Regardless of my departure, today was as rich and exciting as the last two! Girolamo is the best tour guide. I now know for sure never to travel anywhere without making it a point to do a homestay, make friends with locals etc. We woke up bright and early for a solid half day of work at the WWF Riserva Saline di Trapani e Paceco (check out the website here). The reserve serves as a bird sanctuary for over 120 species, including fenicotteri (flamingos) and fratticcelli (friar-birds? don't know the translation). It also has some contact with the coast, so has cooperated with the Lampedusa Turtle Group in releases and conservation efforts. This is not your average reserve, though. It kind of reminded me of the Adirondacks case that I studied in Professor John Wargo's class last semester, at least in the economic sense. It was actually a vast expanse of large-scale commercial artificial salt flats. It has been taken over by the WWF because of its significance for bird breeding and feeding, but still has local and corporate salt 'farming' provided compliance with conservation regulations. It's not picturesque (although the windmills are obviously cool!) but has an incredible history!
Salt pans 2,3,4 of a commercial section of the reserve, with Trapani in the background
I had several science lessons courtesy of Gerardo Cortellaro, one of the rangers that took me out to do maintenance and surveying while Girolamo took care of administrative business in the main office. I learned about the algae->shrimp->flamingo feeding chain, engineering the transport of sea water from salt pan 1 all the way to 5, harvesting techniques and plants that are salty grazie to osmosis. I got lots of complementary salt as a souvenir. Thanks y'all. Essentially the experience was hugely appreciated by my part because I was able to see a very unique (in my mind) reserve/conservation model, understand some of the work that rangers do, and appreciate local culture and economic history.
My last Sicilian hurrah was a stop by Erice, a medieval mountaintop village accessible via ski lift from downtown Trapani. Girolamo and his excellent communication skills gave me absolutely no warning. After a pleasant casual lunch of nocciola gelato on brioche, I was literally kicked to the curb at the lift station and told to be back in 3 hours. Okay. SO WORTH THE STRUGGLE. It was quite literally a castle in the clouds. Originally built to be a temple of Venus and known for its lovely collection of Vestal Virgins, the small town was built around a Narnia-like castle above the tree and cloud lines with breathtaking views of turquoise water, the Sicilian countryside, and Trapani (including the WWF reserve!). I wandered around without a map for the first time in my life and was completely happy. An absolute must-see.
Photo courtesy of a man from Togo who plays the drums up here to make money and played Waka Waka by Shakira form me because he thought I was Colombian (I wish)
Absolutely awestruck - view of part of the Spanish addition to the castle and some of Sicily