With my pajamas covered in sweat I awake from a not so peaceful nights sleep. The sounds of zipping scooters and heavy trucks bumping their way past on the road outside is enough to disturb even the heaviest of sleepers. If that doesn’t keep you awake the stifling heat of the Sicilian summer will. From the minute I wake up the only thing that’s on my mind is diving into the sea. Not only because its cool and refreshing but because it saves washing the sweat off and fighting with the shower that can’t decided whether it wants to run scalding hot today or limb numbingly cold.
I curse under my breath. Today is a Saturday. Which means the world and is wife will be at the beach today. The thought of driving around in circles in a hot car looking for a parking spot at the beach doesn’t excite me. Luckily the beach isn’t the only spot within driving distance of the house. Just a short drive away is Gole Alcantara, a natural reserve of shady trees and flowing water, one of the area’s hidden gems.
With the beach bags packed and swim suits and bikinis on we down our morning espressos and jump in the car, being super careful that no bare skin touches the metal seat belt buckles. Driving through the back lanes of the foothills of Mount Etna with the windows down we can smell the sea salt in the humid air. My flowing hair in the wind begins to stick together and I can feel a stickiness to my skin already. As we cross small gorges and tiny streams we know we are getting closer to reserve.
As we reach the carpark and are directed to a parking space we get out of the car and the heat hits us again like opening the door to an oven. The car park was but almost empty which delighted us. Places like this are often only known by local visitors and savy tourists who had done their research so as expected it was no where near as busy as the beach! Despite growing in popularity over the past few years this beautiful gorge still remains relatively unspoiled which is one thing we love about it.
As we descend down the gorge we begin to hear the rushing water and the shady trees give us some relief from the growing heat. When we reach the bottom we change our shoes to our water shoes (a must for Gole) and run into the shallow pool of water kicking the water up as we run through it feeling the coolness on our feet! With our backpacks firmly strapped to our backs and our water shoes on we head further down the gorge in search for a spot.
As the water gets deeper your legs begin to shudder! Your skin begins to look like a freshly plucked chicken as goosebumps begin to appear. With a quick glimpse down the gorge I realize that sooner or later a whole body submerge will be required to pass through and I feel even colder at the thought.
Feeling exhausted from navigating through the rocky boulders (and avoiding full body water contact) we finally spot a flat clearing of pebbles unoccupied. A quick glance behind and we realize half of Sicily was following us (not so quiet after all) so we race to claim our spot.
And what a perfect spot it was. Half in the sun and half shaded by the overhanging trees our spot was idyllic. The stream had not yet picked up too much pace so a nice rippled stream allowed for a relaxing ambiance. But it was finally time to go in the water. My previous excitement of refreshing myself in the cool waters quickly disappeared as I slowly begin to walk steadily deeper into the water.
My calves are in full cramping mode before I even get to waist height. They feel as if I had done a hundred reps on that blasted machine at the gym. I find a protruding stone boulder to rest and warm myself up on before catching up with the others who I can hear further down the gorge.
It takes some considerable effort to walk down the stream while the water gushes at my thighs, trying ever so hard to knock me down off my feet. I’m sure if it was game you would hear the stream shout “Got ya” as it knocks person after person down into the freezing water with a yelp!
As I catch up with the others I notice a bit of an obstacle stopping me from going any further. A giant boulder stick out into the water with water flowing fast around it. I stand back at a height and try and figure a way around it. I watch a brave Italian man navigate himself around it, gripping firmly to the rocky ledges of the boulder. For sure if he was to let go the rushing rapids would take him down the stream.
I find a rather dangerous route crossing over boulders that would require some leaps of faith and decide the only way is to go around the boulder. Very kindly the man helps me as I grip to the rock as if my life depended on it and I reach for my boyfriend who is standing on a flat ledge. As he helps me to me feet I notice that the time has come to be fully submerged in the water as a tiny waterfall slide begins at our feet. I realize the only way down is to to let the water carry you down so I attempt to sit down in the water but its just too cold.
My boyfriend willingly goes first leaving me behind. Flash backs of river rapid rides in Disney flood back to me and I can see my boyfriend giving me hand signals as to how to go down the rapid. I had hoped I could avoid having to get into the water completely but there was no other way so I went for it. Luckily enough some of it was captured on video so you can enjoy watching me freezing my butt cheeks off in this terrifying rapid experience. If the video had gone on long enough you would of seen me fall down from being pushed by the water and be taken even further down stream!
As I finally found my feet again I stand up out of the water and am glad for once that the sun’s heat is warming me for my leg muscles are working overtime to allow me to stand and my nipples feel so hard they could drop off. I laughed earlier at people wearing thick black wet suits but I semi wish I had one now. I decide it looks even more dangerous to proceed any further down the gorge so I turn around to head back up….trouble is….how do you get back up??
TOP TIPS FOR VISITORS TO GOLE ALCANTARA
- You must be physically fit enough to visit. While the descend to the gorge is via steps with a railing (in parts) going back up after a day in the sun can be exhausting. There is an elevator but you have to pay for it as opposed to free entrance if you walk.
- Take plenty of drinking water as there is no place to buy it when your down there!
- While there were many families there, if you are visiting with children I would strongly advise staying in the shallow waters as the water can be incredibly fast in the deeper areas and it will whip children off their feet.
- Bring suitable water show footwear. The river bed can be sharp in areas and walking barefoot is not advised.
- Beaware of leeches