What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Undoubtedly, watching the lava eruptions at the top of Stromboli. I would happily have spent much more time up there than we were permitted.
What did you think of your group leader?
Our group leader (GL) did many things well but, I feel, fell short in some areas. It was his first trip of the year so maybe he was just out of practice at thinking for a group. He didn’t seem to realise that it is best to be VERY clear when giving out where-we-should-be-when-type instructions. Usually he was OK (and got better as the week went on) but, to begin with, I (and some others) struggled to get clear, precise information. Also, he should have kept a closer eye on where everyone in the group was and should not always have been at the front. And, on a couple of occasions, he tried to simply laugh off issues/complaints people raised. As a strategy, this is actually more irritating than effective.
Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
As others have stated in their reviews, you do need to pack for a wide variety of weather conditions and temperatures. The tops of the volcanoes (Vulcano, Stromboli, etc.) really can be VERY cold and windy so I’d advise wearing several layers. A thin, windproof jacket is worth taking and a pair of gloves and a warm hat really wouldn’t go amiss (you could probably get away with thin gloves most of the time). Gaitors are useful for some of the dustier downhill sections but you can get by without. Hiking boots (rather than shoes) are essential, I would say, both to reduce the amount of dust and other debris that gets in and for the ankle support (twist an ankle on day one and you won’t be seeing the tops of any more volcanoes). I’m not sure, at 65 euros (£55), the trip up Etna is really worth it. Despite (I’d say) the somewhat misleading impression you get from the Exodus trip notes, you don’t go anywhere near the summit (apparently, according to our Etna guide, no-one has been to the summit for the 20+ years since the last big eruption) and, instead, get to go as far as (what they euphemistically call) "the summit zone". It may seem a bit churlish to say "65 euros seems like a lot to walk down one of the most famous volcanoes in the world" but I honestly think it is. Maybe it is because I feel very short-changed by the guide we had on Etna. It felt very rushed and he suffered from, what I’ll call, "Guide Fatigue" (where a guide has obviously done the same route so many times s/he is just going through the motions – forgetting that, for his/her customers, this is the first (and probably only) time they will see the sight). On top of that, I really don’t want to do anything to encourage the idea that it is OK to charge people to walk on certain mountains. It sets a dangerous precedent. I realise that the argument will be "That’s to pay for the guide to keep you safe on what is, actually, a live volcano!" but even if that is the case, there were 13 people in my party so 845 euros seems excessive.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Well, it was bound to happen: if I kept doing trips with Exodus, eventually, I’d go on one that didn't reach the usual high standards. This was my sixth trip with Exodus and, to be honest, I’d have to say that my overall experience was somewhat disappointing. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy a lot of things about the trip or regret going but it wasn’t as successful and satisfying a trip as Exodus’s trips usually are and, I believe, this one could have been. The group didn’t gel very well at all and I think the attitude of our GL made things worse rather than better. In my experience, Exodus GL’s are usually very good at spotting conflict and clashes early and do their best to smooth things over but, as that didn’t happen on this trip, what started out as low level resentment festered into significant hostility towards the end. Also, I felt rushed a lot of the time during the treks. I appreciate that there is always going to be bone of contention between the people who want to walk fast and the people who want to take their time to take in the scenery, take a lot of photos (or take their time over composing their photos) but, ultimately, it is up to the GL to strike a balance between the extremes. I didn’t feel this happened on this trip (our GL siding far more with the people who wanted to walk faster and get the walks/treks over more quickly – often, only to spend and hour or more extra in a bar or, otherwise, hanging around). I’m sorry, but I can go to a bar anywhere, anytime but it is very unlikely I will hike on Etna ever again during my time on this planet! I feel the Trip Notes - both the text and some of the photos used - are somewhat misleading. I don’t know where that photo at the top of page 3 of the trip notes was taken but we certainly didn’t get any views that resembled it and we didn’t go anywhere that got us anything like that close to any lava. In the current Trip Notes it states "The highlight for many comes as we return to the mainland and trek on Mount Etna … with the option to climb to the summit.". This statement is blatantly untrue as, as I describe above, no-one gets to go anywhere near the summit of Mount Etna. You can go to (what is cunningly named) the "summit zone" at 2900 metres but you won’t be allowed to hike to anything like the actual summit (3300 metres). Later in the Trip Notes what you will actually get to see and do on Etna is much more accurately described but the above sentence, in the opening section of the Trip Notes, is misleading. This same paragraph of text makes reference to “areas of bubbling sea due to underwater fumaroles; rocks with a network of clefts from which boiling water gushes and hot springs.” Nope, didn’t see any of those. Reading back over the above before finally submitting this review to Exodus I am concerned that I sound like a whinger who’s looking to find fault and I am worried that it gives too negative an impression. As I say, overall, I enjoyed the trip and certainly don’t regret doing it. I just feel it could have been a lot better..