I owe my life to a stranger who owes me $100
As a younger man, I was eager to do as many Australians do, and leave our sandy shores to tramp my way through Europe. At the tail end of many rough months, I was down to a light pack, a single change of clothes, and no money.
A small chain of beautiful and somewhat remote Sicilian islands, the Aeolian Islands, seemed the perfect place to complete the journey.
Arriving on Stromboli late afternoon, we were advised not to attempt an ascent to the crater of the active volcano - it being too late in the day. Red rag duly waived to youthful (stupid) bulls, we blazed our way up, all hot and sweaty, reaching the top on dusk. Exit sun, enter howling cold winds and fog accompanied by a precipitous drop in body temperature.
The shivering realization of our precarious position was replaced with relief at the sight of a compact and purposeful figure emerging from the fog.
In short order, our savior had fashioned an impregnable shelter from volcanic rocks, a silver tarp, and some amazingly strong twine. In another instant, we had a stove burning and a most welcome meal on the way. The howling wind subsided, and we settled in for sleep and dreams.
Hours on, in the dead of the night, huge concussion waves and great streams of molten rock delivered the most unforgettable entertainment.
The lee side of the volcano was covered in powdery, deep ash, and seemed the faster and more adventurous route down.
Through squinting eyes, I was Neil Armstrong bounding over the surface of the moon, each step impossibly large. At the bottom was the blue haze of the sea and after that the welcome relief of warm baths.
I don't remember when, or precisely why, our savior and now traveling partner, needed money, but give I did, never to be seen again.
A bargain at ten times the price.