Category Archives: Islands

Migrants and Sicily

I was a little bit hesitant about going to Lampedusa this summer. The Sicilian island is hardly out of the news as a result of the desperate attempts by migrants to reach Europe and escape their war torn countries. Who can forget the terrible image of a migrant’s body lying on the beach while tourists sunned themselves nearby? How could I justify enjoying myself on holiday when so many were arriving after enduring terrible conditions at sea and probably even worse on land?

Yet, Lampedusa is an island that relies heavily on the tourist and fishing industries. It is a popular holiday destination that thousands of Italians flock to every summer. I was told that I would not even notice the arrival of migrants by boat as this all happened away from the main tourist area. It wasn’t that I was worried that it would spoil my holiday but more a case of was it right to go there? I’m still not sure if we should have, but we did and it is the plight of the migrants that has remained with me.

On our first day we hired a boat and as we were leaving the port we passed the coastguard towing a boat of migrants alongside them. I didn’t take any pictures out of respect. There were about a dozen migrants standing in the boat and the coastguards were beginning to remove their white forensic paper overalls and masks. I have always wondered how strange that must look to them after a long journey at sea. I have thought about them often, about where they are now, what they have been through, what kind of future they might have.

That evening, we saw their boat being towed away and learnt that the captain of a tourist boat had spotted them close to where they had been picked up, in front of the port. He couldn’t believe they had gotten so far with no-one spotting them and he had called the coastguard. I am not sure what I would have done in that situation, I am not sure I would have called the coastguard unless they looked as though they were in need of help. I wanted them to get where they were trying to get to. Maybe they would have voluntarily gone into the port but as many are sent straight back I doubt that. They are sent back if they have papers showing that they are from Tunisia, I think there is an agreement with their government. Otherwise they are ‘held’ in an immigration centre on the island before being processed. That is if they are ‘lucky’ as we heard stories of fishermen finding migrant women at sea and keeping them at home to serve their ‘needs’. I so hope this isn’t true but I would be naive to believe it isn’t. I can’t cope with how depraved humans can be.

There was, and probably still is, a lot of resentment on the island towards the migrants but how can this be? How can people abandon each other, not be empathetic and try to help their fellow man? All of us need to admit that if we found ourselves in the same awful situation that they do that we would try and do everything we could to escape it, to survive and to build a new life somewhere else.

In October 2013, 366 migrants died off the coast of Lampedusa. We came across a memorial garden so that this tragedy would never be forgotten. It wasn’t easy to spot and we stopped there by chance. For every one of the 366 who died they have planted a Mediterranean plant in their honour. It seemed a nice idea. Unfortunately, the plants were not in a very good state and I am unsure as to how many will survive the heat and battering wind that they get there. The weather on Lampedusa can be unforgiving just as the conditions at sea that led to their deaths were. For the plants that were put there in their memory to die as well is just too insulting.
Memorial Garden

Another, more poignant reminder of the migrants’ sea crossings, is to be found next to the new port. Here you will find what can only be described as a boat graveyard which you can’t fail to spot or be moved by. Hundreds of boats are grounded there, many in pieces or with giant holes, as a permanent reminder of those who have risked, and in some cases lost, their lives to reach the gateway of Europe.
boat graveyard

Thousands of migrants arrived when we were staying on Lampedusa, many at night. Italian TV crews were there filming their news reports. On the last day we visited a small cove where the water looked clean and inviting. Instead there was litter everywhere and more disturbingly, and the reason why we promptly left, washed up on the rocks there were clothes and a suitcase.

You can’t escape the migrant story at Lampedusa and nor should we ever try to. Society needs to open its eyes to this tragic situation and face the problems that cause people to become refugees head on. We need to open our arms and welcome them and give them the comfort and hope that they so desperately seek after such a perilous journey. We need to be selfless. We need to put ourselves in their shoes then we might begin to understand and show more compassion.

