Sunday, 24 August 2014
TRAVEL ADVENTURE PART 6 - RAGUSA TO AGRIGENTO
It was deathly quiet when we arrived in Ragusa. A couple of police officers were standing opposite the church above and even though it was a Sunday, there was no flock of people either coming in or out of Mass. We parked around the corner and then went for ice cream at a cáfe nearby. Ahead of us in the queue was an English family, from London, with two kids. We had a quick chat. They were very interested to know about our trip and said that I was very brown-skinned so it was clear we'd been in Italy, and under the sun, for some time. I explained that I tan very easily but fade just as quickly when the sun doesn't shine - hence I'm almost back to my usual skin colour after almost three weeks of being back home under the usual summer grey cloud.
It was quite refreshing for both me and my other half to have someone new to talk to other than just each other. We did feel somewhat isolated due to the language barrier and of course we could never spark up a conversation with anyone, apart from the occasional Dutch, German or French tourist we met along the way who often spoke better English than we did. I felt handicapped and ashamed at speaking no Italian. People we met along the way who did speak English were often fluent in another two or three languages as well. In Letojanni, our neighbours on the camp site were a young couple with a little three year old girl who came to chat and on realising that we didn't speak the same tongue, decided to try and teach us a few words, and likewise picked up simple English words in return like sugar/zucchero. She was particularly interested in our sugar dispenser and how it worked. I showed her, intending to pour just a few grains in her hand but a big pile came out into her tiny palm which she looked at for a minute and then shoved into her mouth before then licking her hand clean.
The family we met in Ragusa was struggling in the heat so after a chat and a "buon viaggio" they decided to leave the cáfe in search of shade in the park behind the church. We hung around at the bar for a bit longer and then did the same. I was looking over a fence at the countryside in the distance when I noticed my husband was called over to a bench where an African man was sitting. They chatted for a while and when I saw him sit down, I figured this could take some time so I joined them.
The African said he was from Gambia but he felt English because the country was, until recently, in the Commonwealth which he felt attached to. However, he felt betrayed because our Govt is doing nothing about the dictator who runs Gambia and whose persecution of people who don't agree with him forced this man to run for his life leaving his family, wife and children, behind.
He'd left the country by escaping into Libya. He said the people there are "crazy" and he showed us the scars on his legs which he said were caused by a machete. From there he'd paid a lot to sail on a cramped rickety boat which only had enough room for him to sit crouched and bent with many others looking to get to Europe. He cried all the way and didn't expect to survive. Many others don't. He had applied for asylum in Italy and was awaiting all the documentation he needed to be able to work there but it was a long, slow process and he was struggling to scrape a living in the meantime.
He said he was staying at a camp where other Africans lived but he spent his days in the park in Ragusa because he liked it there better. He couldn't sell goods like we'd seen others do in Pisa because he needed the money to invest first and he claimed, desperate African migrants are often exploited by better off African migrants who take their money and then disappear. The upshot of his long and tragic story was that he wanted some money so he could call his wife who didn't have Skype. We had no change and we didn't want to give him a note. We'd been approached by so many beggars on the journey and we couldn't keep giving money away especially as, by now, the budget was draining away and we had to think about the places we really wanted to see once back on the mainland and how we might shorten the trip home to ensure the money didn't run out before we got back. The African needed more help than we could give and from people better connected than us who could make the changes he needed in hope for a better life. We moved on and left him sitting there with his thoughts and memories. My other half was cynical about his motives for wanting money. I felt guilty at not being able to help in any way.
Although it was quiet in the town, we felt we should check out the car and it's a good job we did because we'd parked in a residential spot which could lead to the car being towed away. We moved it to a safer place while we explored as much as we could of Ragusa before the need to go off and find a camp site which was most likely to be found on the coast.
It was when we stumbled across the other church, or rather the Cathedral San Giorgio, I recognised it from my favourite detective TV series Inspector Montalbano although I hadn't gone on any kind of pilgrimage in the commissario's footsteps.
I'd forgotten all about it by the time we found a camp site which wasn't the one we were heading for. My camping guide book indicated that a camp site at Santa Croce Camerina was about 20 km away so we headed for that, did our usual thing of losing the road sign and ended up following signs to an Agriturismo site instead. We didn't know where we were but assumed we were in Santa Croce Camerina because we hadn't passed any village sign to tell us differently.
