Issue-free Month in Sicily / Wwoofing, Hiking and Celebrating
Imagine one day you have a few hundred bucks in your pocket, no job, no permanent home, no plan for the future. What you have is time and drive. It happened to me and it is the most rewarding experience – setting myself on an adventure that developed into one organically.
Quick and sometimes reckless decision-making led me into travelling to Sicily, an island belonging to Italy, to spend a month as a Wwoofer. It is the third time I am using WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms) and all of the three, vastly different experiences have somehow changed my world and shifted my perspective. The simplified idea of this platform is exchanging work for bed and food. Indeed, it is much much more – when you are based in a farm somewhere in French Alps or on the rolling hills of Toscana, this idyllic remote home (call it a farm) filled with like-minded, nature-loving people (hippies in the soul) is an actual retreat center helping you to escape from all your daily issues.
photos and text by INDRE KLYVYTE
To begin with, my trip was built around the fact that I purchased a ticket to Mondo Sounds festival in San Vito lo Capo at the end of June. I encountered an ad on social media about one of my favourite Argentinian bands playing at this festival, where southern world music is united. Electronic cumbia (folktronic) and West African music performed on a seaside in one marvellous coastal town of Sicily, San Vito lo Capo. I knew I have to be there, on that wonderful beach, dancing my soul out surrounded by hot (driven) people. Again, quick decision – I got a ticket. The flight tickets were way overpriced though, it only seemed logical to merge my trip with Wwoofing and prolonging my journey this way.
La Casa delle Acque and expanding non-discriminating mind
After a few emails forth and back I chose a farm called Le Casa delle Acque, which is situated in Simeto Valley on the foothills of Etna, not far away from Catania. On my research, I discovered it was not only orange, pomegranate, olive, almond, lemon and avocado farm but also, initially, it was supposed to be a meditation centre. The owner Nirav (it is an Indian name meaning Calm, original Italian name is unknown to me) has travelled extensively in his youth, he spent many years in India where he was following a guru called Osho. After a lifetime journey, he returned to his homeland, bought an abandoned villa and renovated it but soon realized that this land had loads of potential for fruit production. Now the farm is following natural rhythms where the moon dictates the work. The spiritual atmosphere is in each step of the House of the Waters (this is the translation of the farm’s name) and a simple approach of let it be is adopted. Creating biodiversity and a full ecosystem is important regardless of maximizing output. Most of the daily jobs included some sort of weeding the garden, planting, harvesting and preserving if there's an excess of fruit. However, most of the afternoons were extremely lazy, after big lunch and a glass of wine, the heat made us sleepy and inactive. Overall, I found this house quite mystical and Nirav, a man full of secrets.
From what I have learned Wwoofing is not all about agriculture – it is more about learning philosophy. Especially nowadays when the majority of people are less spiritual, observant and aware. Technology, social media and globalization, while offering many positive traits, also leads to society disconnected from nature but also a society which believes in happiness attained through luxurious lifestyle. Constantly comparing ourselves to others and wanting more, we started to value material and unnecessary things while the following short-term, unsustainable happiness only leads to further sadness.
4 day hike around Etna
At this point, I was ready for the next adventure – hiking around Etna, the most active volcano in Europe. My wwoofer girl-friends joined me and we set ourselves out for a 4-day adventure around the mount. We did a quick research and learnt that we need to be self-sufficient with water and food for all of the trip. Our plans changed before leaving – we had to start one day earlier than planned so within an hour we packed our backpacks with food we found at the house – avocadoes, lemons, zucchini, vegemite (a yeast spread I started to appreciate when I had nothing else to eat), oats for breakfast, prunes and ... dried chilli. Strange at it may seem, the chilli had a profound effect on us, I will tell more about it later. Carrying water is always an issue – it is heavy and we drink a lot when it’s +35 and the sun is sizzling. Of course, we underestimated the quantities, but – hey - it would not be an adventure if everything went according to our plan. We knew that we would spend nights at rifugio, shelters located close to the main hiking trail. They are little lava stone houses built there to welcome fellow passengers, all of them have fireplaces inside, a table and a few benches for sleeping. They are essential when the weather isn’t promising good. Also, in each rifugio there is a possibility of finding some goods – we found some vegetables and wine left behind by the past hikers. I also gave each of us chilli, which we ate without blinking. The heat it provides is basically a saver and it does fuel one with more determination! Eye-opening food, highly recommend to snack on it occasionally. On top of chilli, we had a whole lemon (skin on, as fresh local lemon’s skin taste sweet) and avocado. What a nutrition!
