Day 16, 17, 18, Modica/Ragusa, Sicilia AND the Devil Fruit!

October 21, 2019

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Driving from Enna to Modica was about a two hour drive on rural two-lane highways.   In many areas there was no centerline or shoulder striping. The traffic was sparse and would only bunch up around farm equipment on the road or if someone failed to maintain at least a 130 KPH (81 MPH) speed.  The posted speed limit was typically 90 KPH (56 MPH), but was ignored by all. The pavement was not always smooth. Striking a balance between keeping up with the flow of traffic vs travelling at a safe speed for conditions was frustrating.  

Like in Tuscany, other drivers would drive in the center of the roadway only giving way as you neared them.  

The terrain reminded me of the coastal mountains around southern California.  Where there was water there were trees, otherwise scrub brush and rocky limestone cobble was the norm.

I was surprised to see “orchards” of cactus.  Occasionally there would be rows and rows of cactus 10 foot tall with lots of arms.  There were probably several hundred “trees” in one farm. I had seen what they called “prickly pears” in the fruit/vegetable stores and I knew I needed to try the fruit of this cactus. I wish I could have taken a picture of these orchards but there was nowhere to safely pull over.

Below is the car that I rented called a Panda made by Fiat.  It was gutless, but had great gas mileage and a very smooth manual transmission.  It was small enough I could drive up any medieval alley and easily park.

The Panda and a really good bottle of wine from Erice.

I used a smartphone app called “Here We Go” that did a very good job of providing turn by turn instructions where no cell phone signal was available.  Using masking tape, I was able to secure my smartphone onto the dash so I could see a live map. I set the voice on “Here We Go” to be a female, icy calm, with a blue blooded British accent.  Hold that thought.

Let’s go back to the masking tape.  I went to a hardware store in Trapani to get masking tape to secure my smartphone to the dash of the Panda.  I found a hardware store, went in and asked for masking tape. The hardware man gave me a blank look and said “Italiano.”  I looked around and saw that he carried many of the same brands we had back home in Home Depot. He had Dewalt table saws and I said “Dewalt!” with a thumbs up.  He laughed. I said “Milwaukee!” and he repeated, “Milllwalkkkeee!” And Makita! He repeated Makita! Makita oscillating tools are a big thing in Italy. For the masking tape I mimed carefully placing masking tape on his counter and then mimed painting.  He instantly found the masking tape. A kindred spirit, indeed.

Now, back to that icy calm blue blooded female British accent: The pitch of her voice was high enough that I could hear her over road noise and the British accent was kind of 007-James-Bond-fun-to-listen-to…  while driving my gutless Panda.

The “Here We Go” (HWG) app is the best offline navigation tool that I have used but caution must be used at roundabouts.  If there has been construction on a roundabout and the HWG database has not been updated, the app will tell you to exit at the wrong exit.  Having an electronic map available is critical. There is nothing relaxing about driving in Italy.

When I arrived in Modica I needed to do laundry, find out where the grocery stores were and decide if I wanted to eat out or make a sandwich in my room.  The next morning I drove down to old town Modica to explore.

Here is Modica on Google maps:

Note the clock on the castle tower. At noon everyday they fire off a propane cannon multiple times. The detonation is too loud for my tastes, but I guess the community likes it.
Note the empty tombs in the distant cliffs.
The famous Duomo di Saint Giorgio (1573 AD) is to the right.
Saint Giorgio a very important Saint in the Modica/Ragusa region.

Saint Giorgio is the patron saint of Modica, Ragusa, and of many countries. You can read more here:

It was the custom in this time period to portray male saints with feminine features. Interesting lace runner on the table. I like how the dark red background sets off the lace.
This is paraded around town to celebrate Saint Giorgio.
The martyrdom of Saint Giorgio. Very Graphic.
Note the merdian sundial on the floor. This tool was very important for the community to know when to plant seeds and honor important dates. See this link to read more about meridian sundials:
These are the steps leading up to the organ. It is so worn the nails are exposed on the toe kicks.
Imagine what these walls have heard over the centuries.
Heracles of Cafeo, 3rd century BC

Modica has a decent archaeological Museum. Its most famous artifact is the Heracles of Cafeo found during a construction excavation in the river Irmino.

