He’s now on Sicily and desperately looking for a route to Africa. In part 23 of the series, Pavel is in the mafia city of Palermo.
In the morning my first steps in Palermo led me into the maze of small streets with a plethora of shops where bicycles were sold and repaired. It was by far nothing like the luxury bike shops in the north of Italy, where I studied Italian carbon gems. Bikes here in Palermo were from ordinary steel, just transportation.
I fixed my broken nipple and trued the rear wheel. There were many bike shops, but, with all due respect, I did it myself. And I began to explore the city. I was absolutely fascinated by the huge palatial buildings on every corner and once again, the city reminded me of Buenos Aires.
I also noticed several squares and streets that were not really markets, but stuff was being sold there. In one corner a man stood with bicycles. His shop was very mobile. If need be, one could blink and he was not there.
The main library building was absolutely amazing. After I passed all the controls and metal detectors- yes metal detectors in a library- filled out all the necessary bureaucracy and got a safe place for my bike, they told me that they actually do not have computers. And the local library closed for the afternoon. Typical. Interestingly, you had to put your stuff in coded boxes. Would people really steal books? Sad.
No one goes swimming in Palermo
After lunch, I thought that it would be very symbolic to go swimming directly in Palermo. In the city centre I noticed one street ending with in a deep blue – it led directly to the sea. I wish I had a street like that in my city. I rode down this street to the water and saw an interesting structure- Nautoscopio. The architect Giuseppe Amato designed this construction, and you have probably never seen anything like it.
At this venue, they organize concerts and events. The operator Tiziano DiCara was very friendly, but warned me: “No one goes swimming here in Palermo! If you want swim, go to Mondello, where there is a nice clean beach.” But I have been to Mondello the day before and I just wanted to swim in Palermo. My decision was so shocking to Tiziano that he filmed my action on his phone and put it on the web as a manifestation to clean the beaches of Palermo.
For Palermitians, the city beach is dirty and destroyed. As Tiziano said, they should take the example of Barcelona, where the city beaches were cleaned up and became chic place to relax for city dwellers. However, for someone who comes from a city in the centre of Europe, hundreds of miles from the nearest sea or ocean, to have blue salt water near the city, even though dirty, is something absolutely amazing. What I would do to have ten kilometres of beaches in Brno as does Palermo!
Near the port I noticed a memorial to the victims of the fight with the Mafia. Life there was not and is not easy.
Due to my city explorations I left Palermo quite late. The ferry to Africa from Trapani was going the next morning, but I still wanted to see the city of Marsala, which this year hosted the kitesurfing World Cup. To make-up time, I got a lift on delivery truck with some bricklayers. But these did not look that they owned carbon fibre bicycles with price tags of eight thousand euros. Actually, they were amazed that the SCOTT I was on had a tag of two thousand euros. “So much for just a bike?”
Near the coast, I stopped for water at a truck workshop, and when I saw a vice and a drill, I asked if I could drill my shoes again. Yes, they had undergone their first drilling in Slovenia, but in Sicily the heat was so awful that I wanted to give them one more beating. Of course all to the great amusement of the watching mechanics.
Combining some lifts and then pedalling an annoying hill I made it into a town of Saleme in the countryside. On the map it looked like a small village in the mountains, but when I cycled on the large highway overpasses, I couldn’t understand where they came from. And then I understood. Earlier, people told me that construction companies linked to the mafia often forced big building contracts and poured concrete in otherwise beautiful countryside. Yes, in Sicily, sometimes you do see elaborate overpasses, bridges and bypasses in totally incomprehensible places in the middle of the countryside.
Perhaps of a similar origin was the road on which I decided to go down to the city of Marsala. Single carriageway, but very wide and gradual, this was a road of the type of long-distance highways. For my part, it was somewhat irresponsible of me to take this one long after the sunset- with no lights. The road was much longer than I thought and in no time the whole landscape sank into total darkness. Fortunately, the middle line gave me guidance and there were no cars. The catch, however, was that there were no villages to find a bed. When I finally saw a light, it was just some sort of a factory.
After almost forty kilometres the first village appeared on the horizon, but I had no luck finding a bed there- there was no accommodation. Elsewhere on my trip, I often found houses, rooms or caravans that could be rented. But here, no one was interested. At that point, I would even pay for spending the night on a terrace or in the garden. I was so tired that I did not need a bed. I would be OK just in the relative security within the walls of houses – all had great walls around them just as in Arab countries. When I saw people sitting outside their houses, I asked. Their response was always something like this: “Sorry, not here, but definitely next door. Go ask there.” It was so frustrating, but I made it into a sociological study. I asked about ten houses and they always sent me to the neighbours. It was midnight when I found salvation at the fire station. “Are sure that you want to risk that if there is a fire, we will wake you up at three in the morning?” “Yeah, I’ll take my chances!” The firefighters went to sleep in their rooms and opened a closet with a fold out bed – in the control room. That night, I was a fire dispatcher.