Living in a trailer at the birthplace of Michelangelo

(This post is from the evening of October 18th)

The room was relatively warm this morning when I woke up.  I got my things together before heading downstairs for breakfast.  The hermitage had provided generously, and there were many types of cereals, fruit, coffee, tea, warm milk, juice, bread, and spreads on offer.  Caprese Michelangelo—my next destination—wasn’t too far away, so I lingered a while and enjoyed the biggest breakfast I had eaten in a long time.

After finishing my Italian Coco Crisps, I grabbed my bag and a few plums for the road and headed out of the sanctuary.  The courtyard was empty, and for the first time I could look at the church and the wonderful view without the distraction of passing tourists.  After having one final glance at La Verna, I walked through the gate and began the trek down to Chiusi.  “This will be easy,” I thought, as I passed the place where the dog had left me the day before, again hoping that they were both safely at home.  From having walked this way yesterday, I already knew where the next path started, and there would be no wandering around in town as sometimes happens when looking for the start of each day’s new trail.

I walked down to the farthest extent of my wandering yesterday, and got on a dirt road that led out into the fields.  After about 30 minutes of smooth sailing, I began to get confused about where I was supposed to be going.  The trail markings were sporadic, and there seemed to be very many options through the cow fields.  Generally speaking, following the trails in the woods had been very straightforward. Just walking in the small areas where it was actually possible to maneuver meant that you were on some kind of trail.  Here, on the other hand, in the more open terrain of the cow fields, you could literally walk in any direction without problem, and the tall grass had been stamped down by so many different people in so many different directions, that it was impossible to tell the difference between an official trail and the path a farmer had happened to take on a stroll through his fields.  Pretty soon, I realized that I was lost, and I fished out a guide some German had made that I found in one of the refuges earlier during the Cammino.  For some reason, this fellow had more detailed maps than the official guide, and I found these quite helpful whenever I had trouble identifying the right way to go.  From what I could tell, the path I was on was not the “correct” one, but if I kept following it, I would eventually meet up with the official route.  I kept on at the current path, often having to retrace my steps in order to find it again; after crossing over a fence in field with a makeshift ladder, I completely lost where it was going.  I knew there was a highway that went from Chiusi to Caprese, but at this point, I was well outside of the town and knew that turning back would take a great deal of time.  I abandoned the hopeless task of trying to find the route of my current path, and set out into the cow pastures.

The pastures here were not the same sort I was used to seeing near the highways of America.  These were much rougher, with small, gnarly trees and bushes mixed in with the grass.  Again, I felt like Dante at the beginning of the Comedy, climbing up a hill in order to figure out where I was.  From a hilltop peak, I could see most of the valley below, but I wasn’t high enough to spot a road or any other paths.  There was another, taller hill just beyond, so I made my way there to try and have another look.  At the top of this hill, I finally found the cows whose patties I had been dodging on my walk.  As I approached, they stopped chewing their cud and all starred at me intently, waiting to see what I was up to.  These cows were big, and they even had small, sharp horns on their heads.  Giving them a properly wide berth, just in case they wanted to pick a fight, I made my way up to the summit of the hill to take a view of my surroundings.  Again, I couldn’t really figure out where I was.  My maps said one thing, but my eyes told another story, and I couldn’t figure out what to do.  Below the hill, I saw a small town resting in a valley, and figured that it would be the best place to go.  Someone there might be able to give directions, or, at the very least, point out a connecting road that would take me somewhere else.

After following some car tracks down the hill for a while, I ended up abruptly near the edge of a forest on the side of the hill.  At first I made fine progress down the hill, as the way wasn’t too steep.  Then, the hill slopped away more and more, and I tripped and fell several times as I tried to walk from tree to tree, bracing myself against each one as I moved.  Soon, I found myself in front of a sheer drop of maybe five yards.  The brush had become very thick, and it was increasingly difficult to maneuver, especially with my giant backpack.  I searched around for an actual path out of the woods, but could find only more thorny bushes on the steep slope.

Frantically looking around for an actual path, I feared being stuck, or having to leave my bag behind in order to climb out of the predicament.  Finally I saw what looked like the remains of a path hidden behind a particularly thick bunch of thorny branches.  I didn’t want to rejoice too soon, but I followed this down a ways onto another plateau, and continued until I saw that it really was an old, overgrown path.  I kept on going, not sure if it would lead me to another place in the middle of nowhere, but, thankfully, it took me out of the woods, just above the town I had seen from the hill.

Grateful that my ordeal was over, I walked down into the village to see if I could find someone to direct me.   Although there were plenty of dogs in town to bark at me as I walked past, none of their owners seemed to be around, and I resigned myself to trying to find a larger road on the other side of the large hill that bound the opposite end of town.  As I was climbing this new obstacle, a pair of hikers appeared behind me from another path.  “Siete Italiani?” I asked.  “Uh… English?” replied the man in a German accent.  The woman then identified the village by some name I didn’t recognize from any of my maps, and it was then that I knew that I was really in the wrong place.  The couple were headed to Pieve San Pietro, a town east of La Verna, but at about the same level longitudinally.  The man asked me where I was trying to go and then picked up a small electronic device that was hanging around his neck.  After a minute or two of searching, he told me that I could take trail number 39 back at the other side of the village, and it would lead me to Caprese.  Apparently his device had all the trails listed and where they go—a truly remarkable machine.

