Thursday, April 01, 2010

scaling stone walls, getting tangled in bramble and watching out for wild boar

A quiet morning in the sunny courtyard of La Lucrezia. A second cappuccino fixed by Paolo, a cousin of David (the owner of the b&b). I ask Paolo about growing up here (his grandparents lived here when it was still an ordinary farmhouse). His memories are of playing in the garden. Small wonder. It is a lovely little place, now filled with the blooms of spring and the warble and chirp of birdsong.




We’re heading inland today, for a hike up the mountains. The mountains that are closest (about a ten – fifteen minute drive from Riola) aren’t the highest (they average 1000 meters), but we’re happy to be going somewhere that doesn’t require a long drive and in any case, we want to make it up to the summit and back before sunset. We figure we have a solid six or seven hours of good daylight left.

The drive to where we think there may be a trailhead is pretty – past small hill villages and the beautiful olive groves...


Up a winding lane that offers views onto the valley and the mountain range beyond it.



So close and so remote. The road winds into the forest and as we leave the car to search for the trail, it strikes me that we’re not likely to see anyone on our walk up the mountain.

Our experience with trails in the south of Italy has been that they are a work in progress. They require a certain amount of confidence and a belief that the beauty is in the journey and not in reaching any particular destination.

Today’s trail is much in line with this. The path isn’t difficult. It makes it’s way through a green forest that is intensely quiet, except for the occasional loud flight of a frightened bird.


There are frequent posting asking us not to hunt, and by the looks of it – ignored by those who did and left empty cartridges behind. Early on, there is a display notice explaining the animals that you may encounter – with images of the footprint that they leave behind. Cinghiale. Lots of talk of the cinghiale (wild boar).

We continue up. There is an occasional swatch of blue paint and so we are confident that we are heading... somewhere.

But after about an hour, the marking stops. We are near a dirt road and so we imagine you are to continue along this road, which does appear to at least aim up toward the peaks. But a few minutes later, we’re convinced that we made a mistake. There are no swatches of blue and the dirt road levels off, circumventing the mountain, rather than offering a way to reach the summit. The views are gorgeous already, but we know we have a ways to go before the top.

We return to where we last saw a blue paint marking. There is another path – a low road, as it were, offering another possible routing. We take that. It’s less developed, but clearly others have used it and so perhaps this wooded trail along the stone wall is the way we’re meant to go.

Still, no blue marking. A red one appears on the stone wall and I suggest that maybe we’ve merged with another trail. Or, the trail marker ran out of blue paint. Or something.

But as the path becomes less discernable, I note that there really are no footprints. Hoof prints, yes, those. And many examples of burrowing in the wet ground by the trees. Something a boar might do when searching for truffles, for example.

I ask Ed if one could get away from a wild boar by climbing the stone wall. As usual, my traveling companion uses the opportunity to make up stories about boar that fly at people with the speed of lightening – up stone walls and beyond.

More importantly, Ed tells me, we are lost. He suggests leaving the forest and cutting across the fields beyond the stone wall.

At least we’d be heading up.
But there are animals beyond the stone wall.
Mules. Harmless mules.
How do you know they’re harmless?
Look at them.


Fine, they do not look like they’re ready to charge. But they hee haw sternly and in any case, they’re awfully motley looking.

Still, we skirt the field briskly and head up. We want to leave the field of mules, but there appear to be no exits. No gates that open, nothing but bramble and stone and occasional fencing with ruty barbed wire on top.

We have no choice but to climb over the bramble. I note that I chose this day to wear pants that leave my ankles bare and vulnerable. 

Is bramble poisonous? – I ask Ed.
The odd thing is, I often don’t know if you’re serious or not when you ask these things.

Put it this way: Ed is a walking encyclopedia of miscellaneous information. You could view my questions as an analogue to googling the possibilities out there. If you have strange symptoms, you may google them to see if you have some incurable disease. If you encounter strange plants and animals, you might probe Ed to see if there’s a chance you might have come across something so obviously toxic that you should quickly seek emergency care. Wild boar chases, biting mules and plants that scratch at your legs seem worthy of inquiry, no?

