Day 14 - Palermo - Trapani
We had a delay, and instead of 6:00 am we entered the port at 8:00 am that morning,and only at 9:00 am, I was standing at the port in Palermo. I had no further plans, apart from the day of my departure from Palermo, July 31st. I knew only that I had 4 days for the entire island. Unfortunately, a place I had booked for the day was not available anymore and I had to look for a new one. I had no clue where to drive first, east or west, or maybe south? It was a booked place which, until that day, had defined which direction i would drive towards. It is the same feeling, which comes after reaching a long term goal. I had no plan for the day, and I had to make one.
I felt satisfaction, because I reached a milestone of my trip.
I felt worried, I had to make my way back home, and face another reality.
I felt proud of myself, because for the first time I, alone, drove over 2000 kms.
I felt lost, I had no clue, what I should do next.
I felt alone, I had no one to share the moment with.
I took the first street that caught my eye, and looked for a cafeteria where I wanted to decide what I should do next. I found an inconspicuous place, parked my motorcycle in front, came in, ordered a cappuccino with cannoli, and sat at a corner facing a bench. I was amazed how this unobtrusive place was vital, at the same time thinking which direction I should drive towards. Eating the cannoli, the best Sicilian pastry I have ever eaten, I was
considering all the possible options. I should drive either toward Etna vulcan, spend a day or two there, or drive west along the coastline, or cut inland and drive directly to the South. I regretted that I had not prepared myself for this type of situation. I looked at the map, which I had received from Harley Owners Group with information about all the Harley stores in Europe. One store was in Palermo. Since I had not purchased any souvenirs during my trip, I decided to drive first to the store and look for a t-shirt. I was very disappointed, because there was no sign of the store at the address provided in the map. I called the store, but no one picked up the phone.
Driving in Palermo was a nightmare. I had no clue why people honk so much on the roads. Sometimes it was an announcement, "Hey, I am going to change lane, make space for me". Another time it was "I was here, do not try to squeeze in", and sometimes it was "Hey, are you an idiot?". People were indicating that they would turn left, and they were turning right. Some where stopping in the middle of a road in order to pick up a phone, and have a few minutes conversation! One driver stopped in front of me and started driving backwards! On a three lane street, one was usually occupied by a stand filled with tens of water melons. Some drivers stopped their cars, left them unattended on the street, and just like that blocking the lane entirely. Scooters were crossing the streets even though it was a red light. Anyway, the scooter and motorcycle drivers were a totally different species with their own rights and rules. I had no time to say "wtf?" because my survival instinct screamed that I had to stay focused, watch everything that was happening around me, including constantly looking at the rear view mirrors to keep an eye on what was happening behind me! I needed to get out of Palermo as soon as possible.
After an hour of driving in the city I took a road towards the mountains. I used my instinct and a sort of sense of direction, and through inland mountain roads, reached the coastline near Castellammare del Golfo. I quickly recognized the good quality of the SP1 road, which later defined the direction for my trip. From the top of a mountain, I saw the coast line along beautiful calm blueish waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. I passed small mountain towns and arrived at a parking lot with a view of the coast line. I parked my motorcycle on the side, and headed towards a food stand. I ordered a sandwich, the taste of which, I would remember for the next few days. Grilled onions and pepperoni, local spiced hard cheese between fresh, crispy, but not hard, sliced roll. The place was very popular. Each minute, someone was stopping his or her car, ordering a sandwich and driving further. While enjoying my meal, something caught my attention. I realized that I was being observed. I was used to people watching me, and I thought it was normal for others to look at me, with wonder, what the heck I was doing there. This was different. And I felt uncomfortable. A well built man in his 50´s ordered his own meal, looked at me, and at first his look had nothing extra ordinary. He went further away, stood few meters behind me, so I could not see him, unless I would have turned my head. I became suspicious when I realized that he finished his meal, and was still staring at me. I went towards my motorcycle and through the corner of my eye, I observed what he would do. I got scared, when I saw him heading quickly towards his own car. I pretended to check things on my motorcycle. The man, instead of leaving the parking, was observing me through left mirror of his car. I got scared, and I had not clue what to do. If I would inform my family about my problem, they would be scared and worried as well. I had to do something. I took a photo camera and I took a picture of the car and its plate number. I sat on my motorcycle, and went back on the road. The man started the engine and followed me. At first I started to drive fast, way above the speed limit but the car was always behind me. I slowed down to 40 km/h, the car overtook me just to stop on the side of the road several meters ahead. Through an open window, he gestured with his hand that I should stop as well. I ignored, overtook him and accelerated as much as I could. I thought I had lost him, but he managed to catch up with me. I just could not get rid of him. I stopped on a side of a road, he stopped his car as well, a few meters behind the Harley. He observed me for a moment, and then he decided to leave the car, I could hear my blood pressure in my ears. I did not stop the engine. He came and asked if we could go for a date. I was speechless. I looked at him and explained that I do not speak Italian, and I did no see a way, how we could communicate. He really tried to be polite, but I was alone, a bit scared and I quickly informed him that I was not interested, depressed the clutch and shifted into first gear, opened the throttle to increase the engine speed, while quickly letting the clutch out. I was back on the road. I saw in the mirror the man getting small as I was driving ahead.
