Sunday, June 9, 2013


     Today was the final full day of my Lampedusan/Sicilian journey! I had an incredible time. I left Lampedusa early this morning, with Daniela dropping me off sentimentally at the airport. I arrived in Palermo with plans of wandering around the city and Monreale to get a last taste of Sicilian art and culture. I left my luggage at the train station lockers and headed out, nervous to get mugged because of warnings (I had no such incident myself, but I saw it happen THRICE).
     Monreale was an incredible cathedral. It and the cloister next to it were completely covered by gold mosaic form the 12th century. Since today was Sunday, I stayed for about half an hour of mass, which was conducted interestingly in Latin. It was so interesting to see these sites, especially after having taken a class about 11th-15th century Europe last semester. Today I was able to see so many things that actually made my random humanities class relevant!
     At Monreale, I met two lovely couples that I actually ended up exploring the city with in the afternoon. One couple was from Germany, and the other was from the Netherlands. We commiserated over the bus wait but found many things to talk about! Anyways, walking around Palermo was awesome. It was so cool seeing the influence of past Muslim and Norman invasions on the architecture, language and culture. I had my last arancino (pistachio, ricotta and spinach) which was also the best! I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a traditional religious procession (it has existed since the first two churches were built in Palermo!) that passed by the Cuatro Canti. The Cuatro Canti is the intersection between Via Roma and Via Liberta, and marks the center of the ancient city. The latter street was also the one which Giuseppe Giaribaldi marched down with the Red Shirts for the final move in his strive for the unification of Italy. Definitely the most impressive site in the city was the Catedrale di Palermo with its intricate design and impressive size. It looks more like a mosque from the outside, but the inside clearly glorifies the church in a way almost unimaginable. It's peaceful yet powerful - hard to describe.
    I worked my way back to the train station by about 7 PM to be picked up by my gracious hosts for the night before my early morning flight back to the states. Silvia and her husband Silvio live in Palermo but commute 1 hour to their jobs which are situated in opposite directions. Silvana works at the WWF reserve in Trapani with Girolamo. Despite my absolute exhaustion and sleep deprivation, I couldn't deny a late night tour of the city and a stop for my last gelato (pistachio and coffee!). I was such a good way to end my journey!

Interior of the Catedrale di Monreale

The cloister behind the cathedral

Catedrale di Palermo

Religious parade at the Cuatro Canti

Teatro Massimo with Silvana

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Fourth and Last, at Least for Now

     Today was my fourth, and last, release of the trip. A very bittersweet occasion. We went on the Orsa Maggiore with Daniela's middle school science class, several members of the press, the crew and captain of the boat, and of course us! It was a beautiful day for sailing (actually very rare...and I still got seasick). The release was supposed to be educational for the middle schoolers, and it certainly was. The Navy crew members taught about sailing, wind, navigation and their experiences while Daniela explained the idea of conservation.
     I hugely enjoyed today and felt it was a great way to end my internship at the Lampedusa Turtle Group! Everyone was enthusiastic and seeing a turtle that has recovered getting to swim free is always liberating and exciting. Afterwards, everyone came for a tour of the rescue center. I feel like turtles are not very cuddly animals, but every time people see them up close they nearly swoon.

Ame, Ale, Giulia and Daniela on the Orsa Maggiore

Ciao tartaruga on the coast guard boat for the release!

Daniela's class, the sailboat crew and captain, the mayor of Lampedusa and some of the Lampedusa Turtle Group volunteers at port!

     As I look back at the experiences I've had here, today was a good summary of the trip in general. There was emphasis on education, hope for cooperation between different entities all responsible for conservation in one way or another (teachers, youth, military, government, environmentalists, and more!). It was beautiful to see many different types of people come together!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Accident on the Orsa Maggiore

     I slept in until 10 AM today for no reason, but it was probably the nicest thing I’ve done yet this summer. I proceeded to work on research for my paper and planned my one-day stay in Palermo, which I’m very excited about! I’ll be going to Monreale to see the Duomo, and hopefully visiting a museum or two in the afternoon.
     Work continued as usual, cleaning the tanks, sweeping, mopping, feeding and medicating Captain Hook.
     Daniela then wanted to introduce me to the captain of Orsa Maggiore. He was very nice, though, and spoke wonderful English! We talked about Italian politics and American education, which was interesting. We differed on our views but it was nice to see someone so enthusiastic to speak Engish, for once! The funniest thing happened, though… Lea, the black dog from the Center, somehow made her way onto the boat and broke/fell through the ceiling of the boat onto the dining room table where we were having an aperitivo. It was shocking and hysterical, embarrassing and perfect all at the same time. I wish I had filmed it, the guilty look on the dog’s face, and the laughter from the crew (as well as my mortification).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Critical events and crises

