Photo of the month (December 2023): Etna


Once upon a time I realised that my top three things that I wanted so badly to see, and photograph, were the auroras, the giant waves of Nazaré and volcanoes in eruption. I don’t know exactly why these three things, but probably because they share one particular feature, apart from the mesmerising experience I expected: they are huge natural forces, happening at particular atmospheric, geographical and geological conditions. Despite being relatively “common” they are, at the same time, rare phenomena. 


This is not particularly true for an average Icelandic citizen, for example, that could experience volcanoes under auroras. Probably also not a must see for the fishers in Nazaré, who used to fear the giant water walls emerging from the Ocean. However, the geographical feature of this bucketlist has always been the most difficult barrier to overcome, and all of these phenomena, common for the locals, seemed impossible to me not so long ago.


For this reason, I had no particular order to pursue as all of them seemed equally unreachable. While living in Brazil, thinking of travelling to the closest volcano was as surreal as a trip to the auroras or to Nazaré on the exact day of the giant waves. Suddenly, an unexpected opportunity for an internship in Europe changed the scenario. In 2018, living in Spain, I was able to visit the Swedish lapland for one week and finally checked the auroras from the list. Four years later, unexpectedly living in Spain again, I had the opportunity to photograph the giants of Nazaré. 


With two thirds of the list already complete, and still in Europe, I decided to actively chase volcanoes. During a short time in Italy, I tried unsuccessfully to visit Stromboli a couple of times between December 2022 and January 2023. 


Later, on July 10th 2023, the Fagradalsfjall eruption in Iceland raised me the yellow flag. After the authorization from the local authorities to visit the area, I started to search for cheaper (not cheap) flights and organise the days off from the job. On July 27th I booked the flight to land in Reykjavik on August 5th. By looking at the webcams twice or three times a day before travelling, I was unsure if I would arrive on time to see the eruption and arranged a plan B of things to visit in Iceland. Luckily I was prepared for the worse. The eruption officially ceased a few hours before landing! No lava, no smoke, nothing except cold rain and wind during the long hike to reach the crater. My humour in the rest of the ten-day trip almost ceased as well.


Three months later, and almost emotionally and financially recovered from Iceland, it was the time for the Etna. After some severe snow, the eruption began in November 2023, yelding amazing images of the white volcano. With particular good reasons to go, apart from the eruption, the flights were booked to arrive on December 2nd to Sicily. 


This time I was sure to come back with great photos of an eruption. The images in the Etna’s live webcam the night before the flight were promising. The text of the “photo of the month” was almost finished. Plan B to go to the Stromboli in case of ceasing eruption was abandoned. There was no need to travel farther to make my dream finally come true. The bucketlist was potentially 100% checked.


Etna live webcam the night before the flight.

But Nature is random, uncontrollable and unpredictable. Life would be much easier (and messier!) if reality obeys individual wishes. No particular human will can change the course of the Universe and Etna reminded me this the toughest way: the eruption ceased a few hours before landing… again!


Two volcanic islands thousands of kilometres apart, with completely different cultures, gastronomy and landscapes, but with so much in common to me. Despite the frustration of the eruptions, Iceland and Sicily evoke both mad, frustrated and (very) happy memories from moments in my life that meant the pursuit of my feelings. Back in Spain, the joke with my friends was that I would better try to find a job on preventing volcanic disasters just by landing close to eruptions. 


Just before moving from Spain to South America, I stayed alert with the new December eruptions in Iceland, but this time it was clear that I shouldn’t travel, as the local authorities and population were asking tourists to stay far away from the eruption area. In early January 2024, when already moved to Brazil, the eruption in Grindavik sadly destroyed several households and I hope the families receive the necessary support. Photography must be ethical and it is sad to see so many touristing photographers disrespecting local guidelines just for the picture, as it happened in Grindavik and during the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja, in Canary islands during the pandemics. 


Now, in Southeastern Brazil, the quest for volcanoes is harder but this time I won’t judge it as an impossible task. I have several places in mind to go to at the first chance. Nevertheless, even with no lava being expelled, Etna conquered its place in my heart. Even after five days wandering around the volcano, taking a lot of photos, the first sight of the snowy mountain in the sunset was unforgettable. The photo of the month was taken right in early December. The almost finished text on the eruption, however, is kept for a future and hopefully soon opportunity to finally complete my current bucketlist – and then get to start thinking on the next top three.


First sight of Etna

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