“Her gaze dims as her nostalgia for Palermo overcomes her. Those smells of seaweed dried by the sun, of capers, of ripe figs, she will never find them anywhere else; those burnt and scented shores, those waves slowly breaking, jasmine petals flaking in the sun.”
– Dacia Maraini, The Silent Duchess
Taking the train
We’ve been dreaming about the land the of vespers , lemon , pistachio , ice cream with brioche , the arancini , in Greek mythology, modern history , jasmine , granita , Baroque , hospitality … in one word Sicily, for a very long time. After an exhausting search for the most suitable and economical mean to transport us, the bikes and bags for a week of self survival (tent, stoves, food), we decided for the night train and April 25 at dinner time we are on the platform of Termini Station intent on dismantling and packing up our bikes. The rules for the transport of bicycles on Trenitalia are really discordant, although the site expressly states that you can carry bicycles properly packaged and without wheels, the bewildered look of the conductor makes us understand that we will have to discuss to get on board with all our “luggage”.Luckly the conductor is a cyclist and totally understands our needs, so after expressing his envy for the journey we are about to begin, he allocates us into a private cabin where we can accommodate with all of our stuff without bothering anyone.
We enter Palermo the morning after, just the time to taste our first delicious cannoli and we are already on the route. The goal of the day is to reach Sciacca, on the south coast, crossing north to south the island along the 95 kilometers of the deadly route 624.But plans can not be planned, most of the times are due to change. So after riding the first 20 kilometeres uphill on the most dangerous road of our life, scared to death of being hit by the trucks and cars traveling at an absurd speed on a road with no emergency lane and reduction of carriageway due to street works, we decided to get out of this hellish path to take a quieter road that will lead us in the Sicilian hinterland.
Soon after a steep uphill road, a pleasant descent brings us to San Giovanni Jatu, where we decide to stop for our first night, we are totally shattered by the crazy road and it has also started to rain. Food shopping at the only supermarket in the small town, we become immediately the attractiveness of the moment and immediately understand that the Sicilian hospitality is not a legend but a wonderful reality. All are doing their utmost to give us information on how to reach the south coast in the fastest way avoiding the deadly street, or to provide guidance on where to place the tent for the night . The owner of the shop, a young nice lady, even decides to go home for printing out the path from the internet! While the father is convincing us that the Sicilian hinterland deserves a greater interest than the coast ” I recommend you, however , to be aware as there are not so many people around! ” He greets us which such cryptic words. Once filled the sacks of food, good advice, loads of smiles and amazement on meeting two Italian bicycle traveller, we move to the decided location to spend our first night in Sicily in the shelter of a makeshift but absolutely providential camp.
The morning is sunny but wet for the rainy night, we wake up and decide to take the route that will lead us to see those towns unfortunately renowned for the sad events of mafia, starting from Corleone . We stop by a coffee shop run by very young falks to ask for some water. We ask for directions to reach Corleone from San Giovanni Jatu, and without giving much attention to the expression of one of them, “But how do they plan to get there from here?” And the answer of the other “They are travelling by bike!”, we accept the offered coffee and the fresh water and leave. We cycle for a while and soon we understand the meaning of that question, a huge landslide has completely buried the road to Corleone, from the grass grown we understand it has happened a long time ago. We try to cross it taking our bicycle on our shoulders, but the complete disappearance of the asphalt makes us understand that it is impossible to go any further. Neither the cars nor bikes can pass.
With bicycles and legs covered by a comfortable coat of mud we are back on the road, a quick detour on a side street and yet begins the rural Sicily. No more asphalt, just country road covered in mud and pebbles. No wonder we do have a huge smile on our faces, that’s the adventure we were logging for. After a few kilometers, many holes and uphills we are once again on the “official” road that will lead us to Corleone. Just fields covered with colourful flowers and green grass, a green that you wouldn’t expect in a land that suffers from drought. A nice climb brings us to the land of Don Vito, the central bar is an interesting coming and going of people and the pictures on the wall shows that “The Godfather” is a great attraction for foreigners. In fact, by the time that we stopped to taste an ice cream and a slice of pizza, several tourists show in, including a nice French couple traveling with a huge quad that could carry them, us and our bikes! We thought about visiting the CIDMA (International Centre for Documentation on the Mafia and Anti-Mafia Movement ) but unfortunately it was closed as off season. So we can only wait for the rain to stop enjoying the presence of the various visitors of the bar, the only meeting point of this quiet village . Coming out from the town of the lion hearted people (that’s literary the translation of Corleone) the road reveals an unexpected view of the village: a jewel set in the rock, with tiled staircases and a painting like landscapes.
Ournext destination is Campofiorito that is also the deputy spot to host us for the turbulent rainy night. Maybe due to the name of the village (Campofiorito means Field of flowers) or maybe due to the fact that are usually the most peaceful places to camp, fact is that we place our little tent near the gate of the cemetery of the village to spend the night. So it goes our first two days in the land of Sicily, the first impact with the traffic of Palermo and the high speed motorway were really shocking, but, as also happens in life, just getting out of the fixed path every thing changes and we started to discover the region that we’ve been dreaming of.