     Today was our second day with Desiree, the new volunteer from Toscana. She is the absolute kindest person, and is a nature tour guide and train hostess. She has beautiful tattoos (never thought I would say that), and such a nice, easygoing personality.
    Sadly, Daniela's car was damaged in an accident, but in the Sicilian way she and the other party dealt with it under the law's nose as to avoid bureaucracy. She was in the right, but it is still a pain to deal with, especially since she has just one little beat up (yet adorable) car. On the way home, she saw the truck driver who parked and blocked her view, partially causing the accident, and yelled at him in a somewhat composed and very logical manner, if that's possible (Daniela is a very sassy woman who stands up for what she believes is right).
     The other crisis of the day happened when a group of five or so tourists came to the center reporting that they had seen a sea turtle at Cala Creta that was seemingly not moving much in the water. Of course the Rescue Center is on alert at all times, so the other volunteers started gathering supplies to go fetch it. As one of them called Daniela for approval, we were shocked to hear her shoot us down and tell us not to waste our time. She usually is enthusiastic about bringing in as many turtles as possible. However, she had a good point to make. "It's like saying that there is a stray dog in the piazza... what are we supposed to do? Dogs walk away, just like turtles swim away..." It was true, when Alessandro went to look for it with one of the tourists, it was gone. Also, who would have been responsible for swimming out to get the turtle that could have just been taking a rest?
     She said it would be very different if the tourists had seen one close enough to physically bring it to the center, then it would have been very easy to take it in. The Rescue Center usually relies solely on fishermen and locals that find injured turtles and bring it to the center unless there is a very clear emergency that is handled correctly.
     I also learned about the trajedy of a young Costa Rican man named Jairo who was killed by poachers, allegedly also involved in drugs, for having stood up for sea turtle conservation and spoke out against corruption in his home country. Other volunteers were kidnapped, but this young conservationist was murdered for doing what Daniela and other volunteers do here. The cultural differences are evident of course, but it is still scary and sad to think that people have the guts to commit a crime like this against someone who is only trying to improve a little part of nature and his world.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Things I've Learned About Travel

Anyone that knows me well can tell you that I love my spreadsheets, maps, schedules and rules any day of the year, and traveling for fun or for school are no different. I'm easily flustered and stressed, can't stand being late, and try to squeeze the sponge as hard as I can of stuff I can learn/see/do in any place. I.e. I planned a month vacation for my family last summer and had all museum passes bought two months in advance, train tickets bought the day we arrived in Rome for the rest of the trip, and every hour of the day planned with an activity and weather-permitting alternative in case of any issue.
Exhausting, I know.
Well this trip has taught me the joys of living literally the opposite of the way I always have. I don't know if I'll permanently change, but I've certainly learned and appreciate it. Here are some quick things I've leaned about traveling. Maybe not quite what the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies expected/wanted me to get out of this trip, but I find them pretty valuable!

1. There is value in trust, flexibility and optimism (three things I don't have much of, including in the context of traveling)
2. Meeting locals is the best way to do things authentically, cheaply and just all-around better. I'm never going anywhere else without doing this.
3. Sicily=Nicaragua -> I love this world. People all around Earth share similar values, and may express them similarly or contrastingly. It's so interesting to learn about how history has shaped cultures today in parallel situations.
4. There are always reasons to go back ANYWHERE. Like NYC, in which I discover something new and energizing every time I visit, all of the places I've been fortunate enough to see this summer and during my life in general, have tons of reasons to go back... charm, friends, food, more sites to see, more time to take in beauty, seasonal festivals, etcetera. It's a beautiful world and there will never be enough time to get enough of any place.

Sad goodbyes... or see-you-laters?

