Some days take on a different dimension quite suddenly and unexpectedly…
We spent the night at a nice campsite near Valle dei Templi with the usual large family of characterful camping cats we now expect. We woke up to another beautiful day and made a big breakfast of scrambled egg, fried bread and pancetta – washed down with tea of course and lovely Sicilian blood orange juice. Decent fresh juice is the one thing we’ve not had much success with in Italy, but we found a locally produced brand which is wonderful though elusive. Camping cats may have received the extra fat from the pancetta, I can’t possibly comment.
Only a short distance away, driving on down the main coast hugging route we rounded a bend and saw Siculiana on the hillside in front of us. It looked rather inviting so we pulled off and spent an hour or so exploring a charming place just gearing up for its local literary festival which was to start later on in the day. Naturally this reminded us of our home town of Chorleywood which will shortly be putting on its Litfest without us for the first time in four years.
After only a few more kilometres we saw signs for Torre Salsa nature reserve. Horst and Jutta, a German couple we met in Matera had recommended this area and an Agriturismo campsite within it. Having seen their photos we really wanted to see the area for ourselves although we thought it was a bit early in the day to pick Torre Salsa for our next camping stop. We took a turning signed for the nature reserve and kept on driving in following the WWF Panda-logoed signs for ‘mare’. I advised Adrian that this wasn’t the route for the campsite and wasn’t on the map. He decided to keep on going when the road turned into a track and got really rather rough and steep in places. No matter, we’ve been on roads like this before and the views were stunning. We drove through a valley of vines and olive trees and turned off down a track that got increasingly muddy. Rounding a bend and seeing not the sea but a river of mud, it was time to back up and turn around. Trying to turn round by pulling into a very soft and boggy verge wasn’t the best move and we were soon axle deep in mud with the wheels spinning and a nasty clutch smell. We tryed to find debris to provide traction and dug out the wheels as far as possible all to no avail. Here we were, pretty much in the middle of nowhere and ‘wherever the road goes’ wasn’t going anywhere. We are used to getting 2cvs out of mud, having been keen off-roaders in the past. But they are so light and besides there’s usually a gang of friends around to help. A heavily laden VW T25 and just two of you is quite a different matter, especially when it’s your home too.
There was no option but to go for help from the nearest … where? I’d checked out the landscape around the bend and noticed a shepherd herding sheep way up a hill in the distance. There were also houses dotted around on the hill top but were they inhabited? So many buildings in Sicily seem to be abandoned. I stayed with the van while Adrian marched off.
All sorts of thoughts go through your mind when you’re stuck all alone in a mud caked firmly stuck van in a fly invested swampy area. What would happen if no one was home? It was, after all, the middle of a working day. What if no one understood or could help? What if Adrian inadvertantly stumbled across some of the family run businesses that Sicily is known for? How much would it all cost? Was there damage underneath from the van resting on its bed of earth? Was it worth using the fly spray? Thank goodness we’d had a good breakfast!
After around an hour I phoned to see how he was doing. Only to hear his phone ringing in response in the door pocket. Then thunder rumbled ominously and it started raining. Luckily just some light rain, not the deluge it could have been. An hour more and I heard the very pleasant sound of an engine and around the bend came Adrian in a 4×4. Help at last. And considerable amazement that he’d found someone with a 4×4 who could come out at the drop of a VW into a mud puddle.
Once it became obvious that the van wasn’t moving without external assistance, I headed off to try to find somebody – anybody – that could help. As Ellie says – there weren’t a lot of obvious choices. Eventually, I found the shepherd. Small problem – my limited Italian wasn’t exactly a match for his thick accent. I think he suggested I find the patrone somewhere up that-away. Up that-away, I eventually found a very empty house. Hmm. Maybe not that way, then. So what about those houses up there, way up on the ridge? There was the short, straight route – or I could try to find an easier route, one that didn’t involve ravines and cliff faces. Eventually, I scrambled to the top – to find one of the houses I’d seen was only half-built, whilst the other was shut up tightly behind tall electric gates. It sounded like a large and hungry dog was home, but nobody else. Then I spotted a motorhome, with washing on the line, in front of another house just up the lane…
Some broken Italian later, and the nice lady (whose name I completely forgot to ask) told me that her husband would be home shortly, and he’d be delighted to help. But first, would I like a glass of water? Or a coffee? And, at that point, lightning heralded the arrival of rain.
Soon, a Suzuki jeep arrived – and, yes, he’d be happy to help. But first, would I mind helping him unload the car? Ten large cases of wine later, we were off – not towards the main track we’d followed in, but straight across some very dodgy rocky footpaths. Finally, we got to somewhere I sort-of recognised from my wanderings – and found a somewhat less-than-amused looking Ellie, who’d clearly spent the last two hours practising her fiercest Paddington stares.
Wolfi from Germany was in the middle of working on the house he is buildng on the ridge and very kindly came to our rescue. The first attempt failed though. He had a rigid tow pole not a rope and with the angle the van was sitting at in relation to the road, it just wasn’t going to work. More wheel spin. So now what?
Wolfi drove us back up the track over the hills to a chap he thought might be able to help us. But we would have to pay him of course. The chap turned out to be busy working on unloading a truck with his mate and again, they dropped everything and grabbed a tow rope. Back down the rough old road in Wolfi’s car following theirs. The rope was fastened and the van was pulled straight out. Wow. Phew.
How much would they charge though and did we have enough cash on us? Amazingly not only did they totally refuse any sort of payment, but they had to be persuaded to take a couple of bottles of wine as a thank you. Wolfi insisted on accompanying us to the main road to ensure the van made it up the track. It did, and it was a really smooth ride compared to the bouncy ride of the 4×4.
A different kind of a day – from a spectacular drive to a seemingly hopeless situation to wonderful people who were free and happy to help us. Although we really don’t wish for this type of adventure, there is no doubt that they enrich the travelling experience. By the time we were fully rescued, we were really looking forward to getting to the campsite at Torre Salsa after all. We looked back on the events of the day and the lessons learned, and the kindness of people, with a welcome glass in hand overlooking yet another sunset over the sea.