At the opposite end of the town, I found the trail that the man had told me about, and took it up a number of hills before reaching another small town in the valley below Chiusi della Verna.  Here, I found a larger road with bus stops that had Caprese as one of the destinations.  A woman walked by, pushing a stroller, and she was able to confirm my direction.  I had finally made it out of the wilderness and to a place from which I could actually get where I needed to go.

I walked the several kilometers to Caprese on the highway, encountering little traffic along the road.  Finally, I arrived in Caprese itself, at a crossroads in the center of the small town.  Caprese seemed to be a bit more spread out than other places throughout the valley.  Houses were not that close to each other, and the “urban” area extended much further than in the other places I had visited.  I saw posters for the local Chestnut festival, an event which I would just miss by a couple of days.  On an information board at the center of town I was surprised to learn that Caprese Michelangelo is the birthplace of the famous artist.  On the board, it described how one could see the inspiration Michelangelo took from the surroundings of his childhood.  The landscape in the background of the Doni Tondo is an actual mountain in the area, and the rock on which Adam lies on the Sistine ceiling is also inspired by the local topography.  Looking at the pictures of the famous works, I could see that the authors of the board were quite right.

It was getting late, and I needed to find my rifugio for the night—a local camping ground a little ways away from the center of town.  I was concerned because I didn’t have a tent, and I wasn’t sure what sort of accommodations the camp ground would provide.  I wanted to get there early enough so that I could find somewhere else if things didn’t work out.

Near the outskirts of town, I found the place, and went in through the large wooden gate by the road.  The area seemed deserted, but there was one car parked outside of the office, so I waited to see if anyone would show up.  Moments later, a mustachioed old man came round the corner and stopped when he saw me.  He didn’t say anything, so I took the impetus to speak first.  “I’m a pilgrim, and I was hoping to stay here tonight.”  “No problem,” the man replied, smiling.  “Hold on a second,” he said, as he went into the office to get something.  He quickly returned and told me to follow as he walked to the opposite end of the campground.  “Where are you from?” he asked as we were walking.  “The United States,” I replied.  “Oh, my wife is American. She’s from New York.  I don’t know English though.”

We arrived at our destination—an old and small camper van by the edge of the campground.  “Your home for the night,” the man said.  After struggling to figure out which cable needed to be plugged in to power to camper’s lights, the man told me that I could come register later at the office.  I put my things inside, and went to find the bathrooms and shower.

After I had cleaned up, I brought my passport over to the office to do the registration.  The old man and his car had disappeared, and he had been replaced by a much younger person who had a sort of “surfer dude” vibe about him.  I told him that I needed to register, and he informed me that I only had to pay 7 euro—he didn’t need to see my passport or anything.  I asked if I would be able to eat at the campground that night, and he said that no one was there to cook.  “There’s a restaurant just next door, though,” he informed me.  “You can get a whole meal for something like 10 euro.  It’s good.”

It was time to eat, and I walked out of the entrance to the campground and over to the bar that was located in the front section of a very large building on the side of the road.  I’m not sure what the purpose of the building was, but the bar was open.  “Dimmi,”—tell me—said the girl behind the counter, eyeing me as someone strange to the place.  I looked around for anything resembling a menu, but could find nothing except a small sign reading “PANINI” in the refrigerated section next to some meats.  While she was making the sandwich, I went to the refrigerator and selected a large bottle of one of the big brands of Italian beer—Peroni.  I also grabbed a bag of chips.  The bar I was in was brightly lit, and had several small tables and two couches in front of a large, flat screen TV.  At one of the tables, a group of men was playing cards, much like I had seen at the bar in Corniolo.  The bartender finished my sandwich and rang up the order—five euro and fifty cents.  I was amazed at how cheap it all was.  A sandwich alone at Monza cost more.  I took my meal and sat down on one of the couches in front of the TV.  Soon the card players left the bar, and I was alone, watching House dubbed in Italian.  It felt almost like being at home—eating a sandwich while watching TV—and I really appreciated being able to relax a bit like I normally would.

When I arrived back at the entrance to the camping site, the large gate which I had walked through was closed, and there seemed to be no way of opening it from the outside.  Since I was the only guest and the guy watching over things was gone, there was no one inside to open it for me.  With no other options, I tossed my bags of chips over the fence, before climbing over it myself.  Jumping over the six foot high gate was easier than I expected, and again pointed either to how much weight I’d lost since beginning my trip, or how much stronger I’d gotten.   After picking up my chips, I made my way through the darkness to my camper.

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~ by pminnig on November 11, 2011.

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