We took it slowly this morning, making crepes for the first time in what felt like ages. When we set out, we were hoping against hope for a flat day but of course, it was anything but! Like yesterday, the ride began with a long, slow, 500 meter climb. Litter-strewn yards and dilapidated houses (each with a barking guard dog or two, held at bay by makeshift fences, some of which were made out of rusted box springs) gave way to woods and quieter rural areas the further we ascended. The air was filled with one of my favorite smells—woodsmoke combined with the earthy scent of damp fallen leaves.
I was feeling very "autumny" as we rode past crimson leaved grape vines and the spikey hulls of fallen chestnuts. When we saw a particularly menacing cloud front moving in, Tyler ran to find cover and I put a bag over our sleeping mats before running to join him. Despite the rain, drivers sped by as fast as ever, with the notable exception of a man on a tractor, slowly trundling up the hill holding an umbrella in front of him to deter the pelting raindrops. Cars backed up in a long line behind him, their drivers sighing and honking impatiently.
After two hours of climbing, we reached the top. What lay there was unlike anything either of us has ever seen. The skies turned abruptly from normal cloud cover to thick, billowy plumes creating a white, all-consuming wall of fog (our attempts at photographing the phenomenon failed completely). We took a moment to rest and watch in awe at fast moving, impenetrable whiteness blowing by just inches from our faces. Feeling like we were entering some sort of new world like we had back in Kandersteg, we coasted down into the mist.
The mist cleared as abruptly as it began as we slowly approached the towns below. In steep, terraced villages, children walked home from school for their lunch breaks, and tiny toothless grannies wearing black skirts and kerchiefs hung clothes to dry out their windows as we zipped effortlessly down towards the sea. Finally at the bottom, we were left with 20 kilometers of hilly coastline to traverse before reaching the town of Villa San Giovanni for our ferry to Sicily.
As we rode, we unabashedly sang "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" along with several other Disney songs as loudly as we could, cracking up when we were passed by a very serious looking racing cyclist. In the town of Scilla (a very lovely town, unlike most we've ridden through lately, and the home of the mythological sea monster, Scylla) I stopped to take photos and was shamelessly hit on by a couple of high school guys on their lunch break. When they realized I couldn't understand (read: wouldn't acknowledge) their come-ons, they changed to English and started singing "I love you baby" and blowing kisses at me before speeding off on their scooter, making some… interesting… hand gestures. Charming.
Finally we made it to Villa San Giovanni and followed signs towards the ferry port. Tickets to Sicily were 1.50 per person and we were the first in line to board the ship. Quickly wheeling in when the boat arrived, we bungeed our bikes to the inside and made our way upstairs to sit outside and enjoy the views. Even though we travel to a new place every day, we were excited as the boat began to move—time to go somewhere new! No going back! No return trip!
After a startlingly short ferry ride, we docked unceremoniously in the busy city of Messina. Like in Rome, traffic was a complete gridlock of mayhem as people parked their cars in the middle of the road and scooters wove their way through every tiny opening. All in all, it felt exactly the same as it had on mainland Italy, only busier and noisier. After a quick search for a free-camp or campsite in this bustling city, we gave up and looked for a hotel instead.
Now we're settled in at the Hotel Touring, drinking the bottle of Sicilian wine that Loredana and Massimo gave us, and planning our route around the island. We're excited about seeing the active volcano, Mt. Etna, and making our way around the coast to Palermo. From there we hop a ferry to Tunisia!
Before we found a hotel, we found this skinny, friendly stray cat and fed him: