Weave and flow – extracts from a Sardinian holiday #2

“It should be just up here,” said Stefano, as we bounced along yet another dusty, isolated track at the base of Monte Nieddu.

As before, there was no signage to indicate if indeed, this was the right way to the swimming hole. All we had to go on from the beginning was word of mouth and the name of the nearest village. That, and some directions from an elderly woman who appeared to be the only resident in town on this particular day.

In the back, the children could barely keep their eyes open while Veronica and her sister leaned their heads wearily against the window like two convicts in cross-country transit.

Suddenly, a red estate appeared from the opposite direction. The driver stopped and exchanged words with Stefano. It turned out they were also looking for the elusive river and had information on its whereabouts. Stefano swung the car round at the nearest layby and headed back down the hill. By the side of the road, the driver and his son waved us down and pointed to a pathway heading through the pine woods.

With renewed vigour, we piled out of the car and followed them down a thin track. Before long, the trees petered out and we were surrounded by sun-bleached granite formations that seemed to weave  and flow almost like a river. The path began to descend into a blind gorge and then we were presented with that most precious of resources – water.

Despite the midsummer heat, a steady stream made its way between the rock and collected in a pool just right for jumping into. On the far side, the water continued its journey off the lip of a ravine and plummeted into another gorge where a group of climbers were following its course deeper into the landscape.

 

 

I could drive forever – extracts from a Sardinian holiday #1

The heat bore down on my head as I crossed the car park of Il Redentore. The door handle to the hire car was almost too hot to touch and the seat burned the backs of my legs as I sat down. I cranked up the air con to full blast, letting the coolness fill my lungs. Then I began to feel excited.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I wasn’t enjoying the festivities. After all, it’s not everyday you get invited to a traditional Sardinian wedding with all the wild boar, seafood and herbaceous liquors you could ask for being (literally) handed to you on a platter.

However, I was finding the 40 degree heat a struggle and the continuous effort to communicate as the only foreigner at the party was a strain. I needed a breather and the only escape was the road in this part of the island.

I took a right out of the gates and quickly realised I had made a mistake when the road veered towards the motorway. I imagined being forced miles away from my only reference point, before a slip road funnelled me, panicked and sweating, into the indistinguishable landscape.

Thankfully, this being the Sardinian countryside, I was the only car on the road so I casually swung it around and cruised off in the opposite direction.

No sooner had I passed by the venue than all signs of civilisation dissapeared.  On either side of me, burnt yellow fields rose up towards the hilltops. Tufts of greenery still peppered the scenery, however, and great bushes of magenta flowers were bursting from the roadside.

Further on, the road opened out on to a spectacular straight, its vanishing point nestled far within the hills. I considered I should probably turn back at this point. It was hardly the most sensible idea to be driving away from the only place I knew, alone, in a foreign wilderness. But I also knew that adventure doesn’t often come from being sensible. So I put my foot down.

Strength in numbers

I had the opportunity to spend this Christmas in Italy with my partner’s family. It was one of the last traditional events I had yet to experience over there and I hoped that taking part might enable me to experience a little more of what Italian culture was all about.

After a spectacular flight across the sun-blushed peaks of the Swiss Alps, I landed at Malpensa airport and successfully made my way to meet Veronica at the local train station outside of Lake Como.

As is the custom whenever I visit, we went for a quick aperitivo at her dad’s bar, then it was time to head to the family’s apartment for dinner. Soon after arriving, however, I began to notice a tendency for all members of the family to outwardly express an opinion on everyone else’s business. It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed this and as I discovered, it wasn’t only confined to the Mulas household.

On reflection, it seemed to me that this (admittedly irritating aspect) came down to that most well-known feature of any Italian home; the dinner table. Throughout my stay, every lunch and dinner was eaten around the table with just about every member of the family in attendance from two to 65 years-old. And it was here that anything and everything was discussed, whether it was what to have for dinner the next evening, the best route to take to town or what a certain child should or shouldn’t be doing. No one was safe.

I’m a fairly independent person and am used to making my own decisions, so I initially found this a challenge. Even just getting out of the door was often delayed by an impromptu debate on what we ought to be wearing and if it was this place we were going, shouldn’t we go another day or take so and so with us. Nevertheless, as the days passed, I began to see a deeper reasoning to this approach and I found myself thinking back to something her dad once said.

A few years ago, I went to the wedding of Veronica’s oldest sister in a village near Rome. On the way home, we were sitting in the airport with her parents, waiting for our respective flights. The news was showing on a big screen, flashing up the usual ominous world events and I mentioned how nice it was to have been away from all that. Her dad gave a dismissive wave at the television and said something that stayed with me; “all that matters is that you stick together.”

