The ride down from Tropea is a convoluted business, entailing many twists and turns and false starts. Some of it is less than attractive to be honest,but suddenly you are rewarded with huge seascapes and views out to the Islands North of Sicily. On my last evening in Tropea, sat high up on a terrace in the town this was my view out towards Stromboli, an entirely volcanic creation which was actually beginning to smoke. It didn’t seem to deter people from their pre dinner drinks though.
The olive harvest is in full swing and many of the plantations have these nets covering the ground to help gather the crop. Sticks are used to whack the branches and dislodge the fruit. There’s nothing very scientific about it but some of the slopes are precipitous requiring agile workers.
As I laboured up a hill today, two olive gatherers decided I was of more interest for that moment than the main event. We had a chat about the crop, and I shook hands with the man nearest me. He had a grip like a Grizzly: they breed them tough down here. He probably thought riding bicycles was for lightweights.
Today was hard work and I felt distinctly below par both physically and mentally. It goes with the territory I believe, but cycling in this condition is never a good idea really; it’s too easy to make a bad decision on these roads.Consequently I decided that I would stay in the first available hotel/albergo/room and recuperate. Where I actually found myself was the luxury of the Casperone Resort Hotel in Palmi, overlooking the coast. Having indulged in this I went for dinner in the restaurant as options were few.
Imagine if you will a large terrace with the Mediterranean as a backdrop, thousands of cicadas calling as dusk fell, and only the odd boat engine to intrude. I was the sole diner. My waiter, resplendent in white jacket , was a real character. As he came out with the ice bucket and a succession of wonderful food, he informed me that he was a Sicillian man from the mountains and looked wistfully across to the island as if it were the Atlantic between us. They wear their hearts on their sleeves here.
I always think The Straights of Messina would make a good thriller title. The ferry carries you across to a bustling city where the driving is even more erratic than the mainland, which sharpens the wits on a bike. The water is incredibly clear considering how much shipping passes through every day.
I promised you a story with an edge when I reached Sicily, but so far this is the best I can manage. Hardly headline stuff. The older men seem to congregate in fours for some reason. Perhaps they are all in card playing syndicates!