I didn’t look forward to Italy. I am only in Italy because it borders Croatia. And I am in Italy because it makes the movement of hurrying back home quicker. I had to hurry back home thrice before, and nothing as an antidote as to return from a seemingly empty desert or a high Himalaya.
Reading these sentences may indicate I should not cycle at all. But I am hooked!
Yet, I feel a strong pull. A pull the constellation of universe is drawing me strongly to; I am a Pisces, sensitive and creative. In the previous post I mentioned my feeling of meaningless. A year and a half back in India I had a hard time with questions as ‘why’, ‘when’, and ‘how’. Could be a song of Fela Kuti. I didn’t know where I was heading to, kind of like I missed a goal. Cycling from A to Z is not a goal enough in its own. Or, it should lead to another realm.
There must be something more. For me. With cycling, a whole new lifestyle has opened, one which is way more conscious and simple. Stripped from must, needs and responsibilities. I see many things now as sheer superfluous.
Italy just doesn’t suit my preference if it comes to a simple lifestyle. Perhaps it presses too much on my consciousness of being in a rich surrounding where not only I am living in abundance -even if that’s camping on the shore of the Po river- but where poor people stand out way more.
Italy is like many other countries on earth. And it bothers me. For example, how to eat food which grows in the season I am in? I can have anything I want, from all over the world. Shipped by dark-colored hands into the mouth of an airplane. Fueled by fossil fuels, grown by glasshouses, arisen by clearing forests.
Talking about an airplane, I even see flying as a huge offence against Nature. Just to take a holiday? Or even worse, to cycle a bit around? A true cyclist-traveler don’t take airplanes, that’s not part of its (or: my preferred) lifestyle. It feels bad for me when I board a plane.
For example, why do animals have to suffer for the sausage we eat? Do animals not have feelings? Are they created for Humankind to kill and eat?
Another example, why should I turn off the heater upon entering an apartment? Is it okay to mess up the space around the globe so a human can walk in his T-shirt while it is winter? Is it okay a polar bear can’t feed his cubs? Maybe that is okay, so soon we can dress up in polar fur.
Another example, why are there Nigerians standing at each supermarket? That is the first thing I notice in this country, emigrants. Italy is, of course, a country with an economical pull, yet Nigerians are just standing there, doing nothing, not begging, not trying to sell, even though they sometimes have a tiny removable shop with things Italians won’t buy.
Here is another example, why does a European kid need to be fashionable? Why does he need to be entertained and spoiled by gifts and things, why does it have to be a copy of an adult?
Talking about being fashionable, being in Italy we have entered the heart of a designers-world and it is not possible avoiding to notice. Pelts and fur are for the human species which they naturally don’t grow. People seem to live and wake up for parading through town at their best dressed. Ton in his yellow fake Turkish Crocs stands out, me in my open red sandals with purple socks too.
To come back to the point, I start to feel a pull towards a certain, other direction.
I start to work on something which I have in mind for some time now. Nowadays my mornings are an even earlier rise where I start a fire, prepare a masala chai and start embroidering. Just as I did years ago when I lived in Pakistan.
To find a camp spot we need to scan the area thoroughly. This is not Croatia where we could pull off anywhere we preferred. Italy is a string of built up development, if not signboards preventing us from entering. ‘Ingresso vietato’ is printed on signs, and chains preventing us from acting like we didn’t know it was private property. Winter has arrived and trees bear not much leaves, woods have little hide outs anymore. Undergrowth is meager. Tree plantations are in full swing, but not a choice for a true camper.
I often think of Helen, she cycled in Russia with minus 50 degrees. Talking about a challenge! That is not only a challenge, but certainly a goal too! Her book is awaiting me when I will go back home for a longer stay.
It is getting colder and I secretly wish for snow. I desperately need more challenge, and riding in snow would bring me that. I would have to change my shoe wear as I am still wearing Keen sandals, but I already got the down jacket, bought in Croatia. Early rises mean temperatures of zero degrees. I would put on an extra pair of socks, a hat, down jacket and start the fire. I would make a liter of masala chai and keep busy with staying warm while in the meantime I embroider. By the time Ton would wake up I would have made him Italian coffee. Segafredo, a brand which is probably exploiting the coffee farmers well.
