Passopomo – the Ravine


The pollution in the ravine troubles Frank and me. But we don’t really know what to do, it is beyond our ability to bring all this back up the slopes! It seems indicative of the Sicilian attitude to rubbish: we see the young ones on a regular basis dropping plastic wrappers once they’ve eaten the contents, and none of the adults remark on it. The amount of plastic used in general is shocking: each meal new plastic plates, forks and cups are used and thrown away. It’s also hard to find a place where one can correctly dispose of rubbish. We have several bags in our van and have repeatedly asked various people, but most don’t know where we can officially dispose of them. One person offers to take the stuff to the recycling place in his town but when he says he would have to pretend it’s his, I politely decline – this is part of the whole story and I want to find out what are the correct options. In the end, Chantal takes me and our rubbish to a place 5km from here, where we find large bins by the side of the road. They are marked – plastic, paper and general rubbish – but they are filled to the hilt with a total mix of everything, so there is no use separating our stuff out. Besides, they don’t have lids and are so full that one big wind will take away most of the top layer and generously spread it around the area. Chantal says that they used to have better facilities, but someone set fire to them. It is costly to dispose of rubbish correctly, I am told, and various people recount stories of illegal dumpings just outside their property gates. One day, a whole lorry-load of builder’s rubble was dumped on the top end of Passopomo, making it impossible to exit with the horses. Rosi had to pay for its removal if she wanted to be able to take people on rides along this route. Nobody ever tells a story of someone having been successfully fined for illegal dumping. The only success story we hear is that a friend of Chantal’s, after repeatedly clearing up an illegal dump just outside his property, hit on the brilliant idea of erecting a big statue of Christ in the very spot. That stopped the dumping from one day to the next, although they proceeded to dump 200mtrs further up the road instead.


People we tell about the ravine either shrug their shoulders saying there’s nothing that can be done about it or they change the topic. Most laugh when we suggest contacting the local government to come and clean up. Very few can be persuaded to come and have a look and possibly help with ideas or action. Frank and I have decided to start cleaning some 200mtrs below the bridge and just do a bit every day, slowly working our way upstream. We have a few people helping, each day a different team, most notably a neighbour who spots us on the first day and comes with hammer and pickaxe, as well as clearing a path below his property to help get the heavy stuff out of the ravine.

But something is moving. Just the fact that Frank and I descend into the ravine to do an hour or two of wrestling the rubbish from the brambles and the river-bed makes it impossible for others to ignore the situation. It’s uncomfortable for them, we notice. We’ve become something like a splinter to people, but at the same time, they start to think how they can help move this project along. I think there is a mixed feeling of annoyance, respect, guilt, frustration and wanting to ignore everything, and none of those feelings go away. We wrote an email to the mayor of Zafferana, but despite trying three different addresses, it bounced back every time, so we will need to deliver it by hand after the festive season is over. We hope that he will have an open ear and be willing to act – he has a good reputation for addressing waste issues in his constituency, so let’s hope…

This morning, we spoke to someone else who recommended other points of contact in addition to the local government, so we have a bit more research to do in the next few days. Meanwhile, the ravine slowly transforms from squalor to a spot of outstanding natural beauty. It’s hard work but actually very satisfying and good fun. We’ve cleared about 60 mtrs in 4 days. However, the race is on because as soon as there is heavy rainfall, more rubbish will definitely be swept down by the inevitable torrents.

Here are two photos, before and after one of our cleaning actions. For more photos go to the flikr album



Posted in Spazzatura Sicilianawith 3 comments.


  • Alex from Aruba says:

    Thank you Frank and Ruth for doing this. From the act itself and writing about it. It is inpiring! Now that I have of read this article i have become a little bit more concious about the possibilities reagarding similar situations. Thank you !
    And thank you ones more for Tango Mango 2015. It is one of those unforgettable moments for me.
    All the best,

    • ruthandfrank says:

      Hello Alex,
      How nice to hear from you! We are happy that our chapter inspired you. It makes the writing so much more worth while :-)
      Are you thinking of coming back to the UK next summer? We’d love to have you on our team again for the Tango Mango. How is life with your family? Maybe write me an email? Love, Ruth

  • Felicia says:

    Well done on that clearing – let’s hope it doesn’t revert once you’ve gone…..

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