Rocking and Rolling Thru the Mausoleums of Sicily

Trip Start May 22, 2006
Trip End Aug 05, 2014

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

After being gale bound in Marsala we were determined to finally get away ,despite forecasts of doom and gloom from the Italian ("you're all going to die if you leave port and might even do so if you stay") automated weather forecast, otherwise known as Huey and Duey. We left at 06.50 with a comfortable force 4 wind on the beam which gradually came round onto the nose and then died - so no gales there then!.

After a pleasant, if uninspiring, motor-sail we arrived at Sciacca in glorious sunshine just as the wind picked up. We arrived at the yacht club (lega navale) pontoons and in a relaxed manner sorted out the paperwork. - at least the mooring was cheaper and they had showers and a bar all at a cost of €25 per night.

Sciacca is renowned for it's ceramic crafts, apparently the best on Sicily (it would have to be bloody good to be better than Portugal), its volcanic mud baths and the fact that the town centre has loads of pallazos (palaces). It is also situated spectacularly (and somewhat anarchically) on the side of a hill leading down to the sea..

On Saturday we burbled round this delightful town enjoying the higgledy - piggledy little streets and alleyways of the artisan quarter; the glorious piazzas and scruffily magnificent or magnificently scruffy pallazos. We had pizza and Sicilian ice cream (as a two course meal) on the balcony of a restaurant overlooking the harbour from a height of about 300ft - bloody marvellous.

The ceramic shops were amazing - knocked Portuguese ceramics into a top hat - yet Gina bought only a couple of pieces on the premise (or promise?) that we would certainly be returning in the next few years.

In the evening I went to pay, and an old boy in the office, probably the honorary, unpaid club secretary was in charge. He asked what we thought of the club and I told him it was excellent. He immediately reduced our fees by €5 per night (I find that a bit of constructive crawling rarely goes to waste). We celebrated by having a couple of glasses of wine in the bar before retiring.

On Sunday we left Sciacca at around 06.15 to yet another hot sunny day with little wind. We were also to keep a look out for the Greek Temples at Agrigento yeah right!. We looked for ages and couldn't see them when, suddenly they appeared, three big sod off temples and some smaller ruins. The Greeks certainly do good temples!

Agrigento residents (Agrigentiles) are the most argumentative, awkward sods in Sicily. Occasionally the government has to send the army in to restore order. They are also renowned Mafiosi and apart from the usual drugs, smuggling, prostitution and extortion they also have a sideline in illegal building. The Agrigento temple site was declared by the UN a world heritage site so the Agrigentiles thought this would be a great place to start building some illegal buildings to launder their illegal earnings. Now the UN is threatening to withdraw Word Heritage status.

Illegal building is of epidemic proportions on Sicily. In 2005 nearly 5000 new, illegal, buildings were constructed, often as a way of laundering Mafia money. This would have a certain criminal logic if it weren't for the fact that Sicily has a rapidly declining population. So the Godfather ain't exactly the all seeing genius as he would have us believe.

We arrived at Licata in the early afternoon and were confronted by a huge harbour wall which seemed closer than it was. I rushed around getting sails down, preparing the anchoring gear and generally getting the boat ready to go into port, it then took another half hour before we actually got there.

We anchored for the night in the huge outer harbour in splendid isolation. On the hill behind us was a fort with lots of little baroque-ish mausoleums (mausolei?) packed closely over most of the rest of the hill. Perhaps this is where the mafia should invest their property money, in the mausoleum market, then they could control both supply and demand!

When anchoring one sets lots of alarms to tell one if the boat has moved and if the anchor is dragging. As a result, if a seagull farted in the vicinity, we were woken up in the night by these bloody things. I re-set them with a little less sensitivity.

In consequence of our broken night's sleep we got up at about 5.30 and were away 20 minutes later to a cacophony of bells, buzzers and various other alarms (I had forgot to switch them off!). Enough to wake the dead - in fact I am quite sure that I saw a few of the doors on the mausoleums start to open and the odd bony fist being shaken in our direction.

Porto Palo.
On leaving Licata we headed for Pozzalo and passed a couple of oil platforms one of which looked remarkably like a Meccano dog which we named K9 (for saddos who didn't watch Doctor Who this will mean nothing). The weather was hot and windless and by the time we arrived at Pozzalo 8 hours later we were hot, tired and bloody annoyed when we found the yacht harbour, a rather soulless place, silted up and the anchorage rather too exposed for our comfort.