The reception at the Capo Scalambri was manned by two older men. One spoke very good English and the other was in difficulty just trying to write down our English details. We had quite a conversation. I tried using some of my limited Italian, I did want to improve my language skills, but the English speaking owner insisted that I speak English which he clearly understood better than my pigeon Italian. They were a proper pair of characters. The English speaking one insisted we try his wife's home made limoncello which he was selling, along with other farm produce, at 20 Euros a bottle. He carefully laid out two biscuits each for us, before pouring two shots of the very strong cocktail and instructed us that we must first eat the biscuits before downing in one gulp the limoncello. It tasted a bit like strong medicine with a kick to the back of the throat. The other man then decided to go off and pick us some fresh veg and came back with a bag full of auberginbes and peppers. Because we had no fridge, no ice for the cool box, and no other means of keeping food fresh, we couldn't get through it all before the veg started to turn which was a shame because I've never tasted peppers as juicy. I'd never tasted aubergines at all. Neither of us were very keen on those but we felt obliged to eat as much as we could because of the very kind gesture. It felt like a sin to throw it away.
Upon arrival, I noticed a huge poster on the wall outside of the reception of Inspector Montalbano and the dog he saved from fighting, Orlando, and remarked upon it asking if the men were fans of the series.
"You have that in England?" the English speaking chap said incredulously. "Yes, I said, "I love it and watch it every week that it's on."
"Well, he said, "his house is about 1km away from here if you want to go and see it."
I couldn't pass up on that opportunity so the next day we went in search of it. It didn't feel like a km away because we literally just drove around the corner and there it was, It took a matter of minutes to reach it via a walk along the beach from our camp site, although I have to say it's less impressive in real life, probably because there were lots of tourists hanging out nearby, and a family was staying there because the place is rented out to holidaymakers as a B&B.
We soon found out that the place we were camping at was called Punta Secca. Montalbano is an iconic figure in that part of Sicily. A local cáfe announced that they sold arancini - the favourite food of Inspector Montalbano and behind the counter was a framed photo of actor Luca Zingaretti and, I assume, the owner. In the local tobacconists, they sold fridge magnets with the house on, books about Montalbano the series, and the novels by Andrea Camilleri.
I had my first taste of arancino in Taormina and it was scrumptious but that sold at the Punta Secca bar was orgasmic. I didn't see it on sale in any part of Italy except the far south and Sicily and certainly I haven't seen it sold at home. If cooked correctly, it would make a great popular addition to the pasta and pizza so loved by the British but no one seems to have capitalised on it here yet.
I had my third arancini in Trapani which wasn't very nice, hard on the bottom, and soggy inside. My husband thought it funny that after three arancini, I was considering myself an gourmet expert.
We stayed three days in Punta Secca. It was a lovely marina village with a very strong community spirit. People stopped and chatted in the street, said hello as they sat outside on their terraces as you passed by and it had agreat feel to it. The weather of course was glorious until the last day when the sun was hot but marred by a very strong wind which made swimming in the sea impossible. A life guard stayed on the beach warning people not to go in the sea. The beach was almost empty except for a couple of people with towels over their heads and us. The strong wind also created a sand storm and we felt like we were enduring death by a thousand cuts as tiny grains of sand whipped across our legs, arms and faces and hurt.
Our favourite part of the day was morning when the bread man, fish man and veg man came round at various times to sell their produce from a van. Each called our their goods as they circled the site. "pane! cornetto!" the bread man repeated as he went, "pesce!" the fish man yelled but the veg man who had a deep and scratchy voice sounded his produce as if singing a song. I wish I'd been able to video it because I can't even repeat all the word he sang except for the first two :"patate, manana, ...., .... ,...." and the middle and last last vowels of the last unrepeatable word was dragged out and elongated before he began his little song again.
Our next destination was Agrigento where we saw the Valley of the Temples and we took a very quick look at Porto Empodocle which changed it's name in honour of author Camilleri's fictional town of Vigata, but more about that tomorrow.