Süsk was one of the first bloggers I really connected with back when I started blogging, and she quickly became one of my favorites. On her blog, she shares the adventures of country-hopping with her husband, the adorably nicknamed Banoo, documenting their life in France, then England, then Finland, before landing back in Paris last year. She also has a wicked sense of humor, is a talented designer, and is just all around cool. I had the pleasure of hanging out with them while living in Paris last spring, but two years before that, she wrote this guest-post for me while Jamal and I were on vacation in Belgium. Seeing as we’re on vacation in Italy now, her post seemed only too appropriate to re-share. Enjoy!
As I sit here with a scarf coiled around my head on a windy, grey Monday morning in London, Sicily seems a lifetime away. Hunched over my computer in two dressing gowns (truth!) and going through hundreds of photos on my hard drive of a tanned, glowing me romping in the nature of Italy’s Southern island, I am reminded just how wonderful a holiday can be. Throw in a few near-death experiences and Mafia run-ins, and you’re talking superawesome holiday times.
In 2009 Banoo and I headed to Sicily for our honeymoon. We avoided the tourist-y Northwestern coast and instead opted for a city clinging to the edge of a volcano named Taormina. From here we rented what was possibly the most ill-suited car ever for the 90 degree inclines that scaled the volcanic crag and masqueraded as roads, and headed out to explore this island that tectonic activity had thrust out of the sea thousands of years ago.
Or at least we tried to.
Even slamming your foot to the floor the acceleration of our rental car had about the same velocity as a heavily-laden mobility scooter. Prune-faced, 100 year-old grannies were passing us on rusty bicycles up the weaving roads. We were honked at constantly and had a few near-collisions as impatient Italian drivers angrily wove around us on hairpin turns, while I frantically tried to signal out the window to them that it wasn’t us, it was the car– which probably resembled me having a seizure at them. Useless vehicle. It was a Nissan Qubo in case you’re curious. And it looked like a cardboard box on wheels the size of buttons. On a baby’s shirt.
Needless to say, we decided to try and drive it off the nearest cliff.
Banoo had seen a secret sub-island connected by a steep rocky path on a postcard in a gift shop, and we decided this had to be seen. Alarm bells should have rang when we began to see the traffic slow to an occasional Range Rover or 4×4 passing us on the way back, and we really should have been concerned when the super-suspension Jeeps became the only other traffic we passed, and yet we pushed the ridiculous egg carton-on-wheels further up the dirt path that was becoming increasingly steep. As we broke the crest of the cliff (minuscule wheels skittering to find hold on the loose-rock path, gearbox screaming and giving off the acrid scent of burning car bits), I was horrified to look down and see the blue sea and jagged rocks of the coast 50 meters below us. Mountain goats perched on the cliff’s edge eyed us warily, and Banoo, safe on his side of the car, and without my view, happily pushed the designed-for-tootling-around-
Later that day driving back towards our hotel (a gentle smoke cloud billowing from the hood) we decided to try another way home. I’ll never forget us ending up in a ghost town of abandoned, half-demolished houses nestled in the hills, and driving down a dried-up riverbed (mind you, still in this tiny commuter car that probably wasn’t designed to handle more than a few speed bumps on the daily school run). We emerged in a dense jungle that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Jurassic Park. Hopelessly lost, up a creek (literally), and not knowing how to get back to the cooshy comfort of our 4-star hotel, we drove up a leafy path in an attempt to find somewhere to turn around, and right into a Mafia meeting. Deep in the forest, five men in head-to-toe black were huddled around the back of a car, its trunk popped open. My heart froze as one by one, their heads slowly lifted to gaze at us- two tourists in a softly whimpering Japanese rental car, 100km from anywhere, and now, a witnesses to their clandestine activities. This was it, I knew. We weren’t going back to the hotel, we weren’t going to drive the Qubo up any more cliffs…we were going to be sleeping with the fishes, getting offers we couldn’t refuse, and every other Mafia stereotype death that has ever occurred in any film, ever.
Banoo quietly put the car in reverse as we tried to inch our way nonchalantly back down the narrow path without making eye contact. Slowly, an older gentleman made his way to our car. My heart beating with nerves, I rolled down the window as he came near. He leaned his arm on the doorframe and spoke in slow, Brando-esque Italian to Banoo. With neither of us speaking a word of Italian, we both gormlessly smiled and looked blankly back at him. I showed the man the map of Sicily clutched clammily in my hands and pointed to Taormina, where we were hopefully headed. He laughed a long, gravelly laugh and pointed to an area on the other side of the island, then pointed to his feet, hoarsely chuckling the whole time. He said a few words more to us and took a step back from the car window. We froze, as in slow motion he reached from his side, into the car window, and pinched my cheek between his first and second fingers and gave a playful tug. He then turned to walk slowly back to the parked car, where his associates stood watching. This was our chance. Banoo floored it and we flew (well, as much as a seriously mistreated Nissan Qubo can) backwards down the path and into a clearing where we quickly turned around and rocketed back down the dried-up river bed and back to, hopefully, society.
The rest of our trip was filled with eating fantastic, fresh food, drinking Sicilian lemonade and enjoying the nature and people of Sicily. We ordered far too much room service, got sunburnt noses, and toughened our feet on the volcanic rock beaches. Though we didn’t run into any more Mafia types, or try to destroy the Qubo by rolling it off a mountain (again), we did manage to break the axle as Banoo drove directly into a pothole in the centre of the city just before we handed the car back in. Thanks, Qubo, for showing us Sicily.
This post was originally featured on May 15, 2012.