I really wanted to do something different on this trip, something other than simply sightseeing. Since we were going to Italy, I immediately thought of doing a cooking class with an Italian Grandma, but I looked for other options. A special tour? Surfing? Kayaking?
A company called Sicily in Kayak got rave reviews on tripadvisor. 54 “Excellent” reviews, 3 “Very Good” reviews, and no reviews below that. It had the added bonus of being in the Aeolian Islands, a place I really wanted to see on our trip. I contacted the owner, Eugenio, via email and set up a half day trip.
You guys, I can’t even tell you how absolutely spectacular Eugenio was. Spec-Freaking-Tacular. He responded almost immediately to my trip request, and it was set up via email with minimal fuss. He met us at the dock in Vulcano with a cheery smile. We ended up opting for a full day trip when we got there, so we went to a local market to pick up some sandwiches. Eugenio knew almost every person we passed and greeted them with a smile, a wave, a buon giorno or ciao. On our way to his kayak hut, he pointed out some spots on the island, including the old sulfur mines and the sulfur bath, where several people lay soaking in the mud.
Once we arrived at the kayak put in, Eugenio explained how the island of Vulcano was formed by four volcanoes, explained (with the help of a map) the geologic makeup of the island, and showed us the route we would be taking. He also offered to take some photos for us, which we took him up on because there was no way I was taking my camera on the water. He joked that he would take more photos than our wedding photographer, and he wasn’t far off!
Seeing the different rock formations from the different eras and volcanoes was really interesting. We went through a few caves, which was really fun. At the main beach area there is a vent in the water from the volcano, and it bubbles up to form a natural fountain. Oh, and there was this cave where the water was really warm from the volcano, but the sulfur smell was almost unbearable!
We stopped mid-day for lunch, munching on our sandwiches and talking with Eugenio, getting to know him and the island better. He opened Sicily in Kayak on Vulcano, in the Aeolian Islands, five years ago, but he’s been kayaking much longer than that. He’s from Messina, Sicily, and moved to Vulcano to follow his passion. We talked about our trip so far, then Eugenio brought out these fabulous cookies and made some Italian coffee.
When we started back out, he told us it would be another hour down to the turnaround site, and then another hour to get back to the put in (you go slower on the way down to take in all the sights). About five minutes in, I knew there was simply no way I could make it another two hours. The sea had gotten a little rougher, the wind had picked up a bit, and my arms (and wrists, especially) were already worn out. So we ended up turning around and heading back early.
About halfway back, Eugenio started asking me if I wanted a tow. No, of course not, I’ll persevere! But then he started taunting me –
And eventually, I was so worn out that I gave in.
Sadly, even towing me behind him, Eugenio was still faster than either Stephen or I could have ever been. And he just paddled along like he was out for a relaxing jaunt!
The weather was great the day we went, warm but not hot, and the water temperature was a little on the cool side. I didn’t care, I wanted to “accidentally” tip the kayak over and take a swim…until I saw the thousands of jellyfish surrounding me. I wish I could have gotten a photo of the mass of jellyfish – literally, I would put the paddle into the water on my right, look down, and see 6-8 jellyfish. Paddle in on the left side, look down, another 10. It was insane – and quite beautiful, really. But no swim for me!
When we got back to the put in, Eugenio shared some local wine – I can’t remember the name, but it was deliciously cold and refreshing. His business is just down the hill from a beautiful pool, so after our wine we were able to go up, shower the salt off our bodies, and enjoy the view. It was a lovely spot to relax and soak up some sun.
When he drove us back to the dock, Eugenio asked if we had sampled granitas, a Sicilian specialty. We hadn’t, and he insisted on buying us a couple of them so we could try it. Granitas were originally made by bringing blocks of snow down from the mountains and packing it into cellars to keep for warmer months. Eugenio explained it in far greater detail, and I’ve unfortunately forgotten most of it, but the cold treat (I had lemon, Stephen had strawberry) was so refreshing!
One of the tripadvisor reviewers said their group had taken to calling Eugenio, “Eugenial,” because he was so genial. This is an absolutely perfect nickname for him. He was a wonderful host, an ambassador for both Vulcano and Sicily, and just a genuinely sweet man. His company, Sicily in Kayak, offers half day, full day, and multi day trips in the Aeolian Islands for beginners and advanced kayakers, and he offers both single kayaks and kayaks built for two. If you make plans to go to Sicily and enjoy kayaking, or if you’ve never kayaked and are interested in learning, I demand that you make a point of booking a trip with Eugenio. You will have a wonderful time.
Oh, and we were staying the night in Messina, where Eugenio is from, and where his dad runs a restaurant. We got the name and address (Al Gattopardo, on Via Santa Cecilia), and when we got to Messina we found out it was only a couple of blocks away from our hotel. We stopped in for dinner and said hello to Nino, Eugenio’s dad. It was such a great experience all around!
Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our trip to Sicily, if you haven’t already!