Tales from the volunteers

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My name is Walter, I am 19 years old and come from Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire. After attending high school in Harrogate I went on to do a two year Outdoor Adventure Sports course at Askham Bryan college in York. This course fitted perfectly with my interest in one day having a profession within the outdoor industry and taught me a lot about being a safe and effective leader in mountainous or lowland terrain as well as being able to manage a group in many different situations. I also learnt a thing or two about environmental science including geology and volcanology. After completing my college course and deferring my place at Cumbria university, I was ready to exercise the knowledge I have picked up from my course as well as enjoy the beautiful outdoors than here on Mount Etna in Sicily?

After six weeks here we have settled in to our home and the surrounding area brilliantly. We have felt amazingly welcomed by the Etna Finder team as well as the locals in the area we live, it seems everyone is very happy to help out where they can to make our stay as comfortable as possible and we have felt spoilt to say the least.

A typical working day will usually start by getting picked up in the morning by a guide, we will then travel to the pickup point for our guests and from there, begin the tour. We will visit a couple of places in the morning; the Bove valley, a vast plane of old lava fows in which the old and extinct volcanoes once stood or the Sartorious craters from 1865, named after a German scientist who mapped Etna so perfectly however two years after he died, the craters popped up which partially distorted his map and therefore taking his name in honor of his hard work. Depending on whether we have a full day or half day we will get a giant and important to note for us students, free lunch that will always consist of Sicilian cuisine – this is always very welcomed by me and my friend Nathan. After lunch we will visit a few more interesting and eye-catching sights around the volcano for example the Grotta della Neve, a lava tunnel or cave used to preserve snow for the production of ice in the 16th century. We may also see the old North side ski station where you can see the ruins of a three story hotel that was engulfed by lava flow in 2002. This place is particularly sad to visit for some of the guides who learned to ski in that area before the destruction of the lava flow as it is a much different place now, having seen pictures from before and seeing it now I can definitely sympathize with them and see how they find it hard to visit. One thing that is very interesting however is that they do not blame Etna for this because it is the nature of a volcano to cover land with lava, instead they try to hold the memories from before the lava flow in their hearts and try to see the land as a new beauty rather than dwelling on what it once was. They say you can’t adapt Etna, you must adapt to Etna in order to live there. And if you don’t like it you can happily move somewhere else.

So far we have mainly been observing the tours almost from a customer’s perspective and trying our upmost to take in information about different sights we go to, so that hopefully we can soon lead our own tours. The guides have been very good at making sure me and Nathan understand completely what they are explaining as well as our customers on the tour. Although I have learnt it doesn’t just take masses of knowledge about volcanology, geology and the flora and fauna on Etna but it is also about entertaining your customers so that they have as fun and interesting a day as possible.

In our free time we have explored some of the coastal towns, including Aci Reale and Taormina – these amazing places, both for history and for doing some snorkeling and sunbathing in the bays. We have also explored the city of Catania on various occasions and have made it a necessity to try the amazing seafood they have on offer within the city as well as discovering the intense nightlife, very fun! So far we have mainly been using public transport to get around, there is a reliable bus service to and from Catania that passes through a lot of the neighboring towns and villages which has been very useful to us. There is also a train service from Catania to coastal towns and also other parts of Sicily which we are yet to visit. In the last week we have acquired bicycles that Lorenzo, our tutor kindly got for us which are perfect as we have much more freedom to travel longer distances in our free time as well as doing some exercises while we’re at it.

One problem we encountered at first was the language barrier when in shops or a restaurant, for example asking for bags or making sure you don’t buy four bottles of lactose-free milk *cough cough*, however we quickly picked up the right things to say, not to say and not to buy and can easily communicate by this point. On top of this people are very quick to try and help you along, often pulling out there phones to use google translate or pulling in other people who speak a little bit of English which is very nice and helpful for us.

All in all our first six weeks have been amazing and I can’t believe how many different experiences I’ve had so far. I am very excited for the coming ten months!

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My Name is Nathan I am 21 years old and from Leeds. I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors and prior to this project studied Outdoor Adventure Sports at Askham Bryan College. During my time at college I learnt many things, such as; how to manage a group in an Outdoor and potentially dangerous environment, leading a group on mountainous terrain as well as a good understanding of both geology and volcanology. All of which are transferable to the project I am currently on.

Since arriving in Sicily the guides at Etna Finder, as well as Lorenzo our tutor, have educated us on both the general life and culture of Sicily as well as “Mama Etna” herself. For the first month or so a lot of the time me and my Friend Walter sat in on the tours almost as if we were customers, this allowed us to observe the techniques used by the guides as well as expand our knowledge on the area. The thing we both noticed immediately was the amount of passion the guides had towards Etna, they don’t see Etna as a Volcano they see her as a Mum, that provides them with food and protects them from the cold northern winds.

The tours themselves are never the same, we often visit places like; The Bove Valley, a huge valley on the east side of Etna in which many Lava flows are easily visible. Grotta dell’ Neve, a lava cave that was used hundreds of years ago to preserve and store ice for the summer season. The Sartorious Craters, a series of secondary extinct craters that were formed in 1865. And of course the summit area of Etna at which the views are mesmorising and youre able to gauge the true size of Etna. Also Etna Finder run wine tours, these tours consist of a morning on Etna followed by an afternoon at a winery at which the guests can try wines produced on and around Etna. After the wine tasting the winery provides both us, the guides, and the customers with a HUGE meal usually three courses, a pasta dish followed by a meat dish and then desert.

After the first Month of tours and a bit of studying Walter and I are now able to provide some input and share our knowledge with the customers. And I am sure with some more practice will be able to take a tour ourselves.

Outside work we have done a fair bit of exploring, Mainly around Catania which is the closest big city to us around 13km away. We also took a day trip to Taormina, a touristic town where we went snorkelling. The town we are currently staying is called Viagrande its relatively small but is convenient for us as it’s where the work office is based. We have met a fair few locals, all of which have been very welcoming and accommodating to us and have even made a few friends around the area. We have also been on a few days and nights out with the guys from work. Catania itself is booming on a night, there are frequent festivals and events and even if there isn’t there is always something to go and do or see.

The first thing you notice when arriving in Sicily is how crazy the roads are, just a few steps out of the airport and it’s evident. Lorenzo was quick to tell us this however and went on to explain that the stop lines are not an enforcement but instead, a suggestion. Many of the customers on the tours have also mentioned it but after a few days you get used to it. The other problem we often face is the language barrier, however everyone around us seems keen to help as well as practice their English and improve our Italian so it’s not too big of a problem and I do believe we have learnt enough to get by for now.

Overall my first 6 weeks in Sicily have been really enjoyable and I am very excited to learn more about Etna as well as the Italian language.

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