Lost succinctly described my predicament finding the goddamn path to Sella del Diavolo, “Saddle of the Devil”, a spot high above Cagliari overlooking the myriad blue mediterranean sea. I could have paid a guide, I tried, but he had gone back to London for the week though he did send me a navigation pin where the path commences. Fail. He didn’t fail, Google did. F*** google. In my punchy DIY attitude I headed towards the route the tourist-exasperated caffe’ employee pointed, “that way”. And the sporty couple with whom I attempted to reconfirm, merely pointed up. “Ahhhh, I get it, it’s up there somewhere, don’t worry, I’ll find it.”
Cocksure, I headed up a dusty trail lined with olive trees and a long fence. I’d taken my trusty bottle of sparkling water, dried chick peas-they’re full of protein-and two chocolate covered madeleines. Rather than giving the cookies to the two-tone donkeys, thank god, I ate them. What donkeys? The ones next to the military base. What base? Exactly.
The three elderly ladies descended, one sweating milky wax, I smirked, inside, and bounded up the path, goat-like, agile. And sure enough there was a well-worn track. Bending over I picked a fruit I’d seen a lady at the supermarket pay money for, those yellow-red cactus blossoms covered with delicate, needle-like pricks, ergo Prickly Pear or Delicioso.
Nothing a swift roll in the gravel can’t fix, tearing the fruit open revealed seeds like caviar, not too sweet, sort of strawberry-straw-tasting. Not great, not horrible. But I did it. I ate a very ugly fruit. And son of a bitch if my fingers didn’t light up from the stings, my tongue impaled with tiny spears, my lips burned. Curse words, I licked and spit little barbed things as I climbed when I see a guy mountain biking. Surely he would know about Sella del Diavolo, he shrugged his shoulders vaguely in answer to my question suggesting “up there” and rode away. Good talk Jeeves.
I had read to follow the painted green spots to take the easy path. Not seeing green spots I continued along the military fence where there was a trodden route and decided, “ It’s going up and up is good.” My tracking and the green spots finally merged, eventually I ran into a couple who I let stay ahead of me for many yards pretending to be the sole survivor enjoying a luscious discovery. A small stone outpost appeared in the path, a large wooden cross, landmarks, yippee.
The little outpost, a stone building with vistas overlooking the dry mediterranean terrain full of cypress, juniper and cacti and in the background nothing but blue blue and more blue sky and sea.
They say trouble starts small. Taking the path less traveled, where in fact there were bike ruts and tire imprints, it felt safe to surmise humans traversed the area. But the green spots disappeared and red ones took their place, a new level of difficulty, i.e. key change. From this vantage point I could see a castle in the distance, and a cobalt blue lagoon siren-like, wooing me down into it’s mottled blue green water. Castles in Italy are a dime a dozen.
Down I headed like a gun-slinging bandit, through brush, across flattened white rocks, stopping to smell an herb more potent than eucalyptus, snatching juniper berries crisp like gin and thorny fake rosemary. At times the footpath seemed clear, sometimes it led directly into thick brush and dead ends. Once the path steered downwards into a dark menacing crevasse certainly full of snakes, being American and a follower of true crime “don’t go into the woods,” goes without saying. Yet for that water I was willing to die, because if falling didn’t kill me, a snake or evil-doer would. I held my breath and prayed, “ don’t bite me snakes, please don’t kill me” and scampered like the devil held a hot fork to my sweet ass.
Skidding over loose rocks I descended. Below me I could see people in the water, my water, swimming, maybe a snorkeler. I crossed a bearded, shirtless man on the way down who seemed surprised to see me. “Buongiorno,” I said to a belated “ciao”. The skinny rock studded path opened onto the wide open sea and, nude men. Where was I? Turning to the first available male, a pale doughy version of the bronze-marathon-thin men around him, I asked in my child-like Italian, “for men only?” He did not respond, probably because he, like me, was the only other non-Sardinian.
What perversity hath this day wrought? I did not disentangle myself from Egyptian cotton sheets, endure the scorn of the indigenous, suffer hot murderous delusions only to be turned away from a “men’s only” club. Fuck that shit. I walked straight to the nearest-farthest rock where I stripped off my heat-soggy yoga pants and dusty t-shirt, hiding my phone and keys in the jumble and waded into the brisk ultra blue sea. Fuck that, fuck this, fuck all ya’ll and praise praise praise. There is no heaven gentlepeople, this is it.
