We took two trips this morning, both of us pushing one bike at a time up the steep and very slick winding road we'd descended last night to arrive at our seaside free-camp. The climbing didn't end there; we spent the entire morning slogging up crumbling rural roads on our trek to Sicily.
Thankfully we'd mentally prepared ourselves for a mountainous ride after seeing loads of switchbacks looming ahead on the GPS last night. It was slow going but we dropped into our lowest gears and enjoyed the scenery without working too hard.
The terrain reminded us both of England. When we passed our first herd of sheep we couldn't help but think that maybe we'd magically looped back into Northumberland somehow. In any case, we were definitely in the middle of nowhere—dilapidated abandoned houses, shacks guarded by barking dogs and roosters crowing in peasants' front yards dotted the roadsides for most of the morning.
Arriving in our first village of the day, we stopped at an alimentari (grocery store) and were greeted by a middle-aged woman and her elderly mother watching a talk show on a tiny TV with horrible reception. The daughter smiled and got up to help us with our groceries, which were on shelves behind the counter, and lining every wall of the one room shop. We picked out some local pecorino cheese, ten slices of salami (hacked into pieces by a very, very dull meat slicer, which we thought probably hadn't been sharpened in 40 years), and a huge loaf of chewy, yeasty bread that was still warm on the inside.
Cycling on, we passed a church in the middle of a mid-day service. Looking through the open chapel doors we could see the place was packed with people; we enjoyed their singing as we biked ever upwards. Two people stopped to talk to us throughout the morning. When they did I made a startling realization—I could carry on a simple conversation in Italian!
We met Francesco, a very outgoing man who pulled a u-turn and parked in the ditch to say hello, exclaiming "I LOVE America!!" and proudly showing us his t-shirt with the American flag on it. On our way to our routine daily coffee shop break we met a somber but friendly man named Pino who was truly in awe of our adventure.
A lot of people we've spoken to have said that southern Italy is not the nicest place to go. Granted it is poorer than the places we've been so far, and some towns we pass through give me the creeps, but all in all, we really enjoy it! The run down villages are relaxing and we've found, as expected, that most people are very friendly—just like everywhere else. Everyone here makes cautionary eyes when we say we're headed to Sicily. Nobody likes their neighbors, I guess! :-)
Finally after 500 meters of climbing, we were relieved to finally reach the top. As we coasted downwards, returning to civilization, we stopped at the first coffee bar we saw for our daily "sit down" to relax, write and work and even get online with their free internet access. We are amazed at how many bars and coffee shops here have free wireless internet, even in some very small towns. In France, the ONLY place that provided it was McDonalds, but we much prefer the small town coffee shops for our daily cappuccinos.
Unfortunately the towns we rode through after our rest break were a little unsavory for my tastes, and I'm pretty sure all the good free-camping spots were already taken! We passed a veritable village haphazardly constructed under a bridge, including a couple of caravans, some scrap metal shelters, and even a pen of sheep!
We decided it would be best to take a road to the coast where it would be quieter and hopefully less inhabited. Sure enough, the seaside in the off-season never fails to provide us with a quiet, comfortable, picturesque home for the night. We watched the sun set as Tyler set up camp and I cooked a yummy garlic pasta dish.