Ships stop in Palermo.
That’s why horse-drawn carriages still roam the streets.
The morning we got off the ferry, dozens of one-horse buggies–called mateos–were lined up and waiting.
Waiting for us? No, we didn’t rate a second glance, because a liner filled with high rollers followed us into the harbor.
The Sicilian horses are much better treated than the ones we saw doing tourist duty in Marrakech. Only a single animal is needed to pull the rig, and both the carriages and the tourists are about the same size.
Not only do the Sicilians have better stock and feed than their Moroccan counterparts, they have a few tricks up their sleeve to help them drive effectively in their domain:
Earplugs. Palermo has much noisier streets than Marrakech. Vespas beeping. Alfa-Romeos revving. Fiats honking. Diesels roaring. We wouldn’t want our horse to bolt with a high roller aboard, would we? Nope. So the flightiest horses wear earplugs. They are earmuffs, really. Quilted, sharp looking. We didn’t see a single runaway, so they must work perfectly.
Air Horns. No matter what they’re driving, Sicilian drivers need a horn. So crafty carriage divers have taped canned-air air horns (Think noisemaker at a major sporting event.) to their rigs so they can let other Sicilians know when a carriage is coming or if some line of driving etiquette has been crossed.
‘Etiquette’ sounds too nice for the rules of the road in Sicily, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
You may be asking the same question I did:
Do all rigs with air horns have horses with earplugs?
No. Some horses are calm enough to be carry high rollers, hear the entire cacophony that is Palermo, and bring them back safely to their cruise ship.
On foot and hoof patrol,