Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Sunday afternoon in Sfrerracavallo

Sunday 21st February 2016

We woke this morning at Camping Villaggio la Pineta to clear blue skies but a chilly breeze. What to do - stay here and explore the coastal mountains a bit more, or head towards Palermo? In the end we opted for the latter as the weather forecast for Tuesday looks unsettled and it would be nice to see Palermo in sunshine.

So we packed up and were on the road by 11:00am. As we headed south passing the broad expanse of the Golfo del Cofano we wondered if we had made the right decision. A track off the road led to a crescent of sand with pale mountains overshadowing an inky blue bay. Two vans were wild camping by the beach. It was so tempting to turn off and join them. I think it must have been from here that a member of Motorhome Adventures Facebook group posted some stunning photos about six weeks ago. He described finding himself the only van on the beach and taking to skinny-dipping in January! A plucky fellow...

Alluring wild camping spot on the low promontory in the Golfo del Cofano
In the end we carried on, but I have made a mental note of the location if we come this way again. Back through Purgatorio, the name of the village never fails to amuse, then east. following signs for the motorway to Palermo. The mountains here are covered in quarries. Living in Buxton we know about quarries. Our home town tries to promote itself as a spa and trade on its annual opera festival, but really mineral extraction is its speciality. So, at least far as Google Earth is concerned, Buxton's most notable feature is the series of humongous holes that circle the town. Italian quarries are quite different. They seem to extract the stone in huge rectangular blocks as if they were sole contractors to Ramses II. The effect on the landscape is remarkable, as if an enthusiast for George Braque had decided to reverse engineer his early cubist work back into the landscape.

Cubist quarries
The traffic on the motorway was light. We began to congratulate ourselves on our decision to travel on a Sunday at lunchtime. What better time to traverse the outskirts of Palermo than at the weekend (no HGVs). and no psychotic hatchback drivers (all dutifully visiting Mamma for Sunday lunch). We have a talent as we travel for developing theories which are plausible and elegant, but prove, when put to the test, to be entirely ill-founded. Today was no exception.

We had reason to be apprehensive. The ACSI handbook warns that access to Camping Degli Ulivi is difficult for larger motorhomes. A quick reccie on Streetview revealed narrow streets packed with badly parked cars. Furthermore, a couple we camped next to at Marsala had stayed at Degli Ulivi last week. They muttered darkly regarding the incomprehensible one-way system. In reality the experience proved much worse than even these dire predictions had promised. All of the foregoing challenges proved true, but augmented by the complete failure of our Sunday lunch-time traffic lull theory. The reason why traffic was light on the motorway is that everyone in the region was attempting to squeeze through the narrow streets of Sfrerracavallo to reach the Sunday flea-market and fish restaurants that line the town's quaint harbour. We only discovered this later when we took a stroll

Where has all the traffic gone?
Miraculously we arrive at the campsite unscathed; how I managed this I have no idea, as I had snuggled through gaps in traffic that at first glance looked narrower than Maisy's ample girth. It was a warm afternoon. Gill got the chairs out and relaxed outside. It was some time before I joined her, preferring to find a shadowy corner in the cab where I could suck my thumb, and rock back and forth in a quasi-catatonic state, muttering, "Fiat Panda, Fiat Panda," quietly in an automatic monotone.

Following a couple of hours of mental breakdown I had recovered sufficiently to risk a short walk. Here's the thing, Italy can change in a trice from being infuriating to utterly charming. The seafood spaghetterias around the small fishing port were crowded, mainly with families enjoying an extended Sunday lunch. On the quayside a flea-market had been set up. Couples wandered through it, pausing to peruse the trash on offer, but stopping momentarily for a kiss. In among them kids darted about; I paused to admire a small boy's ball skills. He may have only been ten years old, but his dribbling skills could have bewildered any of Roy Hodgeson's possible defensive line-ups. It was all very convivial and lovely. 

Sunday market at Sfrerracavallo

Lunch by the harbour

Pop-up retail from the Ape

Me, watching people watching people

The glass had been removed from the parapet, we only saw one person fall through...

The fish quay philosopher

pretty boats

pretty harbour
There were some intriguing aspects to the scene. Who was the mysterious elderly man in the dark overcoat who prowled the market shadowed by his minder? People gave him a wide berth, and he spoke to no-one, other than to admonish a group of adolescents whose horse-play had become tad raucous for his liking. It seems to me that in Sicily there is always some underlying, unspoken edge; as visitors we might sense it, but never fully comprehend what is going on.

Who were the mystery men, should we even enquire?

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