…or Caught Between A Rock And A Hot Place
I don’t know what’s with us Norwegians: Just because there is a pole, we feel we have to find it, just because there is a glacier we think we have to cross it, and just because there is a mountain we bl…. well believe we have to climb that too. The extreme explorer blood running in my veins is pretty diluted, but I have to admit that even I sometimes get the urge…
The small mountain just behind the beautiful and peaceful Agriturismo La Perciata did not seem to be much of a challenge. Actually not amounting to much more than a rocky hill, it seemed high enough, though, to promise enthralling vistas over Cassibile and the coast of Syracuse on the Eastern side of Sicily.
The proprietor looked a little taken aback when I asked him how to get to the top, which I am not sure was due to the nature of my inquiry or if he actually did not have a clue to what I’d just asked him. He quickly got on top of the situation, though, and embarked on a long explanation in Italian, accompanied by a lot of, at least to him, meaningful gesticulation.
I listened and watched with deep fascination, understanding only very few bits and extremely small pieces of his enthusiastic monologue. I could distinctly single out the word “Camino”, though, which he like only Italians can do, elegantly indicated would easily take me all the way to my destination. All I had to do was to go out through the gate and turn right. The rest would be like a piece of the panacotta we’d just had for dessert.
I woke at six, tip toed down the stairs and into the garden, exited the premises, made my right turn and got on to “El Camino”. It all looked very straight forward, for 150 meters. Then the road just kind of quit on me and ended in some horse paddocks and a fenced in area for a docile pony, a couple of goats and a rooster that was carrying on as if the whole of Italy depended on his services.
Scanning the area for another Camino, or at least a Caminolino, finding neither, I ended up climbing over a fence into another paddock. I gingerly negotiated thistles and horse manure and was eventually rewarded by reaching something with the resemblance of a road bearing upwards. On my way I passed a couple of houses, three to be precise, all of which inhabited by at least one dog. The darling little fellows were all so happy to finally see some action (living where they live a passing snail would qualify as action) that they struck up a very loud conversation with each other and myself, telling me either to bugger off or please come in and play. Judging from their frantically wagging tales, I am putting my stakes on the latter.
I have a suspicion the residents of the houses in question had had no intention of getting up in these wee hours of a Sunday morning. Either way, by now both they and any dead person who had happened to hang around would be wide awake, alive and kicking… each other’s ass. I quickly walked on, not wanting to be discovered as the cause of all the commotion. My rapid progress soon came to an abrupt halt, as did the road. Both terrain, vegetation, the barbed wired electric fence and the sign most likely reading something very close to KEEP OUT OR ELSE!!!, convinced me to do just that. My curiosity around the word ELSE was very small right then, even though my imagination quickly conjured up several unappealing scenarios.
Beginning to see the contours of a pattern to my hike, I hurriedly retreated to the paddocks. So far no good… I realized that the camino my informant had talked about, was not exactly El Camino Real, but more like a Camino Multo Piccolino or Camino UnReal. So I started searching the surroundings for just that. What I found was some sort of inconspicuous trail where the vegetation was trodden down. It was heavily laden with animal droppings, leading me to believe that it was frequented by beasts rather than Italian beauties. It was my only option, so I kept on going, stepping over dung, thistles and razor sharp straws. Once in a while a rustling in the dry grass would make me jump a little, hoping that the creature I had stirred up from its peaceful rest was both smaller and more scared than I.
I don’t know why I was being skittish. The sun was shining, the birds singing and I was outdoors hiking. Maybe the dry, hot, stony valley I was in reminded me of similar walks in a rattlesnake rich California, or the rocky shelves on the cliff looked too much like mountain lion territory. I quickly scanned my brain for information I had read on Sicilian fauna. As far as I could recall there had been no mention of dangerous animals. But then again, being books catering for tourists, would they tell??
“Courage”, according to Mark Twain “is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear”, I told myself and walked on. As it got steeper and more rocky, it got increasingly difficult to follow in the horses’ tracks which now seemed to fork off in all directions. I would follow one until it dead-ended in a cliff or more often than not the omnipresent thorny Maquis, now prevalent on most Mediterranean islands.
In short, I was not making any headway. I had forgotten to consider that horses were intelligent creatures, not wasting time or energy on mountain tops, but occupied with finding shade, water and an occasional snack. I had also forgotten that horses were equipped with sturdy hides, protecting their insides from thorns and spiky branches. Yours truly was definitely not dressed for the occasion, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a tank top. Looking down I noticed that my legs were crisscrossed with lines of angry red, from some of which blood was trickling down. I decided to give what had become the bloody hill one more go before I threw in the towel.
And this time I really made progress, climbing, walking on all fours over boulders and under low hanging branches. The top was actually getting closer and I was beginning to see the light. Until a dark wall of impenetrable and aggressive looking maquis suddenly towered over me. The signs were clear, they said Game Over. I felt lucky I actually found my way down to the excuse for a path on the valley floor. Relieved, I paused to take a sip of water. Doing so, I felt someone looking at me and noticed a cute little guy sitting on a stone. He was wearing a smart, greenish camouflage color and seemed to be actually posing for me. I took several photos of him, delighting in his beauty and peaceful company.
The sun was now high in the sky, and in the canyon-like place I was standing there was not a hint of a breeze. I was actually beginning to feel a little faint, and above me circled what could have been (but probably wasn’t) a vulture. Even though I like birds and enjoy feeding them if needed, I didn’t have any wish to actually end up as somebody’s lunch. I decided, therefore, to bid my new friend, Mr Lizard, arrivederci and walked back. The birds were still singing, and yellow and blue flowers, maybe due to the arid surroundings, were particularly beautiful. I found myself humming contently, knowing that you don’t have to get to the top to have a good trip, or life, for that matter.
(On La Perciata, see my review at Tripadvisor Easy Living At La Perciata)