Fire & Zen: Stromboli

Stromboli was special. It always will be.  On my journey through Europe, I was trying to decide where I wanted to spend the last year of my being in my 30s.  Stromboli was my birthday peak.  I wanted something that wasn’t a major chain of mountains to trek; rather something a bit simpler. What can be more appealing than hiking up one of the most active volcanoes in the world to witness it spurt lava and smoke?  Hence, Stromboli.

I was actually in the middle of trekking in the Dolomites when I went to Stromboli. In a way, it wasn’t the most efficient means of traveling as after Stromboli, I returned to the Dolomites to do the Alta Via 1 trail.  Nonetheless, I was very glad I took that break in terms of scenery.  I ended up spending time checking out Sicily as well, and some of the Aeolian Islands which were beautiful in their own right. Stromboli is one of the Aeolian Islands and so riding the boat is the way to get there.  Luckily, the island still has cheap stays for budget travelers like me as I found a dorm bed stay for less than $30 per night.  The rest of the options appears to be pricey.  As I settled into my dorm bed shared with 4 others, I booked a night hiking tour to the top of Stromboli.  One can easily book it via local operators in the main center of town.

I only had a few days to spend in Stromboli and the plan was simply to go hike up the volcano and witness the crater and lava.  I was told by the locals that Stromboli had been quiet lately and that there might not be so much to observe on the top. However, it turned out in reaching the peak of the volcano, I was treated to a few bursts of eruptions here and there as I stood with the crowd at a safe distance from the fuming crater.  In addition, the sun was setting behind the clouds.   After sometime just watching the fire show and the sun setting, we then descended with our headlamps via the volcanic scree-filled trail and made it back to town in no time.   The hike up started around 4 p.m. and it took 2 hours or so to get to the top.  The hike up was quite pleasant but the going down another path of very loose scree was a bit tough on the knees and you do it in the dark! My birthday could not get any better than that.

Well, it did actually.  Stromboli had the ambience of a small community of nature lovers and adventurers.  I met some locals who used to be tourists themselves but fell in love with the island that they either decided to make the place their own or they frequented it so often over the years or decades that they had to proclaim themselves to be natives at this point.

Stromboli’s streets are narrow with a small town where everyone can be seen at the end of the day drinking or eating after a day of beaching or hiking.  There are plenty of sandy black beaches to be had.  I must confess I’m not a big fan of black sand beaches and I didn’t expect to like Stromboli’s beaches for that reason. However, I fell in love with the beaches in Stromboli. 

The water was so clear (even though rather cold) and something about that combined with the sand that comes from the volcano itself made it so “earthy” and “pure.”  The island’s inhabitants are unsurprisingly earthy themselves as they believe in preserving the beauty of Stromboli.  There are no cars in Stromboli – just golf carts.  In the event of an eruption, the locals have been trained how to evacuate the island for safety.  Conserving electricity and water is a must.  Time moves slowly in Stromboli, and in fact, it is such a small place that you can easily see everything in just a few days.  Beyond that, you will be living day to day on the same routine – hitting the beach, strolling into the town center to eat, and jogging/hiking around.  But that’s what makes Stromboli special.  One can indulge in silence and peace; the means to meditating and spending time within yourself.   And if you wish to know – no internet!  The inner peace was reflected back to me by the locals.  No stress in Stromboli, unless of course there is ever a major eruption.

What strikes me about the people who have decided to make the island their home is how they seem to be excited and fueled by the notion of danger associated with living on this island.  Because of the potential for life to end anytime mother nature chooses so, they are living their lives in the moment and happy at that.  No one I encountered on this island talked about what they plan to do the next day or month or year.  They simply sat next to you and stared at the sunset or the water or the fumes coming out of the volcano.  Once in a while I made a mundane comment, “what a nice sunset,” to which the other replied, “but it’s always like that every night.”  “And what about the volcano’s fumes?”, I’d asked further to which the other would say, “Oh, she does her own thing…we can never predict.  That’s why I love it here.”  “Of course,” which I said with a smile.  “Me too.  I’d love to come back,” I thought to myself.

Compared to other parts of Italy, Stromboli doesn’t get as much tourism.  But if you manage to go which I think you should, I promise there is some major beauty to be had.  So, see the photos of the lava below, but better yet, see them in person if you ever get a chance.  It isn’t the easiest place to get to within the country but it is truly unforgettable in its own right.