The current level is 3357 meters above sea level, according to Wikipedia. How much Etna shapes the morphology of Sicily becomes clear after only a few meters of altitude. Between the villages that nestle on the slopes of the volcano we discover with increasing altitude again and again solidified lava fields, which are partly interrupted by the course of the road. Sharp-edged like a coral reef, the basalt tongues cut the landscape.
Sicily - Part IIMotorcycle Diaries
Since Europe's most active volcano spews lava and ash from its craters into the Sicilian sky at irregular intervals, the height of the stratovolcano varies with each eruption.
The deep black asphalt is in a fantastically immaculate condition and has the grip level of a racetrack. We put the spurs to the enduros and twist our way up. At a particularly impressive boulder field we stop the motorcycles and explore the rugged foothills of a wide lava field. Charred tree trunks protrude from the impassable terrain, testifying to the destructive power of the volcano. Accompanied by the gloomy clouds above the summit, I felt like I had entered in a surrealist painting.
Only a few kilometres further on, we reach the highest point of the rollercoaster-like road. Behind the Rifugio Brunek, a small terrain detour through loose lava sand is calling. The different sediment colours contrast with the sparse bushes that sprout on the basically very fertile volcanic soils. On the way back toward the coast the sound of the two-cylinder and the triple gets lost in sparse birch forests. The pioneer plants on the volcanic rubble heaps bear witness to the eternal rhythm of destruction and new beginnings.
Near Milo we leave Etna National Park for a short while, but we still haven't had enough of sloping roads and lunar landscapes. In the increasingly dense traffic, we wind our way through to Zafferana, only to storm uphill again in the direction of Refugio Giovanni Sapienza. A dilemma, because curves and landscape alike compete for our attention with enormous potential for fascination. Considering the still gorgeous road surface against the backdrop of the reddish-brown debris cone, the ride is a massive sensory overload. At the end of the road, Etna sends its plume of smoke into the sky in front of us. Behind us, the port city of Catania peeks out between wisps of clouds. As we descend, the evening light bathes the switchbacks in a warm glow. The Triumph's muffler rumbles and life couldn't be easier between the straights and curves.
The narrow streets of Taormina invite exploration. Attentive visitors will find artistic gems on the old walls and, again and again, the coat of arms of Sicily. Oranges and lemon trees entwine through rusty balcony railings and the scent of espresso, pizza and pasta wafts through the streets. It's about time to head for one of the small cafés and watch the hustle and bustle from a comfortable wicker chair. The old gentlemen at the regulars' table could have just stepped out of The Godfather's script. Thick cigars and fine, wooden walking sticks with silver fittings are apparently among the preferred accessories of the aging local residents.
After the mixed cold and wet weather of the first days, the south of the island is under the sign of spring. Lush greenery and flowers of all colours cover the landscape as far as the eye can see. The air is clear and against the dark blue sky, the snow-covered peak of Mount Etna stands out as if someone had tweaked the contrasts in Photoshop. Countless insects come to an abrupt end on the windshields of Honda, BMW and Triumph in the midst of the colour frenzy, while we can hardly decide which promising photo spot is the most beautiful. Like our engines, we're running in the comfortable, mid-rpm range. The warm midday air makes us sluggish, so we let ourselves drift leisurely through the interior of the country.
On the way to the north-western tip of the island we actually get to enjoy a handful of off-road kilometres. No dirt road nirvana, but enough loose ground to at least satisfy the pleasurer-offroader in us. In the end, correct navigation proves to be a greater challenge. Several times we have to turn around because the targeted paths simply get lost in meadows or bush land. Fast dusty gravel sections alternate with puddle-strewn, hilly dirt roads. We pass various livestock and cross olive groves, but real enduro flair may not really arise. The Mediterranean island is too civilized, too fenced in and developed.
As if Sicily had to shine with charms, the northwest shows a stunningly beautiful, rugged character. Storm-tossed, the rocky and, compared to the east coast, remote peninsula juts into the spray-swirling Mediterranean. Our timing is right again and we reach Golfo Di Cofano in the golden evening light. As the engines fade and we take off our helmets, a salty taste immediately settles on our lips. Meters high, the surf shoots up the rocky coast, breaking the warm rays of the sun a million times. Seagulls circle in the updraft of the cliff. At dusk we pitch our tents at the campsite in San Vito lo Capo. Here, too, a rock face rises vertically into the sky in true style.
San Vito is compact and one can easily imagine how the streams of tourists push their way through the souvenir shop-lined town center during the high season. Now, on the other hand, there is not much going on. The weekend is over and in the morning a throng of weekenders with their motor homes bumper to bumper made their way back to Palermo, which is no longer far away. Our highlight of San Vito is the cake baker, which we discovered by chance the night before. Equipped with a sumptuous selection of sugary treats, we explore the east coast of the Capo and enjoy the sweets in the lee of a lighthouse and with a view of the bay of Castellammare.
Castellammare del Golfo - a place name that melts in your mouth like a piece of fresh tuna. We have already spotted the small port town from an elevated vantage point as we passed by. Red roofs, yellowed walls, turquoise water and fishing nets laid out on the harbour wall are parts of a scenery for which probably every Mediterranean traveller gladly accepts a small detour. Dogs and cats roam the winding alleys above the fort, fishermen put their boats in order, and the rest of the town has a wonderfully unagitated atmosphere. An old woman hangs out her laundry in close proximity to a similarly aged Renault R4, while we sit languidly on a wooden bench in the sun, contemplating the possibility of buying a property. A plain winter retreat without much luxury. The old stone house across the square seems potentially suitable. A Vende is written on the sign next to the wooden door frame, whose original color can only be guessed from the sparse paint chips on the brittle wood. We ponder our thoughts and our cold home is now very far away. We call out "Ciao" to the old lady and stroll back to the motorcycles with an unusual slowness.
The lights of Palermo slowly diminish in the night as we lean against the railing of the ferry back to Genoa with three cold beers. The ship starts to pitch, the sea gets rougher. To be honest, it's a good thing that we won't have to ride our motorcycles over the freezing cold Alps tomorrow. The swishing of the beer cans is swallowed by the freshening wind. To Sicily, the flexible handling of principles and the calm
Text: Alan Klee
Pics: Alan & Rigobert Klee