They also have on display a bronze age female skeleton that was exhumed from an tomb.  In an adjacent small tomb were her two infants. She died in childbirth at approximately 35 years old. In the bronze age with poor healthcare she was the equivalent of being 65 years old. She had a long life for her times but seeing the skeletons of her babies was heartbreaking even after these thousands of years.

More information can be found following this link:

A pleasant view of a back alley in Modica.
It took me a while to figure this out. It is an old solar water heater. There are many of these on the roofs of these buildings.
A newer solar hot water heater in the distance. Rocks are placed on the roof to keep the edge tile from being lifted and blown off in high wind.

As I was exploring I came upon a garage built up against a cliff. The door was open so I peeked inside. To my shock they had excavated the limestone to make this cavern. I wondered how many of these other buildings extended into the rock.

The tarp is needed to keep falling rocks and dripping mineral water from hitting the vehicles. I’d hate to be near this cliff during an earthquake.

The picture below shows the fruit of the cactus. The cactus was brought to Sicilia by the Spanish who obtained this invasive plant species from Mexico. The fruit is also very popular in parts of Tuscany.


I wasn’t sure how to eat it so I Googled it.  You are supposed to scrape the meat out and only eat the meat and discard the skin.  Eating the seeds was optional. It was delicious. It was like eating a very ripe persimmon.  The seeds had quite a bit of material around them but it was easily chewed and swallowed. The seeds were slightly larger than seeded grapes.  No big deal. Right?

Ugh. The next morning I woke up with what I thought was routine traveler’s constipation. I thought maybe I had let myself get dehydrated. So that morning I ate extra plums and drank a liter of water. I packed a half liter to take with me and I headed off for a day trip to Ragusa. I’m tough. Right?

Yep, I went into another church in Ragusa to see what was inside. You never know. This church is dedicated to those souls suffering in Purgatory. Chiesa delle Anime Sante dei Purgatorio. (1658)
Saint Rocco, the patron saint of dogs. The dog is holding bread in his mouth.

Saint Rocco melted my heart.  I think all of us have been ill at one point in our lives and having the comfort of a dog is amazing.  You can read more here:

The most famous baroque cathedral in Ragusa is the Duomo di San Giorgio. Yes, another church dedicated to this famous Saint. Here is a link to Google maps locating Ragusa:

Ahh, Saint Rocco. See the dog holding the bread.
The majesty of this church is palpable.
I was always surprised to see men and women wearing shorts and tank tops in these Italian churches.  These are sacred places. I always set my phone and camera to silence mode and never photograph if services are underway.  It still amazes me how people don’t know how to turn their flash off. People.

Odd.  There was some stained glass showing the martyrdom of Saint Giorgio, but no paintings of him slaying the dragon.  The below image is from the church museum and is a figurine of Saint Giorgio. It is in black and white because they were using a dark blue light to illuminate the piece.  It washed out the colors.

Again, it is interesting to note the feminine features of Saint Giorgio.
This was also in the museum. A brown skinned middle eastern baby Jesus. Mary has a Roman nose. Who really knows what they looked like?
In the museum.  I believe this is the top of a scepter used for special occasions.
Pietro Novelli was an Italian (17th century) painter of the Baroque period.  His pieces are in the Duomo. More info here:
The hills of Ragusa and Modica are covered by these walls and terraces. How many slaves in the heat must have built these and for what purpose? My bet is they were clearing the land for vineyards and olive trees.

It was now time to head back to Modica and do some final laundry before heading to Syracusa the next day. I was still severly constipated and in discomfort. I was getting concerned. I found this paper regarding eating prickly pears:

My advice to anyone considering eating the fruit of cactus is DONT EAT THE SEEDS. It appears there is a membrane around the seeds that is hydrophilic (water absorbing) that has evolved to help the seeds germinate. DEVIL FRUIT!