Thursday, September 27, 2012

Panarea, a piece of paradise.

Stepping off the miniature ferryboat onto the port platform, that could only be a handful of meters wide, I strolled towards the edge of the dock, greeted by my new host along the way. With a comforting grin on his face, he shook my hand and welcomed me to the island of Panarea. He has a kind demeanor, with curly shoulder length locks, mostly full of sun streaks with a hint of grey here and there being the only thing that might lead you to believe he is maybe a day over fifty. Dressed head to toe in island comfort all the way down to his shoes, worn out crocs, showing the wear and tear of his adventurous island lifestyle. With his thick Scottish accent he invited me to join him and his friends for a drink, over looking the beautiful landscape along the water. Introductions were made and drinks were had, and after a nice evening cocktail I hopped on the back of his motorbike as he took us to his home. The narrow roads of Panarea, with enough room only for a golf cart, motorbike, or small buggy, led us up the hillside just a few minutes away. Stepping down the stones aligned together as steps, leading me into an entrance surrounded by perfectly arranged trees, I arrived at his hand crafted home. The trees and plants of the property surround you as you look down to one side where the water goes on forever, only interrupted briefly by surrounding islands. And to the left sits the house, made with simplistic character and charm that fits its location and owner perfectly. Straight ahead you’ll find the wash drying on the line in the sunshine, with the hammock perfectly positioned for lounging while overlooking the scenery, and a bamboo roof covering a table setting that has weathered a few storms in its time.

From the moment we entered the premises of the home we were greeted by the felines of the home, each of them with their own personality. Bruna, a boisterous female that is not afraid to tell you what she wants, and when she’s had enough of you with a quick swipe. Vicki, the mellow mama kitty with a strong will to live, as she has already survived major surgery that left her without ears and a skittish personality. Squirrel, the night owl that sleeps away the days recovering from his adventurous nights, and always seems to know something you don’t. Boots, the playful black cat with white fur boots that help you find her in the night. Stripey, sister to Boots, prefers the highest perch of the kitchen to watch over all the action and looks for comfort from your warm sleeping body early in the morning. And don’t forget Nella, not an official member of the family but visiting for some time while she drinks from the tap and tries to politely not eat from anyone’s food dish but her own.

Panarea, the smallest of the Aeolian islands, with a population of about 250 year round, only reaching around 1,000 in the height of the season, is a perfectly deserted island, and not taken over with light pollution at night, creating the ideal setting to see what feels like every star in the galaxies. The neighboring island of Stromboli is an active volcano with lava eruptions from the crater almost consistently enough to set your watch to. Climbing up to the view point down the road, guided by the knowledge of my tour guide, a small torch, and the light of the stars, we settled on a flat rock top hoping to see the miraculous sight of flaming hot lava shooting into the night sky. Within the first twenty minutes, suddenly across the water all that could be seen was a large red burst of volcanic matter, and then it slowly faded into the side of the mountain. In complete awe, and desiring more of the show, we sat and watched for more eruptions and were not disappointed in the active volcano, or the stars.

The island days were spent exploring the wondrous beaches that the island holds, basking in the endless sunshine, and general relaxation and rejuvenation. Waking early in the morning to venture to the rocky beach down the road, we hiked down the hillside to join the hundreds of fish in the water below. Snorkel mask on, and ready to face my persistent fear of the creatures of the sea, I submerged myself in the water and looked down to find an entire world of sea life to discover. Brightly colored stripped fish hanging out solo, round small fish flocking in large schools traveling together through the seaweed covered rocks, and small jellyfish that sneak up on you while you watch the rest of the fast paced sea life go by. Best of all, the volcanic bubbles that rise from the floor of the sea, rising to the top quickly, looking like shimmering diamonds of all sizes as they dance their way to the surface, releasing the tension from the active volcano so close by. We swam our way around the rock bend to find a personalized hot spring within a nearby cave. The cold seawater crashed in changing the temperature constantly, but the persistent volcanic heat still provided a relaxing hot spot.

Later on there was another beach with more sea life to explore, but along the way we first passed through the ancient fortress ruins, located at the end of the island, perfectly position for a solid defense, high up on the cliffs protected from intruders. Unlike any other site of ancient ruins I have visited through out all of Italia, this one was completely free from tourists, not even a site guard watching over the ancient land. Much like everything else on the island, the attitude was relaxed and open. Looking down onto the beaches surrounding the area you can see where the fragile cliff sides were slowly falling into the sea water as a result of the morning rain, leaving you wondering how different the structure of the island must have been just a sort time ago, shifting and changing with the storms and the volcanic activity.

Between beach hoping and visiting with friends through out the small village, the days were also spent in the comfort of the small home on the hillside. The sun disappears to the opposite end of the island by mid-afternoon creating the not too hot relaxing place for a nice slumber after a trek across the island and a swim with the fish. Through the kitchen window classic rock plays while lounging away in the hammock with a good book. Looking over the sea and watching geckos and lizards racing around on the walls nearest, while the cats slink below you with their tails reaching up to the bottom of the hammock to let you know they are in need of some attention. Meals provided by my new friend were delicious, full of fresh vegetables brought in weekly from the vegetable guy and some found in the garden surrounding the house. Accompanied with a nice cold white Sicilian wine, we would dine at the outdoor table, looking out over the water at lunch, and eating by only the light of the candles during the darkness of a late night dinner.

Only three short days on this island and suddenly it was time to move on to new places. From the inside of the small ferry I waved farewell to the new friends that were at the port to see me off, and as I found my seat on the boat I thought of how this island was an unexpected treasure, and truly a piece of paradise.

1 comment:

Katrin said...

Congrats on combating that fear of sea life! Very pleasant shots you've taken.