Etna

What’s the highest you have ever been?

No, I am not talking about drugs, I am talking about attitude. Excluding aeroplanes, the highest I have ever been would be in the region of several hundred metres. This all changed last Sunday when I ended up on the tallest active volcano in Europe: Mount Etna.

My journey began early Sunday morning at 4:30 am with a hot shower, a big bowl of oats, and off I went to catch the 7 am catamaran which amused a number of drivers who motivated me with a powerful rendition of ‘I like to move it, move it’.

Arriving at the Malta terminal, we quickly check in and what for the whole crew to gather before board the boat.

My bike on the floor

At roughly 6:45 we boarded with our bikes:

Tying the bikes

Upwards to the main deck:

Nice deck
A picture of the catamaran leaving Malta:

Leaving Malta

After about 90 minutes, we are arrive at Pozzallo, Sicily (Hooray!) in daylight:

Catamaran in Sicily

Quickly! Bikes onto the trucks:

Bikes onto the truck

We proceeded up through Sicily (by bus) towards the volcano. I was told a cute factoid about Sicily: that they drive remarkable worse than Maltese drivers. From the bus it was hard to tell the truth of this other than the weird sensation of reverseness of right hand driving.

After two and half hours of snake towards Etna we finally arrive at an estimate 1920 metres above sea level. If you have never been on a mountain – like I – the view from “the top” is out of this world:

In the clouds

CloudsThe temperature is now in the single digits. And so the bike tour begins at 1085 kilometres:

The Start
The tour was guided by some local bikers:

Tour guides

These guys are definitely much more skilled than me in all aspects of biking and though neither of us could communicate together using spoken language, they were super helpful. The route primarily consisted of a lengthy descent followed by several kilometres of climbing.

The trail was extremely beautiful in the densely forested park:

Statue
House

Up to this point, the climb had been slow. There had been a crash between two cyclists (which later turned out to be a broken hand for a 60+ year old cyclist). We were at roughly 1980 metres.

The then took a turn for the worse. It began raining and quick started hailing. At this point I could no longer take any photos with my phone, which is a shame since there was some interesting stopping points along the way including a climbers safe house which we took a short break from the hail.

Onwards! And the faces started to look unamused:

Unamused
The ride kept on getting slower: one of the riders had a puncture twice in the space of several hundred metres. The mud made cycling very difficult, I personally nearly feel completely off of my bike no less than five times. Others were not so lucky and there was more than one cracked helmet by the end of the entire trail.

Towards 4 pm, the plan was to start cutting the trail shorter by taking a faster short cut which in classic style lead us to a dead end of sorts with the brother cow from Atom Heart Mother:

Atom Heart Mother
So back we went, but not before getting some more shots:

Landscape
A house
At this point, it is basically time up for our ride. We rode down a winding road whilst the weather took yet another turn for the worse. Raining! Again! A photo moments before it happened (yes, I stopped to take a photo of it):

Rain is a coming

And here is where things start to get really interesting; it is roughly 17:00 as our bus comes to pick us up from our short cut and our ferry leaves at 19:30. The question posed is can we make it? Our position is on the other side of Etna from where we began (further away from Malta). It should take us over two and a half hours to make the trip back. Our bus driver puts the pedal to the metal and the final challenge begins!

Just outside of Catania:

Progress (we are at Siracusa)…

Outside of Avola:

Oh oh this does not seem fast enough…..

Panic! We all begin contemplating spending the night in Sicily…..

We arrived at 19:37 at the port

:(

Night in Sicily……

…. or…………

WE made it

We made it! the ferry waited for us! Take that Gozo Channel!

Like a boss:

Like a boss

Total distance:

1112 Km

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole ordeal even though we were soaked, dirty, injured, tired, cold and hungry.

  1. vera hadna gost imma ubbat qas hin biex niklu ma kelna. tc drew

    • Andrew Buttigieg

      Hi Reuben! Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! We need to do something like it again, hopefully without Etna erupting.

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