Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Diary of a Kokopelli Camper


....The real adventure of this past week, however, was a trip with John to the Abruzzo mountains.  We stayed in an English campground with an American Indian name, Kokopelli, and one day we hiked La Maiella to 2700 meters, the highest I’ve ever climbed. 

Majella mountains in May


It was a test of endurance and an opportunity to see John in his natural element, learning from him about mountains and their environment. At 52 I am just starting to feel challenged by such a climb, though not enough that it slows me down.  We were out on the trails from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm, getting back to the car just as it started to rain.  

It was hot in Rome and we were happy to head to the mountains, but the temperature actually got higher as we approached the town of Serramonacesca, the location of the nearest campground we had found on the internet, so hot that I started to think that we should change destinations and go to the Abruzzo National Park where the elevation was higher.  We had our picnic lunch in the center of town in the shade of a tree by the town hall.  Not a soul to be seen, blistering heat, 41 according to the car thermometer. 

Serramonacesca
When we found the campground I told Kevin, the Englishman who runs it, that we would stay a night and see if we could stand the heat. As he showed us around the facilities, though, I knew that it was a great place.  Clean restrooms, abundant outdoor and indoor kitchen and dining spaces. Cool white canvas tents furnished like dessert caravans, for rent if we decided our own little tent was too hot. 

Kokopelli Bell Tents
We left some of our stuff at our chosen tentsite and hit the road again to scout our hike.  Kevin had sold us a decent map and given us directions and after a half-hour of winding roads we were at the base parking area for the trails. La Maiella, the second highest peaks of the Appenines after Gran Sasso, rises above you grayish white against the blue sky.  The vehicular road ends in a cluster of communications antennas feeling like a space station.  We continued a bit on foot, passing two Tibetan monks (!) to whom I bowed and was greeted with a smiling “buon giorno”. The goal today was only scouting so we stopped at a lookout and contemplated the ridges and peaks.  Cima delle Murelle, Monte Focolone, Monte Aquaviva.  They looked relatively close and I optimistically contemplated walking all the way to Monte Amaro even though Kevin said it was 5 hours in and 5 back out. 

Monte Amaro 2793m asl

That evening we dined on pastina and sardines and corn at the campground while a family from England, South Africa and Le Marche ate near us and an international clientele from France, Holland and even Italy (!) puttered around the outdoor kitchen areas.  Later we watched the stars in the clear clear sky and saw the biggest meteorite I have ever seen, a “fireball” which lit up the night sky dramatically and then burnt out seconds later. Slept fine despite the heat until the rooster crowed at 4:45!  

The night sky from Kokopelli

The next day I was up with the rooster, reading and writing over my coffee in the cool morning air.  We left at 7:00, were at the bakery to get bread for sandwiches at 7;30 and packed and walking away from the car at the antenna site at 8:00. For the next 3 hours we climbed and climbed, through cool pine forests (Pino Mugo) and up rocky inclines.  At a certain point we paused in a crevice which was cool and shady, I took off my sweaty t-shirt to dry it in the sun and put on a warm pile and ate dried fruit and drank cool water.  We still had a ways to climb to reach the “bivacco Fusco”.  


There we saw a herd of chamois running across the snow (?!!_) and up the steep slopes of Monte Focalone. I was impressed to say the least.  When we finally got to Monte Focalone, the chamois were nowhere to be seen and the landscape was hot and dry, shards of flaky grey stone like slate crunching under our feet.  I was exhausted and tried to make shade from John’s walking sticks and my windbreaker, with little success.  We moved on toward Monte Aquaviva but as we approached it and it seemed to recede into the distance we decided that the view we had earned from this point was as good as we could get.  So we stopped to eat our sandwiches and turned to head back. 

The trip down was faster but treacherous, slipping down rocky slopes, contemplating the distance to our car which seemed surprisingly (almost frighteningly) far.  There were long uphill sections as well which I hadn’t noticed on the hike out.  Realizing that we were well ahead of schedule and that in the valley it was probably 15 degrees warmer, we stopped to rest in a grassy area next to the trail before tackling the last hour to the car.  We timed it right as a heavy rain began just as we got to the car and it followed us down into the valley. 

That evening, after a much-needed shower, we went to eat at an unattractive but characteristic and tasty trattoria in a neighboring town and returned to sleep comfortably in our little tent. Even the rooster didn’t get me out of bed early the next morning. 

Our last hike was local, a trail described in perfect detail in the campground information booklet (photocopied pages of which were free to borrow). We walked along country roads, through woods thick with spider webs and dried mud trails, into the little town of Roccamontepiano (you can’t invent these names!).  There we bought breakfast and bread for lunch and drank cold water from a nice fountain dedicated to San Rocco (patron Saint of all things rural).  I had a capuccino at my favorite bar where we had stopped before by car several times.  Then back into the woods and onwards on a treacherous poorly marked trail which eventually morphed back into a country road.  We started seeing English neighbors (‘top of the morning to you’) and before too long were back at our tent. I love round trip hikes that don’t require a car! John was not so thrilled with this one, preferring by far the high mountain trails. 

View from the trail to Roccamontepiano


Later when we headed back to Rome we took a detour up to Caramanico Terme and got stuck in a huge downpour and hailstorm which left the ground covered in white ice.  Global weirding I said, and John, ever the rational one,  said it was actually normal for such mountain locations to rapid and experience extreme changes in weather. We found the visitors center there closed despite the sign saying it was open (but they nicely responded to an email I wrote with an almost believable explanation and apology). The road to Sulmona was among the most beautiful in Italy. 

The camping experience, a little English world in the midst of the Italian mountains, was magical and inspiring.  I want to write more about the place in a venue where it can help Kevin and Jackie’s business thrive.   Now, back to Rome and painting windows!

Word for word from Tom Rankin:
Photos by Kokopelli.


No comments:

Post a Comment