Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my new blog. My name is Steve and i am the lucky owner of a John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. I built her over three years with the help of my father, father-in-law and two children. She was launched in August 2007 at Queen Anne's battery marina in the barbican area of Plymouth. This blog is a record of our voyages together around SW England.
Arwen has a YouTube channel of her own. Search "plymouthwelshboy".

Sunday, 25 September 2016

the higher you go the more 'icy' it can get...........

The Riserva Naturale Macalube di Aragona proved elusive on the first attempt to find it. It remained stubbornly so on the second, third and fourth attempts and after an hour driving back and forth along the same stretch of road looking for the turning, we abandoned the idea. Sad really, for it contains one metre high mud volcanoes rising out of barren cracked mud flats. Caused by sedimentary volcanism, pressurized gases, such as methane cause soils and mud to liquefy sufficiently to cause mini volcanic like eruptions and the build-up of these cones and as a bees to the honey pot! I had to go!

Sadly, we found out from our lovely hostess, Antonella, that last year, one of them exploded unexpectedly killing two young boys and Antonella surmised that the Riserva may have been closed indefinitely. We only found one sign for it and suspect several had been removed as a consequence of this terribly sad and tragic disaster. 

So a change of plans was called for and on the recommendation of Antonella we headed for the historical hilltop town of Sant Angelo Muxaro, famed for its one hundred or so cliff face tombs dating from almost one thousand years BC. Many of the artefacts uncovered at probably one of Italy's most famous  archaeological sites have been scattered to museums across Italy and even The British Museum, which we were somewhat aghast to discover when visiting the town's own small but excellent little museum.  Anyway, I, as SWMBO has sternly pointed out several times over the course of this day, decided it would be fun to go there via the mountain route and the high mountain town of Casteltermini.

Well, on reflection, it was probably, in hindsight, a little "ambitious". The road just climbed and climbed and climbed. I mean who was to know Sicily had so many mountains in its interior? !!

It switch backed continuously into nowhere. Near vertical, precipitous slopes ran down to the roadside. Large boulders had collected behind small retaining walls, evidence of previous rock falls and landslides. Even in these remote mountains there was confirmation of rural practice; abandoned shepherds huts, small plots of vines or olive trees and the stubble of cereal crops. Vistas would open around the next hairpin bend to show hidden valleys cut off from the rest of civilisation.

And we climbed, never getting out of third gear and for substantial periods of time, never getting out of second. Gut wrenching vertical falls into valleys below on every outside bend. Thank God that we were heading west and so drove on the right against the hillsides. As we peaked over one Coll we were surprised to see hectares of solar panels. It seemed so incongruous that a modern human invention should reach such a splendidly remote place.

But then it went horribly wrong. 
After entering San Baglio into the satnav, said technology decided to go off route unbeknown to us. We religiously followed its directions along the tiny road, which narrowed and narrowed. Gradually weeds began to encroach further and further into the road. This was a road rarely driven along but the satnav kept insisting this was the way and who were we to argue!  

In places the road surface was so badly damaged that large potholes several inches deep fanned out across the road. Subsidence left huge ridges in the road ready to ground the unwary. These we negotiated in first gear at only 2mph. And yet still we carried on!

On the plus side the scenery was stunning! Tarmac gave way to gravel and gravel back to Tarmac. Several large potholes combining with severe subsidence had us pulling up and surveying the scene to work out how best to traverse across what was left of the road.

And then, after a long steep descent along a lane now only just over a car width wide, the road stopped. Literally, it stopped! Ahead , at the end of a forlorn strip of cracked tarmac were just trees and bushes. It was as if they had run out of Tarmac, money and persistence and decided that was as far as the road needed to go.

At this point satnav threw a hissy and informed us to go back one kilometre and take the gravel track on our right. We had travelled ten kilometres from Casteltermini and had reached the end of known civilisation on Sicily!

Of course, I was to blame. It was my satnav. I'd bought the map. I'd chosen the route. I had insisted we follow the satnav. It was clearly my fault.

My missus is not one to moan and groan, so when she told it me only twice, I knew I was in deep trouble. Worst still she needed the loo and 'would not suffer the indignity of bushes so I'd better get back to civilisation quickly!' I felt it would be a life threatening situation for me to point out we were stuck down a lane with no turning points in the middle of the wilderness and that we would have to reverse one kilometre back up a hill in a small one litre engined car! 
So instead I just did it. I'm brave......but not that brave!

If you have never reversed over deep potholes, in a narrow lane with a subsiding road with a steep inclination........don't bother! It isn't the fun its hyped up to be!!

On our return to Casteltermini, satnav stopped sulking again and took us the correct way for the next thirty kilometres. It was uphill again, of course, lots of switch backs and lots of silence from the passenger seat. Stunning scenery was not working its charm. When San Angelo Muxaro hove into view, I didn't need the air conditioning. It became decidedly icy in the car.

Oh dear Lord!
That small town clung to a vertical 300m high cliff. If you leaned out of your window, that would have been it. You had to crane your neck and lean right forward to see its upper most part out of the front windscreen. And the road up? I have no idea how they built it or carved it out of that rock face. Switch back after switchback up we went. And as we climbed, the temperature in the car became decidedly frosty.....and it wasn't the air conditioning!

In reality it was much less worse than it first looked. Slow but steady won the day. The rewards at the top were, of course, immense. A stunning little town square and tremendous views across much of Sicily's interior; a small but amazingly interesting archaeological museum exhibiting the pottery found from the tombs below in the rock face. And, I am very relived to say, a toilet in the museum. Phew! 

You can visit the tombs in the cliff  side but we decided against it. We had pushed our luck all morning and frankly we yearned for flat land and the sea. Coming from me, an ex-mountaineer, well it sort of gives an idea of the state we were in. Had we approached from the south then we would have spent much of the day exploring the tombs. There is a cliff walk linking many.  The tombs are built in a mixture of gypsum and limestone. It is classic karst scenery. The artefacts recovered range from stunning gold bowls and rings to amphorae, basins, jewellery and nails and axe heads. All dating from around 1000BC down to 400BC.....the time of the Cretans! King Minos. Its Greek myth, legend and history. What's not to like or enjoy. Approach from the south if you go. The rewards are great!

We spent the late afternoon and evening after our mountain ordeal in Siculiana Marina, a pretty little Marina village with some great sandy beaches. We found a beach front ristorante and dined on salmon filled ravioli. Quite delicious. We even found a stretch of golden sandy beach to ourselves. We sat back against the promenade wall, read books, paddled across the reef in front and went for a swim in the reef gullys that were lined with sand. The water was gin clear and shone aqua marine, Mediterranean turquoise green, as it should. A breeze lowered the temperature to a lovely 29C. Little Miss Frosty thawed, bless her and it was wonderful! And yes, we finished the day having another doorstep picnic back at our agriturismo lodgings. All's well that ends well. Phew, for a few times today it had been touch and go!

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