Do Talk To Strangers: That Time I Was Rescued in Agrigento, Sicily

Do Talk To Strangers: Agrigento

 

I will start by warning readers that in some parts of the world, particularly in Agrigento, Sunday really is a day of rest. Who’d have thought?! I assumed where there are 5th-century B.C temples, there are floods of tourists taking a hundred photos, taxis lined up, a massive reception offering guided tours, a shop selling overpriced bottles of water and a likely chance to find people like me, solo travellers, to meet and enjoy the day with. I was shocked to find such a celebrated archaeological site almost completely abandoned, save for myself and maybe a handful of others.

 

I took the coach from Sicily’s capital, Palermo, where I was staying in a beautifully quaint, family-run hostel. After asking several different people, including the hostel staff, shop assistants and bus drivers, I managed to successfully find the bus stop to Agrigento- just round the corner from the Centrale train station. Coach practically full of people, I dived into a book I was reading, stopping now and then to look up and appreciate the views of undisturbed countryside.

  Countryside, Agrigento

 

When the coach arrived I excitably grabbed my things and stepped outside. I looked around- couldn’t see any temples or any sign of any kind that could tell me where to go. I turned around and realised everyone who was on the coach with me had disappeared and a second later, the coach drove away. Stillness. I took out my guidebook but it only had driving directions and was of no use. I checked the bus times back to Palermo- the next one doesn’t depart until early evening. I sat on a step across the road and took out a cigarette, trying to think of a plan; I had no credit on my phone, I was in the middle of bloody nowhere- was I that dumb in thinking the coach would take me right to the entrance of the temples? I didn’t pack any food and only had half a bottle of water left. I thought of Bear Grylls: Born Survivor, a program me and my sister used to watch religiously, which made me laugh. Hundreds of thousands of people must come here all the time, I thought, it’s probably just round a corner somewhere. I went for a wander around; it wasn’t.

 

Back at the bus stop, I saw a guy having a cigarette next to what looked like his taxi. “Hello!” I called and hurried over to him. “Please can you take me to the Valley of the Temples?” I let out, breathless, to which was met with a blank stare… “Che cosa?”. Oh dear, we may have a problem. I rustled in my rucksack for the Italian phrase book I’d bought last minute back in England and flicked through it, “Uh.. voi.. prendere… yes, prendere, uh, me.. io.. to Valley of the Temples?”. “Aspettare,” he says, “uno minuti.” Oh thank goodness he understands! He opened his car and took out his mobile to call someone. I wait patiently until he passes the phone to me. “What?” I ask, “si, si!” he pointed to the phone. Okay………. “Hello?”, “Yes, hello, I am friend of him, what is problem?” a woman asked. “Oh, ok, well,” I slow down my pace, “I want to go Valley of Temples, I thought he is taxi driver, no?” She laughs, “No no taxi driver. I call friend, he take you.” then she hung up.

 

About 5 minutes later a car pulled up and out of it came an old man, probably late 60’s. His back was quite hunched over and his skin dark and wrinkled from the sun. “Hello my friend!” he called to me. “You need help?” I couldn’t believe it! I’d been in Italy for over 2 months and found that the older generations rarely spoke English, this is incredible. “Yes, oh my god please. I want to see the Valley of the Temples, but the coach just went here not there, I don’t know what to do! Are the temples far?” He smiled, “No not far to drive, I can take you there, no problem, eh?” and he beckoned me to his car. I thanked the other guy who made the phone call and got into the car. What a sweet man, but it didn’t stop there. We were driving along and he said, “I give you my phone number, then when you finish, call me, I take you back to bus.” Feeling absolutely blessed I thanked him for his kindness, before luckily remembering I had no credit on my phone. “No problem” he said before pulling into a little shop. Inside I was able to buy a bottle of water and some snacks as well as top up my phone. I couldn’t have done it without this guy though, as the shop assistant couldn’t speak English. He sorted out the SIM card and then, back in the car, he put it into my phone and typed in all the codes to top it up. “There.” he said softly, and handed the phone back to me and continued to drive.

 

It was a little far, down some twists and turns. Could have made it possibly if I had GPS on my phone. When we arrived at the entrance, there was no big reception entrance. Just a thin wooden gate with a poster attached to it. I pointed to it and asked him about the tours…. not on Sundays, apparently. “Did you forget today Sunday?” he laughed. Oh Sarah, you uncultured fool. We exchanged phone numbers and I thanked him again for his generosity.

  Agrigento poster

 

I walked into the vast area and let out a breath of relief. Not as easy as I thought, but I’d made it. And I’d do it again too. There was hardly anyone there and so walking around felt mesmerising- just me and the temples. I walked slowly, there was no rush. No-one standing in the way of a good photo, no kids screaming or running around. Just me stood in the middle of magnificent ruins of the past. The sandy ground beneath my feet, blue skies and unpolluted air, trees baring olives and almonds and the glistening sapphire sea in the background; the experience felt almost transcendent. I just stood and stared at them. I read the plaques next to each temple with some information. I sat on some rocks to eat a snack when a stray browny-orange cat came and sat with me. I didn’t feel lonely, I felt delighted and care-free. It was such a world away from the struggles I faced the year before, and more recently of returning from Vietnam and finding it difficult to adjust back to normal life at home. There was no-one I wished to be there with me- I just greedily lapped up my surroundings and imagined it was my private back garden. A space both to reflect on the past and to feel inspired for the future. Look at what beauty humans are capable of creating!