The Following day we hitchhiked to the beginning of the national park, sweating and tired; we chose to stay there overnight rather than getting back on the trail. After a few moments, we found a lovely picnic spot under an old cherry tree, there were a grill and a table too. We got exhilarated – set up a fire, grilled the zucchini and had more avocadoes. Sleeping under the stars with extra spiders on the ground proved to be more comfortable than on a cold bench in a rifugio. As the next day approached, fueled with one more chilli we decided to cut corners and hike through a forest. Disclaimer – never lose the original track unless you know what you are doing. Our backpacks were heavy and we literally had to climb through some variety of thorn weeds. After appreciating the panoramic view, both of us were crying and laughing about this decision – we had to come back on the main track, even after losing a few hours we felt we finally made a good choice. This kind of situations tests whether two are suited to travelling together well. Afterwards, we felt synergetic and confidently headed to the rifugio at Grotta della Palombe. It is a charming place, it seems to be employed for some sort of events – there was a little house too. We chose to sleep on the ground again as the rifugio was a bit scary, again the night was spooky on the mountain and the sleep quite painful. The fourth day greeted us with last bits of salted overnight oats and chilly wind. Steph agreed to finish our trip today, as we almost finished a full hike around Etna. Although we wanted to stay for one more night and climb higher, my shoes were splitting apart and the only food we had was 3 avocadoes, 4 chili, 2 lemons and a bit of Vegemite. We finished the hike at rifugio Brunek and begun our trip back to the farm. It took us 10 cars in total to reach home and on our way, we stopped by the sea.
Fortunate trip to San Vito lo Capo
A couple of days later my stay at La Casa delle Acque ended. The celebration weekend was ahead of me and I also convinced both wwoofers Steph and Eva to join. Again, we tried our luck and departed without knowing how we would reach the other side of the island and where we would sleep. Myself being in charge of organising everything I was assured one more adventure is ahead. I asked Nirav to drive us to the main road and we started hitchhiking. It didn't take us long until one car stopped and asked about our journey. San Vito lo Capo is 500km away from Paterno and it's not a usual destination on that road, we hoped to get to Palermo first, which is the biggest city on West coast. Fortunately, the driver asked us to jump in! The Italian driver was apparently meeting an Uruguayan friend with whom he has a plant business in Uruguay. I was captured by those words, but to my surprise, it was simply buying exotic plants and shipping them worldwide, nothing too exclusive. Our man proposed us to stop in Bagharia, a small town on our way where he was supposed to meet another friend. Popular man. We got there and went straight to a grand villa where a movie about mafia was being shot. His friend, an organizer, showed us around - we got to see all of the crew and inside of the villa. The movie will be out next year, however, the name remains a secret. At that point, we were so excited about this journey already - nothing planned yet so successful.
When we reached Palermo and met up with Uruguayan friend, we learnt that he has no plan for the weekend and offered to drive us all the way to San Vito lo Capo! Unbelievable kindness. Marvellous views continued all the way to Mondo sounds festival. After a quick dip inside the sea, we went straight to one of the stages where Benin International Musical was soon to perform. At that moment I felt this festival was a cherry on top of the cake. We sat there waiting and in the meantime met some other travellers from Argentina, Mexico and Portugal. Argentinian friends were carrying some music instruments and the other couple had a portable stand with handmade jewelry. My attention was captured by macramé technique bracelets, I chose a butterfly for myself. It meant a new beginning to me after a difficult metamorphosis. I felt so much good energy flowing so we spent the whole night with travellers. After dancing (or trancing) nonstop for a few hours our little party moved to the beach. Nights at the end of June remain quite warm and swimming under the moon is an experience not to be missed. Wonderful first night at the festival and the second started well too. That was indeed a blast! Everyone at the festival shared this exotic international vibe. DJs set was followed by Chancha Via Circuito and La Yegros concerts on another stage. As I had been twice in Chancha Via Circuito concert I felt already as if I knew their performance while listening to live La Yegros moved me a lot. Amazing energy and powerful songs. Check them out!
In Catania, we met up with a friend who offered as a couch in his old impressive Sicilian flat with one of those libraries where men gathered to gamble and smoke cigars. Last night in Sicily happened to be so beautiful, the next morning I was sobbing on my way to the airport. This island touched me and I spent only a month there. At the same time, leaving the scepticism out added to a positive impression. I've no doubt that once we are open and sharing good vibes, willing people are attracted and the rest develops in a positive direction. Change from being sceptical to believe helped me a lot, don't consider yourself naive if you wish for brilliant things to happen. Adventurous travelling without a precise plan is enjoyable once you sign up for both success and failure when you lower the expectations but wish for the good and stay present. There is no answer how to do it, a constant effort to feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations should be made.