Someone back in Reggio had informed me that there was a beautiful beach between Follonica and Castiglione della Pescaia that I absolutely had to stop at, and in "Music and Run" many people told me the same thing. The place is called Cala Violina, and it is supposedly one of the nicest beaches in Italy, accessible only by foot down 4 km or so of dirt road. While getting there meant complicating my route a little bit, it seemed worth it, even if many of the roads I would have to take didn't appear on any map.
The directions were pretty clear to Cala Violina, and it was a beautiful 11 km to the bay. I arrived in the early afternoon and spent a few hours just chilling at the beach. It is an incredibly beautiful place with clear water, but despite the fact that it is not accessible by car, there was still a huge amount of people laying out on the beach. I escaped the crowd by climbing around to a more rocky part of the bay where there was literally nobody. As I fumbled through the water with my shoes around my neck and my backpack on, I was really hoping that I wouldn't fall in. It would really suck if all my stuff fell in the water. Luckily it didn't, and after a beautiful afternoon at the beach I set out (walking at first to let myself dry off) towards the town of Punta Ala, where I would need to find some connection over the hills/mountains to get to the road to Castiglione on the other side. Of course, there was no connection on my map over these hills, only two squiggly roads that ended in the general direction of Castiglione. To me, a squiggly road means hill...so if this road went up the hill and then happened to continue in real life where it dead-ended on my map, I could make the connection to the other side of the mountains towards Castiglione. Of the two squiggly roads up the hills, I took the one that was closest to me. Before it ended, there was an dirt road that branched off up the hill, so I figured I could probably take that up and over to the other side. Eventually though, the dirt road turned into a tiny trail, and then turned into some kind of animal footpath, which eventually turned into nothing. I hiked for about an hour through the bushes up this mountain, hoping to get over the top and down the other side. When I got to the top however, the forest got so thick that there was no way I could pass through it. I had already done so much forest romping (which was a little bit more uncomfortable after Tristan told me about how many olive farmers here die from vipers who nest in trees), but now I had to turn around and do it all again in reverse. At least the view was nice.
When I got back to Punta Ala at the bottom, I asked a man at a golf course if he knew where the trail to Castiglione was...he said it was down the other squiggly road, but that it has been blocked off for years. He suggested that I run back towards Cala Violina and get on the main road...but that meant another 20 km that I really didn't want to do. So, instead, I made my way to the other squiggly road, which was in fact walled off with a "attenti al cane" sign. Not really certain that this road would connect anyways, I started running down the street to see if there was another road. Along the way I met an awesome Nigerian lady who explained to me in English that while the path is walled off, the dog sign was for a different place, and that if I went through the bushes just to the left of the gate, I would find a hole in the fence. That was just the hint I needed, so around 7 pm I went through the fence and up the hill, and where the road ended on my map one of the most beautiful roads I have ever run began. The road was wide and made of dirt, and I had it all to myself. The sun was low as I rounded the sides of these hills and cliffs with the ocean far below. After climbing over a huge gate to get out of the place on the other side, I got back onto the charted roads and made my way to Castiglione.
Castiglione della Pescaia is an awesome medieval town, with castle walls and a nice beach. I spent the evening walking around on my lonesome, getting some pizza to eat and enjoying an amazing sunset from the top of the town...looking back towards the lighthouse that I had passed by on the lost trail only an hour before.
Eventually, I went into an Irish pub and started making come conversation with the (Italian) guys who were running it. After a bunch of false leads it was getting close to midnight and I was getting tired. I left the bar and started making conversation with other groups of young people, all of which ended in nothing, except for one guy (who I guess also worked at the Irish pub) who said that he could give me a place...but that he was going out until after 4 am, and that he would give me a call when he got home. I gave him my number and set out to make something else happen in the meantime. Nothing happened, so somewhere around 1 am I found a chair on the beach and laid down, thinking I would sleep for a few hours until Michael called me.
The problem with all the beaches in Castiglione is that they are all pretty much private, so you aren't really allowed to just go sleep wherever you want...but many people told me that the worst thing that would happen was that someone would wake me up around 6 when the place opened and kindly ask me to leave. That was fine for me, so I broke out my space blanket, wrapped up my legs and fell asleep.
I woke up suddenly in my bed...in an earthquake. It took me a few seconds to realize that I wasn't actually in my bed, and there wasn't actually an earthquake going on...I was homeless on a beach in Italy and an angry old man was beating my chair with a rake. I kindly apologized: "I'm so sorry, I was just walking by and sat down for a second and fell asleep...I just happened to have this large silver blanket with me as well." I also asked what time it was, to which he angrily responded "4:30!"
I staggered back into town and sat down on a park bench until 5 am, waiting for this guy to call. He never called. From there, I went to the only place that was open, a kebab place surrounded by kids about my age coming back from the same party. I talked with them for about an hour, but none of them had a place for me...they suggested that I go to a nearby cafe for people who are going out sailing (that opened early) to get something to eat and charge my phone. This I did, and around 7 am I started zombie walking towards Grosseto...it was a short day I figured, so I could just start heading over there and see if something happened on the way.
I made it about 4 km (feeling pretty terrible) before I walked out to the beach, spread out my space blanket and fell asleep.
16 August 2009