The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.--Richard Bode

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Riding through Sicily

What comes to your mind when you think of Sicily. Is it a picture of the Godfather, of the Mafia, of gangsters with guns robbing tourists on the street?

I never saw any of that. The people were very friendly; there were no guns in sight; and the Mafia left me entirely alone.

I came down to the tip of the toe of Italy on a marvelous superhighway. They are spending a bi-jillion amount of Euros on it. There are long tunnels, one after another, and I made a quick trip, faster than everything else I've done in Italy.

The ferry ride across the strait that separates Sicily from the mainland is very fast, and only 13 Euros. I didn't even have to tie my bike down because there were no waves at all.

Here is the view from my first night campsite across to the mainland. You can see it is not very far.

I started riding the beach road around Sicily early the next morning. It was a terrible experience. If it were not for the city limits signs, I would never have known when one city ended and another began. They were truly wall to wall. They were also very crowded with those crazy drivers and scooter riders zipping in and out of the traffic, but they were also quite modern, the cities, with nice, nice stores (none of which I shopped in -- where would I put anything if I bought it.

I couldn't stand the beach road, so I headed up into the mountains. Those mountains, after all, are what Sicily is famous for (if you don't count the Mafia).

I loved the mountain road I was on. It was new, I think, and very nice.
If that road was in the United States, it would be a Mecca for motorcycle lovers and sport car enthusiasts.
Do you see the town . It has a beautiful setting. But here is the thing. Why does a town gather up its garbage and throw it out on the roadside?
There were even parts of a cow in that dump. Here is a leg bone to convince you. It was just the bones there. I guess the rest of the cow had been picked clean. Pretty gross thing to put in a blog, isn't it, but it does tell a story. I did some research on the internet, and came up with some news stories that say the Mafia control the garbage pickup, and that they take the fees, pick up the garbage, throw it out on the road, and the government is helpless to do anything about it.

Up in the center of Sicily, the mountains are all turned into giant hay fields. I bet it was all forest once, but now it is hay.

It was pretty. And here is a picture for my farmer friends. I wonder if they would enjoy running big machinery up and down those fields like the ones plowed on the left. They are steeper than they look.

But here is a strange thing, I think. They go to all the trouble and all the effort to build a beautiful road, and then they just let it go to pieces. I mean, take a look at the pot hole in this main highway, and it was nothing unusual at all.
And here is another.
Gotta be careful. You don't want to hit these things with any speed. Especially on a curve. 

They may not maintain their highways, but take a look at this cemetery. It is like a city.

One of my biggest problems all through this trip has been navigating. My GPS has the strangest ideas of the types of roads it wants to take me down.  Take a look at this sand road it tried to make me go down.

Gotta unload the bike. It is too heavy to pick up with the sand holding it.

One thing I really wanted to do while I was in Sicily was to go up Mount Etna. You might already know that Mount Etna is the highest volcano it Italy, one of the highest in the world, and also one of the most active.

And there it is in the far left, just steaming away. That is lava between it and me. You can't tell from this picture, but it is huge!

And when I got up as high as the road went, I was surprised to find a ski resort there. I know it is high enough that they get a lot of snow up there, but it must be like skiing in an ash tray.

There were hundreds of tourists and lots of buses and cars.

It is a four hour hike to the top. I guess I am getting old and lazy. They have a ski lift going. I will take that.

Once at the top of the cable car ride, it is still a long way up. Some people chose to hike it. I decided the safari bus was a better option. It is about a five mile ride. Hang the expense. 

It was C O L D when we finally got up as far as we could go. It was also very windy. I had on long pants and a long sleeve shirt, but I was sure wishing I had thrown on my windbreaker before starting off on this expedition.

The last eruption destroyed one of the ski lifts and also covered some houses. Here is the top of one of them. Hot steam was still coming up through the attic. Steam heat -- a clever idea. Now if we could only find a buyer.

Here is a sign showing what the house looked like before Mount Etna customized it.

This is the crater that made the lava that destroyed the house. There are craters like this all over the mountain. Maybe you can tell from this picture that I was very cold.

We had a guide showing us some interesting things. Here he is digging up hot gravel. Those rocks sure felt good in the hands.

After doing the mountain thing, I was more than ready to mount up and head Odysseus back down the mountain. It got warmer and warmer the lower I got. I was feeling good by the time I got back down to Messina.

The road into Messina took me right past the ferry terminal, and I started wondering what more I wanted to do in Sicily. I think I have about seen it all. So, back on the ferry and a short ride north, and here I am at a gorgeous campground at the small town of Pena on the Italian mainland.

Look at this beautiful view out my tent door. I have to look through a fence to see the small town and beach and harbor, but I guess I am glad the fence is there. Don't want to do any sleepwalking tonight.

It is a beautiful night for sleeping: about 70 degrees and not a cloud in sight. I am not even going to put the rain fly on the tent tonight. Who knows, I might even manage to sleep past my normal waking time of 5:30 a.m.

Tomorrow I think I will go up over the mountains and ride up the long leg of the boot of Italy on the east side. I will miss Rome, but that is okay with me because I have already explored Rome a bunch on previous trips.

More later,