Up into the Hills

It is with slight trepidation that we dare the ascent to Luca’s property. We wait for darkness as it makes it easier to spot oncoming traffic in the hairpin bends. It’s just about ok, we have to reverse once or twice in the middle of a bend, but compared to our experience of getting stuck in the middle of Noto, this is easy-going. Luca opens the gate to one of his fields, and for the next 24 hours, we share company with 60 beehives. What a beautiful sound to wake up to – the world around us is humming!

This is the first place in Sicily, where we don’t start our stay with a litter picking session.

The landscape here is utterly different to Passopomo, where the ground is all black from volcanic stone. Here, the main colour is a bleached, white stone and the vegetation talks of dry, hot-hot summers. Luca has recently acquired this big property and has great plans for it, part farming, part rearing horses and trekking. Over 30 hectares stretch across two sides of a valley, including olive and almond groves, Neolithic caves, a stream and lots of beautiful nooks and crannies, mostly overgrown. In this area, many properties have lain abandoned for years, and the shepherds have taken possession of the region, driving their herds across the land with no regard for boundaries, damaging walls and buildings in the process. Luca has a Shepherd on his land too, and he talks about the need for diplomacy in slowly requesting him to recede from the property. A shepherd may be on your land, and his goats may be destroying walls and caves, but if you upset him, he has many ways of making your life hell. In his eyes, the fact that he’s used the land for many years while it has lain abandoned gives him a right of usage.

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In the morning, we meet Laura, Luca’s partner, a young and dynamic German woman with a passion for the project they have in front of them. There is a huge amount of work to do to clear the land and make it habitable for the animals, to tend to the trees and harvest their fruits. Laura’s and Luca’s main focus centres on horses – breeding as well as providing quality trekking experiences. In time, they will have accommodation on their property too, once they have converted some of the stables. But like with all projects, all these dreams need a solid amount of money to make them come true, so Laura has two other local jobs while studying in Germany too!

Laura and I go for a horse ride, while Luca takes Frank for a walk to show him the caves.

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I am riding Gina, a lovely, sensitive and calm mare, just my type of horse. It is a wonderful ride through very beautiful countryside, up the meadows through olive groves, to some stunning viewpoints. Laura shows me another valley where she hopes to clear a path for the horses that will eventually allow them to go all the way down to the sea. It is wonderful to feel her enthusiasm for the project, her youthful energy.

Meanwhile Frank and Luca, after visiting the caves and finding them inhabited by goats, walk on to visit Salvatore, the 74 year-old neighbour, who still runs a dairy farm and makes the most delicious cheese. He has some back trouble, so Frank arranges for him to come for a massage later that day.

In the afternoon, we help clearing the lower branches of an olive tree and a heap of brambles to bring more light to the corral where they exercise the horses. This takes a couple of hours hard but fun work with four people and a chainsaw. We light several fires to burn what we cut down. It feels lovely to be working with natural materials (instead of rubbish). In the grand scheme of their project, this was but a tiny action, but I think they nevertheless appreciated our input.

At 6pm, we await Salvatore for his massage, but he doesn’t turn up, until Luca drives over and gives him a pep talk. It’s the first massage in his life! He brings along one of his wonderful cheeses in payment.

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We want to have one more night by the beach before going back to Passompomo, so after promising a return visit, we bid Luca and Laura a farewell and tootle back down the hill to our beach, arriving in moonlight, eagerly awaited by the trio of strays.

A few days later, Luca tells us on the phone that Salvatore walked a lot straighter the morning after his massage.

For more photos, go to the flikr album


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A Holiday from Passopomo

It is a beautiful sunny Monday morning and Frank and I make a spontaneous decision to practice leaving Passopomo. We’ve become so static that the grass below the van has turned a different colour! We load up with water, have a shower in the sun and then roll off down the hill – Sicily is our oyster for the next few days! Luca, Rosi’s ex-husband, who lives 70km from Passopomo, invites us to come and visit his land up in the hills of the Cava Grande di Cassibile, however, we want to spend a couple of days by the beach first, so he leads us to a nice beach nearby.

The weather is fantastic, comparable to a British summer, and we practically have the beach to ourselves, apart from a few locals taking their dogs for a walk and an older guy who runs up and down the beach 30 times every morning! Unfortunately, a holiday from Passopomo does not mean a holiday from picking up rubbish. We’d like to have a view free of discarded items when we open the door or when we sit out in the sun and have breakfast. It seems that in Sicily you can only have this if you are prepared to put a bit of activity into your holiday – two hours and 7 large rubbish bags later, we have a clean car park and entrance to the beach. During this action, I discover the good side of all this rubbish: There is nothing better than cleaning a place around you to make you feel connected to it. And of course, besides, litter picking is a fantastic workout. For the next two days, we really feel this is ‘our’ beach. Breakfast on the beach, strolls along the sandy water’s edge and along the rocky coastline, dips in the cold and clear water, looking for creatures in the rock pools, reading books, soaking up the sun, sleeping…

 

One morning, Susan and Franco pay us a visit from Noto and bring more of their delicious organic olive oil with them. We have a great morning together, sharing food and stories. After breakfast we take a walk along the cliffs and Frank and Franco go off foraging for wild food while Susan and I dive deeper into stories of motherhood and families.

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Fontane Bianchi, the nearby village, is all closed up for the winter, but we don’t mind. 3km inland is Cassibile, a drafty, sad little town, but it has everything we need, a fantastic hardware store, a very nice greengrocer and a guy who proudly sells local honey, bread, wine, olive oil etc. The honey is very nice, but we don’t particularly take to the bread – too stodgy for our liking.

Frank makes a long-standing dream come true and buys himself a fishing rod. Remembering my childhood experience of fishing with my father, I show him how to fix the lead, hook and worm, how to hold the line while casting and to switch back the hoop once the lead hits the water. A couple of times, Frank comes back home with a long face and a tangled line, ready to give up, but I won’t let him. We untangle the line and off he goes again. He doesn’t catch a fish, but he’s hooked – happy to sit in the sun and feel the fish nipping at the bait.

We make friends with Guido the maintenance man, an Eritrean who lives in a little concrete shack in the nearby holiday compound. We hear from him the sad story of immigration into Europe. His daughters went on to live in the north, one in Holland, one in Sweden, and they have a good life. He made the ‘mistake’ of registering in Italy upon arrival, and once his fingerprints were taken, he couldn’t move on into any other European country. He’s worked for the same person for the last 15 years. He says he’s lucky in that he has got work and a roof over his head while many of his fellow countrymen sleep rough with no prospects of finding work, but the deep sadness in his eyes speak volumes about the suffering in his heart.

 

The nights are starry and lit by a full moon. Stray dogs come and sit in the clearing in front of our van and serenade the moon, underpinned by the quiet lapping of the water against the shore. In the mornings, the first rays of light tickles our noses to wake us up to another beautiful dawn with mist hanging over the bay and the sun rising behind the rocks.

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When we leave, we fix a little sign to a rock in the hope that this beach may stay clean – at least for while.

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for more photos, go to flikr


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