01 Dec Stage 9 Part 2: The Bitter Fruit of Overconfidence
I sit at the crossroad, looking back on part one of Stage 9 of the St Francis Way. I have five alternatives, with no idea which one to take. Is Niels assuming that I will carry on with the road? Apart from this, I can either go left or right, simply wait, or return to where I last saw him. Thirst drives me to finish my water.
Three cars pass me. I curse my inadequate ability to speak Italian, which means that even if I stop someone to ask for directions, the chances are pretty good I won’t understand them. I think of yet another alternative: asking someone to give me a ride to Citerna. Once there, I can somehow find Niels again.
I question myself. Why has this happened? Everything looked so easy from the outset. Why didn’t I question this? Why didn’t I check the book? My conclusion: it must be the result of overconfidence.
Mild panic set in. I decide to fall back on prayer and intuition. Even though it has worked for me in the past, results are never certain, especially if negative emotions start interfering. I simply ask, “Which way now, God?” and wait for the answer. A compelling feeling to start moving again comes over me. Getting up, the only way that feels right is to retrace my steps. It makes sense because at least, I can get to a waymark and possibly find the route again.
In less than five minutes, I see Niels coming towards me. Even at a distance, I can see he’s the hell in with me.
“Didn’t you see me showing you to turn left back there?” he gesticulates.
“But you looked up! You saw me!”
“I looked up and saw you, but I never saw you showing the way.”
He shakes his head.
I feel like a total asshole. “Shouldn’t we go back?”
“No.” He tries to hide the fact that he’s extremely grumpy. “The farmer who saw you said there is another way. Going back will take too long.”
“I’m really, really sorry about this,” I apologise profusely.
“It’s all good,” he says, but I have my doubts.
We go back to the crossroad and turn left. It still feels wrong to me. Niels hauls out the GPS. It’s clear we are very far off our route. At least it seems as though there is an alternative route to Citerna. We carry on with the road and find someone we can ask for directions. At least I understand the Italian for “left” and “right” as she directs us. Niels sets off at pace, and I have to drain all my energy just to keep him in sight.
Strada Statale 73
Our detour forces us along the busy SS73 highway. The verge is very narrow, and I feel the slipstream of large trucks pulling me into the road. It reminds of what Niels told me about his experience on the Camino Portuguese. There the trucks on the highway would actually brush him, because there would be no space other than the very narrow edge of the road.
At one stage two very small yapping black dogs, hardly larger than chihuahuas, set off after Niels. He is too far ahead, for them to catch him. Their owners run after them, frantically calling them. They run onto the road. A very heavy duty articulated truck is headed directly at them at speed. The driver swerves gently into the oncoming lane. Thank God, there is no traffic. The dogs leave the road as their owners catch up with them.
The 30ᵒsC heat plus the hot asphalt road makes it worse. My feet are burning. We finally leave the highway and head into the countryside. There is quite a long stretch of walking along a muddy path through ploughed lands. The path leads us through thick woods and along a stream, to the base of the hill on which Citerna is situated.
We get to a road. A most welcome sign is the “Welcome” signboard, showing that our destination is up ahead. At least now my sense of relief is stronger than the feeling of frustrated exhaustion.