I am putting this regular feature into motion with someone I met when I first started my blog, Cara Lopez Lee. It didn't take long for me to see that if Cara and I lived closer, we would be fast friends. She is a great writer and a wonderful and funny lady and I'm pleased to promote the 2014 release of her book today. I love reading about her travels. Please send her some comment love and follow her links.
This month Conundrum Press has released the new 2014 edition of They Only Eat Their Husbands: Love, Travel, and the Power of Running Away, a memoir by fellow blogger Cara Lopez Lee. When Cara was twenty-six, an alcoholic boyfriend threatened to shoot her if she didn't stop talking. Cara admits she’s a chatterbox, but says she felt pretty sure he was overreacting. So she ran away…to Alaska. Cara further admits that if her goal was to avoid drinkers, or guns, she might have run in the wrong direction. In Alaska, she landed in a love triangle with two alcoholics: Sean the martial artist, and Chance the paramedic. Nine years later, sick of love, she ran again, to backpack around the world alone. They Only Eat Their Husbands is an honest, insightful, funny account of her journey to self-discovery—against the backdrop of Alaska, California, China, Thailand, Nepal, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Ireland. The following is an excerpt from her memoir, which is now available:
The Wrong Direction
They Only Eat Their Husbands
By Cara Lopez Lee
The most active volcano in Europe, Stromboli raises hell in the vacation paradise of Sicily’s Aeoli Islands. The mountain rises from the sea to vent its fury in constant explosions of viscous lava, volcanic bombs, steam clouds, and ash. It erupts several times an hour, creating flashes in the sky like a beacon in the night, earning Stromboli the nickname “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.”
The volcano has been erupting like that for at least 2000 years. In 1919, during one of its more violent tantrums, the giant threw multi-ton blocks at the villages of Stromboli and Ginostra, killing four people and destroying a dozen homes.
A small pleasure boat took us to Stromboli Island. The little island is only the 900-meter-high tip of the volcano, which rises more than 2000 meters from the floor of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Our tour group was three Italian couples of various ages, and me. I sat alone and silent in the bow, sprayed mercilessly with water and the colorful confetti of Italian conversation. I assumed none of them spoke English, until a blond woman who looked as if she’d stepped out of a sailing brochure turned amused blue eyes my way and said, “You are really wet!” The boat had churned up enough spray to turn me into a sparkling pillar of saltwater. I laughed politely, an awkward seal-like cough. I could think of nothing to say. I felt so conspicuously single.
As we approached the island, we were escorted by a cheerful contingent of leaping dolphins, but my attention was on the swirling white clouds circling the bald upper reaches of the green-flanked volcano. There was something odd about those clouds; the rest of the illimitable sky was a spotless azure. It took me a moment to realize the clouds were not the aftermath of yesterday’s storm, but the result of heat rising from the craters hidden in their midst.
I blurted, “Che bella vulcano! Il . . . il . . . nubes suben la caldera!” in a muddy blend of Italian and Spanish that probably meant nothing, but got everyone’s attention.
“Oh!” exclaimed Mrs. Blond Sailing Brochure. She tapped her blond brochure husband on the arm, pointed, and said, “I think she’s saying those are clouds from the volcano!”
The captain nodded and said something in Italian that prompted everyone to point at the mountain and chatter. Unable to understand them, I smiled blankly. A young black-haired goddess with skin tanned the deep bronze of endless summer put a sympathetic hand on my arm and explained, “The captain said the same thing you said, more or less.”
At the island, the captain turned us over to a hiking guide: a short, barefooted man covered in wild curls from the top of his head to his muscular calves. He spoke no English, so I’d be learning little about the volcano. Before we started up Stromboli, we walked to the guide’s house in the village, where he put on hiking boots and kissed his wife and children goodbye.
I was surprised there was a village on the narrow grass skirt of the volcano. Hadn’t these people learned anything from Pompeii, where the villas and bathhouses and temples of a once-thriving civilization still wait for masters who will never return, where hundreds of suffocated victims left their imprints in pumice, where plaster casts of the dead still huddle in agony around the bones within?
So, if I was so smart, what was I doing here?
We started the hike just before sunset so we’d arrive at the top after dark, when it’s easier to see the fireworks. For the first hour, we walked single-file through the grasses of the lower slope. The sun began to bleed, then drowned in an indigo sea. During the second hour, the group fell quiet as the terrain changed to a steep rise strewn with sharp rocks. Soon, deep volcanic ash sucked at our shoes. During the third hour, the sky turned black and the group pulled out flashlights. I donned my headlamp.
We were resting among a clump of rocks when I saw it: a shower of flaming red pyrotechnics sprayed from one of the mountain’s three craters and flew high into the dark sky. The volcano’s thunder was distant and faint. I had no clue how to say “look!” in Italian, but grunted loudly, “Ag-g-g-b-b-b . . . !” and flapped my hand in the direction of the explosion. The exclamations and sighs of the group were equally inarticulate, as they turned just in time to see the glowing rocks fall earthward and float ever so slowly down a collapsed segment of the cone, called the Sciara del Fuoco, the “Stream of Fire.” I wished Sean were here to see it.
“Okay, I’m satisfied. I have seen it and I can turn back now,” the Bronze Goddess of Endless Summer muttered. She leaned against a rock and rubbed her calves. “Not that I’m afraid. Just exhausted. Walking through this ash is like walking across the sands of the Sahara!”
When we continued upward, I chuckled. Mr. Blond Brochure turned and asked, “What’s up?” This American euphemism sounded new and charming in his Italian accent. I answered, “I was just thinking, we’re going the wrong direction. I’m sure if you told most people, ‘You see that mountain there? It’s ex-plo-ding,’ they’d run the other way.” The Blond Brochures and the Bronze Goddess laughed and passed a translation down the line to the non-bilingual Italians. Delayed laughter floated back to me in a slow wave.
When we reached the ridge, the guide took us up into the sulfur-stinking cloud of steam that rose from the craters. Then we came down out of the cloud to sit in the ash and eat. As I ate my panini, I stared unblinking at the craters below, waiting for the next thunderous expletive.
Twice more the volcano bellowed and sent up salacious spouts of lava, fragmented into fiery red blobs. We were closer this time and the loud booms gave several people a start, followed by nervous laughter. The third time, the fireworks disappeared momentarily into the cloud overhead before returning to sear the mountaintop. The radiant red cinders crept down the black void, and we could hear them crepitating like dozens of distant campfires as they flared and dimmed into a sizzling after-glow of gold embers. We stared in awe, pre-hominid children from the primordial sea witnessing the violent dawn of creation.
While our group waited for another blast, Mr. Blond Brochure told us he’d just had a discussion with the guide about how safe we were. The guide had told him only two hikers had ever been burned while standing in this spot. “He said they got hit with the sciora, the hot rocks, and one of them got hit in the head. But they didn't die,” Mr. Blond Brochure reported. “A man was killed once, but only because he walked too close to the crater.”
Mrs. Blond Brochure elbowed him. “You could not wait to tell us until later?”
The Bronze Goddess lifted an eyebrow at me and said, “So, we did come the wrong direction.”
|Look at her! Isn't she the cutest?|
About the Author:
Cara Lopez Lee’s stories have appeared in the The Los Angeles Times, Connotation Press, and Rivet Journal. She’s a book editor, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a TV journalist and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. She has traveled throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the U.S. Cara married her husband at an active volcano in Costa Rica. She did not eat him. They live in Denver. You can buy her memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands, at Conundrum Press, IndieBound, or Amazon. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.