Saturday, 13 February 2016

Heading West

The weather forecast looked decidedly mixed for the next few days. We packed-up in a steady drizzle and drove west towards Secca Grande where there is a campsite open during the winter months. We don't have an up-to-date guidebook for Sicily, only a somewhat outdated one published in 1998 that we picked up for 99p at a discount bookstore. The author is somewhat effusive regarding the landscape between Agrigento and Sciacca, waxing lyrical about the road winding through rocky hills with occasional glimpses of the sea, and valleys covered in vineyards and olive groves. He was right! it is lovely and nice to escape the acres of plasticulture that covers the coastal plain to the east. 

We turned off the main S115 coast road and made our way towards the seaside archaeological site at Eraclea Minoa. The coast around here was purchased by the World Wide Fund for Nature so has been protected from overdevelopment. It is a spectacular site. A broad sweeping bay backed by pinewoods overlooked by rocky hills and pale cliffs of soft sandstone. From Neolithic times to the Augustan era there was a settlement here, until landslides destroyed the Roman town and the area was abandoned. 

Lunch stop and a stroll
In earlier times the nearby estuary of the river Platini formed the boundary between Punic and Greek spheres of influence in the 3rd Century BC. The substantial remains of a Greek Theatre is situated high-up above the sea. We used the site's car park for a lunch stop and had a stroll afterwards. In the end, we did not visit the remains due to being somewhat 'templed out' after Agrigento.

Spectacular bay

With Spring popping out all over the place

In the pinewoods below us we noted further evidence of human settlement. A large flag of St George was fluttering among the trees. I can only surmise it was attached to a pole on the back of some Autotrail or Swift secreted in the woods beside the beach. It would be a great wild camping spot, though the road down to the shore looked steep and narrow, and the beach is not mentioned as a possible 'Camperstop' in any of our books or apps. In fact the sight of the fluttering flag in itself would have made me avoid it. I regard the habit of flying national flags from motorhomes as utterly crass. The larger the flag, the bigger the pillock to my mind. Once people get to duvet cover sized ensigns then I start suspecting them of UKIP or BNP sympathies! I had to endure a few diatribes last year while in Spain from fellow grey-haired Brits railing on about the evils of the EU, while parked by the Med with a glass of Spanish wine in hand, sounding-off without any sense of irony at all. I have thought about investing in a nice big blue and gold-starred EU flag just to irk itinerant little Enganders, but actually I am not too keen on flag-waving at all. Confusing fervent patriotism with a sense of ancestral belonging seems to me to be one of humanity's grave errors, along with mixing politics and religion. Even a cursory glance at the BBC news site leads you to conclude that this is something we are not going to escape from. It's really depressing.

We were not being entirely philistine in skipping the visit to the ancient theatre, with the weekend looming we needed to shop. We had found a Conad on the edge of Agrigento, but its underground car park had height barriers. So it was back to Google maps and a 'supermarkets near me' search. It found a Lidl in Ribera, only 6 kilometres from the campsite at Secca Grande where we were headed. In fact the Lidl was tricky to locate, tucked away in a complex of run-down, crumbling concrete apartment blocks. They would not have looked out of place in a sink estate in Byker or Hanley, yet the town itself was set in a beautiful valley side with views towards the mountains. As a tourist it's easy to forget the rural poverty that has blighted the south for generations, and given the richness of the landscape and quality of the produce, the contrast can seem shocking.

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