First, let us specify that we are experienced hikers – older, yes, but definitely experienced. I’ve been hitting the trails on independent hiking trips at least twice a year for twenty years.
And let us also specify that the Gargano Peninsula in Italy is quite beautiful, with green terraced hillsides looking down over the green Adriatic.
But we have been smacked down on this trip. We booked it through ATG, one of my two favorite self-guided walking companies. The Church Ladeez love ATG – excellent routes, well-written directions, good choices of hotels along the way.
(True, we have always complained about the quality of ATG’s maps. Most self-guided walking companies provide actual topo maps, in which you can read the terrain. ATG gives you black and white illegible copies of maps which are never detailed enough to be more than suggestions. Still, with our attention to detail and using our compasses, we’ve always been able to navigate without more than a little glitch every now and then.)
But the Gargano Peninsula hike has smacked us down. Let us not go into the first day’s directions which had us circling a mall outside of Manfredonia. And our surprise that the second half of the hike seemed to be straight up a mountain with no switchbacks…we actually didn’t walk that part because of rain.
On the second day, we descended from the hilltop town of Monte Sant’ Angelo over goat tracks in a stiff wind. For the entire first half of the day, we were never sure precisely where we were. We remembered to stop and smell the verbena, and to listen to the cowbells clanking in the distance. But the wayfinding was mostly of the “Well, at least we know we’re heading east,” variety.
And then there was the steep stony path downwards that seemed to never end. Let’s just say this: the standard hiking pace is about 2 miles an hour on uneven terrain. We did about half that, and our knees were screaming at the bottom. Three of us (me included) decided right then that a rest day was in order for Saturday.
Still, we were rewarded that night with grilled fish right from the Adriatic, simple and fresh, with grilled zucchini and eggplant, and a bottle of local wine. Nice.
Yesterday, only our strongest walkers, Judy Leaver and Janet Randolph, took on the walk. It looked easy – only 7.5 miles. It nearly destroyed them…first with rock scrambles so steep that they had to pull themselves up by grasping clumps of rosemary growing among the stones. Then the directions made no sense…they found themselves wandering in a dry river bed with no obvious way out. They clawed their way up to a road and managed to get a ride with a guy in a pick-up truck part-way. But even that was to no avail…after seven hours on an “easy” trail, they gave up and called the hotel for a ride the last two kilometers.
Meanwhile, the rest of us, lounging at the beautiful Villa Scapone, were getting jittery about our friends’ whereabouts. We tried and tried to call them, but had no cell service. We’d heard – though Janet and Judy didn’t know this – that a Swiss couple walking the same route the day before had to be rescued.
In the end, Judy and Janet emerged, tired but unhurt, and very frustrated at the mismatch between the walking directions and what was actually on the ground. We’ve all decided to take today off from hiking. (Oh, and the Swiss aren’t walking today either.)