Caretta Caretta – the turtles of Lampedusa

The turtle hospital at Lampedusa
The turtle hospital at Lampedusa

Most  souvenirs on Lampedusa are based on  the Caretta Caretta turtles, or as they are otherwise known, loggerhead turtles. They visit Lampedusa to lay their eggs on Rabbit Beach during July/August. Living in the over-fished Mediterranean does however have its perils and as a result many of them end up caught in nets & bits of rubbish in the sea. They mistakenly eat plastic bags or swallow fish hooks. If they are lucky they are taken to the turtle hospital in Lampedusa where the majority recover and are eventually returned to the sea. The turtle hospital on the island is staffed by volunteers who also safeguard the beach where they lay their eggs, predominately during the night. There is heaps of information on turtles around the world, the dangers they face and what they do at the hospital to help them. X-rays are shown of turtles found with fish hooks inside them among other things. The hospital is located in the old port and is open for a few hours in the evening, Mon – Friday. It is your best chance of seeing a loggerhead turtle as they are notoriously shy of humans and rightly so. Staff/volunteers are on hand to talk about their ‘patients’ and their recovery period.

As I have already mentioned, most return to sea. One will definitely not. This turtle occupies the middle of the ‘ward’ in a square, shallow pool. It is the first turtle that most people see. It was the biggest there when we visited. This turtle will never return to the sea, its natural habitat, because its back legs are paralysed. It would never have the strength to swim to the surface for air. This turtle has been there for 7 years already. For me, it is just as cruel keeping it in a small pool where its movement and experience is limited, where people come and gawp and take pictures, just like I did, everyday than it is to let it die. Loggerhead turtles can live up to 67 years, it has already spent enough time in captivity. I admire the work this hospital does but when it can’t fix them, wouldn’t it be better to put them out of their misery? My family once had a cat who lost the movement of its back legs. The vet put her down. This turtle barely moves, just up and down for air. I can only think they are keeping it alive as they are endangered but in the end, if it doesn’t have any quality of life, is it fair?

Forever to remain in hospital?
Forever to remain in hospital?

Lampedusa On My Mind

I have just returned from Lampedusa. One of the many islands that make up Sicily and one that is actually closer to Tunisia than it is the Italian mainland. It is well-known among Italians as a holiday destination, especially those from the north of Italy but less so among other nationalities. I didn’t hear any other language spoken bar from Italian (and of course Sicilian) the whole time I was there although I was reliably informed that a few Canadians were on the island. And you know what? I loved the fact that this island has not succumbed to mass tourism! Although as RAI 24 were there reporting that tourism had suffered a significant fall in recent years it would be better for the island if more people knew about it. Of course, Lampedusa is never off the news due to the desperate plight and continuous arrival of migrants from Africa. Lampedusa is an island of tourists, fishermen, migrants, turtles and dogs. All of which will be covered in separate posts as this island left a lasting impression on me and I have so much to say about so many of the issues it faces.

So, where do I start when I have so much to say? I guess with tourism and what there is to do and see. Well, the main draw of Lampedusa HAS to be the sea and its coastline. That obviously includes the famous ‘Rabbit Beach’. The island itself is small, easy to get around but doesn’t really have anything of interest. It is hugely devoid of trees and gets blasted by the wind in winter so it looks desert like, a huge slab of flat rock floating on the sea.

The town is very small, most of the action is centered around Via Roma which is where you will find boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. There are the old and new ports which I loved just walking around at different times of the day. The island is geared towards to the tourist. You will find bike, jeep, scooter, car hire places in the new port and boat trips in both ports. Don’t expect the scooters to be top notch or for everything to work. This is an island after all and they are much more relaxed about everything. The speedometer on our scooter didn’t work and the brakes squeaked like mad but the price was reasonable and the island is small so it doesn’t really matter. Petrol  is expensive and on the day we arrived the petrol station had run out. This meant HUGE queues the next day when the tankard arrived on the island so bear this in mind when choosing which type of vehicle you want to hire, also make sure you aren’t running on empty as you can’t guarantee the petrol stations will have fuel. The island is dotted with coves and small beaches.

To help you decide how to spend your time, here are my top ten things to do:

1. Hire a day boat

Day boat hire at Lampedusa is a cost-effective way of exploring the coastline independently.
Day boat hire at Lampedusa is a cost-effective way of exploring the coastline independently.

