We rise early to start our last day of the walk from Enna to the sea, after a quick breakfast at our Madonie ski lodge. The silent man in the light grey suit–the lodge owner? manager? kitchen boss?–appears once again, pacing along the far wall of the dining room, hands clasped behind his back, overseeing every detail, as he has for both our dinners and breakfasts. We have our suitcases ready at the top of the stairs by 7:45 a.m. for Martina to pack them in the van.
We congregate in the car park. Three of our group will stay behind and ride with Martina to the small town of Isnello, where eight of us will meet them at a small cafe. After an espresso, we will walk 13 kilometers more to the town of Cefalù, on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Stephen drives eight of us in the van to a spot not far from the lodge. Martina followed in the Skoda station wagon, and then when we climbed out of the van, she climbs into the driver’s seat and leaves the Skoda behind. Martina and Stephen, using a top secret and complicated system that only the understand, will return to move the car later in the day. We climb out of the white van, grab our daypacks, adjust our hats, and follow Stephen down the path off the paved road and into a grove of trees and gorse. We soon found ourselves at the bottom of a steep incline up a rock-strewn path.
Unlike the first few days’ walks, today, we aren’t on a drove road or even a well-used path, so we depend on Stephen to lead us back and forth in a switchback, ascending the mountain. Both on the way up and on the way down the mountain, we encounter wide streams, loose rocks in the water, and slippery mud. I clutch my trekking pole and wish I had two of them. I mentally add “second trekking pole” to the list of must-have items for any future walking tours: trousers with special zippers, so that magically, the long pants become walking shorts; a truly waterproof jacket; more long-sleeved cotton shirts; packing pods.
We move quickly, jumping over the smaller rocks and negotiating the streams. Some of us are caught up in stray barbed wire, a piece of fence that has fallen and been trampled into a booby trap on the trail. I nearly miss landing on my face. Instead, I break my fall with my hands, which just miss the barbs. We see the medieval commune of Isnello in the near distance, and almost before I know it, we are out of the brush, and walking down the hill onto paved road, and into Isnello. We make our way down the paved streets, up narrow passages between houses, around corners, and down more narrow lanes until we come to the meeting place. The sun is shining, the day is warm, and the espresso bar calls to us.
Inside, a twenty-something barista pulls espressos while a few men stand around and appreciate her beauty. She has dyed aubergine-colored hair, and wears a snug t-shirt, a jeans jacket, and iridescent green and yellow paisley tights. A stern older woman dressed in a dark gray dress—presumably the lovely barista’s mama—stands by, watching the scene. She nods to us when we bid her bongiorno, and points to the w.c., reading our minds.
We carry our espressos ten or twelve paces across the narrow street, to the cafe’s small tables. I have a perfect line of vision across the street where three young men stand, sipping white wine from glasses. They position themselves next to the doorway, looking out at whatever action they can find on the street, but occasionally glancing back at the barista.
Not much is happening today in Isnello. A woman walks by with her tiny daughter. The uniformed parking officer, a woman of about forty, stops to scold a man whose truck is blocking traffic. He is slow to move his vehicle. Is he reluctant to follow her instructions immediately because she is younger than him? Or is her authority undercut because she’s a woman? We ponder this as we drain our espresso cups, return them to the young barista, and begin the next leg of our walk to Cefalù. We have miles—or kilometers— to go before we…not sleep, but dip our toes into the sea and toast each other with Prosecco.
We have absolutely no idea how difficult the rest of today will be on our feet, our calves, our quadriceps, our balance, and our endurance skills. We will take many steps and burn many calories over the next hours.
Next: the six-hour walk, via the pilgrim route to Cefalù.