Eventually, we make our way across the probably most serious challenge to good health – rusty fences – and in a moment of great joy, we find a road. At this point, we’re not fussy. A road is a road, who the hell cares if it’s the road.

Eventually we find a spot that is shielded from the wind. Eating a sandwich overlooking a fine view is one of the best parts of a hike, in my opinion. I pull out from the pack a leftover pecorino and smoked salmon bun and take in the landscape.



We have been hiking for almost three hours, but we’re not near the summit. We can see the craggy ridge line, but we have yet to find a way to get near it. I recall reading about this trail in an Italian brochure on hiking in this region. There was mention of opening and closing gates. We’ve just passed two gates that did not have locks on them. Feeling a bit like game show contestants who have to pick between door number one and door number two, we open the first gate and pick up a rough road heading up.

And it is the good road. We are in luck. It’s 3:30 and we estimate in a half hour, we should reach the summit.

And the views are beautiful – all the way down toward the sea, gray now in the faintly clouded-over sky. We note the peninsula where we had walked the previous day...


...and the coast line view toward the north of Sardinia:


A photo of a victorious ascent...


...and we turn back. Among a rocky path with bands of daisies at the side.


We’re not entirely sure of the way back (neither of us wants to cross the bramble fields again), but we take some educated guesses, and this time we are on a roll of success. By dusk, we are again by the car.

When the sun sets, the sheep come out and we encounter one herd on the winding road down to the village. The farmer herds them to a pen and then, in calculated groups, lets them out to the trough for an extra feed and the milking session. Straight into the bucket.


Leter, to be transported in these containers. Ubiquitous here, in Sardinia. Hauled in small pickup trucks at the end of the day.


It’s not quite dinner time and we make our way further inland to a small hill town that our proprietor thought we might enjoy visiting – Santu Lussurgiu.


It’s unusual, in that it has a large number of homes made of stone. We park the car and stroll through the narrow passageways where young boys are kicking a soccer ball around.


...and old women walk in black skirts and black shawls against the evening chill.



We could stop for dinner here, but we’re reluctant to eat in the recommended restaurants. They seem too quiet, too formal. They lack the convivial atmosphere that we found so engaging in Cagliari.

As the sun throws final colors up at the darkening sky, we drive home.


Stopping only once now, to watch, in the dark,  one more flock of sheep being herded into the hills with the twinkling now village lights beyond.


As we head home, Ed and I fall into our now much rehearsed pattern of conversation. Because the roads have too many sharp curves and the men are having their usual game of taking them at full speed and every once in a while, Ed joins in, against my admonitions. Futile, of course.

You want to drive? He asks again.
No, not especially, but please slow down.
I’m going fifty kilometers!
In a place that deserves thirty.
...but everyone else is going sixty!
They know their road, you don’t.

And he slows down, only to speed up again, and we rerun the same words, until we finally reach Riola.

We know there is a good pizzeria in town and we head straight there.

And it is as we like it: a family with a little boy who begs for attention and only occasionally gets it, from his big sisters, from his mother. A birthday meal (at 9:30!) for a half dozen nine year old girls and their mothers. The place sings with loud conversation and laughter. I watch and I smile in the way an aging aunt would smile at her family from a distance, enjoying the splendidness of it all, wishing just a little that she could take that laughter back home, where things are so much quieter, so much less family centered, so much more work driven.


The menu here, at La Ginestra, is like at yesterday’s place – long, but not necessarily something you can count on. Sardinians, we have been told, are the original local eaters. They cook what is there, in season. If it’s not available, they simply tell you to pick something else. Even in this pizza place, you need to have a back up plan. And another.

I finally get to choice number five – a delicious paper thin pizza with mushrooms, endive, peppers and zucchini, neatly arranged in separate portions. With a bottle of local white.


Eating pizza and then a delicious tiramisu in the clamor of a joyous dining room, I am certain that we have stumbled upon the treasures of Sardinia today. You mean there's more? Couldn't be.