Ok, so we were a little anxious about this as we had never piloted a boat before but it is a great way to see the coastline at your own pace. Strong winds on the north of the island meant that we could only visit the south of the island but the best swimming spots are on the south so it really didn’t matter. Having your own boat means you can avoid or keep ahead of the crowds. If you are lucky, you’ll have a cove to yourself for an hour or two. Dropping anchor causes the most stress as in the coves if you anchor in sand you will drift, you’ll get thee hang of it but keep an eye out on the boat when you go for a swim. We had to return to our boat when someone else hadn’t anchored properly and were drifting towards our boat. There are a number of companies who hire boats. We used DAG and they gave us a little test run first to make sure we knew what we were doing. They provide a handy cooler for drinks. Cost depends on how much petrol you use. The hire of the boat is 50 Euro plus petrol. We ended up paying 80 Euro for a day’s hire.

2. Dolphin Watching

Watching dolphins swim at sunset
Watching dolphins swim at sunset

It is possible to see dolphins off the coast of Lampedusa. We took an organised tour and went on the lookout for dolphins. It was a memorable experience and the sunset on the way back unforgettable. We spent a good hour, perhaps more, watching the dolphins with La Perla del Mare.  The cost of the trip was 20 Euros a head.

3. Round the Island Boat Trip

Vying for the tourist trade
Vying for the tourist trade

Yep, yet another boat trip but a nice, relaxing way to spend a day and meet some fellow tourists. There are loads of boat operators offering pretty much the same tour. We went with Perla del Mare and were not disappointed. We got to the most popular areas before the other boats and left when too many boats came. The food was excellent, plenty of it including some leftover for the fish. Giovanni was a gregarious host and although we had slightly more people on our boat than the max of 12, we didn’t really notice. At 40 Euro per head it was definitely money well spent.

4. Rabbit Beach

One of the best beaches in the world
One of the best beaches in the world

Most people would be surprised that Rabbit Beach, named best beach in the world in 2013 by travellers on the TripAdvisor website, would come so far down the list. Well, the thing is, it is too popular. We headed there early to beat the crowds but as the turtles are laying their eggs there at night you are not allowed down to the beach until 8.30am. By then, quite a few people had arrived. We were lucky to be among the first to lay out our towels and walk into the crystal clear sea but after an hour or so Italians being Italians we were surrounded. Now, this wasn’t just the inconvenience of having a family or couple close by, they were on top of us. Towel touching towel so to speak. One family plomped themselves in the shade of our parasol advising us that the shade would soon move. There was space further back, but everyone wanted to be as close to the sea as possible and they would have plonked themselves on our towels if they could have. Some Italians like to stand around in the shallow of the sea which also meant that I was staring at an old man’s bum for quite some time. We enjoyed the beach and the water is amazing BUT two hours after arriving we left. If you can’t beat them, leave them to it! Seriously, go early morning to make the most of it (8.30am) or outside of the months July and August.

5. A sunset aperitivo

Watching the sunset from O'scia
Watching the sunset from O’scia

An aperitivo at O’scia whilst watching the sun go down is a MUST. Drink a cocktail or two and take advantage of their buffet and you won’t need to eat out later.

6. Explore the island by scooter

The stunning coastline of Lampedusa
The stunning coastline of Lampedusa

The coastline is just as spectacular from above. The roads may be a bit bumpy now and again but you will get almost empty roads when you leave the town and stunning views out to sea.

7. Visit the turtle hospital

The longest resident of the turtle hospital at Lampedusa
The longest resident of the turtle hospital at Lampedusa

The turtle hospital is located in the old port and is open Mon to Fri in the evening. Informative volunteers are on hand to tell you about each turtle they have in their care.

8. Cocktails at Turkez

Enjoying a cocktail as the sunset sets over Cala Croce
Enjoying a cocktail as the sunset sets over Cala Croce

Another great place to have an aperitivo and close to town. You will find it at Cala Croce.

9. The Sanctuary of Our LadyThe Sanctuary of our Lady of Lampedusa
Worth a look as there are some old previously inhabited caves and a little church.

10.  Archivio Storico Lampedusa
Whilst the museum in being reconstructed there is a very interesting studio to visit with old photos and newspaper front pages which tell the story of the inhabitants of Lampedusa.