The fog hangs over us as we set out from our alpine lodge at nine, later than our usual departure time. We make our way down a grassy slope, past those holly trees again, and up the side of a very rocky slope. We pass more wild peonies, tall thistles, and those full, fragrant bushes of mint and sage. Limestone rocks are everywhere, some wedged solidly into the earth, and some loose, making for difficult walking. We wind back and forth across the mountainside, in order to climb to the top without having to crawl up or hoist ourselves up with picks and ropes.
The fog thickens, and it begins to rain. I have a water-resistant (but not waterproof, as I soon find out) jacket from LL Bean in my daypack, so I pull it out and slip it on over my shirt. As we walk on, it gets cooler, so I add an intermediate layer, a featherweight down jacket. As we walk along, I look at my fellow trekkers who have donned their waterproofs—rugged hooded jackets and pull-on trousers. I have all the wrong equipment, but it’s too late to fret about that now. I focus instead on the walk. The rain becomes heavier and I pull my not-very-useful hood tighter around my head. The landscape is lovely, but the rain is really impeding our progress. From afar we see wild boar and we think we discern fallow deer down in the valley below, in this wildlife reserve.
At last we come to a clearing. We’ve arrived at an alpine hiking club, our indoor respite from the rain. Martina is already there setting up lunch. Stephen convinces the manager of the club to build a fire in the fireplace. I peel off three wet layers—the Bean rain jacket, the sodden feather filled layer, and my mostly wet scarf. I drape them over a couple of chairs near the fireplace and hope for the best.
Today’s three salads show more of Martina’s culinary inventiveness: a potato, anchovy and lettuce combination; a salad of mixed red and green lettuces; and a lentil and carrot salad. We tuck into the salads and the platter of ham and smoked buffalo mozzarella, white and whole grain Sicilian bread, and local red and white wines. After lunch some of us sit on a low bench right near the fire. I stretch my still-damp down jacket out and eventually it feels almost dry. Some of the group drink an almond-like cordial offered by the club’s manager. The rest of us have espresso, and now fully caffeinated and well fed, we get back into our layers and set out for the afternoon’s hike, up and down an ancient grassy road, then back to the alpine lodge. This is our shortest walking day so far: almost 14 kilometers (8.5 miles). There’s more than enough time for tea before readying ourselves for the evening meal.
Dinner begins with two primi: pumpkin soup, then ribbon pasta with porcini funghi. The secondo is chicken, and cardo, which Martina explains is a wild local plant that “looks a bit like celery.” It’s breaded and deep-fried, and it’s delicious. It’s not until we do a little research on our mobile phone later that night that we learn cardo is thistle, the four foot high plants we have been walking among for the past two days. Melone tops off the meal.
There’s no time for more socializing: we are off to bed, to rest up for our most demanding walk of all tomorrow, the seven-hour trek to Cefalù, where we will run onto the beach and into the Tyrrhenian Sea–that is, if our legs hold out.
Next: The Walk to Cefalù