PICKING OLIVES AND PADDLING IN NOVEMBER

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In the middle of November the weather is still very warm here.  So last Saturday when I woke up and looked at the sky which was cloudless, and the sea which was a clear crystal blue, I knew that I had to get out there and breath in all that fresh air. The Aeolian islands were so clear they seemed just an arm’s length away.

 

Clear Aeolian Islands on the horizon

 

The dilemma was:  a walk in the mountains or along the beach……?  I really wanted to walk up my favourite mountain at the back of the village. To most people’s horror I love walking up steep hills!   But I also wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather and walk along the beach too.  It took me two seconds to decide.   No other choice but to combine both into one walk.

 

I started from my apartment heading up the steep track towards the protected woodlands of  Guarneri which are part of the Madonie mountain range.  The woodlands for me are very conducive to meditation.  Sitting on one of the old dry stone walls among the beautiful cork oaks, just listening to the sound of insects and birdsong, I practiced calming my mind and taking in the beauty of the surroundings. I managed to keep still for 10 minutes before I was up and off exploring the area once again!

 

Arriving at the Serre which is the rocky outcrop at the highest point in the woods, I had a clear view of Monte Carbonara (the second highest mountain in Sicily) in front of me. To my left was the town of Pollina clutching to the top of the mountain with the northern coastline below it.  It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful this island is and how lucky I am to be able to sit and gaze at all this natural beauty whenever I want.

 

As much as the view was absorbing,  adventure is my aim in life and discovering  new paths is what I enjoy most. I decided to drop down below the rocky outcrop and look for some animal tracks among the scrub,  remembering a bit of advice that a mountaineer once told me which was to find the  ‘weaker ‘ part of a mountain.  After a bit of stumbling around I decided to follow the path with the most goat scat on!  It  gave a good indication that it was going to the side of the mountain that I wanted to reach.

 

Shortly I was making my way down to the sea.

 

That particular day the  countryside was positively ‘bustling’ with activity.  Olive picking was in full swing. I could hear people chatting whilst collecting the olives.  Some were up the trees dangerously reaching out for that elusive olive because once you start picking the out of reach ones you just have to get them all! Others were sitting on the nets on the ground picking through the fallen olives, eliminating leaves and bits of branches, and putting the olives in the crates ready to take to the press.  Some of the old men were clearing the land and as I was passing through this pastoral scene it reminded me that life here has been like this for centuries.  Nothing has changed over time. Year after year the same back breaking work is done which  gives the family their olive oil for the coming year and, if it is a good crop, maybe a small income if they have any surplus to sell. I pick my own olives too but my olive oil goes into the apartments I rent out to incoming visitors.

 

Olive Pickers break for lunch

 

As I came closer to the sea I met up with an older couple from the village who were taking a break from olive picking and having their lunch.   They were sitting in the corner of their garden eating whilst enjoying the sensational views of the village beyond. They naturally invited me to join them, as is the custom here when people pass by.  What they were eating  was probably better than what you would get in any local restaurant but sadly I had to decline. My mission was to get to the beach!  We did have a  discussion though on the quantity of olives picked, the quality of this year’s harvest and how much oil they reckoned they would get out of it before I continued on my way.

 

Reaching the sea I took my shoes off for a paddle just to see what the temperature was. To a Northern European this would have been a perfect summer’s day and it was certainly still warm enough for a swim too.

 

Sant'Ambrogio Beach

 

I was alone on the beach. The locals don’t really come once summer is over.  My neighbour keeps telling me that I shouldn’t  go in the sun if the months have a letter “R” in them.  She thinks I am stupid when I look at her with a blank expression on my face before I realize what she’s trying to say. As I am quickly running through the months of the year in my brain I finally realize that locals only believe that you should expose yourself to the sun during the months of May, June, July and August!

 

Thinking about this as I was walking along the beach,  listening to the sound of lapping waves and looking towards the Aeolian Islands, I thought that maybe with global warming and the 40°C temperatures we had this summer the local saying should be changed now into “only go in the sun if the month has a letter ‘R’ in it”.  How lucky am I to be enjoying this warm November day, paddling in the sea with not a soul around me while further north in the world they are already sitting huddled up to the radiator?

 

View towards Cefalù

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