Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sicily 2013: Escaping the Hellish Roads to Nowhere

The drive from Etna to Chiaramonte Gulfi was one for the books. After saying goodbye to Salvo Foti and his family I headed out. He had recommended a restaurant in Catania to try for lunch if I had time. Reticent about going into another large Sicilian town with a car (still shaky from the Bordeaux mishap a week earlier and having survived Palermo by car) I made a note to see. First I would have to get off the mountain.

It was as if Etna’s gravitational pull was too strong. I’d head down a road and off to another only to find myself on a hill with a road that stopped, revealing only a plunge into an abyss. A landslide had destroyed the road. Turn around. Back through a little town, around in circles. This doesn’t just happen to the first-time traveler, apparently. 40+ trips to Italy and I am going in circles. After I pass the pistachio store for the second time I stop, first driving through a gas station to turn around. Passing through that gas station would come to haunt me.

Pistachios. Check. Back in car. This time I head back through the town and around and out and back by the store, going a little insane. Eventually I get on what appears to be the road to Catania, it appears I am descending. Then my gas light comes on. I turn off the AC, open the windows and press very lightly on the gas pedal. Finally after what seems an eternity I see a town and a gas station. Pull in. Stop. Chiuso a Lunedi. What? Who closes a gas station on Monday? Still not out of the woods. I ask a fellow nearby and he directs me back to the main road to Catania, there’s another open gas station in 500 meters. Gingerly, I head up and down the road. 500 meters pass. 1000. I’m starting to stress out. Then I see the gas station.

Buoyed up by a full tank I decide to try and go for lunch in Catania.

Catania is complete chaos, the streets are crammed, people are honking, motor scooters are coming life-threateningly close to the car, swooping around me. A vegetable truck swings in front of me to make his way through the mess. There are no rules here. Sweating, my leg starts swelling up. Earlier in the week I banged it in the mishap and there is a hematoma that still persists. But I press on. Finally I am close to the area in town where the restaurant is. Crossing a road I’m nearly broadsided by another produce truck and decide to get the hell out of Catania before they kill me.

Heading towards Ragusa my leg feels numb. Perhaps I got an insect bite as well. Once in Greece I had a problem with this leg and sometimes the old malady comes a knocking. Anyway, I think I’m feeling the numbness going up my leg. All sorts of things come to mind. It’s my left leg, is there a clot? Is it heading towards my heart? My heart is rushing and all of a sudden I see a huge building with the letter “H” on top. A sign proclaims “Ospedale” (hospital) so I decide to head there and ask someone.

The hospital is almost as congested and confusing as Catania was. Relatively new, I use the bathroom. In the meantime my leg isn’t bothering me so much. Not able to find soap or a towel to dry my hands, I think maybe this hospital isn’t such a good idea and head to Ragusa. Maybe then I can see a doctor.

Using co-ordinates given to me by Gulfi I find myself eventually on a series of roads that are getting smaller and smaller. Finally the GPS proclaims it is just up this little unpaved road. What do I know? I head up it only to find an abandoned house and cars. The scene is out of an apocalypse movie. I don’t know how I got up this road and am worried I might have done damage to the car (no worries there, full insurance, this time) but even with a full tank of gas, out in the middle of nowhere this isn’t good news. I call the winery and they direct me to use the road name, see if that works. 15 minutes later I finally come across where I am supposed to be, at the Gulfi winery in Chiaramonte Gulfi.

A large, newish building houses the winery, a restaurant and some rooms. After catching my breath and dropping my stuff, I spy a pool. It’s Monday, is pool time really OK? After what I had just been through and having just worked through the weekend (again) I decide two hours of down time isn’t going to kill anyone. It might even help my leg to get into the water.

It is the perfect step. The water is cool, the air is warm, the breeze offers a nice counterpoint to them both. The doctor is “in”. Finally I am at peace, birds darting around the pool to cool themselves off, the desert humming with the life hidden within it. And sun, the wonderful Sicilian sun. Healing time, time to breathe deep, relax and prepare for another day, another battle.

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