We finally made it off the ferry thanks to an old Italian man who realized we were standing bewildered behind a large crowd of shoving people. After yelling “PASSPORTO PASSPORTO”, he dragged us to the front of the crowd who had been waiting to buy entry visas.
Arriving in Palermo in the dark put a damper on our plans to bike out of the city and set up camp on the beach before sunset. I was uneasy about how we were going to find somewhere to eat and sleep. Would we be awoken by police unzipping our tents and telling us to get lost?
I felt clumsy walking our bikes through the lively streets. Loaded bikes are heavy and wide, and the weight of the bike is thrown from side to side on cobblestone streets. We stopped, picked up food at a grocery store and sat in a “piazza” for a feast. Here, I learned my first valuable lesson: never travel while hangry (hungry + angry, for those who don’t know the term). Bread, cheese and cold meats had never tasted so good. Looking at all the beautiful old buildings, it finally set in that we had made it to Italy.
We biked ~30km in the dark out of Palermo and found a concrete perch overlooking the ocean. We set up camp and shared our €1.20 bottle of wine in celebratation of our first night on the road. With our tents popped and sleeping bags laid out, the empty holsters that had held my stolen water bottles had become convenient spaces for wine.
The morning brought sunshine and high spirits. Our first day of cycling! We rode on the SS113 towards Messina. We struggled up our first hills, but were rewarded by spectacular views of the rolling green landscape meeting the Mediterranean Sea. We passed castles in the countryside between countless seaside towns. Some towns were very small and consisted only of a small cluster of buildings, but without fail, every town had at least one “bar”–the Italian fusion of a cafe and bar filled with old men talking exaggeratedly, smoking, and drinking espresso. Many people watched us cycling past, and some would wave and yell ciao.
We stopped for lunch in Cefalù, a town straight out of a travel magazine. Once again we sat like vagabonds in the main plaza, on the steps of the towering duomo, and made our sandwiches.
By evening we had made it to Castel di Tusa. Along the beach we found some inconspicuous rocky areas were we could set up camp. Unloading our bags, a man walking down the beach approached us. At first we were apprehensive. Would he tell us to move camp? But from his fast-paced Italian tone we could tell he was just interested in what we were doing. We don’t speak Italian and he definitely did not speak English, but after two days of practice with some nifty language apps we deciphered that the grocery store opened at 5 and closed at 8, or maybe it was just that he would come back at 5 and show us where it was… or was it that the store closed at 5? Our new friend waved and disappeared down the beach. To our surprise he did return at 5, but to tell us that the ground was “troppo bruto” and with some pointing and hand motions at the rocks, he invited us to sleep in his yard.
A few hours later we were at the local bar drinking large bottles of Sicilian beer with our new friend Liborio Monte. He was an eccentric military man-turned-artist, whose answer to many of our questions was “Sicilia no polizia, Sicilia Mafia!”. We laughed about cow discos (all Sicilian cows wear loud bells) and his two lovers. The story of his love affairs became more absurd with every beer. One woman is a police officer who is married to a judge, and the other a surgeon. Neither “ragazza” knows about the other, so he carefully alternates nights and plans with each one.
We have encountered many kind and generous people on the road so far. Large smiles, waves on the streets, exchanges of “Ciao!” with other cyclists on the road, and the expression of surprise and interest when we say “sono Canadese” all seem to make the thighs a little stronger.