Our trip to Sicily, like any good adventure, started early in the morning. Zach and I stumbled out of bed and gathered our bags we had packed the night before. He had an oversized backpack and a duffel. I, following my tradition of packing light, was porting simply a tiny backpack. With our eyes barely opened, we shuffled our way to the Lecce train station, where we met up with Spencer. Within minutes, our first train had arrived, and we headed off to Taranto, a nearby port city. We alternated attempts at sleeping and pointing out cool pieces of graffiti. Before long, we arrived in Taranto and hopped on our train to Catanzaro Lido to head from the heel of the boot to the toe. As we traveled, we watched the landscape slowly change. The flatness that is Salento gave way to hills and the olive orchards were replaced by actual forests.
After many hours, we arrived in Catanzaro and checked the schedule board to see what platform our next train was departing from. It didn’t say and there was a note that read ‘soppresso’, which means, literally, suppressed. Obviously, we were confused, so I decided to go in search of answers. Nearby, I spotted an Italian in casual attire, thoroughly enjoying a popsicle. He seemed like the type of person who could help me, so I asked him. His response was ‘Quello treno, non c’è più’. That means, ‘That train isn’t around anymore’. Being as I was holding a ticket for that train in my hand, I was a little bit confused. Luckily, he had just been taking a break to enjoy his quickly melting popsicle. After he had averted danger of drippage for a little longer he thought to fill me in on another important detail; there was a bus which had replaced the train and it was waiting outside the station.
We hopped on the bus, on the outside of which was advertised air conditioning. After living in Lecce for a month, we’ll go anywhere with a sign that promises air conditioning so we were psyched that it corresponded to our current plan of action. We made our way onto the bus without even having to show our tickets because the driver was lazing around outside smoking. Shortly after we found seats, we realized something awful; air conditioning doesn’t work if the bus isn’t on. Unfortunately, we’re also lazy, so we sat on the bus as it got hotter and hotter and more and more people got on.
We had each claimed a set of two seats so we could spread out and not have to deal with anyone else’s body heat. There were enough people on the bus that people were starting to take empty seats next to strangers. It was at this point that Spencer decided to teach Zach and me a lesson. Each time a new person got on the bus, he pretended to be asleep; not a fitful sleep against the window, but head back, mouth open in the aisle seat. It was unreasonably effective. Although, after a close call, Spencer imparted us with a bit of wisdom, ‘Never open your eyes before the person passes you.’
We all managed to keep our seat-holdings and the bus took off to cross from the east side of the toe to the west. As we drove along, we noticed that there was construction everywhere. Seriously, I saw at least four new overpasses being constructed in a span of ten kilometers. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these things ‘Ndrangheta (Calabria’s very own mafia organization) had their hands in.
The bus ride was uneventful and relatively short and we arrived just in time to catch our last train, straight to Messina. This train ride seemed more or less like the others until we went into a long tunnel. I was afraid, from past experience, that I would end up in New Jersey, but this day I was fortunate. We came out of the tunnel along the side of a mountain. There were trees to our left, and to our right was the Tyrrhenian Sea in all its splendor. The sun was just low enough to light up the water and make it look like a sea of gold. With sunglasses, its beauty was breathtaking. Without, the pain was breathtaking.
As we rode along, Zach napped and Spencer read, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the sea. Then the coast turned and I saw it, Sicily. It was so close that I assumed I was just looking at some peninsula that we had yet to pass. After twenty minutes or so, I was starting to think it was actually Sicily, so I pointed it out to Spencer. He was as impressed and unsure as I was.
As our train started to slow, we could see the straight separating us from our destination, and then the unthinkable happened. The train, oh so slowly, oh so gingerly, eased its way onto a ferry. After our excitement finally subsided a little and we waited another twenty minutes for the train to be secured in the underbelly of the ferry, we ventured onto the deck. The ferry, like most, was pretty impressive, but the view took our collective breath away. On one side of us, we could see Calabria, on the other Sicilia and to the north, the Tyrrhenian. We stood on deck for the entire journey and as we arrived in Messina, descended to the bowels of the ferry and reboarded our train.
Our train pulled off the ferry and, within ten minutes, into Messina Centrale Station. We disembarked and realized just how little preparation we had done for this trip. We had pretty much no idea where we were and absolutely no idea where we were going. Undaunted, we set off into Messina. After a couple of blocks, we encountered a Kebab shop and stopped to sate our raging hunger. After we had inhaled our Kebabs, we asked the lady working there where we could find cheap lodging. She pointed up the street and said that there was a cheap hotel nearby.
We walked a couple blocks and discovered the hotel, and at this point, being both clever and cheap, we decided that we would rent a room for two people and sneak the third person in. Spencer and I went into the hotel while Zach staid on the nearby side street. I asked the man at the desk if we could rent his cheapest room for the night for two people. He thought for a while and checked a register and pulled out a little piece of paper. Instead of telling me the price, he wrote ‘XYZ 80,00’. He then proceeded to cross out the eighty and write ’65,00’. We’re still not exactly sure what this meant. Some sort of secret hotel language? Anyway, the deal was good enough so we accepted readily and headed up to the room. We opened the door and noticed immediately that our room had three beds. It’s almost like he knew. Spencer tried to convince Zach to throw his bag up to our room on the third floor, but it was just not going to happen, so I went out and retrieved his bag. In retrospect, this made our plan really obvious.
To celebrate our arrival in Messina, we decided to go experience the night life. I asked the guy at the front desk where the people were and he gave us some directions to a main square where people gather. So, we headed off and within ten minutes had arrived at Messina’s night life hot spot. It was a big, open piazza in front of the cathedral and an extremely strange clock tower that depicted all sorts of astrological things and had all sorts of moving parts. The piazza was occupied by somewhere between eight and ten people. We searched around, hoping that we were in the wrong place. After a little while, we found a bar, went in ordered beers and asked the bartender where we could find people. His response was something like, ‘People? Well it’s Tuesday…’. We wandered the empty streets of Messina for a while longer, dearly hoping we’d come across the place where everyone was hiding, but we did not.
When we got back to the hotel, we had to figure out a way to sneak Zach in. So, we decided to just be confident. Zach and Spencer headed toward the room and I stopped at the front desk to ask for our key. Before I even said anything, the man at the desk was kind enough to inform us that if we wanted to have a third person stay, we had to pay. It was at this point that I realized that we were renting one of two occupied rooms in the hotel. To avoid any problems, we quickly acquiesced and paid for Zach to stay as well. We then returned to our room and set an alarm for early so we could head to Etna the next day.