The route from Milan airport to Sicily was a long and arduous one. The rumble of the road noise seemed greater than at any time since I’d owned the motorhome and by the end of each day my hearing had suffered. It seemed that the whole of southern Italy was undergoing road works, resulting in the usual 2 lane motorway being reduced to one lane in each direction.
When we arrived at the ferry port a man who spoke English asked if we needed a ticket for the boat. He proceeded to take us to the ticket counter and asked for a three month open ended return ticket. It was only at this time that I realised that he was not an official working for the ferry company but some local guy looking to make some money from foreigners. Despite telling him my motorhome was 6 metres long he’d requested a ticket for a 5 metre long vehicle which we paid for and he then requested €10.00 for 5 minutes work! Before boarding the ferry we were also hassled by people trying to sell us all sorts of tat we had no need for or interest in.
The ferry crossing was a short one and in no time at all we found ourselves driving through Messina to get onto the motorway headed for Palermo airport where we were to collect Fiona, Taofiq and Rohan. Their flight times had been brought forward meaning they landed before we could reach Palermo. It was decided they would catch a train to the city centre where we would collect them later that afternoon.
Like Messina, Palermo was also hectic and after meeting up I was glad to be leaving the city headed for our accommodation at Camping Village La Pineta. After spending just one night at the campsite we left the following morning headed for Riserva Naturale di Monte Cofano where we had a 7 mile walk planned. The walk provided us with some good views of the coastline and by mid afternoon we were back in the motorhome and driving to Agrigento. A brief stop in the town centre to visit the supermarket was followed by the short drive to our campsite, Camping valle dei templi. By now it was pouring with rain and the campsite had no hard standing pitches and very poor drainage. As a result the inside of the motorhome was soon covered in mud as was the tent and most of our belongings. The following morning our guests took the bus to see the temples at Agrigento whilst Joy and I spent over 2 hours trying to clean the mud from everything. We would get to see Agrigento later on our tour as we would be spending 3 weeks on Sicily but we decided there and then we would not be visiting Camping valle dei templi again, the place really was a disgrace!
At lunchtime we met the others at Agrigento and headed for Mount Etna and our new accommodation at Camping Almoetia. On arrival the owner was very welcoming, offering to let us use his compressor to pump up the air mattress and even inviting us to watch the Roma v Inter Milan game later with him and his son. Before that however we needed to get something to eat and we decided to eat out at the local restaurant which had a beautiful beach setting. By the time we returned to the campsite the football match had already started but three of us watched the remainder of the game which Roma won 1-0 with a very late goal.
The weather that greeted us the following morning looked very promising which was good since we were planning to go up Mount Etna. It was a long steep drive to the car park at Refugio Sapienza at an altitude of about 2,000 metres. It was noticeably colder and by the time the group had changed into warmer clothing it was later than I’d hoped. Unsure how long it would take to walk to the top and back down, we decided to get a cable car to 2,500 metres and then a Unimog vehicle to just below 3,000 metres. We were told we could not walk to the summit craters as it was too dangerous but even at this altitude you could see the crater above smoking. We spent about an hour at the top, some of it with a guide who pointed out some features. Taofiq decided to walk back to the cable car station whilst the rest of us took the Unimog. Once back at 2,500 metres we looked around at some of the photographs on the wall and watched a video about the volcano. Taofiq finally joined us and we all headed back down to the car park by cable car before returning to Camping Almoetia.
On Monday morning we left the campsite for the short drive to Taormina which is not the most motorhome friendly place. As a result I dropped the others off and rather than look for a parking space I decided to drive on a couple of miles and pull over to catch up with some admin tasks that needed to be done. Some hours later I drove back to Taormina, collected everyone and headed north to our campsite at Cirucco Village, a couple of miles outside Milazzo. We had a very early start planned for the following day and so Joy booked a taxi to collect us at 6:45am and made arrangements so that we could leave the motorhome in the campsite car park.
Getting up really early and packing away the tent was a struggle but we managed to arrive in Milazzo with time to spare before buying tickets for the Hydrofoil to Stromboli, a 3 hour journey. The ferry visited many of the Aeolian Islands before arriving in Stromboli at just after 10:00am. We were greeted by locals looking to rent rooms and followed a young man who introduced us to his mother who showed us the rooms. The location was perfect and so we booked for one night. It was just a 5 minute walk to the offices of Magmatrek who confirmed our booking and asked us to return at 3:30pm for the start of the hike up Stromboli.
The others used the time to investigate the island whilst Joy and I had a large sandwich and caught up on some sleep. When it was time to meet up again Taofiq was missing and so we left him a note and the key to his room with instructions on how to find Magmatrek. The guides were delaying the start of the walk to allow more time for the weather conditions to improve. They seemed mainly concerned with the wind direction and it looked promising that the summit would be cloud free. Our guide was to be a local who lived in the other town on the island, Ginostra. His name was Mario and our group contained ourselves, some Australians and a large group of young Spaniards. Mario spoke both English and Spanish well. Taofiq was still missing and it was looking like we would be leaving without him when suddenly he arrived, huffing and puffing and with scratches on his legs. It seems the urge to take an early peak at the summit proved too much to resist and he’d lost his path on the way down having to descend through vegetation. When Mario saw the scratched he instantly knew what he’d done but Taofiq tried to bluff his way out of it, claiming it was a football injury.
The walk finally started led by Mario but with help from Fiona who would often overtake our guide, much to his annoyance. Mario explained the history of the island and pointed out things on the path up. Close to the summit we stopped to watch the sunset before continuing to a viewpoint above the active craters. This viewpoint is naturally popular with all the guided groups and as such your time there is limited to about 20 minutes. This was still enough time to see 4 explosions, the red lava looking really dramatic against the now black sky. For the walk down we used our torches, finally arriving back at the office just before 10:00pm. Fiona decided to get an early night as did Taofiq who had plans to get up extra early to catch a ferry to Volcano. The rest of us visited a local bar for a drink before calling it a night.
We had to check out by 10:00am which gave us almost 2 hours to fill before the ferry would leave. Taofiq had indeed left for Volcano and we would have to meet him later when our ferry docked there. Whilst waiting for the ferry Fiona decided to take a dip in the sea and relax on the black volcanic sandy beach. The rest of us had an early lunch……pasta AGAIN!
The ferry trip back to Milazzo was a hot but uneventful one, we managed to collect Taofiq from Volcano. Once back on Sicily Joy and I started walking back to the campsite, leaving the others with the luggage. We hitch-hiked the last part, paid for the campsite and returned to collect the others.
Their return flight had also been brought forward by Easyjet and as a result we decided to drive towards Palermo and find a campsite close to the airport to avoid another really early start. After some problems with the GPS and one way streets we finally arrived at Camping La Playa. The next morning it was just a short drive to the airport where we said goodbye. Joy and I would now have 5 days before another group would fly out to join us. All we needed to decide now was where to spend the time.