After a late dinner in the bioagroturismo restaurant, we were up early for the first day of hiking. Nunzio, the farm owner, told us that the hike would be slow. We would be stopping when the sheep ate. Christina from Pescara translated for the English speaking participants. Christina and her sister participate in the Adopt a Sheep program started by Nunzio 10 years ago. They frequently visit the farm to help, much like a CSA member of an American organic farm. The truth of the walking was that the sheep and the shepherds were usually way ahead of us. Once in a while we were walking directly behind them or waiting as they grazed.
I was up at 4:20 am for a shower in my mini bathroom. The shower, toilet and sink were all in one small closet sized space -quaint. I was the first to the square. Oh, yes, there is Italian time. An Italian mother and daughter, Sophie is the daughter, drove me up to the farm. She stopped the car to ask some farm workers a question. I caught the first part and it did not make sense to me. I kept it in my brain to ask later. “Quanti ti manca?” Manca is from mancare-to miss. The mother later explained that she was asking how long will it take before we are ready.
After breakfast, there was quite a wait while everything was prepared for the hike. Shepherds spent a long time tying packs on the horses. Balancing the weight and tying with rope was tricky and time consuming. Finally, about 6 am, we were off.
Giù, giù, giù
We started from the farm at about 600 m (1,837 ft) and walked down to the Valley of Sagittarius or Gole del Sagittario, a designated WWF nature preserve. This gorge was described by the mid nineteenth century author, artist and poet, Edward Lear, “frightening and beautiful.” We followed a path through dense vegetation along the clear running Sagittario River that reminded me of the Laurel Mountains of Pennslyvania. The water gurgled over rocks and the path remained cool and refreshing.
Su, su, su, su
We emerged from the wooded area and climbed to Castrovalva, a village that clings to the steep hills above Anversa. Castrovalva is a a frazione or ward of Anversa. Anversa is home to 40o people and another 50 – 1oo people live in Castrovalva. Castrovalva derives its fame from M.C. Escher’s 1930 lithograph “Castrovalva”. One of Escher’s early works, it does not explore the themes of impossible constructions, tesselations, or mathematically inspired work that later made him famous. We stopped for tea and snacks at the plaza named to honor Escher. This is the point where he stood to capture the view of Castrovalva with Anversa below and Casale off in the distance. Later, we cross a sunny hillside and climb to a height where we see these villages, as well as, Cucullo to the north. We also have a view of windmills on a mountain to our north. These windmills serve 10,000 families but were often quite still as we walked. We kept looking at them to guage our own height. The afternoon seemed long as we searched for shady spots to rest. Finally we thought we were as high as the windmills.
There were two very young children on the hike. I found it amazing that they lasted the day. I heard that they sometimes rode the horses. The youngest napped on his fathers stomach as we rested in the shade of some short, scrubby trees.
The views were fantastic at every turn. From the start, I knew this was one of the best things I had ever done in my life. Sometimes in the heat of the afternoon, I would remind myself of this fact. With each magical view, I had no problem convincing myself that the fatigue was well worth it.