I was driving towards the western part of Sicily on the road SS187 which, after Castellammare del Golfo, changed from the coastline to an inland road. On both sides of the road, pales of trash were releasing malodorous odor. Suffused tens of plastic bags along the road was a blot on the landscape. That was something very common every time I approached an inhabited area on the entire island. Because of this, I tried as long as it was possible, to drive inland or mountain roads, which often crossed clean and protected areas. After an hour, I reached a place where the two roads SS187 and SP16 intersected. SP16 was pointing towards San Vito Lo Capo. It was already around 3:00 in the afternoon, and I thought that if I would like the place I would look for a room for an overnight stay. Having mountains on both sides, and just after half an hour´s drive, I reached the coast. The town that spread horizontally rather then vertically had a lot of single-storied white houses. Advertisements on both sides of streets were inviting to stay at one of local hotels, hostels or touristic apartments. I arrived directly at a white sandy beach. "I could stay here" I thought. I just needed to find a place, where I could leave my things. I looked for any option on Internet within a price range I had set at the beginning of my trip. I had a list of available rooms, and I was ready to check-in at one of the places. I drove to the first one but no one was inside to open the gate. I checked second place, but the story repeated. I started to wonder what was wrong. I parked the motorcycle next to the beach, and desperately looked for any place to stay. All were either closed, or all the rooms were rented out. I looked for a place for more than an hour, and finally met a person, who operated a small bed and breakfast. I checked the quality of a room,
negotiated a price, and decided to stay. And I almost did. The problem appeared when I asked where I could leave my Harley. I got two options, either leave it in front of the B&B or park it several meters away in an unsecured parking lot. I suddenly recalled all the warnings about thieves and about not leaving my motorcycle unattended. I came to a decision that I would not stay in that town any longer and I would look for a place in another town. I realized it was high season and it looked like all Northern Italians came to Sicily to enjoy their summer vacations.
I left San Vito Lo Capo around 5:00 pm and headed back toward SS187 . I stopped at a parking lot with a view on Isolida, a small island next to the coast. A bicycle stood next to me, and we chatted a bit about my trip.
I drove back to the intersection between the SS187 and the SP18 and took the direction towards Trapani, with the idea that, in a big city, I would find a place for the night. It was a warm and beautiful day, and apart from the odor of the trash, nothing was distracting me. I just drove without having a specific goal but with just a bit of concern about my luck in finding a place to stay. Sundown was creating beautiful shadows making the trip really pleasant. Twenty kilometers before Trapani, I noticed a sign with the names of three B&Bs. I decided to check them one by one starting from the one which was located the farthest. I passed the first B&B which, I thought, was not worth checking because I did not like the name. I drove to the second B&B. This time I did not like the overall appearance of the entry so I drove to the last one. I had a problem finding it, and therefore I did a U-Turn and wanted to come back to my starting point. This time, I decided to check the first B&B. I drove into a courtyard and, in a second, I had four people enthusiastically welcoming me. I quickly noticed that every member of the family had a voice, but the final decision was made by the master of the house. A woman of my age stood between me and the owner translating our negotiation. At the end, I could stay for one night for a price that was two times lower than what I used to pay.
As soon as I put the Harley on the stand, I was invited to join a table. The entire family was there, plus a visiting couple, Antonio and Renate. None of them could believe that I drove alone down to Sicily. They were all very impressed. They asked what plans I had for Sicily, and as soon as I said, "just drive around", a list of what I must see was presented to me. The daughter of the owner brought a paper, a pen, a pale of watermelon pieces, which I could eat while she was writing down what I should see before leaving the island. I received maps, descriptions, advice what I had to eat and what I should not eat. I even received a short lesson about the famous Italian mafia, names, structures, historical details. The owner, Ignazio, together with Antonio, took me to an orchard, and told me the story of each tree. And I was expected to try every fruit.
I had heard about Sicilian hospitality, but I had never witnessed it personally before. I was really touched. Antonio Trapenizan, born Italian, together with Renate, his German partner, have been spending, at that place, every vacation for the last twenty years. The Host, his family, and the couple were seriously worried about me, and my Harley, traveling alone around Sicily. Antonio parked his big, dark blue BMW, in a way, that no thief could ever steal the motorcycle. All the drama continued till I promised to call them every evening saying that I was safe and so was my Harley. I was really touched. True kindness, positive energy, care, mindfulness were resonating from everything that these people were saying and doing. I was sincerely overwhelmed. After one hour of this pleasant welcome, I was allowed to refresh myself. Finally! I had a strong desire to wash away all the dust I had collected on my face during the day. After a cool shower, I was invited to join the table once again. I was glad that I could spend time with these friendly people. The evening we spent discussing Sicilian people and the culture they carried. They all were very proud of being Sicilian, and apparently they would never move out from there. Despite all the economic obstacles.