This stage has been all about new arrivals. Firstly us, of course, finally arriving in Sicily after 9,150 km. Amazing. Getting the ferry from Villa San Giovani was actually quite emotional – although we still had the trip from Messina to Notto, it just seemed a really significant moment and we could hardly believe that we had almost made it.
Mind you, not before time given that temperatures had steadily risen to 44 degrees. No wonder Etna was steaming – it wasn’t the only one. My very Italian Dainese suit is a lovely fit, nice and stylish but is not exactly the coolest and I was beginning to feel more like boil in the bag than anything else.
Never-the-less it was business as usual as we hit the home straight and arrived at our new ‘home’ for a few weeks. Ernesto, our host, is fabulous – really helpful and his command of English is both embarrasingly good (given our poor command of Italian) and really helpful when needing a bit of help with booking a service for the Triumph which we have arranged in Palermo which will also be hair-do stop number 2 (not at the Triumph service centre you understand, a proper hairdressers). How exciting, and it gives us chance to explore the big city and doing more people watching and guitar case monitoring.
Most exciting since arriving, though, was the chance to actually take clothes out of the bag and put them in a chest of drawers!!! My enthusiasm was more than child-like and it actually reminded us about how economical we had been with the packing as we were stretching it out to fill two drawers each – one would have been more than enough. As for not having to repack the following morning either – what can I say. I can’t complain though as it has worked out really well even if my packing skills didn’t altogether improve – the shape of the bag each morning often dictated the success of attaching it to the bike effectively and safely and some pushing and reshaping was required on more than one occasion.
Two bits of kit that didn’t take up much room but soon proved to be essental were….the head torches. Now most people know my love of a good head torch – most valuable when walking and very adaptable for night cycling to supplement the mountain bike’s lights or as a back up when the battery on the bike light packs up. Well, you remember me mentioning the 44 degrees on arrival. Ernesto was quick to point out that it had been like that for 3 months – and to be honest we’d noticed a large number of large, dry river beds on the way through southern Italy and in Sicily which more than supported that claim. Well, true to form within 3 days of arriving, the storm clouds gathered and we had two days of quite fantastic storms and monsoon-like rain. We ought to hire ourselves out as water shortage problem solvers as it has definitely followed us around much of Europe. A small pot on the terrace captured a couple of inches of rain in about an hour – amazing to watch but quite scary too at times. Inevitably the power was hit and so we were plunged into darkness. Ever the intrepid travellers, out came the headtorches and ‘business as usual’ with supper cooked on the gas stove via the headtorches! Immense. By the time a few beers and a bottle of wine had been consumed (the fridge was off so we had to ‘save’ them from getting warm didn’t we??) the power was on but were well fed and watered. I should have set up a field kitchen – I’m amazed Tim hadn’t spotted the money making opportunity!
Another new arrival is a rather lovely Belstaff jacket which I just happened to see when in a KTM dealers with Tim when the Colonel was having an oil change. It was 40% off, what was a girl to do?? It’s very lightweight so ideal for these hotter conditions but still has the shoulder and elbow armour so gives more confidence than just a T-shirt. Red it is too. Lovely. Mind you the best thing was trying to find the KTM dealer. We had followed the address given and put into satnav but no KTM shop to be seen. Enter stage right two young lads on 50 cc scooters and so we asked them in case they knew where it was. They weren’t able to explain the directions very well (not surprising for two 14 year olds) but just gestured ‘follow us’! Bless them, they rode all the way to the dealers so that we could follow behind and it was hilarious seeing them ‘arguing’ with each other as to which way to go. They got us there and then rode off to much waving and excited shouts of ‘ciao’. Priceless.
Rest for the boys
As has been said before, the bikes have done us proud. Not missed a beat and dealt with what have been I think it fair to say, some challenging conditions – ok not quite Ewan and Charlie like conditions but none-the-less interesting. So they deserved a bit of a break and given that quite a bit of what we intend to do during our rest period is locally based, we decided to hire a scooter. As the new arrival in the stable, Pepe is getting a bit of cold shoulder treatment by the Colonel and Tom as he minces his way around the very bumpy, dusty and busy streets of Notto.
Now I know I’m new at this biking thing but the scooter hire experience has introduced two new learnings:
you pay decent money for quality bikes because they give you things like DECENT BRAKES!!! The hire scooter on the other hand pays scant attention to such items and leaves you to your own devices. After over 9,000 km this is a bit of a shock. As was the piece of fusilage than pinged off into my lap when unable to avoid a pothole.
Taking a pillion passenger for the first time is ‘interesting’ – especially in light of the conditions above. I’m more than a bit wobbly to begin with but that could have been made worse by the fact that we had shopping in both the top box and under the seat and Tim on the back with a rucksack full of wine and beer (precious cargo). You have to learn quick in the Shaw School of Biking!!
However, Pepe is very useful for getting us to the beach, abandoning at will at any point we fancy instead of having to think carefully about security of the bikes, and is actually very amusing when you’ve had a couple and it’s dark – the lights are more than a bit naff too.
Bill and Tom’s mini adventures
Another new arrival since we’ve been here was the very lovely visit of son Will for the weekend. A biker himself – although not having ridden for a while – it was a great opportunity for him and Tom to get acquainted and he was certainly not disappointed. He could quickly see why I rant on about Tom and what a super bike he is. Mind you at 6 ft 3 he had the added bonus of having full and proper contact with the ground – especially as I have the seat on the lower option. If we had run out of petrol he could have just scooted along like kids do now on those bikes with no pedals! We had a great run up to Catania to do a spot of sailing – very lovely it was too – and a nice trip down the coast to the Cape to see what is perhaps our southernmost point of the trip. By the time he rode himself back to the airport with us, he was well and truly hooked. If he didn’t live in London he’d be sorely tempted by a triple I reckon and who would blame him. Mind you, the weavng we had to do through the traffic on the way to the airport would leave him more than qualified to be a despatch rider I reckon!
Friends and family
Another lovely thing about being in one place for a bit is that people know where you are and can come visit/meet up. This week we have had Will visit and met up with our neighbours from Cornwall who happened to be here on holiday too – lovely lunch and good catch up on what’s been go on both at home and on the tour. Then friends from Dorset will be visiting next weekend and with Al being a biker too, we should be able to visit some lovely parts of the Island with some very good looking roads that we’ve been eyeing up as we’ve begun to get our bearings a bit. Then other friends from Cornwall will be over on holiday and will come and stay for a bit to take advantage of a bit of bird watching in the Vendicari Nature reserve which is just down the coast a little bit from where we are. There are 8 km of coastal cliffs, beaches and inland ponds which are perhaps some of the best conserved wetand areas in Sicily. This time of year is ideal for seeing the thousands of migratory birds who use Sicily as a stop off on their way to and from Northern Europe from Africa. The reserve was established in 1984 and is one of the few tracts on land on the East coast of Sicily that has not been negatively affected by building or roads. Ernesto was quick to say that the area is very beautiful and largely unspoilt – he’s right – but there is a saddening lack of respect for it by and large evidenced by the the amount of litter and fly tipping along and around the area. Maybe I need to start a new conservation volunteers and interpretation business…… Only kidding work colleagues!!