Hello From Sicily

By: Susanne Pacher

After our explorations of Lipari and Salina yesterday the weather was going to keep us on the island of Salina today. I woke up early at about 6 am and stuck my head out of the boat. A beautiful sunrise was in the making so I grabbed my camera and took in the pink, orange and peach coloured hues of this glorious sunrise in Santa Marina. Dark coloured clouds were hanging on the horizon. A catamaran had just pulled out of the harbour and provided an interesting anchor point for my photos.

Shortly after it started to rain and when we got up for breakfast our skipper Francesco explained that the weather forecast today may not be good enough for us to leave the island, so we have to have a briefing in the early afternoon. Two additional guests had arrived, Franco, another Italian teacher and the co-owner of Laboratorio Linguistico, and his friend Agnieszka, a young music student from Poland who was learning Italian since she was studying music in Rome. Our trusted four-cabin sailboat, the Solitaire II, now had passengers in every cabin, and there were seven of us traveling now.

Herbert, the German television travel journalist, was on an official location scouting trip for his travel show to gather intelligence for next year's shoot which would feature the Italian learning experience on board of a sailboat, provided by Francesco's company, Laboratorio Linguistico. Herbert needed to check out all the interesting spots, the lighting, the locations and the facilities so he would be able to make plans for the script and the camera crew that would come down from Germany next year to film the extraordinary experience of learning Italian on a sailboat while cruising through the beautiful Eolian Islands.

So in order to get to know the island better Herbert had asked Francesco to make arrangements with some local experts to take him to different spots on the island. Herbert graciously offered to take other people along on his island exploration, and Claudia and me excitedly agreed. Sure enough, Sabina Giuffré, who we had already met last night at dinner, and her local friend Giancarlo, came to pick us up in a rented vehicle to give us a tour of the island.

We were nice and comfy in the small Italian vehicle and after just a 10 minute drive, we had arrived at our first stop: the "Gola del Diablo", a gorge cut into the black and brown volcanic rock, featuring an ancient Roman bridge. The stone formations were indeed impressive, and the layers of ancient lava flows were clearly visible.

We also stopped in the village of Lingua where we visited a local ethnographic museum that featured various exhibits, illustrating the ancient ways of life on this local island. An ancient millstone, various farming implements, even an original bedroom from a farm were exhibited in this museum. This small museum provides great insight into the traditional lifestyle on these islands. We then walked around the corner and steps away is the main square of this tiny town. Here at the Bar "Da Alfredo" we congregated and received free samples of granitas - the semi-frozen Sicilian dessert composed of sugar, water and different flavourings such as strawberry, melon, peach, orange, lime, coffee, almonds and many others.

Similar to sorbets, granitas usually have larger crystals, and the locals often eat them in combination with a brioche. The black sky overhanging the mountains was ominous, but a bright ray of sunshine lit up the façades of the houses around the square. A big husky dog was snoozing contentedly on the floor and I was wondering how this poor dog with his thick fur would be able to handle the hot Sicilian summers. The locals were very hospitable and humorous banter was flying back and forth.

From here we drove back through Salina, dropped off Giancarlo and stopped at Sabina's house which she has turned into a bed and breakfast . Salina's dad came to greet us and I couldn't help but detect a resemblance to famous actor Kirk Douglas. He graciously picked some "nespole" (loquat fruits) for us from his fruit tree. These fruits, originally indigenous to Southeastern China and grown in warm climates around the world today, are similar in appearance to apricots and are similarly sweet and juicy.

We appreciated this little roadside snack, thanked Sabina's dad and continued our journey towards the next town on this island: Malfa, a small fisherman's town. Along the way we stopped to admire the malvasia vineyards as well as patches of capers which are big export products for the island of Salina.

Malfa features a big church dedicated to San Lorenzo and incidentally was the hometown of our shipmate Lorenzo's grandparents and a place that he was going to spend some time in. Sabina took us down to the fishing harbour and then back up the hill to a lookout point called the "semaforo", a surveillance tower erected in the early 20th century which was also used during the Second World War. Sabina mentioned that UNESCO offered to buy this tower, but the local town turned down the offer. Today it is abandoned and blocked off.

Sabina stopped the vehicle and we walked out onto a lookout point which provided a gorgeous view of the Mediterranean with a great view of the island of Filicudi - the "reclining pregrant woman", so called because of its shape, featuring a head and what looks like a big belly, protruding from the sea. To our left was a deeply indented valley which Sabina explained is an ancient volcanic crater, half of which has broken off and disappeared in the sea. Today it is the location for the village of Pollara which has one main tourist attraction: the house where the movie "Il Postino" was filmed.

Of course we needed to check this out so we drove down some narrow winding roads, parked the car and walked up a short stretch on a dusty road to see a rather unremarkable simple and small pink-coloured house with some vines, which is one of the most famous locations on the island. Seen from outside, there was nothing spectacular about this house, and Sabina indicated that it is available for short-term rentals.

The weather was starting to clear up and the view from the northern tip of Salina was gorgeous. The distances on this island are tiny, but due to the narrow and winding road it definitely takes a while to get around. By 1 pm we were back at our boat and had a briefing with our captain: Francesco indicated that due to the weather forecast we were not going to sail today. So we had a comfortable on board lunch and I then headed into Santa Marina to walk around and make some phone calls back to Canada. Unfortunately the Internet café was closed since it was siesta time, which often lasts from about 1 or 1:30 pm to 4 or 4:30 pm. In Sicily you definitely need to time your shopping experiences carefully to make sure the shops are open.

From 4:30 to 6:30 pm Claudia, Agnieszka and I had our first Italian language lesson, provided by Franco on the outdoor terrace of a local bar. Now here is a concept: language learning on the terrace of a bar - I definitely like it. It made the somewhat painful exercises dealing with the complexities of the Italian "congiuntivo" (the subjunctive) much more palatable. I have studied a lot of languages with different language schools, and Laboratorio Linguistico has definitely created a very unique language learning concept here.

After our intense lesson I took another stroll around Salina and this time the Internet café was open. So far I have found fairly good public Internet access in different parts of Sicily, and it's always great to be able to connect with home. Our boat crew spent a quiet evening on board, we fixed up a lovely home-cooked dinner with potatoes, salad, sweet carrots, cheese and various sweets for dessert. Some of my travel partners played cards while I organized my photos on the laptop which was conveniently hooked up to the electricity supply provided by the harbour commission in Santa Marina di Salina.

It was nice to have a day of rest in Santa Marina, but I am definitely looking forward to exploring a new island tomorrow: Stromboli!

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