18th – 22nd October 2017
As the sun was shining and the site seemed nice we decided to sit still for a day or two, which turned into three. We bought some internet time, researched potential destinations (when it was actually working) and managed an hour or two on the beach on a couple of days. The beach was so close we carried our sun-beds down – a nice change from our mats.
The wi-fi worked well for about 24-hours allowing some contact with the outside world (Facetime) but then went down till we left but that did let us get other jobs done. In the absence of a ladder Danny pushed Kate out of the skylight onto the roof to clean the solar panel and skylights – a job well done. We did our laundry the day it decided to rain and ended up with our bedding festooned over the inside of the van hoping it would dry before bed time (the important bits did). Danny spent a couple of hours trying to get us hard-wired into the site’s satellite TV as we couldn’t get reception, without success, but he does love a good knotty problem to work on.
As there was no fresh meat or fish available nearby we treated ourselves one night and had pizza delivered, surprisingly tasty and Danny’s first ever take-away pizza (still no cheese).
Our neighbours were Gary & Jacqui from Stockton-upon-Tees, in Sicily for winter again as they are true snow-birds who can’t bear the thought of spending winter in the UK. It was odd to be with Brits again but they were really nice and shared with us some of their favourite sites and sights, very helpful.
By Saturday we were out of groceries so it was time to move on. We drove into Santa Croce Camerina, raided Spar and walked up the hill into the town to get a local SIM card, For a Saturday morning the place was remarkably quiet by British standards. There was very little traffic – vehicle or human – until the main square where clusters of men of all ages congregated, standing and sitting, chatting and watching. Not a woman in sight. We did see 3 or 4 on the quiet “main” street carrying shopping. We clearly haven’t got a handle on Sicilian culture yet. An old man sitting on the steps of his house, wrapped up against autumn in long trousers and woolly cardigan looked us up and down in our shorts & vests and shouted across that it is always summer in Sicily – it certainly felt like it just then.
We drove inland through a landscape of white dry-stone walls and fields with piles of stones in the middle, cleared from ploughing this rocky land. No more vines, citrus trees or olives – this was steep limestone ridges and vertiginous gorges cut by rivers.
We skirted Ragusa, crossed a high bridge giving views of Modica old-town way below in it’s steep-sided canyon, and at the south-east point of Sicily swung north up the coast to the nature reserve at Vendicari in search of nature and some birdwatching. As we followed the signs to the reserve the fun really began.
An uncomfortably sharp right over a narrow bridge took us onto a narrower lane with a pinch-point where it was collapsing on both sides down steep slopes – we drove fast through that bit – then trees crowded in tearing at the sides of the van and causing us to wince as we drove. Luckily we didn’t meet a single car before finally turning into a huge, uneven car-park with a steep drop. We put on mosquito repellent and boots and walked down to the main reserve entrance debating whether to stay overnight on the carpark. By the time we reached it Danny had decided he wanted to move on now to another entrance we knew about with a sosta which would undoubtedly have better access. After burning a bit off rubber to get off the carpark we got back to the proper road without too much damage and a mile further on followed the signs again. Only to find it was worse than before – not a road so much as a hugely uneven, narrow rocky track.
No way back. Unfortunate cars coming the opposite way were forced into fields so we could edge past. It took 25 minutes to cover 2.5km to the sosta by which time nerves were frayed, nails nibbled and sharp intakes of breath were the norm. We turned into a beautiful olive grove with power cables dangling from branches and picked our spot. Interesting open air shower facilities.
There was still time for a walk in the reserve before dark so we grabbed our binoculars and headed off for a couple of hours birdwatching. A nice beach some 15 minutes from the entrance still had some late sunbathers but after that there were no signs on the tracks to guide us and after an hour we had to turn back without reaching the lagoon as dusk was closing in. By this time the mosquitoes were really homing in on Kate and Danny resorted to walking behind her, swatting them as they landed or waving them away as they tried to mob her head. Not our most successful or enjoyable encounter with nature unless you measure it by number of bites.
As the only motorhome we settled in for a quiet night in the van having agreed that the few birds around weren’t worth more bites (sorry Eddie) and we would move off next morning. A shame as it was a lovely spot.
Next morning we slowly bumped and rattled our way back up the nightmare track getting curious looks from men harvesting olives in the morning sun and didn’t breathe easy until we were back on tarmac. We wanted to make Catania, Sicily’s second city, before mid-day to get to a motorhome workshop and have our malfunctioning satellite dish looked at so no time to stop at pretty, baroque Noto, reconstructed after a devastating earthquake in 1693 and satisfied ourselves with appreciating it’s beauty from a distance. Past Siracusa and around the Gulf of Augusta with it’s miles of oil and chemical refineries blotting the landscape – apparently very unpopular with the island’s growing independence movement.
As we approached Catania we realised that the huge mass in the haze behind the city was Mount Etna. Very impressive.
The motorhome place was closed so we drove to a campsite at Santa Maria La Scala which was still open and would make a good base for exploring Taormina and Mount Etna. What is it about this coastline? The site was down another tortuously narrow winding road on a cliffside with mad drivers whizzing around. The site guided us down the steep driveway onto a terrace with wonderful views east across the Ionian Sea and a hundred feet below us the sea crashed against the cliff and the shelf of black, volcanic rock that was our ‘beach’. (we are the white blob in the middle right of the first picture)
We grabbed a bite and walked down the hill from the site into the small fishing village of Santa Maria La Scala, literally the end of the road, with the town of Acireale towering over it on the clifftop. The sun was warm and people were sunbathing on the black rocks or eating a late Sunday lunch in the small restaurants. On the harbour a number of people were fishing with rod and line, and a couple of the neat fishing boats were being worked on by their crew. Old ladies sat on their small balconies along with their washing, drying in the sun and an extended family were enjoying an their meal at a table they had set up in the lane outside their house. Some of the houses were run down and deserted, others were clearly loved and well tended. Nice.