I am standing at the edge of a 20-foot cliff. I know. Twenty feet down is not so hardcore. Some high dives at country clubs are more elevated, but I am scared. The cliff curves down somewhat into a deep pool of water, or so I’m told. My entire group with me has already made the jump. I got myself up here. I must see my way back down. I am in the middle of what many call the Grand Canyon of Sicily. Rather, I am at the bottom of Cava Grande in southeastern Sicily.
Cava Grande may be the ultimate hikers’ paradise in Sicily. A 300-meter hike down can take well over an hour. The limestone carved canyon can be blamed on the Cassibile River, which formed this grand canyon some 15 million years ago. Prehistoric dwellers used Cava Grande as burial resting places. Along the hike down, those dwellings remind me the ancients live on for I can see those tiny digs carved along the sides of this massive canyon. They are looking down on me now, or so I hope, praying to those Sicilian gods that I will make it out of Cava Grande alive.
At the bottom of Cava Grande, several natural pools make ideal places for swimming. Following my Sicilian guide Ricardo, he throws off his backpack, leaves it on the dry rocks and jumps in the water. He tells our group we must leave our belongings here for the best spring is just up ahead. You have to swim through one to get to the other.
Now I have these fears while I travel. I hate leaving my belongings anywhere unattended. I know they are just material possessions, but if I can keep that security blanket of a backpack with me at all times, I am a happy traveler. Abandon my backpack Ricardo? Are you crazy? Those thoughts did cross my mind and then I remember. I am in the middle of a giant canyon. No other group or person is around. Who could steal my prized purple backpack? I’ll put this travel fear aside and leave everything behind.
I throw my body up in the air and jump in the first pool. I loved swimming ever since I could walk, perhaps even before. I was never afraid of the water. I used to jump in swimming pools when I was 3 years old and could not swim, causing my Mom, Dad and other siblings to jump in fully clothed after me. My mom still reminds me she once ruined a watch saving me. I really should buy her a new one to make up for things.
The water here feels like swimming in a glass of ice water. Good thing the Sicilian sun is burning today. As we all make it across this pool to the next, I see a cliff that shades this natural spring. I don’t think anything of it as I strap on some goggles to do some old swim team tricks. Then Ricardo launches himself out of the water and begins scaling the wall of this limestone cliff. There is about half a foot of room to do this, but he eventually reaches the top and swan dives off into the pool below.
To me, this looked terrifying. I knew I wanted no part in jumping, however the ancients watching me from their old dwellings above knew otherwise. To say I succumbed to peer pressure would be accurate. Everyone was doing it. One by one they scaled the wall to jump off this curved cliff. Who knew how deep it was below or if a swim truck would get caught on a rock. One of my friends is overly pushy. She kept telling me to “Man up and just do it.” As one would imagine, my temper began to rise and I was going to conquer another travel fear. If I could leave my backpack behind, surely I could jump off this cliff.
I inched my way up the cliff’s side. After what seemed like an eternity, I jumped, screaming. Rising to the top of the water I knew I had this dumb smile across my face. I started asking everyone how my form was. No one watched me actually jump. Seriously? I conquer my fear and no one watched. Nonetheless, I did it.
Other people have fears of getting arrested or in trouble with the law in a foreign country, rather than just having their belongings stolen or making a risky move. As we ventured up Cava Grande to head back to home base, Ricardo stayed behind to catch some sun and told us to meet him at the top in an hour. As we made it to the top, that travel fear of being arrested almost came to fruition.
When you hear park rangers in Sicily radio a call to the polizia upon reaching the top of a natural reserve canyon, you know you are in trouble. I nervously tried explaining in my broken Italian that our group and guide didn’t know we had entered Cava Grande on a day when hiking was prohibited. Needless to say, I escaped a Sicilian prison cell once Ricardo reached the top and joked with the ranger about his mistake.
Those fears you encounter while traveling usually do not all occur at once, let alone in a canyon. I guess in some respect I conquered them all, but don’t expect me to go cliff diving anytime soon.