Greetings From Palermo Sicily Italy!
Hello! I finally made it to Palermo, after the longest day in transit I’ve had to date. I’ll get into the whole debacle and giant mess I got into traveling to Palermo in a minute but first let me just say that the Island of Sicily is amazing and if you’re heading to Italy you must head down and visit Sicily as well! The sun, the sights, the food and most importantly the people, Sicily is definitely on my list of places to visit again! Now let’s go over how I got there and the trials I went through. It’s a long story so bare with me.
Casablanca Airport And The Luggage Debacle…
Like I said earlier, getting to Palermo was one long, hard trek. I’ve dealt with over nights, rough rides and not sleeping before and they were longer travels but this was worse than those for the stress alone. I left the hotel in Marrakesh early in the morning, it was still dark when I got to the airport. I had a short connection over to Casablanca then from there to Rome and then to Palermo. There was a 8 or 9 hour layover in Casablanca and if I had saw that (remember I had to book the ticket in a hurry in order to make my flight to Morocco) when I booked it I would have just taken a later train into the Casablanca airport instead, but then I wouldn’t have this adventure to tell you about. So I check in at the airport in Marrakesh and the steward for Royal Air Maroc tells me that while I’ll have to re-check in at Casablanca my luggage will go on and I’ll see it in Palermo. That alone sounded some warning bells. I should have stopped and packed a day bag right there before sending my luggage away. I usually always pack a day bag with a gi and a days worth of clothes in it to carry onto the plane, but I guess being tired and not having any traveling problems lately I had my guard down.
I made the short flight over to Casablanca and was looking forward to finding somewhere to grab breakfast, as I hadn’t eaten yet, and working away on the blog. Little did I know the shit storm I was about to walk into and how that little simple plan would not work. As I needed to check in with the new airline, Alitalia, I didn’t have my connection ticket to head into the lounge area, instead I was briskly told ‘No! Get out of line! Go!’ As he pointed back towards the end of the line. After some confusion it seems there was another hall to go down in the opposite direction where the connection check in desks are. I got all this from other people in line as the security guard checking tickets just kept repeating ‘No! Go!’ I make my way to the connection desks and ask around about where I am to get my new ticket and continue on. The connection area seemed mostly run by Royal Air Maroc, who told me Alitalia would be there soon to give me my ticket, so I sat down and waited, and waited…
If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you might remember me posting as the day went on how upset I became as the idiotcracy built up. I waited for a few hours, asking different stewards if they were Alitalia or could help find them whenever a new airline showed up, only to be told ‘no, you have to wait’. Finally I asked the manager of the connection area, a manager from Royal Air Maroc, if he could help me since all I wanted to do was find a place to sit down and have some food. It was now 11 and I had been up since 5 to make the flight, I had been sitting there since 7:45. The manager told me there was nothing he could do, that I would have to wait until an hour before my flight, which wasn’t for another 6 hours or so. When I asked him what I was supposed to do to get some food he responded with “It’s not my problem. Our airline did our job of getting you here. Now you’re someone else’s problem. There’s nothing I can do.” Or rather there was nothing he would do, after all that would involve caring for your costumers. I can’t believe that Royal Air Maroc is supposed to be a ‘4 star airline’ with this kind of costumer service. I was also told by someone else if I went over to the passport control and customs that I would be let out and then I could go around to the front desks and sort out my ticket problem. So I set off to do that.
I get to the passport control area and wait in line for a long time. When I finally got to the front I explained my case to the passport security guard about just needing to enter the front of the airport. Apparently this was a big problem as the authorities at the Marrakesh airport stamped my passport, meaning I had left the country. As far as the passport security guard was concerned the only way I could re-enter the country, which is what I needed to do in order to exit the airport and enter again through the front, was if the customs agents were to cancel my exit stamp. I don’t why I couldn’t just get the passport re-stamped for entering and exiting again but either way I was sent over to another line. This lone was shorter, with way less organization as the agents in their offices didn’t seem to care about anyone problems or want to deal with them. When I finally got the attention of one of the agents I told them my situation. Another agent came in to listen and they both started asking me questions. ‘Where is your plane ticket? Where are you going? What is you problem?’ They didn’t seem to understand my situation and I tried several times to explain. Finally they tell me they can’t reverse the stamp and I can’t leave the airport since my passport has been stamped for exiting the country. When I asked what I was supposed to do and where I was supposed to go for food I was told “Just go up and around” so I left their office and searched for this ‘up and around’ staircase. As I walked the hallways I realized they meant go through the connection area, which I couldn’t do since I didn’t have my connecting ticket, which I couldn’t get since the airline didn’t have anyone at the connection area and no one would call them for me. I was stuck in a loop of stupid uncaring and unhelpful people.
