|Clck per allargare|
The sun has just risen when I leave the hotel to begin my new trip. According to the weather forecast it’s going to be a particularly hot day, so I intend to take advantage of the cool morning hours. The first kilometres simply represent a transfer to the beginning of the tratturo, which coincides with the Zittola tavern, an important nodal point of the tratturo network. The Zittola tavern was the starting point of the Castel di Sangro-Lucera tratturo, but it also was a crossing point for the Pescasseroli-Candela one. Here shepherds had to decide what path they would follow. Those who wanted to reach the southernmost part of
Puglia probably moved towards Candela, while those who wanted to go towards Foggia pointed towards Lucera. The former track is surrently no longer used and its access point is blocked by thick vegetation. Once the transhumance era was over, most of it was covered by the asphalt of the SS17 road to Isernia,
while the rest is swallowed by greenery. On the contrary, the Castel di Sangro-Lucera tratturo is still largely used and treadable. The Zittola tavern has most certainly been renewed, but its current location should coincide with the original one. On a low wall near the farmhouse an inscription still wishes well to travellers.
The journey starts with a long climb along cart roads still used by farmers. There is no evidence of public maintenance. The climb continues up to the SS652 road, which can be avoided by means of an underpass, then the track continues with a series of ups and downs. The grass grows tall in scarcely used tracts but, luckily, there are no brambles and, all in all, making progress is relatively easy.
Everything goes for the best up to Montalto, where I take advantage of one of the many fountains for a break. On exiting Montalto I encounter my first unwanted surprise: the passage is completely blocked by vegetation. I had news about some points where I would be faced with problems, but this was not one of them. Let’s not panic, let’s see if I can get through anyway. Armed with shears, I start opening up a passage through the vegetation. I can go on, but painfully slowly. When I can finally hear the sound of the stream I should overcome, the vegetation barrier has become much thicker. It definitely is surmountable, but I'm wasting far too much time and the temperature is rising, so I must look for an alternative. From my GPS I see that another road will allow me to bypass the obstacle, so I retrace my steps and give the alternative route a try. It is the first obstacle and, unfortunately, I have wasted time.
The journey resumes on an easy white road that overlooks beautiful landscapes. Despite the problem encountered, I would say that this year things are going better: today I will reach my destination early! After the experience of the previous journey, I should have learned that it is best to avoid certain thoughts, and indeed I'm immediately punished: the white road becomes a dirt track that, after a while, is totally cluttered by tall vegetation. This time there are no alternatives, I must go on. Fortunately there are no brambles, so that I can go on, "fighting" with plants. I emerge on the other side of the barrier and must be looking like a scarecrow, covered in leaves, sticks, pollen, … judging from the stares of the villagers who have seen me materialise out of the plants.
I have somehow overcome this obstacle, and I can start again walking towards... a new obstacle! This time, however, I'm aware of its existence, so I’m ready with my shears: I will try to open up the route! Lying on the ground at the beginning of the path is one of the flag signs I had met in my previous journey: its presence means that I have crossed the border with Molise. I make slow progress through the vegetation, but it takes too long and the temperature is rising. After 150 meters in the thicket, I’m forced to give up and face a long alternative route which rejoins the tratturo where it crosses the Vandra river. What a shame!
After the river, a new long climb is waiting me, so I take advantage of the shade from some trees: I have lunch and... take a nap. I do not know that I'm lying on a path which leads to the underlying torrent. When I open my eyes again, a man is starting over me, trying to figure out if I have taken ill. No, relax, all is ok! Shortly after some guys arrive with a cooler bag, a watermelon,... Mhhh, I should stay... No, it's time to leave!
The climb turns out to be awful. It is the hottest hours of the day and there is not a single tree to offer some shade. After I get past a landslide which affects the whole width of the tratturo, the climb becomes lighter and then... something amazing: for the first time I can see the tratturo as it must have looked at the time of transhumance, i.e., a long track, 111 meters wide. I sit in then shade of a lonely tree and admire its majesty. According to the thermometer I'm carrying it’s 42°C.
Fortunately, the farm I have chosen for the first night is in the flat, because I have literally run out of steam. For the first time after many walking experiences, I have also used up all my water, despite refilling my two-liter water-bag in Montalto.
The farmhouse keepers end my day by making an already magnificent experience even more special. When I arrive, Alessandra saves me with two bottles of ice-cold water, warning me to let it warm a little before drinking ... Erm, I'm afraid I did not take her advice, I was just too thirsty! I have dinner with the family and the atmosphere is pleasantly familiar, with three generations sitting round the table. I feel at home. Whoever cooked knows what their stuff! I lose the count of the dishes: I must have looked worn out and they are trying to get me back on my feet! But great-grandfather Littorio is the real ace, with his memories of the final years of transhumance. He complains that the tratturo has recently been ruined by the white road running in its centre, and explains that the stones which mark the tratturo edges are grouped in threes because of the several "reintegre" (renovations) which have taken place over the centuries, and that... I listen to his stories with the eyes of a child who is listening to fairy tales, and I try to fight the fatigue which I have accumulated during the day to stay awake. I would go on listening to him forever but in the end I have to give up: I'm up at dawn tomorrow!