     I've never been so sad to leave a place. Honestly. I'm writing this from Lampedusa, where I arrived tonight around 9 after a flight from the Palermo airport. I'm so glad to be back with my younger friends for another week or so, but I already miss the over-50-year-olds I bonded with so well over the last few days. I nearly cried when Franco and Girolamo dropped me off at the airport! Their peculiar sense of humor, being lost in translation, and overwhelming kindness will all be greatly missed - but I hope that this isn't the last I will be seeing of them!
     Regardless of my departure, today was as rich and exciting as the last two! Girolamo is the best tour guide. I now know for sure never to travel anywhere without making it a point to do a homestay, make friends with locals etc. We woke up bright and early for a solid half day of work at the WWF Riserva Saline di Trapani e Paceco (check out the website here). The reserve serves as a bird sanctuary for over 120 species, including fenicotteri (flamingos) and fratticcelli (friar-birds? don't know the translation). It also has some contact with the coast, so has cooperated with the Lampedusa Turtle Group in releases and conservation efforts. This is not your average reserve, though. It kind of reminded me of the Adirondacks case that I studied in Professor John Wargo's class last semester, at least in the economic sense. It was actually a vast expanse of large-scale commercial artificial salt flats. It has been taken over by the WWF because of its significance for bird breeding and feeding, but still has local and corporate salt 'farming' provided compliance with conservation regulations. It's not picturesque (although the windmills are obviously cool!) but has an incredible history!

Salt pans 2,3,4 of a commercial section of the reserve, with Trapani in the background 

     I had several science lessons courtesy of Gerardo Cortellaro, one of the rangers that took me out to do maintenance and surveying while Girolamo took care of administrative business in the main office. I learned about the algae->shrimp->flamingo feeding chain, engineering the transport of sea water from salt pan 1 all the way to 5, harvesting techniques and plants that are salty grazie to osmosis. I got lots of complementary salt as a souvenir. Thanks y'all. Essentially the experience was hugely appreciated by my part because I was able to see a very unique (in my mind) reserve/conservation model, understand some of the work that rangers do, and appreciate local culture and economic history.
     My last Sicilian hurrah was a stop by Erice, a medieval mountaintop village accessible via ski lift from downtown Trapani. Girolamo and his excellent communication skills gave me absolutely no warning. After a pleasant casual lunch of nocciola gelato on brioche, I was literally kicked to the curb at the lift station and told to be back in 3 hours. Okay. SO WORTH THE STRUGGLE. It was quite literally a castle in the clouds. Originally built to be a temple of Venus and known for its lovely collection of Vestal Virgins, the small town was built around a Narnia-like castle above the tree and cloud lines with breathtaking views of turquoise water, the Sicilian countryside, and Trapani (including the WWF reserve!). I wandered around without a map for the first time in my life and was completely happy. An absolute must-see.

Photo courtesy of a man from Togo who plays the drums up here to make money and played Waka Waka by Shakira form me because he thought I was Colombian (I wish)

Absolutely awestruck - view of part of the Spanish addition to the castle and some of Sicily

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Seconda giornata

    I forgot to add the best part about "mainland" Sicily - none of the people I interact with speak English. This is where I'm thankful for having spent so much time on French! Girolamo is also fluent, so grace a dieu I am able to communicate. Une aventure!
     Today was equally as exciting and culturally rich as yesterday! Peppe met us for coffee in Alcamo and revealed that for fun he is also an actor in a local theater company. Color me impressed! He gave me an antique Sicilian playbook to give to my mother, who has (of course) two degrees and a great love for theater.
     Anyways, it is Festa della Repubblica - so patriotism all around. Of course I would be invited to celebrate it by attending an environmental rally in favor of conserving the Bois di Alcamo Madonna delle Alto for future generations! Love my life. We literally casually went to this mountain to see an ancient lookout castle at the top and then Girolamo mentions that he wants me to "dire quelques mots" or say a few words about conservation and its national significance in the USA at a patriotic rally in the middle of the forest. Okay, it went great and the people were so awesome! Sicilians are JUST LIKE NICARAGUANS. Proud, kind, loving, food-obsessed and traditionally wise.

 Girolamo and I being patriotic after my unplanned speech

    So that was just the morning. Next came Segesta. I was almost speechless, which is saying a lot for me. It was an incredible ancient (uncompleted and abandoned) temple (which also interestingly was considered an important historical/cultural landmark by Mussolini and not destroyed) and ampitheater. Bellisimo.

Benvenutti alle ampitetro e tempio di Segesta

Beautiful Sicilian countryside!!