Swimming away from the rocky alcove into the widemouth sea, my mind intermittently transmitted peril, perhaps a strong undertow or a leg eating monster would be my demise. There had been a significant splash as I swam out, thinking it was a snorkeler, I commenced to swim though no snorkelled emerged. Odd. Alas, floating, allowing the fear of death at so much pleasure to fray a tiny bit of my heart, simultaneously surrendering; come what may. If I die, I die oh so happily.
Do not save me.
Here’s the thing no one tells you about nude sunbathing, while my appeasing-inner-make-nice-lady, (who I am currently in the process of killing, softly), might utter, “everybody has a hungry heart”, my lion-hearted warrior astutely observed, “there’s always a pervert”. To be precise, there were two other women present whose digs were unseen when I first arrived. They in fact were nude. I, on the other hand, was not.
For arguments sake, worst case scenario, you stubble upon a nude beach, realise life is short, strip down to what god gave you and then discover, the nudes were all extras for a car commercial, the diligent PA upon wrap-up scooped up all your belongings and you must hoof it back to town, nay, shoeless.
Or it’s a cult.
Neither was true, but what is true, the gnome-like native man, who casually appeared on the beach, baring his wares, minced about in the warm penis sun acting out a search for a lost bar of soap, then poured a long gaze into your bikini clad crotch; you thank god you did not decide yogi-style, to air it out. Later that little shit will be seen bustling up the hill behind you when you are hangry, hot and lost. And so you pick up two rocks, one for each ear you’re gonna bust open.
And we’re back: Sated, salty and hungry, a decision was called for, return the hard scrabble way I’d come or climb up an even steeper incline towards the opposite side of the island? I chose hard scrabble. Sun and saline will do that. Swimming for twenty-five years has made my lungs strong; I did not heave and gasp for breath but sprang up the hilly way, my tush grateful to Napoli for it’s many, many sets of stairs. Feeling strong and brave hearted my spirit sung, loudly.
Returning is always easier, there were no imaginary snakes and the only killer on the road was me. Zigging and zagging, the landmarks became visible. I found the wooden fence where the tourists stopped! I found the military fence! Just follow the fence! That’s the way out. The path appeared and disappeared, but it was so simple. Follow the fence. Dodging tree limbs, sharp branches, scratchy bushes, doubt grew. My right forearm caught a large thorn, tearing my skin. My ankles were bush-burned and seething, when a strong-willed branch clawed my leg, blood ran down my calf. Now hot, deflated and definitely salty, I whimpered, batting away aggressive flies seduced by my bloody scent.
As fate would have it this path was not the narrow stairway to heaven but a shortcut for slim, sensibly hooved goats and I should have known it by the increasingly dense piles of black little turds. Tucked under a rock, partly in the sun, I found two baby goats sleeping,. And then nothing. The fence abruptly stopped. On one side was military property, forbidden and foreboding.
On the other side a sharp descent only for the cleat and pulley type. Overlooking all of Cagliari, the pinnacle where Satan tempted Jesus, I confessed, “Sorry Jesus but I’d have settled for a cold Ichnusa and a slice.”
Using my vantage point to determine my errors-oh so many-I turned around. The plaintive sound of a baby’s cry rang out, I halted, there in the bushes was a nervous mama goat and two kids. Immediately I loved them and told them not to be afraid, I wasn’t there to hurt them. Lofting the sign of Francis of Assisi we parted in peace. Spirit animal. Goat.
Onto the warm asphalt back to my hotel I stubbled, muddled and chastened. So thirsty am I, I genuinely think, oh go a little further Braveheart, you’re almost there. You know delirium, that dry cake-y feeling, wrung out both from salt water and sweating. When you smile, if you can smile at all, your crazed eyes and ashy face crack a bit.
Across the street there is a small cafe’. I pay the quiet lady behind the counter for a fresh orange juice and a large bottle of water. As I turn to the barman for my drinks I see my reflection in the mirror behind the bar and recoil. Ala’ Tammy Fay Baker, brown mascara has pooled under my eyes, my black yoga pants have a heart shaped salt stain from my bathing suit bottom ringing my vagina and my pale pink wet bikini top says mothers milk through my now dirt-caked white t-shirt.
I stand at the bar sun-bleached, bloody, ship wrecked. No one says a word.
Guzzling freshly squeezed orange juice my internal organs audibly sigh as rusty brain gears squeal then smooth to a delicate hum as hydration reaches my cells.
Once home, I shower the shower of a heroic Olympian.
Refreshed I lay on my comfortably clean bed and think,
“tomorrow I eat oranges”.