss and thunder, spreads like a mushroom cloud from which glowing red stones fall back onto the crater rim like in a hail of meteorites. I believe to take a look back at the prehistoric times of the earth, when continents were born and no life existed on our planet. If it weren’t for the clapping, laughter and thunderstorms of flashlights of a whole crowd of onlookers around us, one would feel removed from the everyday world, transferred into other dimensions, in which the entire history of humanity is only the flicker of a moment. The Stromboli is one of the great natural spectacles on earth, but it also has its price. It is not uncommon for tourists to get into a dangerous situation due to exhaustion and hypothermia due to the cold winds at the summit and the strenuous ascent. The nocturnal descent is also dangerous if you do not put yourself in the care of a mountain guide. At least in two places on the pitch-dark path you can easily tumble down a deep rock face. However, the local authorities have not installed any protection.
I have surely returned from what appeared to be beyond the Stromboli crater to the colorful everyday Italian world of Lipari. Actually, I was already on the ferry back to the Sicilian “mainland”. But that’s the way it is with island jumping. Before that, the ferry sets course for Lipari, and I just can’t resist and get off, let myself drift. And now I’m sitting down at the harbor and talking to Luciano, the captain, who does have his own boat, but prefers to let his people go fishing alone while sitting on his Vespa at the harbor. Luciano seems to be connected to the Vespa like an umbilical cord, because he doesn’t even seem to leave it to eat. When the boat comes in with the catch, when the fish are unloaded, the nets are mended, as friends greet him and he chatters with them with many gestures, Luciano always remains sitting on his bright red Vespa like an iron statue of Italian two-wheeled culture. I imitate him. Just sit there. Sink into a world without deadlines and hectic. Watch the hustle and bustle at the harbor. Watch the sun as it bathes the street cafes and the harbor in glistening light. Watch the shadows that crawl longer and longer across the piazza until it is finally time in the evening for Luciano to go home and sleep. And surely he won’t do that in the saddle of his Vespa.
The Aeolian Islands are not necessarily a typical destination for motorcyclists, but a trip to the volcanoes is a fabulous experience.
Arrival: Anyone who has already been to Sicily should definitely plan a detour to the Aeolian Islands. Ferry boats leave Milazzo for the islands several times a day. A passage to Lipari costs around ten marks per person, the prices to the other islands are similar. Travel time: The most beautiful time on the islands is spring when the flora is in full bloom. In July and August it is very crowded because of the Italian holidays, the prices are then around 30 percent higher. Spend the night: As soon as you leave the ferry you are offered cheap private accommodation on all islands. The double room is around 50 marks. Otherwise you can ask about accommodation in the bars at the harbor. At the Tourist Office in Lipari City (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 202) there is also a room certificate for all islands. There is camping on Lipari (in Lipari town in the youth hostel and in Canneto) and on Salina (in Rinella – Leni). Further information: State Italian Tourist Office ENIT, Kaiserstrabe 65, 60329 Frankfurt / Main, phone 0 69/23 74 30, fax 23 28 94. Activities: On Vulcano, it is essential to climb the edge of the Gran Catere. In the Valle dei Mostri there are bizarre lava formations. On Stromboli, a hike to the active volcano is tempting, a unique spectacle at night. Tours with a mountain guide are arranged by the Uffizio informationi in Piazzale San Vicenzo on Stromboli. Motorbike rental: A Vespa costs around 35 marks per day; prices vary slightly from island to island. The landlords do not allow you to be taken to other islands. The rental station Roberto Foti on Lipari has good scooters, phone 00 39/90/98 12 35 2, fax 98 11 62 7. Except in the main travel season it is also unproblematic to get a scooter on site. Literature: It is very good Aeolian Islands travel guide from the DuMont travel paperback series for 19.80 marks. A good map of the Aeolian Islands is available on a scale of 1: 25000 on all islands (Carta Turistica e Nautica). Time required: about a week’s distance: 120 kilometers
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