Thus we legged it a further 13 miles to Porto Palo. This is a fishing port with a large anchorage right on the South East tip of Sicily. On arrival we set the anchor and enjoyed the sunset as the boat faced into the gentle swell and rocked us to sleep.

An hour later the wind changed and Tiercel sat beam to (sideways on, to the landlubbers among you) the gentle swell. She immediately started rocking and rolling like bloody Chubby Checker on speed. This was not conducive to good sleep and again we awoke after a very disturbed sleep at 5.30. We were away at 6.00 to a gentle breeze and a glorious sunrise. We realised that exactly one year ago we had left Tarbert on our rather haphazard voyage.

Syracusa and one year on.
Syracusa is wonderful. It is the best place we have stayed to date and it's mixture of slightly run down Greek, Moorish, Roman , Byzantine, Punic and Italian influences makes us sad that we cannot stay here longer.

There are moorings here at the town quay and the marina. The pilot book classes them as having similar prices. The town quay would have been a good idea but required one to be a master of the art of Mediterranean mooring - dropping your anchor and backing onto the quay. We decided to forgo this pleasure for the marginally less attractive marina. We were met by an ormeggiatori ( Sicilian marinhero) who helped us moor up and then told us it would cost an eye-watering €45 per night. We were so struck by the place that we booked for 5 nights then found out that the quay was free - shit and derision!!

The old town, known as the Ortigia, is actually an island joined to the mainland by 3 bridges it consists of dark alleyways between tall, run down, elegant buildings which lead one to sudden outbursts of light that prove to be wonderful piazzas with scruffily ornate fountains, sculptures, cathedrals, pallazos etc.

We celebrated our one year and one day anniversary with a meal in the cathedral piazza where we had plates of cold meats, home made bread, other-wordly Italian cheeses, local red wine and finally, ice cream. The maitre'd was a chatty character who, when we said we were from Scotland, offered me a glass of Caol Isla (an Islay Malt whisky for the pig ignorant among you). Caol Isla is pretty rare in Scotland, the chances of finding it in Sicily are similar to those of a troupe of cats winning the world formation ballroom dancing championships. It really has been the culinary event of our trip so far.

The only slight blight on our stay here has been the fact that one of my front teeth, a crown, has come out after 35 yrs!. I will have it fixed in Greece.

On Thursday we went to the archaeological park to see the Greek theatre, Roman amphitheatre and various other historical sites. The Greek theatre once seated 16000 people it was a great site marginally spoilt by the bloody coach parties trundling about. At the back of the theatre are small caves which housed the prisoners/slaves who built the place. They probably took around 6 or 7 to a cave. However It was impossible to gain access to these because the bloody coach parties kept filling them up, about 40 at a time and then staring gormlessly out at the rest of us while their guide spoke pure gibberish in their general direction.

Nonetheless we loved the place, perhaps the highlight for us was the Italian coach party who, in a huge, echoing cave, gave us 5 minutes of O Sole Mio. It was absolutely beautiful and fully redeemed all the previous sins of coach parties everywhere!

The Roman amphitheatre is the third largest in the world yet the actual field of play seemed tiny. A guide was saying that they staged chariot races there, and, when filled with water, the tank in the middle allowed them to re-create naval battles. Honestly, you could not have staged cat-cart races there without the cats being particulary accommodating and, frankly, I cannot imagine Roman centurions pulling wee toy boats around in the water tank to emulate great Roman naval victories.
Just when we thought we had seen everything this lovely town had to offer we discovered 2 more gems. A small 1st Century Roman Theatre rarely visited. We had the place to ourselves. Set in a field surrounded by flowering trees you would not have believed you were a100m from a busy road. In its own way it was as impressive as anything we have seen

The other was a 17th Century ruin of a Basilica with a lovely Norman window open to the sky. Underneath were the catacombs where the Christians buried their dead-20,000 of them, as the Romans would not allow burials in city limits.

On Sunday, weather permitting, we leave here for the 160 mile trip to Crotone in Southern Italy and then a further 170 mile trip to Levkas in Greece.
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