Thursday, November 19, 2009

From Agrigento to Cefalù

By Chuck

We began the day by going to the Valle dei Templi near the southern coast of Sicily. We got to the bus stop in front of the campground and waited for about 15 minutes; we decided that we had missed the 8am bus and went back to Homer to wait for the next bus. It turns out that things typically run on their own time down here – normally, this means late. But, it all worked out, since we got to the site at 9.
The sign said they opened at 8:30am; the campground said they opened at 8 am; at 9:05 they actually opened. Timing is everything.

We thought to mention that we had Teachers cards from STA Travel; did that entitle us to a discount? Yes! So the 50% discount got us in for 4 Euros each! Valle dei Templi has some of the best preserved ancient Doric Greek structures in existence. The highlights, for me, were the Temple of Heracles and the Temple of Concord. The house of the English colonel who was responsible for restoring much of the site, situated in the middle of it, was gorgeous. This was all in the Eastern sector; the Western sector featured an unfinished Temple of Olympian Zeus; there was an 8 meter reclining statue intended to be one of several supporting figures. If finished, this would have been the largest Doric temple ever constructed.

Claire and the 8 meter man

Sacrificial Alter

Road to Hercules

We were among the very first into the site that day; as we were finishing the Eastern sector, a covey of tourists descended upon the Temple of Hera. I couldn't stand it any longer and decided to offer myself in sacrifice to the gods of non-tourism.

A modern phenomenon of the site of minor interest is the cactus graffiti prevalent around the grounds. We also greatly enjoyed the little cafe in the center of the grounds – the tort allo yogurt was moist and delicious.

The ancient author, Pindar, described Akragas [the original town] as, "the most beautiful of those inhabited by mortals." More recently, Goethe said, "We shall never in our lives be able to rejoice again, after seeing such a stupendous view in this splendid valley."

The return trip was uneventful, except that we did not know the return bus schedule and had to wait a while to flag it down. We managed to exit the bus directly across the street from the campground and left for Cefalu immediately. Unfortunately, we ran afoul of a landslide on the way out of town and had to detour. We circled around various routes trying to get past the obstacle. Finally, we set off in a different, but sensible, direction to force Susanna to reset the path to Cefalu.

We finally got Susanna on board with the new path and traveled through some lovely rolling hills and fertile fields. Suddenly, we spied a shopping center on a hill on our left! Normally, this means that it is inaccessible, since clover leaf overpasses are rare and you cannot pass over. But, this was the exception and we were able to drive up and park on the highest level where there were no height restrictions. Now, we might be able to replace our stolen backpacks.

Catastrastroke! As I turned off the engine, I noticed that the water temperature gauge was near the boiling point; then I heard the squeal of hot liquid coming out of a radiator hose. Just what we needed; but, at least we had a chance of getting antifreeze and a generic hose at one of the stores. After cruising virtually all the stores, we did manage to find backpacks (@ 20 Euros), gelato and antifreeze – no radiator hoses, of course.

At the Brico (home improvement) store, an employee tried to direct us to a person, street and town where they did car repairs. Susanna, however, doesn't like streets without numbers; and, she did have two locations at her disposal that she could direct us to. We decided to try one of these. We drove into Canicatti and found a Fiat dealer – one that did not service campers. But, they spoke no English and could only indicate that there were appropriate Fiat service locations in either direction. We went to the VW service facility down the street that Susanna had originally intended and asked if they could help us: “Radiatore, tubo, roto.” They spoke no English, but were game to look at the problem; fortunately, on the way out to the camper, the English-speaking service manager, Elio, returned from lunch.

Elio had lived in Queens for 3 years a number of years ago, and had returned because he did not appreciate the “Anglo-Saxon” obsession with money. He returned to Sicily for family and life-style. As he told us, “I just returned from lunch with my wife and children and was on the computer for 45 minutes; a delicious home-cooked meal. I could not do that in the garage in New Jersey.” While at the garage, I met his father and his sister; both spoke excellent English. The father wondered how we could afford to travel for a year. At this point, I am wondering, too.


The area suppliers did not have the hose in stock for a 10 year old camper. But, the leak had been near the end of the hose; so, the fix was to cut off the bad part and splice a metal tube into the center of the existing hose. The work charged was 1.5 hours; but, with all the conversation and the paperwork, we did not leave until 6pm; so, it was about a 3 hour experience. The main downside of the timing was that we had to drive several hours in the dark and did not get to see a lot of central Sicily. We are extremely grateful to Elio for expediting our service request; they had a full garage with people waiting for service; I have no doubt that our conversation with him about his time in America and his recognition of our plight let him to bestow this favor on us. Once again, kind strangers.

As we approached our destination, we saw the train crossing bar drop; the car in front of us apparently knew what was coming: He turned off his lights and engine and got out for a smoke. We were not so brave; I turned off the engine but put on the blinkers, even though I thought this might annoy the other driver; but, I did not want an Italian driver plowing into me in a desolated area because he or she could not see me. Fifteen minutes later, the express train came roaring through and we continued on our way.

Susanna let us down, again, announcing that we had arrived at our destination, Camping Rais Gerbi, even though there was nothing but a pullout on either side of the road. Claire got out to investigate, I turned on the blinkers, again, pulling off to the side of the road. She found nothing and we decided to venture further up the road; if we found nothing, we would use a pullout for emergency free camping. I had even figured how to park so that the back door could not be opened, reducing our vulnerability to thieves – see how easily jaundiced I become. Well, we did find the campground, about one-half mile up the road.

There was no one in the office and the restaurant seemed to be having a party. The sign said to find a spot and the owner would find us, later. But, we could not get the electricity to work; so, we entered the restaurant. We recognized a couple from the Catania camping site and waved to them. The owner approached us and welcomed us to the campground in English; he wondered if we would mind waiting until he finished his dinner and asked if we wanted to order dinner. That seemed like a fitting way to end the day and we ordered pizza, wine and water with no gas. It really hit the spot, though perhaps a liter was a little more than we needed. Tomorrow Cefalu.


Paul King said...

Darn that Homer!!

A joke comes to mind.
A Texan is visiting a farm in Israel.
The modest Jewish farmer drives him around his ranch and the trip takes about 15 minutes.

The brash Texan scoffs at the size of the ranch and says, "Why, son, when I get in my car to drive around my ranch it takes me half a day!"

"You know, I once had a car like that." the Israeli replied.

Chuck and Claire said...

Good one Paul! Thanks!