I finally met up with Nomi more than two months after the Nepalese earthquake derailed our initial plans to trek through the Himalayas. We had gone our separate ways, but eventually reconnected in the French Riviera, where we boarded an overnight ferry to Corsica en route to a six-day music festival on the beaches of Calvi. Our journey to this picturesque Mediterranean island was in large part a leap of faith, one that was sure to reward but nevertheless full of unknown variables. Nomi learned about the festival from a couple French backpackers he encountered while traveling, and had little information other than what they communicated to him in a brief but enthusiastic recommendation. The organizers barely advertise the event, communicate everything in French only, and limit attendance to around 15,000 people.
What followed in the week ahead was a truly unique experience, equal parts music festival and cultural immersion. Calvi on the Rocks is sex on the beach, an orgy of sand, azure water, and confident French women in micro bikinis firing off sexually-charged glances to the beat of a disco house soundtrack. The French barely dance—they are far too cool for that—but the energy was palpable, vibrating from the hard bodies and barely concealed smiles belying the exultation that arises from finding oneself on a Mediterranean beach under the setting sun as Dixon steps up to the decks.
We inhabited this fairytale world for six days, or maybe we didn’t. For all I know, the festival was a prolonged, heat-induced hallucination, a mirage in the desert that evaporated into the atmosphere as we boarded an outbound ferry and slipped off its shore in the direction of Livorno. Hazy memories and dark skin suggested that we had traveled through the Corsican galaxy, but it was too late to even consider the notion as we catapulted down the Italian coast by train.
We stopped occasionally—just long enough to assault our senses with flashes of history and beauty—before charging forward to that which lay ahead. Rome for a day, and then Salerno, where we hopped on a public bus that snaked along a narrow road hugging the Amalfi Coast and deposited us in a small seaside town tightly wedged between two steep cliffs. Atrani (population: 1000) has always been there and always will be, though it never would have happened in the first place were it not for a nameless group of people who, some thousands of years ago, realized the possibility of building a remarkable community in harmony with a challenging but spectacular natural environment.
The journey continued south to the toe of Italy, where our train literally boarded a ferry and traversed the narrow Strait of Messina to Sicily. Our arrival in Palermo coincided with an annual festival celebrating the city’s beloved patron saint, Santa Rosalia, who was born to a wealthy family but elected for a solitary existence in a cave at the top of a mountain until her death in 1166. In 1624, she appeared in the dream of a local citizen and instructed him to carry her remains through the streets of Palermo. He complied, and in doing so lifted the city out of a plague which threatened its very existence.
From Palermo, we rented a car and launched ourselves into the Sicilan countryside for a few days. We had no idea where to go, but figured we would find something; what road trip ever ends in failure? After a couple mishits (i.e., towns that resembled a post-apocalyptic Mogadishu), we set our GPS for a small village located deep in the backcountry, sandwiched between two green blobs—representing nature reserves—on the map.
Giuliana (population: 2000) is one of many hilltop towns in rural Sicily that, from a distance, resemble medieval kingdoms forever lost in time. Few outsiders or outside influences visit these places, which stand isolated above the rest of the world like castles in the sky, separated by vast seas of arid farmland flowing gracefully over the undulating terrain. Wheat, olive trees, grape vines, and other hardy plants improbably grow here. It is a simple but majestic beauty.
We drove through several of these towns and became lost in labyrinths of narrow, cobblestone streets known only to the locals, many of whom probably spend their entires lives within the confines of these hill societies. The townspeople generally stared at us with a mixture of shock and horror, unless they were children, in which case they smiled at this momentary intrusion into their universe by a couple of guys just wandering around.
After a final night shared with an Air BnB host who fed us spaghetti and freshly made wine, we cruised back to Palermo through lush forests and open plains, bringing to a close my three-month stay in Europe and a year of travel for Nomi, who was heading back to the States to start the next phase of his journey. As we stood in the street bidding each other farewell, images of the trip flashed before our eyes. And all we could do was laugh. There was meaning in everything—every experience, every moment—but it was futile to try and think about all that and do anything but just be. The lessons would reveal themselves in time, when we were ready to hear them. There was no search because there is no answer, simply a developing awareness of the self and world that is always perfect, yet never complete. Our Mediterranean adventure ended as soon as it began, but another loomed on the horizon, for both of us.