Where were you on your 21st birthday? Most Americans can answer this question without having to think for more than a second. I most certainly will be able to do the same in years to come. I doubt most people can say they had the privilege of spending their 21st on top of Mt. Etna, Europe’s most active volcano (the second most active in the world).
Guided by our charismatic and knowledgeable volcanologist Sandro Privitera, we hiked around the north face of Etna at around 3,000 feet for the entire afternoon. The temperature was fair and the sky clear.
It sounds crazy, but the only thing I wanted more was for an eruption to occur. Most people would think this an absurd thing to wish for on your 21st birthday, especially if you’re standing atop an active volcano like Mt. Etna.
“What do we do if there is an eruption,” our professoressa, the one and only Paola Servino asked Sandro. He assured us that if an eruption occurred, there would be plenty of time to descend to safer ground, unless it was of unusual magnitude. Sure enough within a half hour of our conversation, Mt. Etna erupted. Twice.
We couldn’t see lava nor could we feel the ground tremble, but we could see the smoke billowing from the top crater. It was a spectacle that will be impossible to forget. My first birthday wish fulfilled on the day of my birthday! I’m still waiting on the others, but I’m confident they are on the way. One must always be patient in Sicily.
As the day winded down and the time came to return to Catania, I felt tired, sun burnt, and proud of having done something different than the norm on my 21st. Of course, when the night came, I didn’t exactly “tuck-in” early.
After enjoying a lovely dinner of fresh calamari with my roommates, we decided to head to the town center, or the centro of Catania. As I was prancing around Piazza Università in my suit and the fake plastic crown that my roommates forced me to wear, Sicilians stares and point at me. I was easily recognized as just another American. However, I couldn’t have felt more at home on my birthday amongst my Sicilian and American friends here in Catania.