Walking from Palermo to London during a pandemic

I’ve been following the story of Romeo Cox an eleven-year-old boy who has managed to walk from Palermo Sicily to London, to visit his Grandmother. He is also raising money for disadvantaged children and refugees in Sicily.

I was so taken by his story that I sent him a few questions, which he managed to answer while walking and cycling up the boot of Italy, to Switzerland through France and across the Channel. Romeo left with his father Phil Cox from Palermo on the 20th of June and made it to the UK on the 20th September.

Romeo finished his quarantine in London and finally got to hug his Grandma. He completed a most extraordinary journey and his story has led him to make many press appearances. He has also almost reaches his fundraising goal.

This story is the kind of thing we all need to hear right now when we all feel restricted by the threat of COVID, and it reminds us how we can do big things, all one step at a time.

Here is my brief interview with this determined, sensitive and intelligent young man, who is an inspiration.

Romeo walking through the mountains (Image c/o Phil Cox)

1. Can you please explain the reasons behind your big journey, why is it so important to you?

Hi Rochelle, during the lockdown in Palermo I missed my Nona Rosemary in London a lot. I was supposed to visit her, but there were no planes, and she lived all alone – so I was worried about her. So I made a secret plan to walk to London. I knew I had to make a good plan as my mum and Dad would, of course, say no. So I drew a map, planned a route, and provisions and then thought of all the reasons they would say no. I then wrote a list of all the reasons to counter them! My plan was excellent – of course, they said no at first, but with parents, a’ no’ can soon become a yes if one is patient! I first had to do it respecting all COVID rules, distance and mask. I also wanted to make the journey in the right way for the planet also – without hurting it. I don’t think we can all stop using planes, but if we have the option, we should try other ways of travelling which might also be fun and exciting and possible. Finally, I am raising funds with my journey across 2800km for vulnerable children in Palermo, both migrants and local Sicilians. I was helped by locals in Ballaro when I arrived in Palermo, not knowing anyone and not speaking Italian. I know how important it is that someone is there to give help and confidence and orientation. So together with Porco Rosso in Casa Professa, I have a website to raise funds for those supporting my walk – www.justgiving.com/fundraising/romeosbigjourney

2. Tell me a bit about the journey so far what have been the highlights?

So many things have happened. I can barely think of everything. Playing with so many children has been the best, from kids in Piazza Dante in Napoli, where I scored two goals, to the Liberi Nantes kids in Roma who are migrants without parents here. We swapped stories of travelling, and they looked after me. Also in a place in Vitbero called Jardino di Felipo which uses animals to help children with special needs, I met Filli from Mali who escaped the war there, and he taught me about horses and caring for animals. Also in Gigliopoli, in Milazzo, who hosted me in my tent. There I was with children of all abilities, and we played and often talked without adults. Every day is something new in my journey – yesterday; I made a plum tart with a French grandmother called Elizabeth. Last week I jumped under an old Roman bridge into freezing water with Marco who lent us his house. I travelled with a donkey called Pedro in Tuscany who carried our bags with my Dad. I slept out under the stars near Salerno with the trees rustling overhead. I made friends with a special dog called Noel, who fitted in my rucksack. So many things! I learnt there is nothing like hospitality and sharing. 

3. Have you had any setbacks or problems?

When my Dad takes a shortcut, there can be problems! Outside Napoli we got attacked by wild dogs for a long time – it was terrible, there were 7 of them, and we became cornered and were lucky to escape! Sleeping in a tent by Lago Bolsena were got run over by chingali! There have been tough times getting lost and running out of water, especially in the mountains of Sicily. But me and my Dad always sing a song and laugh. Round the next corner, something happens that saves us. 

4. You have just made it to France, tell me what lies ahead for the rest of your walk to London.

Well, there are fewer children to play with in northern France as everyone is at school! Also – the French cook pasta like the English and it give me a bad tummy! We still must cross around 600km – long roads relatively flat and in the villages, there is very little, no cafe or bar for ice cream so we must carry all our food. We have slept in a field and under trees. We will get to Calais, and then a sailing boat will come to contact us we hope. But we must be careful of quarantine. 

5. Tell me a little about the via Francigena, have you met many people who choose to use this route?

Yes, the old pilgrim’s route that goes from Canterbury UK to Rome – used for hundreds of years by pilgrims travelling to Rome and further to Jerusalem. It is great. In Sicily, there is also a Via Francigena but very hard in the mountains and still with few signs. It is a path, even for bicycles – and feels rough and real and like an adventure. But there are many places to stay and sleep, in convents, or houses or tent. 

Romeo and Phil Cox during their trek (Image c/o Phil Cox)

6. What have you learnt from your journey so far?

It is ok to get lost – sometimes it leads you to new places and people. I was always very nervous about getting lost – now it happens every other day! Also, I learnt that maybe trees talk to each other – as when you sleep underneath them they rustle and I am sure it is a conversation! I am glad my mum and Dad let me do this – I have met so many people. Many people are lonely – but if one gets out and talks and travels, it can be a cure for loneliness. 

7. What are your plans after you get to London? Will you stay in the UK or go back to Palermo?

I want to hug my Nonna! We have to see with quarantine rules how to do it. Then yes, I want to get back to school in Palermo! The Convicto National Giovanni Falcone. I miss my friends. I miss playing football in Palermo. 

8. Do you have a message for other young people or anything else you want to say to give people hope in this challenging period.

Adventures don’t have to be just in books or movies – I am living mine right now. Also, if one makes a plan – a proper plan – sometimes parents will say yes! and sometimes! We can let the parents come too! 

Sign off

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