COVID has changed the world dramatically, many of us are mourning not seeing relatives or travelling around the world, and the tourism industry is in tatters. It's a difficult time for most of us in Italy, many businesses have shut down, and things are very slow.
Ten-year-old Anglo-Italian Romeo Cox, living in Palermo during the lockdown in Sicily, like the rest of us, was missing and worrying about his Nonna Rosemary who lives by herself in London. Like many children stuck at home around the world, he dreamt of a solution for the situation. So he made a secret plan to got to London to visit his Grandmother. He drew a map, planned a route, drew up a list of provisions and then thought about all of the reasons his parents would say no and came up with some counter-arguments.
Romeo thought his plan was comprehensive, but of course, his parents said no, at first, but with a little bit of patience and help from his father Phil Cox, a big journey was planned. The trip was to respect all of the COVID regulations, and Romeo wanted to do it without hurting the planet so strictly by foot or bike.
Romeo also wanted to help vulnerable children, both migrants and local Sicilians by raising funds through publicising his 2,800-kilometre journey. Romeo recalls how the locals helped him in the Ballaro neighbourhood. "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."
So after some preparations, planning and training, Romeo and his father departed from Palermo. They left on the 20th of June and made it to London on the 20th of September.
Romeo's big journey has been documented on his Instagram and Facebook pages (Romeo's Big Journey Home). They are filled with his personal experiences and impressions along the way to his Grandma's house. Following his journey has been inspiring and has given many people a much-needed boost of morale. It reminds us of the boundless energy and hope of children and the ability we all have to do big things, always one day at a time.
It has been an action-packed adventure and experience for Romeo. He had many highlights travelling up the boot of Italy and into France: 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 Viterbo called Jardino di Felipo which uses animals to help children with special needs, I met Fili from Mali who escaped the was there and taught me about horses and caring for animals. Every day there is something new.
The journey has not been with its setbacks from sore feet, to fatigue and getting lost, yet Romeo kept up a positive attitude. He recalls: when my Dad takes a shortcut, there can be many problems! Outside Napoli we got attacked by wild dogs for a long time – it was terrible, there were seven of them, and we were cornered and were lucky to escape! Sleeping in a tent by Lago Bolsena we got run over by cinghiale (wild boar). 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.
Romeo and Phil have been travelling along the via Francigena, which is an ancient road from Canterbury to Rome. It was used by religious pilgrims to travel to the Holy Land in the Middle ages.
The trekking route is becoming increasingly popular with enthusiasts. It has recently been publicised in Sicily as a way of experiencing the landscape of the island. Romeo says that in Sicily, the Via Francigena is very hard in the mountains and still with few signs. It is a path, also 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 tents.
Romeo is an empathetic and mature boy who is continuing to learn new valuable lessons from his journey every day. He says he's learnt some essential things like it's 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.
Romeo has already made it to London and will be in quarantine before being able to see his Grandmother, but this doesn't mean his story is over. He is asking people to donate to REACT drop-in Community Center in Palermo. The centre provides long term educational support and emergency assistance to refugees escaping conflict. Romeo's mother, Giovanna, works for REACT, which has launched a digital solidarity project. They want to raise money to provide access to tablets and other online educational resources for marginalised refugees and local students. Romeo has already nearly reached his target of raising ten thousand euros.
Besides finishing quarantine and giving his Nonna a big hug, Romeo can't wait to get back to his school in Palermo. He's been missing his friends and can't wait to play soccer. This young man's story is a little ray of sunshine in a currently gloomy world. Romeo reminds us how: 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 get parents to come along too!