The up-side is that my 4-berth cabin is now a private cabin. Ain't no lady truck drivers in Italy. They're still loading, so i headed up to (where else?) the bar. It's amazing. There is a DJ and disco lights and about 3 truck drivers here. This is already the best bar i have been to in Italy. Beer from the bottle. Seats. Music.
Okay, wait. Dude is not just a DJ. He just started busting out some Billy Joel. He's a piano man. With a cheezy synthesizer and an Italian accent and everything. I guess it's tourist off-season so every song is the saddest song. This is the fucking greatest bar of my life.
Thank God for the Greek-themed gift shop. I got a packet of peanuts and one of those sesame/honey bar things. The lunch buffet was predictably awful, and i skipped breakfast too since it was no different to the sweet pastries of mainland Italy. But with this bag of peanuts, a sesame stick, a beer and the banana and apple i brought onboard with me, i will be just fine.
I was thinking to myself when i wrote yesterday that beans and tomatoes are two of my favorite foods. In the context i meant, i was thinking more of specific ingredients that shine by themselves. What are my other favorites? Definitely peanuts. And corn. Potatoes. Bak choi. Regular cabbage. Cilantro. Sesame seeds. Pumpkin seeds. And - of course - garlic, ginger and chili. All stuff that is amazing pretty much exactly how it comes out of the ground.
I love to watch Top Chef - a TV cooking competition - and in particular the challenges where they restrict the ingredient list. Of course, since the contestants are professional cooks, they always pick salt and a fat (either butter or olive oil), but it's interesting to see what else they find indispensible. Aside from garlic/ginger/chili, i find it very hard to cook without peanut oil, sesame oil and dark soy sauce. Plus olive oil and balsamic for uncooked food like salad and pickles. That's like the most minimal kitchen i could have and still make food that makes me happy. I wonder what everyone else's desert island list is?
Jesus this town is a chaotic mess. But in a good way. Tiny alleyways. Little-to-no signage. Noone speaks English. There's no ritual at the coffee shops, just whatever goes whoever goes. But the food, oh, the food! Within two hours of dropping my bag i had eaten at three different joints and everything was delicious. There is some kind of amazing deep-fried rice ball with various fillings i had to try. And a toasted sandwich no different to the ones on the mainland except there were tons of vege options. And i dropped into a random hipster bar in some dark alleyway where i got a plate with my drink and a massive buffet was laid out with all kinds of vege and meat dishes. Not a pasta, pizza or panini or in sight. Green beans, bruschetta, potatoes, couscous, gnocchi, ragout, eggplant, zucchini, zomg. And i wasn't even looking to eat anything, it was just right there. I passed a half dozen other places i wanted to try on the way back.
Those alleyways, though. Bro. I need to adjust my habit of walking down every dark alley just in case there is a photo op. There is plenty of cool graffiti, but these alleys are rough. There's probably nothing to be afraid of, but it is a bit disconcerting to have kids throw bottles at you, or be greeted by a huge off-leash mutt gnawing on a giant bone. This isn't the Disneyland oldtown of Venice, or Florence, or Vienna, or Prague, where the worst thing you're going to encounter down a dark alley is another gaggle of tourists. This is a real city where you need to keep your wits about you. Oop.
But fuck, it is an awesome city. Every building is amazing. Every alley is amazing. There is graffiti everywhere. Market stalls all over the joint. People hustling on every corner. Palm trees. Mountains. Ocean. It's the most beautiful city i have seen since starting this journey. The most multicultural. The most interesting. The best food. It's challenging to navigate, but so worth it. I booked another day immediately.
Anyway, this morning i finally found the bus to Agrigento with about a minute to spare. Yes, i was caught up in the chaos, but i eventually found it and now i am zooming through highrises clinging to the cliffs. This is fucking awesome. Northern Italy felt very uptight to me. This feels like a mad hatter's tea party by comparison. It reminds me of Istanbul - up until now the most interesting (though not the most relaxing) place i visited in Europe. When i was in Istanbul i felt like i was catching a glimpse of the future of Europe. That's what it feels like here too.
This drive is incredible. I want to look out the windows but i need to make notes so i won't forget it. So, so many abandoned buildings and crumbling bridges. The weirdest thing - unfinished highrises with no windows or stucco and then one occupied unit with windows and everything in the middle. Stunning landscape. Craggy peaks tearing up from meadows of wildflowers - three shades of yellow, blood red and rich violet. Scattered olive trees and palms and cactuses and neat rows of what look like oranges. Solar farms and wind farms next to buildings that could be hundreds of years old. Now i feel like i'm in the land of antiquity. I can see the Sicilians of old eking out a living up here, trading first with the Phoenicians, then the Greeks, the Romans, then who knows? This valley feels old and hard and real.
This drive also has the most ridiculous stretch of road i have ever traveled. 45 minutes of utter stupidity. Here the bridge is built but there are no on-ramps or off-ramps. There traffic in both directions is detoured onto the single-lane frontage road. There we have to do a full S-turn off the highway, over the highway, back onto the highway on the other side. Now there is a couple hundred meters of dual carriageway, but only one side has pavement. Now we are back on the old road and there are concrete pilings right there ready to build a viaduct but no fucking viaduct. Chicane onto this lane. Chicane back to the other lane. Cars coming straight for us. One way traffic light. I don't think you could plan a more complex way to go ~30km through a relatively straight valley if you tried.
Yes, i am finally in Italy. The Med is off the edge of a cliff in the distance. Mopeds are zooming by. There is a guy with mirror shades and a loud shirt and spotless white pants. I think he might be Howard Jones. At a bar with a huge bowl of couscous, fresh mozzarella, cabbage, mortadella and soppressata that came - unrequested yet complimentary - with one simple drink. The sun is beating down and i am listening to slow, sweaty dance music in a language i can't understand.
Well, fuck. I lined up and spent money to see a tourist site. Who does that? Oh, wait, tourists. Like me. The Valley of the Temples is epic. I think the drive back will be too. I wish i had just come here in the first place. Sicily is so great.
No pictures for now, because the internet here is abysmal.