Our friends came to visit us and we spent some nice days sailing around the Eolian islands. The sun was still hot and it felt like summer during the day. At night though, temperatures dropped and it was not always comfortable to eat outside on the deck.
Alicudi was our first stop: the island with no roads and no vehicles. Houses didn’t even have electricity until the ‘90ies.
We decided this would be our first stop as the weather conditions were ideal: there was barely any wind. Since Alicudi doesn’t have any bay where to get shelter from the prevailing winds, this was the right day to be there.
We spent the night at one of the mooring buoys on the left hand side of the port, paying 30 Euros, despite the initial request for 50.
While sailing towards Alicudi, we had been reading about the many legends from the island. Apparently, locals used to bake an hallucinogenic bread and feed on it daily. That would cause for them to report seeing witches and dressed up pigs flying around the island.
Once ashore, we chose one of the walking trails suggested on a map at the bottom of the stone steps. We picked the “very difficult” one: 3 and 1/2 hours, bottom-top and back.
We started to climb the steps and bumped almost immediately into a suntanned, short and tired-looking man pulling a mule up the steps of the island, in slow motion. The mule, we were told, was carrying a wooden box full of earth, weighing 100 kgs.
The island has no roads and the only way to move across the villages is climbing up and down the steep, stone-cladded steps that like a maze go around the cone shaped island, connecting the few houses and shops scattered around.
Half way through the climb up, already sweaty and warned down by the fatigue, we stopped in front of a sign “We sell capers”. Pippo, a 45 years old well built man greeted us assuring that his capers were ‘capers only’, unlike the others which are fully covered in salt.
We had only been exchanging a few words, when he invited us on his terrace saying: “come see my oven”! Pippo was in distress as the night before the oven had exploded due to a gas leak. His wife was cooking one of his favourite meals “turciniuna”, a Sicilian dish made with animal guts, when at some point there had been an explosion and the entire kitchen had been filled by potatoes, peas and guts!
Luckily enough none of them was around when that happened so no one got harmed.
Most of the Alicudi inhabitants, who happen to be his 11 siblings and some relatives, had precipitated to see him and make sure nobody was hurt. Pippo’s dog escaped and it was nowhere to be found.
One hour later, knowing everything about Pippo and his past- he was a fisherman and navigated the Med for many years; he was shot at in Spain when fishing illegally in a bay; he was meant to go to Australia but was caught by the police just outside the travel agency and forced to join the navy (military service was still compulsory back then)- we decided to continue our adventure and go all the way to the top.
We stopped once more before climbing up the crater: this time we met Piero, one of Pippo’s brothers, who was so kind as to give us some cold water (which is as precious as gold considering that a mule has to carry it all the way up the island on its back!) while answering some of our many questions. How long would it take for him to walk up and down? How could people build houses and transport all the material up there? And most importantly…did he know about Pippo’s oven?!
We managed to get to the top and finally saw the crater: well… it was a wild crater, only bushes and goats paths! No view to enjoy!
Exhausted and hungry, we started our descend and followed the path back to the port where, in no time, we took our clothes off and went for a long, refreshing swim in the crystalline sea. We then rested our tired bodies on the beautifully dark, sandy beach.
While relaxing on the hot stones a train of images swirled in my head. The wilderness of the island, the hostile look of the cactuses contrasting the delicacy of the coloured flowers: cyclamen, narcissus, bouganville. The olive trees, the oranges, the capers…the mules. What an incredible island!