Hanging with Mafia and Escaping Weirdo's in Sicily
Not all destinations are created equally.
I collapsed in the creaky iron single bed and leaned back letting my head hit the pillow, the lumpy mattress only providing the minimal amount of necessary comfort that I could be afforded on such a trip.
I had fucked up. As I sweat through my shirt and contemplated my next move, I knew right then and there I had to get the fuck out of there.
The preceding week had been one of non-stopped travel. My tireless research that had brought me all the way from Phoenix, to Miami, to Germany and now to Sicily for under $450 had taken a toll on my mind and my body. Between getting blackout drunk in Miami, rushing to catch my overnight flight to Dusseldorf and sleeping at an airport there waiting 20 hours for my flight to Palermo in Sicily, I was exhausted.
But the jig wasn’t up yet. I immediately went to town and caught a bus to Sciacca, a coastal town not far from Palermo. Upon arrival I was to locate my host where I would be staying for a month. I had dreams of a beautiful villa with ice cold AC, possibly a glass of wine and if I was lucky maybe a homemade Sicilian dinner before a long rest to recover from my intense travel schedule.
To say the least, my dreams were far from the reality I was about to endure.
I found Franco on Workaway, a site where you can contact hosts around the world and exchange work for lodging around the world. The scenic photos and stunning coastal views from Franco’s ad made this paradise seem like something I just could not pass up.
Upon arriving in Sciacca, I realized that I had no way of getting on the Internet and contacting Franco. I lugged my belongings around town for about an hour before locating a pay phone. After about 35 minutes of calling with no answer and down to my last few euro coins, my host finally answered. An hour later he arrived to pick me up.
Franco was eccentric to say the least. He handed me his business card when he arrived and proclaimed that he was the “mayor of Sicily”. Without as much as hearing my name or my plans he rambled on about Sicily and how it needed independence from Italy and how he was the man keeping Sicily as a sovereign nation. He brought me to a few stops in town to grab supplies where he spoke with the locals who appeared to know him well. Even though I did not speak Italian, I could see the disdain on the faces of nearly everyone he came in contact with. I wasn’t sure if Franco perhaps had a minor mental illness, was just a bit of a weirdo or was just trying to impress me.
In my current state, I really didn’t give a shit at the time, I wanted to get to wherever the hell we were going and go to sleep. That would not happen anytime soon however.
Despite my pleadings and requests, upon arrival Franco sat me down to go over every aspect of his EBay business that I would be helping him with. In short what I discovered was that he grew exotic psychedelics that could only be grown in this particular area that surrounded his home and then sold them on EBay to users looking to trip balls in all corners of the world.
Not only was I pretty sure this had to be illegal, but I could tell that the time in which it took Franco to explain a simple task and the extreme ADD and attention to detail he required was going to make my time here pretty damn interesting.
Eventually I was shown to my room and my prison like cot bed, no fan, no ac and definitely no glass of wine were waiting.
At this point I was too fucking exhausted to even argue. I just laid down, stared up at the ceiling and thought of how I could get the hell out of there gracefully.
Not all destinations are created equally.
While I love to write about the awesome adventures I’ve had all around the world, I would be remiss to not mention the awful, annoying and sometimes dreadful situations I get myself into. Most if not all times I’ve noticed that I get into these spots, it is because I was trying to save a buck, skim on spending to save for the better part of the trip. Then sometimes I just overlook things like to ask like, “hey you have AC right, I mean its 100 degrees there” or “Your Internet isn’t dial up right?”
The next day I awoke to Franco chatting with his parents who had come over to visit. His father was a tough looking older man wearing a cabbie hat who had eyes that pierced right through you. They nodded politely, seemingly somewhat annoyed by Franco, I’m guessing he never told them I was coming to what I found out was actually their home.
Franco told me about how his dad was very concerned that I was a writer. He told me discreetly that he was a member of the mafia and that they didn’t want any bad press, or any press for that matter getting out or any names being exposed. If I needed any more of a reason to get the hell out of there, I know was mildly concerned that Franco’s dad might wack me and bury me out back.
I told Franco that I had just received an urgent email stating that I had a career changing assignment in Berlin that I had to leave for. I apologized profusely but let him know I had to leave. He was annoyed, siting all the reasons they needed help around the home and were counting on me but I persisted that maybe I could come back in a week, but needed to leave now. After 30 minutes of discussion Franco spoke to his father who seemed all too happy to take me back to the bus station.
I bid farewell to Franco and cautiously packed my things into his father’s car. He spoke just a very minimal amount of English and didn’t talk more than he needed too, unlike his son.
Franco told me I was heading to a town depicted in the Godfather, though I am not sure if this was true. On the quiet ride to the small town nearby I started to get a bit nervous about just where we were going as we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, driving away from the coast in the opposite direction that I had come into town. I looked out at all the land ripe with great areas to hide a body I imagined, at least I’d be laid to rest in picturesque scenery among the vineyards I thought, a better than many get to rest for eternity.
As we pulled into a small town that did look quite a bit like Corleone Italy, the town depicted in the godfather, Franco’s father pointed out a man on the side of the road. I looked at him confused; did he want me to get out?
“The hats, this is how you tell the level in the mafia.” Franco’s father, who hadn’t yet given me his name I might add, explained. “By direction of hat”. I nodded and smiled politely. The man wore the same cabbie hat as him but pointed to the side.
He pulled up to a store and gestured for me to get out. We walked inside and I realized we were going to be buying flowers, or so I thought.
The owner saw my companion and went into the back of the store immediately. He returned moments later with a fresh bouquet of flowers. He then reached below the counter and grabbed a handful of cash handing it over. Though one could reason maybe he bought the flowers online and overpaid by a few hundred Euro, I had a more clear idea of what was actually going on. An all too pleasant shake down of the locals, one they seemed used too, even happy to provide.
We got back in the car and moment later he dropped me off at the bus stop just as my bus to Palermo was loading luggage. I asked if he’d help me translate to purchase a ticket. He shook his head no and urged the driver to grab my bag, shuttling me onto the bus and having a quick chat with the bus driver. As he left me he said simply, “write good about us”. Smiling with a handshake before walking away.
All in all, a free night of lodging, transport to the bus station and a free bus trip back to Palermo was something I was thrilled with at the time considering the alternative. As the bus pulled away I realized that maybe I’d plan out my trip a bit less optimistically in the future.
I had met the mafia man and his crazy misfit son, gotten away before breaking any International drug laws and came away with a pretty damn unique story to tell.
My bus parked in Palermo and I got off, crossed the street to the nearest hotel and booked a room for the night. I decided that this time I wouldn’t try to find the cheapest room, and instead the closest. I must had slept 15 hours straight, enough time to play out all my mafia dreams in my head before waking to explore a new city, one I would come to love.