Adventures on a Deserted Island
Because of two successive ‘puentes’ in one week, by asking for one day off, a Wednesday, we ended up having ten days off and found cheap tickets to Sardinia, the Italian island just south of Corsica. We’d
heard great things about the climbing there and it was supposed to be warm enough in early December. We landed in Alghero, stood in line for an hour to rent a car, and then drove to our couchsurfing host’s house and had the best meal we’d ever had in our lives. He was mainland Italian and showed us how to make hand-made pasta the way his grandmother did. He steamed some mussels in a spicy wine and garlic sauce and brought out fresh bread, local wine, farm-made pecorino cheese and his home-made liqueurs. We talked–about everything: tourism, government subsidies, climbing, food–until maybe 1 AM and then went to bed. His apartment was right on the beach
and he rented really cheaply during the winter because, as we were about to find out, no one is in Sardinia during December. It’s completely deserted 8 months of the year and then over-populated with rich tourists during the summers. We explored Alghero a bit on Sunday morning, which is an interesting city and the only place besides Catalunya where Catalan is spoken (though only by old men). We then went up to the tip of the island to try to take a ferry to another island, a national park where the endemic species include albino donkeys, only to find that the ferries don’t run in the winter. Bummer, but the drive was beautiful nonetheless, and we made a detour to a sheep farm where we watched some men making pecorino cheese and I tried in vain to communicate. We drove out to our main climbing destination, Cala Gonone, on tiny winding roads (I was nauseated pretty much the entire vacation for this reason), driving through a beautiful but completely deserted town called Bosa, where we were forced to eat shrink-wrapped pizzas in a shitty bar after finding that all the restaurants were closed. We continued on our merry way through the idyllic Italian country side with cliff-side sea views, rolling green hills, mountains, and ubiquitous orange-vested wild boar
hunters (Thursdays and Sundays are hunting days and it’s a VERY popular past time). Once in Cala Gonone, we found that all the restaurants and hotels were closed–except for one–and so we parked our car up on a back road on the edge of a hill spilling down into the sea where we camped illegally, and walked down to the hotel/restaurant to have an underwhelming (well, I was satisfied, I like spaghetti carbonara of any quality) meal. We woke up to torrential rain, loaded our tent up in a break between downpours (not without admiring the spectacular views from our campsite), and went to the nearest town that appeared to have habitants, Dorgali, a breathtakingly beautiful ten minute drive away from the bay of Cala Gonone. We debated our plans, and went to the internet cafe to send out couchsurfing requests for the city of Cagliari, realizing that we might prefer places with actual living human beings instead of thousands of empty vacation homes. We decided to spend the day driving around the mountains, which were also wet and rather cold, but of course stunningly beautiful, as we had come to expect from the island. We saw ancient Nuralgic (an early civilization that inhabited the island)
structures, quaint villages, and once it got dark, found a nice valley to camp in. We ate a pretty gross meal, on par with chef boyardee spaghetti, at the one open restaurant we found in the neighboring village, but drank enough wine to counteract its effects and went to sleep in our long underwear and sweaters but nearly froze to death anyway. Hunters’ gunshots rang out through the night (and it wasn’t even Sunday or Thursday!) and along with being frozen to death I was pretty convinced that we were also going to be shot. Upon waking up we saw that we were in a very beautiful place and the rain had stopped. We drove back to Cala Gonone through the mountains headed up climbing on cliffs high above the sea. Though the views were gorgeous the wild wind off the sea (the mistral) made it nearly impossible to climb and so scary that I cried. So after one route we headed to the climbing area of Dorgali only to find it fenced off for some sort of park construction and totally inaccessible.Finally we made our way to the most famous climbing spot in Cala Gonone, Cala Fiuli, which is a beautiful limestone canyon sheltered from the wind. We were able to do a couple routes there before dark but went back the next day (after a night passed awake in our camp spot, convinced the mistral would either break the tent or blow us away, it was so unbelievably
violent). After a (finally!) satisfying day of climbing we drove to Cagliari, where we met our new couchsurfing host who directed us to a famous seafood restaurant while he went to meet with a friend (he apologized profusely for having to leave us alone but had made the appointment a week ago and couldn’t break it). We were so happy to have another fabulous meal–seafood pasta and the best fish I’ve ever tasted–in a no-frills, flourescent-lit dining-hall style
environment. The owner of the trattoria had a guitar and walked around singing to everyone, most of whom were locals. He tried and tried to guess where we were from but never got it; I guess they don’t get many Americans there. We also got free dessert!
The next day our host and his friend took us out to the forest to go mushroom gathering. We explored the ruins of an ancient castle that was perched on top of a volcanic cone and then spent a few hours avoiding hunters (it was Thursday) and learning to differentiate poisonous mushrooms from positively delicious ones. We cooked a delicious saffron wild mushroom risotto for dinner and then next day it was time for Austin and I to head off to our next climbing destination, Domusnovas, where everything went exactly as planned. Domusnovas is inland so there is no Mistral, and the climbing is centered around this amazing huge cave called the Grotto of San Sebastien. Parts of the cave were wet and parts were covered in chicken shit, but we had some of the best climbing of our lives in spite of this. We camped in the yard of a lovely little country church below some olive trees. This being Mediterranean Europe, we were surrounded by discarded used condoms, intimate wipes, cigarette butts, and other
disgusting garbage, but the site was gorgeous nonetheless. The Mediterranean has some of the most dramatic and starkly beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen and also the most appalling amount of trash. You would think living amongst such stunning scenery would inspire you to care for it, but no. Maybe you just don’t appreciate what you’re familiar with and surrounded by on a daily basis, like how the view of the Alhambra has become just something I have to walk past on my way to the local library. But I wouldn’t throw trash at it.
We ended our second day at Domusnovas early in order to get back to Alghero to catch our flight, but the adventure wasn’t over yet. We had to fill up the rental car before giving it back but through some sort of mishap at the gas station someone
ended up getting the 50 euros we put in the gas machine credited to them and gave us their receipt as gas credit, which was no help to us because we wouldn’t be around on Monday to redeem it when the station was open. Lack of language skills exacerbated the situation; we had someone who spoke French translating for us. It’s somewhat frustrating when, between two of us, we are
fluent in three of the most spoken languages in the world and yet cannot communicate with someone whose language shares latin roots. Anyway, we had this receipt and we tried to give it to people at the airport so they could have a free tank of gas but the rental car company employees wouldn’t take it due to a conflict of interest, but I think the offer influenced their decision to let us get away with a scratch on the car’s front bumper. When checking in for our flight we found that our bag was overweight by 6 kilos and we would have to pay over a hundred euros to fly
with it, but Austin, in his infinite social genius, offered the gas receipt to the agent (I actually tried to stop him for fear that she might be insulted) and we were allowed to board with overweight luggage. We landed late in Madrid, spent the night at Austin’s cousin’s apartment, and then spent the morning trying to hitch a ride out of Madrid, which turned out to be a completely unsuccessful disaster. It was cold and rainy and we returned defeated to the bus station to buy two tickets back to Granada. Hitch-hiking is
sometimes the most frustrating lesson
in patience and defeat, especially if you have a time-sensitive destination, like, say, a job.
Anyway, we got back to Granada safe and sound and resumed work the next day, taking Sardinian cookies to our co-workers, all of whom were very curious about my vacation and even more curious about our methods of traveling–couchsurfing and guerilla
camping. This past week has been hectic as we prepare for our next adventure–Christmas in Vietnam! But not
too hectic to take a little break to go with our couchsurfer to watch the sunset over the Alhambra.