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apr 20 2007

Coolest reader thrill

After Budget Travel magazine published its Cool Thrills List for 2007, this website asked you to tell us about the most thrilling thing you did on a trip. We got scores of great entries, and it was really hard to pick a winner. Yet we've done it...

Congratulations to Robert Mitchell, of Guilford, Conn., who has won a Sony Reader, for his story of seeing lava eruptions from the crater of the Stromboli volcano in southern Italy.

Read his entry and runner-up entries [which we've edited for space and clarity]...

The Winner: Seeing lava eruptions in Sicily

Last year, during the final week of a three-week vacation in Italy, we spent several days on the isle of Lipari with my wife Jeanne and our 23-year-old twin boys Jaime and Justin. The goal of our holiday was to view the Stromboli Volcano in the Aeolian Islands.

After a call confirming the required guide to climb Stromboli Volcano, Jaime, Justin, and I took an early-afternoon hydrofoil to Stromboli, the outermost of the Aeolian Islands, about 35 miles from the small town of Milazzo, Sicily. Once in Stromboli, we were issued helmets, and rented other gear. Our group was comprised of about 20 people. We departed around 5 P.M., and I realized that I was only 59-years-old and not prepared for the climb to the top of the 3,000-foot-high volcano. At several points, I thought I had hit my endurance limit. But within about three hours, we made it to the top.

Nothing had prepared me for the magnificence of witnessing my first eruption. By this time, the sun had set, but there was still a shrouded light. There were several volcano vents in the Stromboli cone, and like clockwork, one of the several vents would expend with a swoosh every seven to eight minutes, shooting out a lava fountain with a tremendous hissing sound as it erupted before falling back into the cone. We sat there for 45 minutes watching this magnificent display.

As the darkness enveloped us, the eruptions changed in character. As the lava would fall back to earth and cool, looking at it would leave you with a sight similar to viewing a city from 35,000-feet above, with streetlights as tiny dots. If I had chosen the comfort of boat-viewing, which I'm sure included some fine alternatives to the spring water I was drinking, I'm sure I would have been rewarded by the sight of molten lava rock spilling over the side of the slope of the crater--what the locals call the Sciaradel Fuoco, or Trail of Fire.--Robert Mitchell of Guilford, Conn.

First Runner-up: Visiting the Basement of the Birds in Mexico

I never win anything: church raffles, oversized carnival teddy bears, Ed McMahon's sweepstakes--zippo. But that changed in October 2005, when I went to a screening preview of The Legend of Zorro. After viewing the film, there was a fiesta in the theater mezzanine where one could enter a lottery to win a trip to Mexico. Even though my luck was nil, I still filled out an entry form and folded it up in an oragami-ish manner, hoping that the prize-picker would sense the "Choose me!" energy vibe emanating from the form. It worked! I won a trip for two to San Luis Potosi, where Zorro was filmed. Woo-hoo!

At dusk that evening, Alfredo told us that we would soon see a spectacle rarely seen anywhere on Earth. It's called Sotano de Golondrinas , loosely translated as The Basement of the Birds. In the mountains near Axtla, it is a deep cavern measuring 30 stories tall.

We hiked for 40 minutes to get to the "basement," stopping at a steep cliff where we could see the cavern. As the sky began to darken, thousands of birds (black swallows and green parrots) whizzed past our heads. It was raining birds, and we felt the wind on our heads as they zoomed past. With rumors of a puma on the loose, we headed back to the top.--Lisa Quinn, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Second Runner-up: Catching a Kangaroo in Australia

Volunteering has always topped my list of ways to vacation. I've had the opportunity to go with EarthWatch Institute on expeditions. The one I loved the most was in Idalia National Park in the outback of Queensland, Australia. One night we went on a kangaroo catch. To accomplish this, we had to find a red female and hold a spotlight on her. If she stops and poses, a .22 caliber rifle bullet is fired over her head to "stun" her for about 5 seconds.

On this trip, three of us were runners. One time, we took off after a female kangaroo, tackling it to the ground after a struggle. Her tail was very strong, but we finally got her in a burlap bag. She was given a shot of valium through the bag to reduce her stress level, so we could measure her legs, take a blood sample from her tail, and take a milk sample from one of her teats. We also had to measure the joey's legs, which was inside her pouch. The last thing we did was to attach a radio collar on her and ear tags for future tracking. She was weighed, and then left to go out unscathed. We watched her hop away into the night. What a thrill of a lifetime to be that close to the animals in the outback!--Carol Beamesderfer, Harrisburg, Pa.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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