Ed. Note: Hi! I’m reposting this while I’m getting ready for a massive post. Enjoy!
I just realized that in my heated fervor surrounding an epic day trip to Levanzo last year, I forgot all about poor Favignana. It’s one of the three Egadi Islands accessible by boat from Trapani, Sicily (the third being Marettimo). If you’ll recall, last year during a visit by my friend Mr. Pants, we got a 10-euro round-trip flight to Trapani from Rome and then randomly hopped on boats to venture farther out into the Mediterranean.
This is the story of our trip to Favignana.
I guess it’s best to start at the beginning, which was the spring of 2004. March, was it? May? Well, it was whenever Mr. Pants came to visit me in Rome. It was his first visit to Rome. It was his first visit to Europe!
Not one to coddle, a few days after his arrival I put him on a train, alone, to Florence for a day trip. He left terrified and returned triumphant and a travel addict.
We went to Venice together that first year, too. Today we can’t remember which one of us forgot their wallet and who forgot all the toiletries, but it doesn’t matter. What we do remember is that whorehouse hotel room, with the flocked wallpaper and drippy-crystal chandelier; convincing the lady at Vino Vino to sell us a bottle of wine, open it for us, and give us to-go cups; drinking that wine in a deserted Piazza San Marco until the wee hours; asking for seconds during a three-hour lunch, protected from a rainstorm by an old awning. The trip lasted 24 hours, but it felt like a month of Sundays.
I’ve been lucky to have most of my very best friends visit me here, and I do not exaggerate when I say that I’ve had the very best time with every single one of them. From a 15-hour restaurant crawl with the Macks in Rome to Girls’ Weekends in four countries and everything, everyone and every place in between, I’ve been blessed with amazing friends who are voracious travel addicts. And, of course, there is my dear darling Cal, without whom this incredibly abundant life of travel, leisure and love would not be possible.
So, it is with the risk of offending at least a dozen people that I say: Mr. Pants and I are traveling soul mates.
Like most declarations of this kind, it’s hard to explain exactly why it is so. I could say that it’s because we both love train travel, but I share this with Cal as I do a hotel obsession, which I also share with MK and Mrs. Mack, who are my food soul mates just as much as Mr. Pants is; it could be that we appreciate to our cores the value of doing absolutely nothing, which Fabulous Cousin and I have perfected into an art form; or maybe it’s the instinctual understanding of a culture other than your own, for which my precious Jax holds the prize, as she does for turning travel glitches into hilarious or otherwise amusing opportunities, which brings me back to another thing I share with Mr. Pants.
See? It’s impossible to explain, so I ask only that you understand it to be true. And now let’s continue, or rather begin, the story of our trip to Favignana.
Except if I could just interrupt one more time to say that the aforementioned trip to Levanzo happened after this one and was truly epic, and the one that stands out of all the things Mr. pants and I have ever done. This one is not so epic, but it is worth telling, and so finally I will:
The city center of Trapani is on a tiny peninsula that juts out from the west coast of Sicily, barely noticeable on a map unless you’re looking for it. On our second day there, Mr. Pants and I decided to head over to the southern edge of the peninsula to see what was happening.
Expecting more of the same savage beauty we happened upon on the north shore, we were disappointed: It was entirely consumed by a working port, with bulky metal hulls and massive, beast-like hydraulic lifts blocking what might have been a lovely view. Still, we decided to walk down the seaside promenade, hoping to get some funky industrial-type pictures out of it.
That’s when we came upon the ticket stand for Ustica Lines, the boat service to the Egadi Islands, baking in the late morning sun. If my pre-trip research notes are anything to go by, this also was the same moment we discovered the existence of the Egadi Islands.
We looked at the timetable. There was a boat leaving for Favignana in 15 minutes. I looked at Mr. Pants. He looked over at a vendor selling straw porkpie hats, then back at me. “Yeah, let’s do it. I have to get a hat first though.”
I bought the tickets and we headed over to the vendor. I waited until he saw the hat I knew he was going to buy, and asked the vendor if my friend could try it on. He placed it on Pants’ head, brandished a mirror and said, “Bello.” Pants looked at me. I nodded. The vendor and I negotiated the price. Pants paid. We returned to the shade of the ticket stand and smoked a cigarette.
“What do you think’s in Favignana?”
“I have no idea.”
Favignana is the largest of the Egadi Islands and is roughly shaped like its nickname, La Farfalla – the butterfly. The port is located in what would be the body of the butterfly, and the streets closest to the port are the most populated part of the island.
We found the piazza as one can in any small Italian town – start with the widest street leading away from the main source of public transportation, and keep walking.
Pants took that photo. I hope you weren’t too imaginative when I said it’s the most populated.
Once we felt like we had our bearings, we headed for the smallest street leading away from the piazza. This is how you get lost.
We walked slowly, sometimes side-by-side or sometimes alone when one of us would stop to look at something or take a picture. Sometimes Pants would turn a corner ahead of me, knowing that I saw where he turned; when I’d round the corner there he would be, far ahead of me or waiting patiently next to a door that he knew I’d want to take a picture of. I love door pictures.
But sometimes I’d take the lead, as it were, and then Pants would be the one to catch up to me as I waited in front of a door I just took a picture of, so I could show him how awesome the door was. I would wait until he was there, and we’d look at the door together. He would say, “Awesome” or “Yep” or he’d just laugh and shake his head.
Eventually the streets became a dirt road lined with walls made of stones that someone had stacked one by one a long time ago, and then every once in a while there would be a door. Some walls we could peer over, but some were as high as the doors. Behind all the walls and the doors were gardens; or rather there were gnarled thickets and weather-beaten dune grass and impossibly beautiful wildflowers and trash.
Eventually we came to the end of this road, and there was the sea.
We turned down another road that ran parallel to the sea. This road seemed even more abandoned than the last, with not even those useless walls to mark its boundaries. We followed this road until it lost the fight to a patch of grasslands, and we stood there for a while and looked out at the sea and another island in the near distance. Knowing us we probably smoked a cigarette there, snuffing them out on our shoes and putting the spent butts in my bag.
Turning back, we both saw the other road at the same time. “Let’s take that other road back,” said Pants. And we did.
This road had a bit more character to it, or at least a less abandoned feeling. We had seen only one person since we had left the city center, I think. I think it was a girl? Maybe in her early twenties? Or a middle-aged woman on a bike? Maybe we saw two people. Maybe we saw none.
Time started up again when we returned to the city center, which now seemed like a bustling metropolis. Using our unspoken Wide Streets Rule, we found the piazza and then the road to the port. We stopped at the only restaurant that was still open so late in the afternoon, the occupants of the last table finishing their post-lunch espresso. It was called Bar Cono. I explained to the waiter that we needed to catch the next boat, but could we order something quick? “Certo, prego,” he said, and showed us to a table.
I had chilled octopus salad, and Pants had fried calamari. We had a glass of white wine each. It was ridiculously fresh, absolutely delicious, stupidly cheap. We arrived at the port in time to look awkward taking pictures of colorful fishing boats. By now we were delirious, in need of a nap if only to let our eyes have a rest from looking at beautiful things.