Leaving Croatia, entering Slovenia and cruising through a long, never-ending wisp of houses, a busy port, traffic and a network of cycle-paths, we stumble upon Piran. It’s a beautiful medieval pearl of a town, worth exploring a bit. Unfortunately we do so by hauling the bicycles up the hundreds of cobblestone stairs. Then we cycle on, passing people into Nordic Walking and Dog Walkers picking up the poo of their dogs before the steam had time to evaporate.
Once we arrive in Trieste I feel sad. Maybe it’s the drizzle that falls, and which let people dive into their collars. Their chic-designed, ever fashionable outfits protecting them against the 8 degrees cold. I see people rushing, past well-lit storefronts with sparkle and allure, no one sits on benches to watch life pass by here. Trieste is covered in a haze of grey. Trieste sounds like ‘sad’ in the Dutch language, and in the Italian and Spanish too. Sad it is…
Gray is the sea, the clouds, the buildings. There is no color in the city and surroundings. Or maybe there is, but I am not open for it?
The sad feeling remains when we cycle out-of-town and along the shore. On our right we have a high mountain-wall towering over us, the left is ocean. No place to camp. There where the sea gives us some land and minimal coverage we dive into it, erect Falus the Family Tent and start digging into our bag of food. We have Gorgonzola lifting us to a dazzling height of pleasure.
Our camp spot is along the road, a highway above it, a train track in between and a basilica is right into view if we pass 3 bushes to the right. It’s wet, misty and cold. It’s damn European fare.
Yet, the morning is void of rain. I open the zipper and get out early. Even though it is cold, and wood is wet, I manage to make a good fire, prepare masala chai and start embroidering. I am completely happy and content, and I realize: this could never happen in the plains of India!
The luxury of richer Europe is that not many people wander around. People wake up early, at insane hours, to rush into their cars to work, to a city away from their own. Seize their cars and have them work in their own city instead!
Italian race cyclists all greet us enthusiastically. People are friendly and helpful. Though I see a certain look on certain faces when I enter a supermarket in my sandals, fingernails blackened underneath, smears of mossy wood on my pants, an array of jackets and a funny hat on. Most supermarkets are super fancy, and most have a Nigerian man standing outside. It feels unfair; this man has fled from his own country, either from an economical point of view, Boko Haram, the poverty, or the corrupt system. Now he is standing outside in a down jacket, frozen to silence. I think of the Nigerian visa which was granted to me after a struggle of 3 weeks, the equal length I cycled through Nigeria. I think of the people I met. Nigerians are fine folks, quite different from their neighbors. I feel there is always a marginalized group of people in each society. The Roma has made place for immigrants with a low-income.
I find the Italian landscape from Trieste to Venetia boring, each road is there to connect another road. Houses may still have vegetable gardens but all is as neatly done as in the Netherlands. It’s sickening straight and neat. It’s even worse than the Netherlands because Italy is so much larger.
It takes us long and much effort to find camp spots. We can see patches of wood from big distances as most is ploughed agricultural land. Once we get there it’s forbidden to enter, but we have little choice. Those patches of wood are private property, and thus, upon hearing a ringing brass bell, we are instantly alarmed. It turns out to be a hunter. His dogs are flying past our fire pit, ignoring fine gorgonzola on fried bread. Their bells are ringing such that every hunted animal has had time to fled by now. The hunter acknowledges us, two freaking hippies in a family tent, and has no time to object about a fire nor a camp nor trespassing. He is tense and grumpy, blowing furiously on a whistle.
I wonder what the fun of hunting is? Maybe the perfectly cut, highly fashionable, camouflage hunters suit?
We share the road with cars speeding by. In Europe this means something else than in Africa. Italians drive safely, they are aware of us, but it doesn’t mean it is cozy and relaxed. Recollecting, I took the main highway in Ivory Coast precisely because I wanted something opposite than the dusty, empty, lonesome red gravel roads I was one. In India I took the Express Highway between Jaipur and Delhi because I wanted to be quick. But now, we choose different: the Eurovelo I3. Not a fan of designed cycle paths, we desire to be away from cars and trucks whizzing by.
