In the six months that I’ve been living here I’ve got to know the Calabrian section of the A3 Salerno-Reggio Calabria well. It’s a beast of a road, winding its way more than 300 miles from Naples to Reggio, taking in three regions as it goes. One minute it carves along the side of the cliffs that plunge vertically down to the sea. The next it teeters over jaw-droppingly high bridges spanning rocky ravines, and yet moments later it plunges into the centre of a mountain. It’s undeniably spectacular. However, at the same time it’s notoriously awful. For the first three months that I was living here the exit to my town was closed. Diggers and tarmac-laying machines sat dormant, waiting for people to use them. The workers never seemed to come, but one day the exit reopened anyway. The roundabout which leads to it is still a hot mess of random road markings and badly-designed filter lanes. We’ve got used to it. Not so the contra-flow system in the tunnels, though. As one of the few people who saw Daylight, driving through a tunnnel late at night sandwiched between a petrol tanker and an impatient, tailgating driver is a very unnerving experience. (Yes, I’m a sucker for a disaster movie. Everyone has to have *some* vices.) Add to this not-entirely-sober, nervous English passengers and you have a recipe for some seriously hairy journeys.
So, I’m driving to Cosenza on the A3, a journey which takes about 90 minutes on a good day. This isn’t a good day. There are roadworks. There are tunnels. There are aggressive drivers with halogen lights and blaring horns. Oh, and the icing on the cake: there’s torrential rain. The elderly car I’m driving pumps heat from the fans whether they’re turned on or not. On one hand, this probably isn’t the greatest news about the temperature of the engine. On the other, while the air’s hot at least it shows that the radiator’s still functioning. Every cloud has a silver lining.
As I peer through the rain, a neon-orange-clad figure appears at the side of the road, waving a similarly bright flag. I slow my speed from fast to moderate, winding up the driver behind me no end. He roars past me in a huff. I have no idea what the man with the flag was trying to tell me: we’ve entered a tunnel and there are no obvious obstructions. For once both carriageways are open and the lights in the tunnel are so bright that they’re actually hurting my eyes. I shrug and continue, keeping an eye out for stray potholes, which are the usual problem. A lot of them are more like ditches around here, and they crop up all over the place when it rains.
Leaving the tunnel, I nearly jump out of my skin as yet another waterproofed orange figure leaps out with his flag. Once again, there’s no obvious reason why he’s there, but there’s clearly *something* afoot. I notch the speed down to ‘sedate’ and then, as the flag continues waving wildly, to ‘Sunday Driver’. The car grumbles and belches Saharan air at me. I open a window and get a faceful of vicious Calabrian rain. I close the window. The car again attempts to dry roast me. Continue, with variations. Sigh.
A few miles on from the first tango man it finally becomes clear what the problem is: a road repair lorry is parked in one of the (very irregular) lay-bys. It has important-looking flashing lights on the back, and there’s one final flag-waver for good measure. They’re taking these warnings very seriously. Unfortunately, however, I’m so distracted by all this visual excitement that I nearly drive straight into the canyon that they’ve come to repair. So much for safety first.
Image by graziedavvero on Flickr