Vineyard with aqueduct-style bridge from Mussolini's rule in the background

     When we got back to the apartment to change for dinner in Palermo with Franco (one of Girolamo's best friends, an economist and absolute sweetheart), I was greeted by my (embarrassing) television interview from the release the day before! Cute... I feel so famous though! I also got a brief spin on a real-life Vespa from the 60s, which Girolamo collects. Audrey Hepburn bucketlist item one checked off - Vespa in Italy! Plus I got a ride in a Fiat500, like one of the old ones, which Girolamo also collects. Good stuff. I got some car history and everything!
Dinner was also lovely - a legitimate margherita pizza with buffalo mozzarella (aka melt-in-your-mouth joy) as well as panelle and sufincini as appetizers! I can't keep describing the food because I'll get hungry, but lets just say that Sicily has a much better and fresher selection of non-fish foods (and fish foods) than Lampedusa.

Fiat Cinquecento and me

Palermo by night!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Prima giornata in Sicilia!

     Today was a wonderful whirlwind of activities!
     The first order of business, after taking the 5 AM flight from Lampedusa to Palermo, was a turtle release with the Lega Navale in Castellamare del Golfo. The Lega Navale is an organization that was explained to me as being similar to a Rotary organization, but it is completely focused on all affairs related to the sea. The particular release we did today was with a group of about 50 middle schoolers to celebrate the end of their sailing and naval education camp. There were many officials present, including the Admiral of the Italian Navy, several high ranking Coast Guard officers, the president of the Lega Navale, and a few administrators from the two Sicilian WWF reserves. Peppe was the students' teacher and the absolute kindest person, and Girolamo Culmone, who would host me for my whirlwind tour of northern Sicily, was also there. He works for the WWF Saline Trapani e Paceco salt flat reserve.
     The release was beautiful and provided me with the most picturesque views of this trip so far (which is hard to believe considering the incredible natural beauty of Lampedusa!). Danny made a wonderful speech about the importance of conserving sea turtles, and how it is an excellent case example of what we, the next generation of leaders, should be doing on a broader scale as well. She also provided a brief anatomy lesson and explained the most urgent anthropogenic effects to deal with in regards to sea turtles and their survival. The military officials were very enthusiastic about cooperating with efforts to better regulate Sicilian fishing boats (a promise often heard and not always acted upon) and encouraging of the cause of conservation. I was offered a summer job for next summer in the environmental education department of the Lega Navale despite my inadequacies with the Italian language, too! Here are some pictures to give an idea of the experience as a whole!

The main event speakers, including Italian officials, the president of the Lega Navale, Daniela Freggi, and the WWF administrators

My favorite view of Italy so far - Castellamare del Golfo from the turquoise Mediterranean!

Il Capitano, Girolamo Culmone (WWF), me and Peppe Stabile (middle school civics teacher) - the best!!

     You think that's exciting, but the day was only half over!! We had an INCREDIBLE lunch courtesy of the Lega Navale at an incredible restaurant, La Cambusa, right next to the Norman castle for which the town was named. The primi piati were huge and diverse, so I got a great taste (punny) of Sicilian gastronomy at its finest! They included squid, octopus, whitefish, tuna, and some veggies - all in interesting forms of skewers, fried, battered, with lime, spices etcetera. The white wine was delightful and a specialty of the region (kill me for not remembering the name...) and the secondi piati were Sicilian style (North African-influenced) fish cous cous and handmade linguine with calamari dyed black with squid ink and topped with toasted cheese. I cannot handle.
   Plus there was a tour of Scopello, which used to be a tuna fish canning and selling factory and fishing town. Peppe taught us about the myths passed down through the years and their relevance to science. For example, people in the Mediterranean (as in, from ancient times) have always said that Tuna see from their left eye because they always swim clockwise. It is indeed due to small imbalances caused by the Coriolis effect of the Earth! Because they swim clockwise, they were easy to catch in the small port of Scopello because of a natural jetty - boats would run a net out from the outcrop and just encircle the tuna, forcing them against the coast and easily catching them. We also learned about the awesome fire signaling system installed by Muslim invaders centuries ago that encircles the Sicilian island along the coast. The entire island could receive the signal within 5 minutes. It is so Lord of the Rings!

Lord of the Rings-resembling fire signal tower on the little rock in the middle of the picture, Scopello

Alcamo! Shortly before I met the mayor... I think I'll just run for governor of Sicily next time I'm here considering the job offers I've gotten.

     Finally, we got a short preview of Alcamo, where Girolamo's old-money-Sicilian family is from and where I would stay for the next few days. Calm and beautiful town, conveniently half an hour from all the cities/sites I'm hoping to visit!