Before we are on it, we pass the turn off to Venezia. Eating a memorable pizza at Café India; the owners are Korean, the clientage old men in smeared clothes, the pizza a bleak crust with mushrooms out of a can. We’re ready to move on!
Cycling on the road means seeing a lot of killed nutria’s, large rat-like animals with a thick, bald tail and long yellow front teeth. Cars just hit the nutria crossing over to another ditch. Dead rats and mice passes our wheels too. My mind translates passing a pig farm at night, I dream about pink piglet and their pig parents. They are standing in a cage where a sea of fire comes and burns them alive. This way the pig taste better for humans. Freshly roasted. Literally.
Cycling over the main road, however a minor road it is, is a string of development. Never are we really in nature, nor in underdeveloped areas. it’s really like the Netherlands and that’s disappointing me. I miss Croatia, which is still on the threshold of European development.
When we have met up with the Po river, a bit after Cavarzere, it suddenly change. We are on a levy with the river flowing on our left and old villages on our right. Even though the villages are still continuing like an intermittent string of dwellings, there is finally authenticity. Italians seem to prefer building houses anew over renovating the old farm buildings, and so we pass many decrepit leftovers. A beautiful hide out for the night, if not we want to build a fire.
It is nearly winter, being November, and no one cycles around if they are not racers. We have the banks of river Po for ourselves. We take good advantage of it.
Cycling on a cycle path is not what I normally would prefer but being in this part of Italy it suddenly seems the best option. It is quiet, we often have trouble with finding a supermarket in small villages. I enjoy the out of alignment steeples, each of them the center of town, often within view of the other.
We sleep on a dry riverbed between kudzu, a plant which climbs over trees or shrubs and grows so rapidly that it kills them by heavy shading. It is a beautiful and very atmospheric spot, where we are completely covered by a net of plants. How wonderful is that? Even the hunters fail to see us.
We sleep at a young plantation, far from the levee but fully in view as the trees bear no undergrowth. I still manage to build a little fire and keep warm in the morning.
When we stop for two nights in Mantova, Ton has booked us an apartment right in the center of town. The luxurious bathroom (hot water, soap and towels are always luxurious!) is soon filled with wet leaves, trying to dry the tent. The very authentic room, interconnected to the many religious buildings all around us, has pannier-stuff all over, from pans covered in sooth, to socks smeared with mud. The town is a highlight of architecture but as always, I want to use the opportunity of a room with running water, heating and a kitchenette. I do try to repair my broken brake cable but I rather drink cappuccino in a tiny, authentic café around the corner. It’s a pleasure to see the Italians gather all dressed up, even the babies are highly fashionable, besides being the little king in their crowd of grown-ups (complete with iPad). I find Italian people a fine, pleasant, friendly folks.
We both fail to repair the Magura break. And cycle on. The weather has become misty and beautiful eerie, I can’t make out the Po anymore.
My new down jacket has become dirty around the sleeve ends, the smell of our clothes is a wood-fire fragrance, and the odor of my armpits a remarkable strong yet far from unpleasant sweat scent, kind of interesting. Sometimes I wonder what makes us different from a homeless? Other than having money, obviously. I think it’s choice and pleasure. Possibilities and back-up. I have a way out if I want. Or need. I wake up in a patch of thickly undergrowth plantation and the first thing I do is start a fire and search for ‘champignons’, to make photo’s of. We can camp anywhere we want, although it might be hiding. It might be a bit of a poor way of living, but it is a choice. The simplicity, however ridiculous by the standard of the country we are in, is heavenly to deal with.
However much I enjoy it, it gnaws on me as well. My mom is sick… I am almost daily in doubt what to do? One such evening a What’sApp message from my sister releases me of this uncertainty, without further hesitation or thinking, we decide I need to go home. Now.
This time it is not as difficult as before because I had slowly got used to being in Europe, and Italy being a larger example of the Netherlands makes the transition easier.
This is how my 3 year cycle trip came to yet another pause. Like every other true traveler who’s way of living is simple, I am already thinking where to go next. I
don’t know yet, but what I do know is that it will have a goal…
Here you can see what I have started and keep myself busy with at the moment. It’s my wish to continue this, which will be easy to combine with cycling the world. More so, it will link me more closely with people I meet, especially women, who have the same lifestyle.
We cycled in Italy around late November 2015