Unable to fix my situation I was brimming with rage and sat down waiting, trying to use the shitty airport internet to figure out a way to solve this problem, away from having to talk to anyone. As I sat there, going on 8 hours with no food, no ticket and no help I noticed people who were being deported were being fed. They were being kicked out of the country and because they were waiting for a few hours they were given a hot meal and water, but me, I could rot there and it wouldn’t be anyone’s problem because, after all, Royal Air Maroc had did their job of getting me in this situation. As I was sitting there, furious at the shitty airline and my shitty situation a member of the cleaning staff had noticed I’ve been there all day. He asked me why I was still there and I told him, perhaps a bit over zealously, and told him how I had been sitting there with help or food all day. His answer was simple “Do you want food? I’ll get you some food” and with me giving him some money he left to get me some food from the cafeteria. That’s right, no one who’s job is it to help the customers at the airport, not the stewards, the managers, the passport of customs guards or clerks or anyone of the dozen or more people I talked helped me the slightest, it was the cleaning staff that did that job for them. As far as I know he may have been the one to tell the Alitalia airline I was down there too.
I was sitting and eating the fried rice and fish he had gotten me that I was ever so grateful for I heard an announcement that my flight was loading. I quickly went over to the managers office and asked them to call up and let Alitalia know I was down there, stranded without a ticket to get to my flight. They actually responded with “I can’t help you, it’s not my airline” that’s right, the staff of Royal Air Maroc at the Casablanca airport were willing to let me miss my flight on the the principle that ‘their job was done’ when they stranded me at the airport 8 hours ago. In fact one of the stewards was questioning their manager not helping me at this point, so it was becoming clear that the managers were seen as assholes by more than just me. This is when finally a steward from Alitalia showed up. He ran down and quickly got on a computer to check me in and print off a ticket for me. As this was going on he asked ‘Why not just leave the airport and come in through the front like you were supposed to?’ First off, supposed to? when the hell was the memo of this apparent list of proper actions coming out, because I was never given any instructions on how to get my new ticket what so ever or this whole shit show might have been avoided. I gave him the full story of why and how I was stuck down there. Apparently this is an on going problem at the Marrakesh airport of them stamping passports for connections that don’t require it, effectively blocking them from being able to spend their layover in any comfort and even potentially blocking them from making the connection. As for my dealing with the managers of Royal Air Maroc, the steward’s reply was “Wow! What a piece of…work!” As he looked over at them and just shook his head in disappointment. My ticket was printed and we were off, the Steward actually took my bag and raced me to the gate where the plane was waiting for me. I was the last on the flight. My long struggle to get out of the shit hole that a shitty airline had put me in was over. It would be clear sailing, or flying, from here on out. Or so I thought…
The plane landed in Rome, late. My connection had started loading almost 10 minutes before I landed. I was going to have to make one of those mad dashes across the airport you see on movies. As I got off the plane ready to make this dash I saw that there were stewards waiting with signs of my next flight number on it. They were, as I suspected, there to escort us directly to our waiting flight. Or so the said. The stewards guided us into the airport to the customs area and got us to the front of the line, after that they just stood there. I thought maybe they were waiting for the rest of the people making the connection, but as it happened they were just standing there, their work was done, it was now up to us to hurry across the airport. The stewards told me which gate I was supposed to go to and I was off, it felt like the airport went on forever as I raced across it to finally make it to the proper gate. Luckily everyone made the flight and we were off on a short flight to Palermo to finally end this long day of traveling. We landed and I messaged my host, Ruben, that I would be out soon. Soon ended up being a bit longer than expected. I exited the plane and made my way to the luggage pick up area, only to wait, and wait, and no backpack showed up. I was not the only one, as it happens about half the the people who rushed to make the connection, from my guess, also lost their luggage. I was quite mad at first that this would happen when allegedly my bag was sent directly off to the destination, but while in line waiting for a long time to finally report my lost bag I had cooled off and just wanted the day to end. I made my report with all the information I could give them and left Ruben’s number as a contact as my phone was out of data or minutes.
As the visit went on there would be more work to do online to track my bag and finally find it. It took a week to get and I wasn’t staying in Palermo that long, so I didn’t get my backpack back until Naples. Without me packing a day bag to carry on with me that meant I was without any training gear and only had the clothes on my back for this visit. This of course meant I was only training in no gi for the next few days. Once I got out of the airport and met Ruben he drove me around the town to see a bit of it and we grabbed some pizza. My first slice of real Italian pizza. It was pretty good, and little of the city I saw that night was beautiful, I could see that after all the shit I went through I was going to be alright.
While I was staying with Ruben and Andreina it was a whirlwind of sightseeing and training. The usual day would start with them taking me out somewhere to see the city, then straight to class, then off to more of the city, eating and meeting with friends. Ruben was constantly setting up plans to show me another place around Palermo and we even set out to Trapani, a city an hour away, to train with their friends and sister club there and show me more of Sicily. Here’s some pictures I took while out seeing this beautiful place, I’ll try and label all the places the best I can.
The landscape was awesome to see as we drove around, the hills and mountains that surrounded the roads and buildings were impressive to a visitor like me. So I took a few random pictures while we drove around.
When I was in Trapani I was brought to this amazing town that’s built on top of a mountain and has all sorts of castles and churches and the best possible view of Trapani and the coast. Erice. If you’re visiting Sicily you have to come out to the west side and visit Palermo and since you’re already that close you might as well go visit Trapani and Erice.
