I’m most definitely lost. I’ve been driving for 75 minutes already and haven’t seen a road sign for the past 20. The road on which I’m driving looks like it’s still under construction and I have to say that I’m somewhat concerned that at the next corner it’s going to stop dead, sending me barrelling down the side of the mountain, unfettered by tarmac or barriers. My phone rings and I pull in to the side with a frisson of relief that I have an excuse to stop driving for a moment.
“Kate? It’s Maryann. I’m about 10k from your town.”
“Wait. MY town? Um – but I’m on my way to Tropea …”
America and England: two countries separated by a common language. It seems that, despite the most meticulous plans, and both theoretically being able to understand each other, we’ve still managed to arrange the most monumental balls-up. When we decided to go to Tropea for the day, I assumed that we’d meet there, given that it’s fairly much directly in between our two towns, distance-wise. Maryann, on the other hand, being a selfless soul with a big car, thought that she’d be picking me up. Oh dear. Still, worse things happen at sea and all that. Maryann resets her GPS, and I decide to follow my spidey-senses and turn around, as I’m still absolutely convinced that I’m on the wrong road.
10 minutes later my hunch is vindicated. I spot a yellow diversion sign for Tropea and swing my battered little Ka around the corner. Back on track. Hooray! Almost immediately the gradient takes a sharp upward turn. I drop the car into second, instantly followed by first as the car growls in protest and lurches to a halt. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all. No turning back now, though. Onwards!
Puttering around a hairpin bend, the road halves in width. There’s a sign telling me that this road is two-way, but I can’t believe that’s true. Maybe in the days when everyone travelled by mule, but with my little car on the road there’s not even room for a motorbike to pass without difficulty. As I climb to what should, by rights, be cloud-level and previously never experienced vertigo starts to kick in, I begin to question the wisdom of following the diversion signs. Grass sprouts through the tarmac and lizards scuttle across my path. It’s safe to say that this road hasn’t been used for a while, and it’s easy to see why. I’m feeling rather like Icarus as I get ever closer to the sun. Exhilaration mixed with a healthy dose of sheer terror. I’d forgotten about mountains, living in Salento, and I’m not used to them being hot and dusty, either. Usually when I’m up a mountain it’s crisp and clear and I’ve got a couple of carbon-fibre planks strapped to my feet, rather than sweating like a pig in a knackered old runabout which, to be frank, I’m not sure is going to make it to the top. On the bright side, if it conks out, at least I’m walking *down* rather than up.
Just as I’m thinking about composing my last will and testament, I notice with a sigh of relief that the road’s beginning to drop away again. There’s a sign to Tropea, thankfully pointing in the direction that I’m going. There’s no bloody way I’d be able to turn around here, so the only way is forward. With a snort of laughter I note that it’s blue – the colour of signs for major roads here in Italy. Going up to second gear for the first time since I got onto this road, the car and I jolt on down the track; calling it a road is, let’s face it, overly optimistic. I take hairpin bend after hairpin bend, each sharper than the last, my knuckles white on the steering wheel. Finally, I swing around the last one and the track comes to an abrupt end as it’s crossed by an actual road. There’s something dreadfully familiar about this. My eyes narrow in recognition.
I’m about 500m short of where I answered the phone to Maryann, half an hour earlier.
Calabria, you’re completely nuts. I think we’re going to get along famously.
Image by e-magic on Flickr