PHOTOS: A virtual tour of Etna, the active volcano in

Can you imagine scratching one of your fingers off and seeing that finger, swollen into a fist of raw oyster flesh, exactly where it was when it was snapped? That is what you have…

PHOTOS: A virtual tour of Etna, the active volcano in

Can you imagine scratching one of your fingers off and seeing that finger, swollen into a fist of raw oyster flesh, exactly where it was when it was snapped? That is what you have to feel when you visit the island of Mount Etna in Sicily.

Yes, there are a lot of tourist spots and individual journeys to take to get to see Etna (the name means “the Spider”), but no trip to Italy is complete without stopping at a tour of the volcano with a group of your own.

One such package lets you spend a day and night atop this little known world wonder. It’s absolutely amazing. We headed down the main road (the main road is the road that is almost always covered in garbage) until we came to the foot of Etna. The sides of the road are lined with sheeps’ teats, and finally the road heads through a forested area filled with Tuscan verdolos (tarantulas), two of which we had a chance to look at and check out as we drove by. We counted three of these little spiders and after a trip through the lush green backyards of the houses we arrived back to our car and slowly followed the road up to Mount Etna and its position on the summit.

On the way up we were treated to two essential hikes. The first was just a small hike up the hill, which gave us a chance to feel how incredible the view was. Not only was there Etna, but Mount Etna was lined with about fifteen really old, practically black stalactites, looking a bit like a mountain man’s cathedral, with amazing balances set up under the soft gray sky. These ancient stalactites were thought to have been built up thousands of years ago, and were seen to be surrounded by grasses in the top branches of the trees. The second hike was to a spot we knew would have the best view of the summit: a rock formation full of green moss and lichen, with the fresh rolling mist of the rumbling volcano only adding to the feelings of awe you had as you reached the summit and witnessed this rock formation that formed hundreds of thousands of years ago and has now been at the center of the volcano for at least one hundred years. This rock formation has been this way, untouched, since Mount Etna’s last eruptions over the last hundred years.

Etna’s activity over the years has only increased and is only increasing as its earthquakes hit us more often. Most of them aren’t too bad, but they do shake the volcano and so the ashfall from the Earth at any given time is increased considerably. While it’s not unhealthy, it does smell and we often make for the more private hiking trails to the top. Most hikers choose to stick to the most popular trails because they are easier to walk but try to stay on the out of danger tracks only.

The great thing about hiking here is that you are in the middle of an active volcano with the sheer beauty of it enveloping you with calm beauty. Sure, there is a little bit of feeling your fingers being torn off, but that’s just part of what you see. It’s going to happen to anyone and that is part of what makes Etna so great. These amazing mountain spirits and lizards constantly come and go. You may see a young hippo or two, but maybe not. The animals are not shy here, they are just so used to this place they do not leave their spots often at all. Occasionally you see rabbits if you look carefully, but you can be sure they are leaving their spots, as they don’t need their toes.

We spent most of our time in the middle of the volcano, considering the views and the gentle avalanches that constantly come down. We spent some quiet time in the classroom at the edge of the cliff, with its high stones, rock formations, and grey sky. Once again, the air was crisp and the clouds quickly clear away, giving you a very clear view of the whole mountain you can see on top of Etna. A little higher up is the crater and if you want to take a little longer hike, you can go even further down to the bottom and the famous crater lake, the only natural water-only lake in the entire island of Sicily. You can immerse yourself in the history of Etna and its volcano forever. The view from the top is nothing short of amazing and the experience of hiking up Etna and back down Mt. Etna one more time was just amazing. It was like one time traveled another time with just that moment of awe and wonder that makes seeing an active volcano so amazing.

You can feel yourself go back in time while touring Etna. You go from modern life to a time

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