And of course Ruben brought me to the beach to see the beautiful view and crystal clear water.
I have many more photos for you to see at my Flickr account, check them out!
MatSide BJJ Palermo
Ruben, who is a purple belt, runs the MatSide BJJ Palermo club which is in an old school gym that also has wrestling classes by an Olympian who competed and won in some competitions in Canada and all over back in his days. The wrestling class was full of take down techniques, some of which I’ve seen before but there were all kinds of small details I was being shown to make them better. One thing I’ve learned on this odyssey, one of many, is that I really need to work on using my body and body weight better. The re-occurring strong points for wresting take downs and control is using your full body as a force to keep them from moving any other way than you want. small things that help keeping your weight on them or into them. These details I’m still learning and trying to work on as I travel, I really do believe training in different classes like Judo, Wrestling, Catch-As-Catch-Can, or Sambo only help build a stronger, more complete game
For Ruben’s classes there was a common theme he would work on, with working on the base movement and adding to it or going over the options from that movement or position. As I was visiting we were going over various open guard passing movements, one class was working off stepping into the open guard and sitting in a combat base position, capturing a leg. Ruben and I had a lot of fun bouncing ideas back and forth as we trained, he’s always thinking and studying what positions he gets into from what movements. The rest of the club is a wide range of different styles and skill levels, all were very enthusiastic and eager to train and roll. Some had experience in other martial arts and were new to the ground game like Benny Cannata who is an Italian boxing league champion who is now training for MMA at MatSide with Ruben, he’ll be a killer ground and pound artist in the next year for sure. It was a good training with everyone, I had to be on my toes all the time because each person was so different. In the end I really enjoyed training and rolling with everyone, I learned a a lot about my own game as well as made some good friends.
Mad Monkey Academy/MatSide BJJ Trapani
One day Ruben brought me out to train for a noontime class then after lunch he and another student hit the weights for an hour and then we met with Andreina and other clubs members and all piled into the car and headed to another gym to train at that evening in Trapani. The Mad Monkey Academy, which is the MatSide BJJ Trapani club, is in the Wolf Fighter Trapani gym which is a primarily kickboxing gym. The gym is set up with puzzle mats covering the entire floor with some heavy bags along one side and a boxing ring in the corner. The class for Trapani seemed a lot younger, many kids who were newer to BJJ. The class there is run by a blue belt who trains under Ruben and they were more than happy to have us show up and teach. Ruben was showing more of the open guard to combat base that we were working on, having played with some things earlier that day we had new tricks to add and show this eager class ready to soak up any details. Nadir, the blue belt, and I worked together going over the techniques. He’s a bigger guy and we had similar traits and a similar style so it made perfect sense to work together and exchange tips. Lucky that I had been working on the techniques earlier that day and troubleshooting them working for me so I was able to help him out and give some pointers.
I had a few matches with some of the class after class. the kids were eager to impress the visiting blue belt and were gunning for me, luckily they had little experience so I just worked defense, letting them get take down or a guard pass and then working from there to sweep and attack. One big thing that I noticed was the lack of grips and control, they’re were so set on passing or attacking they wouldn’t time the time to set the position or fully control me while passing my guard. That’s something that comes with time and is been a big topic I’ve been working myself during this journey. Grips and controlling techniques are key and I love seeing new ways to control someone and work my slow Panda climbing game. I work on all the grips I can while rolling so when someone misses controlling my legs and goes straight for wrist grabs or try to run around my guard I notice it. Now I do anyways. I guess since my mind is always working on controlling and grip techniques my awareness of the training partners grips and controlling techniques.
After class Nadir and some of his students as well as the whole group from Palermo went out for food and showing me around the city and more food and more sights and next you it was 4am. It was one seriously long day but amazing at the same time, I got so much training in and meeting great people and seeing some great places and eating good food, all in one day. It’s not something I could do often but it was a blast! As we were walking around Trapani Nadir was telling me of the history of the city and the sights, as well as telling me what we would see tomorrow. It really wished I had a proper camera and could take night pictures that night. I stayed that night at Nadir’s and the next morning we were off to show me more sights before heading back to Palermo, I’ve got to say Nadir made me really feel welcomed, thanks for the tour, the food and the hospitality!
Thanks again everyone I met in Palermo and Trapani for all the great times, and thank you Ruben and Andreina for everything you have done looking out for me and making this an amazing visit!
I was off to catch the ferry to Naples, but Ruben wasn’t able to join me there as he had new guests arriving to pick up at the airport at the same time. Andreina gave me a drive to the harbour, it was rush hour so we had a few set backs getting there but I got on the boat just in time. Shortly after leaving Sicily for Naples I get a text message from Ruben, it was a screenshot of a message he received from the airport that my bag had finally been found and landed in Palermo, now on it way to Naples. After a crazy trip to Sicily and a whirlwind of a visit, which was way too short, I was off to see some amazing sights and re-unite with my backpack, but that’s another story.
Until next time,
see you on the mats!
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