f l a m i n g o s

[ 23:05 monday 19 april – torre ventorello, sicilia ]

cross-legged in my tent on the edge of a small bay. sergio is lying next to me tapping out a message on his mobile phone. the area is a nature reserve which means camping is prohibited. we saw some wardens doing their rounds earlier and we’re eager not to attract their attention, so we haven’t got any lights on. in such circumstances the powerbook’s backlit keyboard is a great asset, making it possible to dim the screen and type without any light.

this place is fantastically beautiful. behind the curving white sand a series of pools and marshes overflows with plants and birds whose ecosystems have not been disturbed. shortly after we arrived this afternoon a flock of flamingos flew over. later on thousands of swallows swooped and dived around us as the sun set. further inland there’s a stand of tall eucalyptus trees surrounded by orange and lemon orchards. on the point of the bay, just beyond us, are the ruins of a rectangular fort (aroganese i think, from the eighteenth century) and the columns and chimney of a tonnara where freshly-caught tuna was offloaded from boats to be salted and packed.

the nearest streetlight is several miles away. the sea is very still, just a slow lapping of waves. the light this afternoon was golden and rich. my camera was busy.

the ventorello reserve is on the east side of the rolling plains which occupy the southern tip of sicily. to the south west there is the town of pachino, where we bought some groceries earlier. to the north rise the long ranges on which the towns of noto, rosselino and ispica are perched. the ancient cities on these sites were flattened by a big earthquake in the late seventeenth century so the baroque architects and town planners had a field day. likewise ragusa, spectacularly wrapped around a lump of rock.

this will be my fourth night in a tent on a beach since arriving in sicily a couple of weeks ago. the first was the day after i wrote my previous despatch, when gabriele guided me along a bumpy dirt track to the shore below torre salsa, far to the west near sciacca. this was an amazing place, absolutely unspoilt with nobody for miles. the second was last wednesday, on stromboli’s spiaggia lunga. i remember sleeping on the beach here back in august 2000, when i built a shelter from palm leaves and wedged some candles in the rocks. the third occasion was last night, which we spent on the long straight beach at marza, to the west of pozzalo, a tip we got from a barista in a caffe in ragusa. there was a strong wind blowing all night and the tent was bowing and shaking but it stood firm. this morning sergio and i emerged from the tent to find the beach stretching for several miles in each direction without a single person in sight. we both ran naked along the beach whooping with joy and splashing in the waves.

tomorrow morning we’ll drive back to milazzo, hand over the car and get a train to palermo. we’ll spend the night there before catching the plane early on wednesday morning. sitting here in this wonderful place with the gentle waves and the tent rustling in the breeze london seems a long long way away. by the miracle of bluetooth and gprs i can send this email right now, direct from the tent!

: c * *

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