Sunday, 3 February 2013

sign language

feeling jolly
We're feeling kind of jolly as we pedal along the quiet highway of northern Sardinia.  The landscape is rolling green farmland for a while until we touch the coast again amidst pine forest.  A perfect place to pitch the tent on our first night.  The forest has been ravaged by boar - the ground ploughed and furrowed.  Of course we haven't had a single disturbed night yet with boar.  The next day there are gunshots across the road in the woods.  Probably not many boar left.  The land opens out as we cut across to Sassaria, with big ridges cutting across our path and forcing us to pedal a bit harder.  The hills attract rain clouds and we shelter in a little roadside bar.  In some places the bars are at the petrol station.  One place there's a little old fella with a loud mouth playing the slot machines.  He's a local, the staff are all humouring him.  We're taking it in turns to have a stand up wash in the toilet.  Loudmouth wins on the slots and insists on buying us beers.  How to say no?  We're just getting used to that expressive way Italians have of communicating.  The sing-song delivery and the whole gamut of gestures - the shrug, the prayer, the whole wide world, the tiny little thing held in upturned fingertips clasped together.  Our phrasebook is fairly limited to the basics and this is frustrating because everyone we meet is happy to talk.  Sardinia seems quite a contrast to the days in Corsica where we rarely saw or chatted with anyone.  

The route we're advised to take out to the coast to Alghero is a lovely little back road through green farmland.  The island is so green it's hard to imagine it looking brown and dusty in the summer.  At a garage we have to ask motorists if they can fill up our fuel bottle because the pumps are automated self-service things with a minimum of 5 litres.  We don't even need one litre.

A kind woman fills us up and won't accept any money.  Our camp this night is next to three half-finished houses built on a hillside away from the road.  We assume that the recession has stopped the construction but later Enrico in Sardinia explains to us how construction grants are awarded before completion of the building.  As long as there's walls and a roof.  So there's a little business going on where these shells are erected in order to collect the dosh.  No wonder Italians sigh and shake their heads and make jokes when they talk about their country.  As English people we empathise with this approach - it's not what we came across in other European countries.

Alghero's pretty old centre is quite lively for a cloudy wet Sunday morning - lots of local tourists wandering the narrow streets and a handful of young Africans selling umbrellas and fake handbags.  It's sunny when we set off along the spectacular coastal road to Bosa, a roller-coaster of a road that clings to the coast and steadily climbs to a ridge of a mountain that drops into the sea.  We're absolutely whacked when we get to the top, and kind of disappointed that the land is dotted with shabby-looking sheep farms.  We want to camp but the land is fenced or used or our old friend dense maquis has taken over.  At least we're coasting downhill.  Ooops, hang on, there's a track and here's a tent-sized gap in the maquis.  Good job too, as the rain is threatening.

The next day is a black day for me.  It starts with rain.  The cloud lifts so we hurriedly pack up and continue the ride down to Bosa.  We're fairly flying along in rain when a barking dog causes me to look round and brake at the same time.  My front wheel goes down, I fall under the bike and bounce down the slippery road.  As I struggle to my feet I see a little mongrel dog cheerfully ambling back to his gateway.  My shoulder is killing, my ankle hurts, but most of all my ego is severely bruised.  Incredibly the only broken thing is one bar end, although I find out later my dinner bowl is also shattered.  Small fry.  Big lesson.  We arrive in Bosa in pouring rain feeling a little bit miserable and ask around about cheap accomodation.  Down by the marina there's a youth hostel, closed mid afternoon but due to open at 4pm.  No-one arrives.  Thank goodness for Italian coffee bars and friendly people.  We scoot around to check a couple of other places and return to the hostel to find it is just opening up.  It's a shock to pay for a room after staying with so many friends and generous hosts.  In the room there's a sign saying no laundry or cooking in the rooms.  We promptly wash a load of clothes and cook our tea.  Going to sleep I am relieved I have no broken bones and my iPod still works.
artichokes and olive trees
We head down to Cagliari on quiet coastal roads in fantastic weather.  In one small village we are beeped by a car that is overtaking us.  Except the driver seems to think we should not be on the road.  He continues to beep his horn and then drives past close enough to knock us off.  There is no other traffic on a straight road.  He drives off to a torrent of abuse and some expressive gestures of our own.  In the guidebook we read that Italians love cycling.  But Enrico laughed when we recounted this story later.  He tells us that when they get into a car they detest cyclists.  The journey south is wonderful despite this glitch.  We find good camping spots in abandoned olive groves.  There are artichokes growing everywhere.  The road dips and climbs and then hurtles along in very straight lines - the Romans must obviously have been here.

In one village we are looking to get on-line so that we can check ferry details and see if we can Couch Surf or Warm Shower in Cagliari.  In a bar we are pointed to the municipal building over the road.  They've a wi-fi hotspot outside the receptionist explains.  It doesn't work.  She explains that if you walk over to the bin instead of sitting down on the bench it should work.  At this point two young women approach us and one asks us if we need help with anything.  Laura speaks impeccable English and invites us to her home to check our messages.  Her friend Consuelo had spotted us and had said "Look, they look like they're English, go and talk with them".  Lucky for us Laura has lived in England for 3 years and spent a year working and travelling in Australia.  She jokes that she would love to join us on her bike.  Before we know it we're chatting away and meeting her boyfriend and his parents and sitting in the hot sun and what are we doing again?

Our final night before we reach Cagliari we have to duck through a broken fence to get into a forestry plantation.  This leads us to an olive grove and then an overgrown field for us to hide in.  We're less than 20km from Cagliari and, apart from a little distant traffic, there's not a sound.  Not a single barking dog.  The moon is late rising now and the whole Milky Way is visible.  There's vino rosso with the pasta, fennel and red pesto.  A fresh supply of Lidl's finest fruit and nut chocolate.  Okay, I've just heard a dog barking, so it's not quite perfect.

1 comment:

  1. I had to look up 'maquis' (interesting - especially the connection with the French Resitance). This sitting around with friends, good food, vino, all sounds blissful and EXACTLY what I'm looking forward to when I start my own 'slothful' trip next Spring.