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“According to the convention about protection of cultural and natural world heritage the archaeological site of the Valley of the Temples appears in the list of the world heritage. The entry in that list consecrates the universal extraordinary value of arts and nature to assure their protection for the benefit of whole mankind.”

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After a thought-provoking day with the temples, I called my warm-hearted rescuer and he drove me back to the bus stop. I saw a picture of a young woman dangling from his rear view mirror and asked about her; he said she was his daughter, Elisabella, who had moved to London and married an English man. They’d given him two beautiful grandchildren. That’s why he decided to learn English, even at his age, to connect with his family overseas. “You must come and visit us” I told him, “Maybe someday,” he whispered, looking down at his feet. He lifted his head to look at me, “But I like Sicily best!” he beamed- and I couldn’t agree more.

 

Have you got any funny or perhaps frightening stories from getting lost on the road? Did you receive help from some kind strangers? I’d love to hear about it.

Hi! I'm Sarah. I dropped out of university tired with the mundane life I was living in England. Now I'm an aspiring ex-pat of the world, having already lived and worked in Vietnam, Italy and Maldives. I'm using this blog to document my experiences and hopefully inspire others!

32 Comments

  1. How delightful! And good to know, I would absolutely plan for a Sunday visit to avoid the crowds!

  2. Lucky! Gosh, sometimes you meet people who are just exactly at the right place and the right time, as if they were just put there in order to help you. I am glad you got a chance to experience it – just you and the temples.

    1. Thank you! I would love to go back, it was a very poignant moment for me- looking up at those temples in solitude. No 3G or anything to do but just “be”.

  3. WOW this is such a beautiful story! I feel like this is the epitome of travel – learning how kind and generous people are if you give them a chance to be. I loved your description of being alone amongst the ruins as “transcendent”. I can relate to that feeling when you’re alone somewhere and it’s not lonely, it’s perfect.

  4. What a great story and what a great place to visit. I love history and the place like Angkor Wat, Rome, Bagan and others. I have not been to Sicily only Rome and Venice but I would love to go to the temples you saw. The best part was the total lack of tourists which is a hard place to find in todays world.

    1. Thanks John and Laurel, glad you liked the story! Oh absolutely, the tranquility! I would love to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat, but I recently read a blog post with a photo diary of the situation and oh-my-gooodness I’ve never seen so many people that early in the morning! It’s like when I saw a photo of the Great Wall of China with hundreds of thousands of people everywhere. Best to go in the low seasons I guess! 🙂

  5. Lucky you! It happened to me when I was in Palermo 4 years ago. It was Sunday and no matter what we did, there was no way to find a bus. Really, Sunday is the rest day in some part of the world. But, it’s true: you can find someone that will help you without nothing in mind, and I experienced it recently. It’s so damn rare so I get you really! x

    http://tomboychronicle.com/

    1. Thanks Liana- it’s pretty nice that some countries have managed to stick to their traditions while Sunday here in Britain is pretty much a normal day! Even on bank holiday Monday (May Day) the shops opened 8:00-20:00! As much as it was annoying while living in Italy, I have learnt to value it!!

  6. I’ve been rescued from such situations many times by strangers. Personally I don’t feel any inhibitions in talking to strangers especially when I am lost 🙂

    1. That’s great! Unfortunately some people feel too afraid to speak to strangers, particularly to locals of the country they’re visiting, which is such a shame!

  7. Wow what an amazing site to visit! It’s great you were able to go without there being a ton of people an really get to take it all in! Not to mention being able to take photos without other people in them! I don’t think I would be as trusting as you are to get in a car like that, though!

    1. Haha yeah, re-reading the story it does sound a bit ignorant of me– but I dunno, something about this sweet old man coming to my rescue. I guess it was intuition, I followed it, and it did not fail me! 🙂

  8. This is so cute 🙂 I love friendly people like that! A good friend for a moment in time – always such a beautiful part of life. The temples look soooo deserted and stunning, I can’t believe it was so uncrowded ?! Makes sense, but also a good tip to explore Sundays I have to keep in mind in the future!

  9. OMG! I can so relate with your story – I think you already know why :).
    It is a pretty scary situation to be in … you in the middle of nowhere, no people around that could help you out, or if there are there might be a problem to communicate with each other.
    Thanks for sharing your story with us! – I am happy that there are still people that are more than happy to help us lost travelers 🙂

  10. We are always uncomfortable to strike a conversation with a stranger but after visiting so many countries we have started to believe that humanity still exists. Locals have gone out of their way to help us. And we have made many friends for life too.

    1. Amen to that! I couldn’t imagine just visiting a resort holiday and never interacting with the locals. They’ve made my trips!

  11. Its amazing how many times a kind stranger will appear miraculously and save your day on the road! These kind of stories are my favorite to tell 🙂

  12. This is what traveling teaches us! I also had so many similar situations all over the world, where locals were eager to help!
    That guy is Italian, no matter how old he is! So it was a pleasure to hime to help a young pretty girl 😉

  13. I’ve never quite understood the concept of Sunday being a day of rest to be honest. I always want to be doing something! In any case, your photos are beautiful. Seems like quite an adventure to find this place but completely worth it!

What do you think? Let me know!

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