The notion of the family unit was central to virtually every activity that took place within the home. When the table needed to be laid, everyone helped out, if a child started crying, others were ready to offer a hand or some advice. Inevitably, this attitude spreads out to neighbours and other relatives who, like long lost friends, would stop and chat in the street or the hallway or simply turn up, unannounced.

Not only that, but this group mentality puts everyone on an equal footing, including children who, from day one, are initiated (kicking and screaming) into the etiquette of Italian social life. This was apparent when we went to dinner at a friend’s. Naturally, the evening took place around a large table with a family of six. Everyone helped out with the preparation and, perhaps most crucially of all, every opinion was listened to, including the children’s.

The last notable instance was during a visit to an aunt and uncle’s house. Their son, a reedy man with a grungy biker look, had not long come out of rehab and was now living in an annex at the back of the house. He struck me as a gentle yet melancholy soul who had clearly lost a large part of his life, but with a supportive family network around him, it seemed to me that he couldn’t be in a better place to rebuild his life. I wondered how he might have turned out if he was shoved into a one-bed flat somewhere across town or bunched together with other recovering addicts.

With such loving and devoted family around you, there’s little you can’t get through, even if it does mean having to put up with everyone’s point of view in the meantime. It certainly brought out an affection for my nearest and dearest when I returned home and I hope to hold onto that impression, even without the addition of an enormous dinner table.

Encountering the crest #3

I stopped at the edge of the water and looked across at the pathway snaking up the hill.

“I’m not up for it,” I said.

Jon was staring at something indiscriminate in the foreground while Simon lay across his pack, sunning his bare chest.

“I know everyone’s tired,” replied Rich, “but it was always going to be a long day.”

Only because you made it that way, I thought. What if we simply couldn’t carry on? We’d have to change the plan.

“When it gets like this,” Rich continued, “you just have to be in the moment. One foot infront of the other.”

A refute began to churn in my gutt, fuelled by my aching back and legs. Then, Simon got to his feet.

“If we’re going to do it then let’s get on with it,” he said, in a typically impatient manner. Rich nodded, looking satisfied and we set off round the lake.

The path soon reared up, great blocks rudely thrust in our way. I pushed up them, exhaling with every step and could barely contain my irritation when I heard Rich carrying a tune from the back.

“How can you whistle?” I said between breaths.

“Just trying to keep the mood up,” he replied.

Well it’s not working, I thought. Perhaps you should have considered that before you made us climb two mountains. Okay, so that wasn’t quite true, but it might as well have been. An ascent of Snowdon in the morning, followed by a 2-hour scramble across Crib Goch and then after we’d finally made it down to solid ground, another uphill climb over said ridge. All for an idyllic camping spot.

Midway up the path, my legs gave in and I collapsed against a mound of rocks. The others crumpled nearby.

“You’re not my friend anymore.”

I grinned at Rich, playing with a momentary half truth. He grinned too, but at the sky as he swallowed water. Suddenly, I was thrown back to our Australia trip, ten years earlier. Even then, our convictions butted heads. His steady and resolute. Mine, brooding and impulsive. Most of the time, his would win out, but only through a steadfast reasoning that was too exasperating to contend with.

We got back to our feet, keen not to let what little momentum we had fade away. After a quarter of an hour we finally surmounted the climb and soon found ourselves passing through green fields littered with the remains of abandoned slate mines. Our feet rolled down layers of spongy grass and bog, thighs barely taking the strain until we reached a level setting.

I threw my pack off and slumped to the ground while Rich was straight away busy with setting up the tents. The sound of water led me and Simon to a stream and we stripped off, dunking ourselves in a bath-like crater and instantly feeling rejuvenated.

By the time we got back to camp, sunset was casting its colours across the hillside. The first meal-in-a-bag was warming on the stove and Rich was cursing at a cloud of midges hovering around him. I smiled, my animosity washed away downriver. We were just old friends together again in the wilderness.

Encountering the crest #1

It must have been 6am when I unzipped the tent, or thereabouts, judging by the grey light that draped across the mountainside. The two bodies that were crammed in next to me lay motionless, matted hair sprouting from the top of sleeping bags.

I slipped on my boots and staggered out into the cool, morning air. Whether it was the noggins of whisky from the night before or the rolling view that made my head swim, I couldn’t be sure and I headed for a nearby shelf of rock to steady myself.

It was then I experienced one of those moments where sleep still has enough of a hold to prevent the usual noisy thoughts from breaking through. I let my senses fill the void and soon became aware of the shrill calls of sheep bouncing about the horseshoe curve. I spied their white shapes, shuffling across the farthest reaches of the slopes, as though they were all trying to outdo each other in their quest for the next tuft of grass.

Meanwhile, their bleating rebounded down the valley towards a golden light that had only just broken across a neighbouring peak. Then a muffled groaning broke my meditative state as the camp began to stir.