86 kinds of apricot grow in Calabria. For a moment we feared that Alberio might talk us through each one. Alberio, in addition to being passionate about volcanos, is a food and wine expert. He invented a half day tour of Vesuvius followed by lunch and wine tasting at a vineyard growing Tears of Christ grapes. Sounds good doesn’t it? It is actually an excuse for Alberio to hold tourists captive for 8 hours while he tells them all he knows.
On the hour-long journey from Sorrento to Vesuvius, Alberio detailed all the fruits and vegetables that grow in the plain created by the volcano’s mighty blow-out in AD 79. He supplemented his guide to greengrocery with occasional recipes and effusive amounts of geological information. For sheer volume of words, Alberio gives great value for money.
Mountain climbing is not really my thing, but I was curious to see a crater close up and pretty sure that a tourist outing wouldn’t be too demanding. We were to travel by coach to the vineyard and then pick up a military 4 x 4 to take us to the top of Vesuvius. I was assured there would be only a 200m walk at the end of the ride. I figured that if a 17,000 year old volcano could still be active then I had to make the effort aged only 53.
Alberio promised 4 pit stops along the path to the crater. “If you are slow it will give you a chance to catch up,” he said “and I have lots to tell you along the way.”
“Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth” advised the octagenerian walking ahead of me through pumice the size of peas. “That’s what my cardiologist says.” I was being beaten to the rim by a little old lady with heart problems. It wasn’t all that steep so huffing and puffing wasn’t really my problem. The path was shale several inches deep and I sank a little at every step. My jelly knees don’t lock and so I couldn’t stand steady, much less move on without holding on to something to pull myself forward. There was a rope handrail but it wasn’t taut in places and in some instances the posts securing it had slipped off the shoulder of the volcano, causing the rope to dangle like an ill-fitting bra strap.
Alberio talked the Cackler and the rest through 300,000 years of rock history (the stone dates from that time although Vesuvius as we know it today is only a sprightly 17,000 years old) and allowed a photo or two of the Bay of Naples while I lurched and cursed my way up the path. I arrived just in time for the admonitions not to wander off from the group or to stop for photos unless permitted. Alberio has control issues in addition to a volcanic verbosity. Then it was onward and upward once again.
I was thrilled to make it to the top. We stood just steps from the rim and marveled at the layers of different colored rock signalling lava flow at different times across the centuries. Steam rose from cracks in the crater and lichen led the way for other forms of life. I made it down by sinking my heels into the shale at every step. (arthritis makes it worse to go down hills than up–the decline pushes the patella forward in a very painful way. I like to keep my legs straight and fight the drop.) Two honeymooners and the Cackler corraled me on the corners.