Beware the Bull (and spiders, and scorpions)!

(This post is from the evening of October 13th)

When I woke up, the sun hadn’t yet risen, and stars were still visible through the window.  The changing of the seasons reminds me of just how long I’ve been in Italy.  When I first got here, it was incredibly hot and the sun rose early in the morning and set late in the evening.  Now, however, the weather is getting cooler and the days shorter.

While I may have less daylight to walk in than I did back in August, the cooler weather has certainly been helpful to my progress.  This morning I had to climb a bit of a hill to start off, and it really wasn’t too bad in the cool air.  After I reached the top, as I looked across the valley and beyond the town below, I could see the opposite peak that I would have to climb—and descend—and I knew that my spell of relatively easy walking would not last.

I wouldn’t call today overcast, but there was hardly any sun to contend with because of all the low-hanging clouds in the valley.  I thought that these would burn off in the afternoon, but they remained throughout my walk.  At some points, I was actually above the clouds looking down on their tops.  Either way, it was difficult to see very far, and the views—which would have been spectacular—were not as nice as they were yesterday.

On the way down the first hill, I heard a number of shots echoing throughout the valley.  Again, I had the fear of becoming a Dick Cheney hunting buddy, but I figured as long as I stayed on the gravel path, I would be alright.  A little while after hearing the first shots, I was looking down into a field below my path and saw a man walking at its bottom edge, wearing an orange hat and carrying a shotgun.  I wondered if this had been the person I had heard before, but my question was soon answered when more shots rang out from somewhere else, far away.  This seemed to upset the hunter I was watching, as he stood up and started shouting words I couldn’t understand after the new shots were fired.  Maybe he was angry that the other hunter was scaring everything away—I’m not sure—but he certainly wasn’t too pleased.

Continuing down the path, I came upon a fenced-off pasture and saw two small horses standing there, next to each other.  When I got closer, though, I realized that they weren’t horses all, but rather donkeys.  They saw me and looked up.  The braver of the two actually came over toward the road to take a closer look.  Donkeys may be smaller than horses, but I think they also seem a bit nicer.  Something about the way their faces are shaped makes them appear as if they are really looking at you.  This pair was very friendly and curious to see me, reminding me more of large dogs than small horses.

As I was taking photos of my new friends, I looked up behind them and saw something that completely startled me.  Two huge Emus in the next pen a few yards away.  Even from a distance, I could tell that these birds were huge, and although I’ve seen others of their kind from the highway before, I’d never been able to get this close.  As I was cautiously walking over to them, there was a sudden shriek and a pheasant flew out of the brush directly under my feet.  I jumped and the Emus and donkeys ran away.  It seemed like I was having better luck than the hunters.  After a few moments to recover, I began again to walk toward the Emu pen.  I’ve seen enough youtube videos to know that Emus aren’t the nicest birds in the world, so I made sure to keep out of reach of the animals’ long necks.  They are incredible creatures and really quite intimidating when you are standing near.  The head and neck looks like it comes from a character on the Muppets, but its huge feet reveal the dinosaur origins behind millions of years of evolution.  In the next pen, there were some cows who also seemed interested in meeting me, and beyond them, some goats and their kids who were terrified when I came near.  I never expected to see Emus in Italy, let alone this close, but it was a nice break from just walking all day.

After a steep descent, I came to the town of Portico, which rests on the side of the river running through the valley.  On my guide, this is a “big” town, notated with three little house icons, instead of just one, indicating a tiny village.  If this is their idea of a “big” town, the next two weeks will be very interesting.  Portico is quite small, and had only two bars, and a tiny store for groceries.  As I walked through, people gave me fewer funny looks than I had received from car drivers on the road, and as I walked into the cobbled streets of the central part of town, an old man turned to me to ask if I was a pilgrim.  “Yes,” I replied.  Then he muttered some stuff that I couldn’t really understand, before indicating the way I had to follow by pointing with his cane.  “Ok,” I said, smiling in reply.  He turned around and walked the other way, and I started going the way he had pointed out.  A woman who had watched us saw what I was doing and stopped me before I could get any further.  “You need to follow me,” she said before turning around and walking in the direction of the old man.  “What the man said, you need to get a signature.”  Oh!  I finally understood.  I thought the man had said something about fumare—to smoke—but what he had really said was firmare—to sign.  I woman led me into a building and started calling out someone’s name.  She wandered off into the back and found the man who then went to go look for the stamp so he could mark my credential.  He came back and stamped it, then told me that I would have to climb the next mountain.  “See how high Monte Orlando is?” he asked.  I was quite aware.  “It’s climbing for a while, then flat.”

