So the time had come to pack my bags, charge my batteries and wipe my memory cards clean ready for a week on the Mediterranean coastline. We caught a coach from Portsmouth to Gatwick and I was introduced to the students at the airport. One thing I noticed was how weird it felt that things were becoming more “normal” again! We had faced two years of social distancing and restrictions, but most of these had faded away into the ether (although many people were still wearing masks in indoor settings).
I got to my seat and settled in to watch a couple of films I had pre-loaded onto my tablet. As I mentioned in
An old Lava trench, looking up towards the erupting summit in the background.
Part 1 this was the first time I had been abroad in more than five years, so it was hard to get used to sitting in a confined space for a few hours. Fortunately, I was distracted from this as we flew over Sicily: Mt Etna, in all its imposing glory, dominated the skyline – to see how much of it stretches across the island was tremendous!
We touched down in the early evening and, following a (lengthy) delay in getting our hire vans, we arrived at our accommodation at about 9 pm that night. We were housed about an hour’s drive from the airport and on the way there we got our first real look from the ground at Mt Etna itself. I count myself incredibly lucky that it was erupting the whole time we were there. Plumes of ash spewing from the top and yet everyone was going about their normal business…
View from the rooftop of our hostel, Mt Etna erupting in the distance.
We stayed in a hostel in Giardini Naxos, a small town on the east coast. The owner was most welcoming, offering us local delicacies and some sweet wine upon our arrival. But it had been a long day of travelling so, after indulging in some Italian culture (it would have been rude not to!), I went to catch some much-needed sleep. In the morning I went up to the rooftop balcony to familiarise myself with my surroundings. This picture shows just how close we were to Mt Etna: the volcano was constantly erupting and in the evenings we were lucky to see some pretty striking lava flows with the naked eye. I could not wait to get closer to the action. If you would like to see more, please check the daily vlog that I began recording almost immediately.
On our first full day, we went to Aci Costello, which is another small town about a 40-minute drive down the coast. It was here that I could start filming for the first resource we had planned: a satellite image with hotspots that students could click on to get a better idea of the area in question.
The Aci Costello castle, I remember it was baking hot that day (as it was most other days!)
We walked around this Norman-era castle, looking at different interesting viewpoints. On this particular shoot, I was left to my own devices. This was fine but, because I lacked the subject knowledge, it was hard to know what was “interesting” to film and what wasn’t. I did not want to waste my time so I referred back to the lecturer for some guidance at appropriate points. I shall talk more about editing this resource in Part 3.
On day 3 we tried to climb Mt Etna. Unfortunately, a bank of clouds rolled in as we began a two-hour trek towards our stopping point. The trip leaders decided it was not worth going all the way and abandoned the trek about an hour in. It was disappointing but we were fortunate enough to scale it another day! More of that later…
Each of the following day’s activities, because they were weather dependent, were confirmed the night before. We were fortunate that most days it was sunny, with a temperature in the high 20s/early 30s. That certainly made the trip more bearable!
Hi Viz jacket and helmet were compulsory in most locations!
Some of the activities required standing next to the main road, which meant filming was slightly precarious – but I had my high-viz jacket and hard hat on at all times!
As the days wore on, I got more familiar with the routine, the sketchy Sicilian driving styles, and the environment in which I was working. Each night, back at the hostel, I spent an hour or so renaming all of my files so that when it came to the edit, it would be a much smoother process.
The scenery was utterly breathtaking – but, as I shall describe later, nothing could have prepared me for what was about to come as we scaled Mt Etna once more.
During the day we drove up to one of the base camps and the students went off for a large portion of the day on a mapping exercise they had been preparing for.
Derek Rust, Trip leader explaining about a field mapping exercise the students had to undertake.
During that time I managed to film a short video with Derek Rust, the trip leader, who was able to describe exactly what the mapping exercise was so that future students would be even more prepared for their trip. I also spent some time getting some B-roll (Background) footage that I could use to cut in with other videos I had filmed over the previous few days. I was distinctly aware of the explosive nature of the volcano – a loud bang occurring every 15-20 seconds – but nobody seemed bothered! So I decided not to worry about it.
Later that afternoon we drove around the side of the mountain to another “Rifugio” (Literally meaning refuge, but in this case was a small bar/cafe with a big car park) where we tried to scale the mountain once more. This time the weather conditions were more clement and we took a slow, steady walk to one of the ridges. The distance was perhaps only one or two miles, but because the gradient was so steep we took a couple of hours to get there! The ground surface was quite bizarre – neither soil nor mud, but a material called “tephra”, a gravel-like substance that had been ejected from the volcano years previously. It made our legs work that little bit harder. On the way up we stopped for photo opportunities and a deserved breather!
We finally reached our destination, just after sunset and I was surprised to find that we were not the only group there. A group of about 50 other people, a mix of locals and tourists, had also slogged their way up to see this magnificent view.
Mt Etna erupting in all its glory, a life-changing moment to capture this eruption.
The term “speechless” is often overused, but I genuinely was speechless! The scale was incredible. I had never experienced such a view. We could see for miles, across the Valle del Bove right down to the coastline; mainland Italy was in the distance. At this point I was ravenous so I sat against some rocks and ate my dinner whilst watching lava shoot hundreds of feet up into the atmosphere. It felt surreal!
I was surprised by how quiet it was. Compared to earlier in the day, where you could hear bangs constantly, this was much more subdued – although there were plenty of oohs and aaahh’s, almost like watching a firework display without the noise. Then, back to work: I took some photos and footage to feed into the bonus resource that we had planned.
After a couple of hours of admiring the power of mother nature, it was time to make our descent. It was pitch black by this point so the descent took almost as long as the ascent. We drove down the mountain, and back to the hostel, and I reflected on what was a long but thoroughly enjoyable day.
A couple of days later, it was time to head home. I was sad to be leaving – I had met some wonderful people, tasted Italian/Sicilian culture, and woken up to some of the most spectacular views I had ever seen! But I was excited to get back. I knew I had captured some great content and I knew that I could make some great resources from the footage.
In Part 3 I shall talk about the editing process, and how I turned the footage into Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs).
Credit Images: All photos within this blog post were taken by Jonathan Bell, except The Aci Costello castle which was taken from https://www.typicalsicily.it/