Tuesday, May 31, 2011

mazara del vallo, sicilia

i arrived to italy by ship around 7am. i woke up a few hours before this and made my cold way to the front of the deck to be greeted by the morning sun and the gentle reflection of the beautiful country that lay before me. suddenly i had this thought that had not previously occured to me. i though of my family, generations ago, who came to the united states by ship and how this view of italy was probably the last they would ever see. yet somehow their grandchild has returned to this mediterranean wonder in the same manner that they left. i wonder if they would be proud. i felt like an immigrant in a big circle of immigration that brought my family to the united states so long ago. comedy plays a big role here: everyone looks like my relatives!

sicily is absolutely.. hmm.. something.. its my five and a half year destiny and obligation to report the world of sights and sounds that i have stumbled on and after a while you run out of adjectives. funny how it becomes me that when i reach my mother island i am lost for words. i'm going to stick with the basics for they are all i have left. sicily is absolutely beautiful. i'm tempted to question why my ancestors left this great island to come to detroit of all places but i am respectfully aware of the difference in times. life was not the same back then and its because of the opportunities they sought that their future generations could return to the place they once called home.

mazara del vallo, the village my family comes from, is actually quite massive. the population isn't very high but the village is spread out over a vast distance. because of this you must rely on bicycle or other form of transportation to simply go to the market. and its cute. everywhere are old people riding bicycles together with baskets full of groceries and they seem to stop at every opportunity for gelato or italian ice (back in st. clair shores we called it lemon ice). the sea side is gorgeous and smells of fish and salt, two of my favorite things. it reminds me a bit of samoa where everything seems to have a hint of sea salt crusted upon it.

everywhere i look i see my uncle bill or my aunt marth.. especially my grandfather and grandmother. i see the romanos and the burraccos and of course the ardagnas. frightfully it was not hard to find people who look like me. i was surprised even to learn that my last name is actually quite a popular last name here. i came to find family in obscurity however i found it in the masses.

i hitchhiked with a man named giuseppi. he looked just like papa joe. i forgot about how nasaly his voice was and i forgot about the distance in his stare. i had to stay focused. it wasn't papa joe.

the sea.. my true love. in mazara there are piles of beautiful people washed along the shore. i have yet to see an ugly person here. its intimidating yet very curious. everything you've heard about italian men and their cat calls to beautiful women passing by is true, if not especially characterized in sicily. flirting simply seems to be part of the culture.

this picture above is of the club where i rented a bungalo for the next few weeks. its expensive here but i didn't have a lot of options. groceries are cheap so i can survive but it is difficult to be in the land of perfect food and not be able to afford it. its ok. i found in my bloodline the secrets of culinary arts and i'm convinced that i can cook just as well as the chefs in some of these tourist traps.

i'm happy. i'm very very happy. only few times before have i visited a place that has humbled my senses like this village. i'm actually quite proud to share bloodlines with these wonderful people and this next few weeks shall prove to be interesting.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

things are about to get interesting..

in Tirana, Albania last night i found myself in a great conversation with a new friend from germany. the conversation highlighted something my friend said that made me shake a little. 'our grandparents killed each other, yet we eat and drink together.' i guess, for now we toast.. it was one of those moments that made me realize the true blessings of being a traveler of the world. we sank together and shared our stories of travel from each point of this globe and its conversations like these that strip me of any form of knowledge i once thought i had and replaces them with true life encounters.

i was reminded of several conversations i found myself involved in last summer in Tbilisi, Georgia. i sat (and ate and drank) with several georgian people alongside several russians. all grievances are set beside when you sit at a table. this is why you look each other in the eyes when you toast your cup. its a subtle way to say that you are not ashamed to look in the eyes of someone whose family's blood was once traded for the blood of your family.

its so humbling.
i never thought i'd be here.

i left ohrid, makedonia with a big toothy grin on my face. i absolutely love makedonia and will dedicate so much of my spoken words to fellow travelers in favor of that great country.

then i find myself at the makedona/albania border. it goes something like this:

first you are dropped off in from a crowded minibus on the far south side of lake ohrid (provided you are going south - the other option is to go north and arrive in albania's capital city at 4:30am). you are nudged out of the vehicle and you find yourself at this completely desolate yet beautiful area between two great countries. there is one man sleeping in a chair and he stamps your exit visa without much consideration. then there is an absolutely beautiful 2km walk across the cliffs that connect the two countries. for a half hour you are alone on international soil and the surroundings are magnificent. next you find yourself at the entry border where another sleepy man in uniform awaits your stamping. i asked in the best albanian i could muster where the next city was and he told me its an easy 6km walk. no 6km walk is easy while carrying a backpack and facing the eyes of the inhabitants from creepy border towns (all border towns are creepy for some reason). so you pull out your thumb or wave your hand to the road. that is how i met my first albanian friend who accepted my 200 makedonia denar offering to take me to Pogradec. from there i easily found another crowded minibus who uncomfortably drove me to Tirana.

i really think i'm going to enjoy albania however as i've promised i will save it for another chapter. for now i have one hell of a journey ahead of me. look to the map i've provided at the top of this entry. that is the story of my life for the next 30-some hours bus, boat or hitchhike. but the rewards are sweet. by the time most people read this i'll be tucked away in the beautiful village where my own blood comes from in southwest sicilia called mazara del vallo.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

escape from snake island!

in southwest makedonia there are two huge beautiful bodies of fresh water, Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa. for the last week and a half i've been situated in the city of Ohrid and yesterday i finally made a journey to see the sister lake to the east. we went to find a place called Golem Grad (or nicknamed 'snake island') which is a small island right on the border of albania, greece and makedonia. from what i've put together, the island was originally inhabited by orthodox monks who built a few monasteries many hundred years ago however they were overrun with snakes and forced to abandon. had to come check it out.

on the way we passed the remnants of a neolithic village in an area cleverly nicknamed 'the bay of bones'. this structure is actually a remake of the exact same structure beneath the surface of the water where once stood an old place of dwelling hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

this is one of several (absolutely delicious) mountain springs where fresh cold water comes from the ancient glaciers that once inhabited this land.

a small shrine to St. George i think. if you look at the top of the picture you can see the point where trees no longer grow. i believe this phenomenon occurs at 1850 meters or so.

Ohrid from above.

i dont remember the name of this tiny village but this is where we sailed from to get to Golem Grad.
Venko. Our captain.

right about here is the disputed border between makedonia and albania. there is something like a 300 meter area on land that is forbidden to set foot on. its considered international territory.. or no-mans-land. i believe the punishment at one time was very severe but we were set for an island that is undeniably part of makedonia.

Golem Grad. Snake island.

i didn't capture any good pictures of this but Golem Grad is one of the only places i've seen cormorants perched in trees rather than sea walls and rocks. i did however get some nice pictures of the thousands of pelicans that beach the shores of Golem Grad.

one of several abandoned monasteries. you can still light a candle.


this is a grave that probably belongs to the monks. below you can see human bones sticking out.


a video from Golem Grad.