Lavaowl is just one of my collection of owls that's likely to feaure on some blogs in the coming weeks. Lavaowl is very precious to me, a memento of a lovely whistlestop tour of Mount Etna some years ago.
Slip back to December 2003. Along with my husband, I made a quick escape from a cold and snowy Scotland for a week's break over Christmas. We headed for Malta, a new destination for us. It was pleasantly warm and we packed in visits to as many tourist sites as we could around Malta.
We love to squeeze in as much as possible and the lure of having a quick trip to Sicily, to visit Mount Etna, was too much to pass up on. The day trip was a long one but extremely worthwhile.
We caught a very early catamaran from Malta to Sicily and then sat on a coach for long hours to get to Mt. Etna, passing through some wonderful countryside. Being the Christmas period the ground was lush and green, the parched earth of the summer months well watered. The views were fantastic.
The tour guide was very well informed and prepared us well as we approached Mt. Etna. There had been recent eruptions. A tourist station at the north-eastern flank had been completely destroyed and on the sourthern flank a tpurist station had been partially destroyed.
That was the one we were heading for, on the southern side, some of the land around the tourist station still cordoned off. We drove past areas where the lava flow had engulfed the bottom levels of buildings leaving the upper storeys almost intact - but clearly abandoned since the lava was still too hot to allow any access. Some of these amazing sights were literally a few yards from the twisting and winding road, small bubbling lava pools evident all around the landscape. Much the road that led up to the summit had been recently rebuilt as well. Only checking a map of today would show whether that road has been re-routed again.
We didn't have the time ( or even the correct footwear) to climb the last part up to the summit, though there was a roped off pathway that could be used with care. Etna being an active and unpredicatable volcano meant that the conditios for toursists were changing on a daily basis but the scene at the parking area of the tourist station was incredible. Walking from the coach to the row of shops and restaurants meant a bit of a meander to avoid the low roped-off areas of lava bubblings. These were little pools where the lava was still bubbling up from the ground, steaming and far too hot to the touch but they were not considered such a hazard. It was essential for the locals to keep the tourists coming as the area had been rebuilt a few times before my visit and constnt funding was required to keep the tourist area accessible.
The shops sold some very tacky tourist items but there were also some extremely affordable quality items as well - especially those made from carved - LAVA!
Lavaowl was not cheap but he was irrestible and I just had to have him for my collection. He's extrememly heavy and solid and is 20 cm high. Just as well that it was a bit easier back then to return to the UK with overweight luggage.
I'd be interested to visit again and see what changes have been made.
Mount Etna is constantly spewing out lava and is, at times, baffling the vulcanologists who have been monitoring it closely for decades.
On my return to Scotland, Lavaowl sat on my desk at school and was avidly won by 'The table of the Week' during the school term following that visit.
It was, of course, very appropriate since the school emblem is an owl.