I left the town by crossing this marvelous looking, centenary, stone bridge and saw my path was a steep set of steps set into the mountainside.  The next while was really hard, with a very steep ascent up 300 meters of mountain on slippery roads and paths.  Finally I made it to the top and was rewarded with a not-too-spectacular view because of the clouds still hanging in the valley.  Even at 1PM, they remained and it was starting to get darker, so I began to move faster for fear of rain.  The path went along the crest of the mountains and you were made to enter a fenced-off area with a gate saying, “ATENTI AL TORO”—BE CAREFUL OF THE BULL.  This was pretty alarming, but I didn’t really see how there could be a bull up this high in the steep and forested mountain.  Still, I kept my eyes open, but didn’t see any sign of the bull.  As the path descended to the other side of the mountain, the trees became much thicker and the path grew much darker.  Eventually it went through a beautiful pine grove, all brown on the ground from the drying needles and nearly completely shaded by the tall trees.  I stopped here for a moment and it was absolutely silent, the needle floor absorbing any surrounding sounds.  It was so peaceful and beautiful that it was an adequate reward for climbing the mountain.  Although I didn’t get to enjoy a great view today, I did get this wonderful forest.  My pace up Monte Orlando hadn’t been furious, but it wasn’t slow either.  After passing the summit, I thought to myself that this pilgrimage might not be so bad after all.

The road continued on like this, and I even found two porcupine quills discarded along the path.  Eventually, the trail exited the forest and connected to an asphalt road that led down into the next valley.  This way was surprisingly tiring because of its steep slope, but I made it eventually to the floor and the outskirts of Premilcuore, my destination for the night.  This was an actual town that had a few restaurants and even a hotel.  It was very much like Pontico, but bigger—huddled apartments above cobbled streets surrounding the river.  Of course, the markings for the trail became less frequent here with the infinitely increased choices of path.  I got lost a little ad had to backtrack to find a green arrow pointing me in the right direction.  I got back on the right path and walked out of town to a small agriturismo that was meant to host pilgrims.

When I arrived, the front door was open, but there was nobody there.  I took a seat on one of the outdoor benches and waited for someone to show up.  Eventually, someone did come out from upstairs—a fairly large and muscular man, with a set of long black locks pulled back into a ponytail.  He greeted me, asked if I was a pilgrim, and then showed me to where I would be sleeping that night.  Just a few yards from the main building of the agriturismo, was a large trailer.  The man, opened the trailer door, and told me that this is where I would be.  In the main room, there were a table and two beds.  To one side was a room with a king-sized bed, while the other held a small kitchen and bathroom.  I could tell it was going to get very cold during the night, because the wood planks that made up the bathroom floor had gaps between them, letting in air from under the trailer. I would later learn that that was not the only thing being let in.

After a while, it was time for dinner, and I walked back to the main building of the agriturismo to find an empty dining room with a table set for one.  Soon, the man came out from the kitchen to make sure that I ate meat, then he brought out the first course.  First I had pasta ragù, almost just as I had eaten at the Abbazia di Sant’Albino.  This was a bit higher quality, though, and I quickly devoured it, mopping up the remains of sauces and crumbled meat with some bread.  After he took that plate away, he brought out the main course, which was truly something special.  The side for this was some sort of leek that had been seasoned and maybe boiled before being grilled.  The taste was a bit bitter, but it went well with what it was paired with—a braised leg of lamb.  The lamb had been cooked perfectly.  Seasoned with salt, olive oil, and rosemary, it was crispy on the outside, but and juicy on the inside.  I picked the bone as clean as I could, enjoying every ounce of the succulent dish.  This dinner had more than made up for the fact that I would have to sleep in a trailer.

When I returned to said trailer, I got dressed for bed and went to go brush my teeth.  When I arrived in the bathroom, I got quite a shock as I found a small, black scorpion sitting inside the shower.  This really freaked me out, partly because I can’t recall a time when I’ve actually seen a live scorpion up close, but mostly because it was something which I didn’t expect at all.  I went back into the main room to get my walking stick in order to get rid of the creature, as I had no desire to be stung during the night or the next morning.  As I was fetching the stick, another nasty insect made itself known—this time a large spider, hanging right over my pillow.  Now I had two things to get rid of.  I did so, without too much of a problem, and went to bed, feeling at least a little bit better about my safety during the night.


~ by pminnig on November 1, 2011.

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