If there is anything we have learned from spending time in Varano, it’s that flexibility is the most important aspect of planning anything. Cars will break down, soccer games will ensue and even on the most beautiful of days the skies will open up and it will start to downpour right as we are planning to start an outdoor concert. Be that as it may, the alternative plans and activities always produce the most amazing stories that truly make our time in Varano a special experience. So when one of our favorite locals, Alba “the rabbit slayer”, suggested an afternoon with her at the river instead of spending some time relaxing on the beaches of Salerno we said okay. And let me clarify that when I say suggested, I mean that she quickly dismissed the Salerno plan and told us that instead we were going to the river, no questions asked.
It was around 2:00 in the afternoon when we began the journey to Alba’s house, about a twenty-minute walk from C’era Una Volta. We had spent the morning gorging ourselves on the most incredible Mozzarella di Bufala at Vannulo, an organic mozzarella farm, and were excited for our afternoon adventures. Regina reminded us to wear “good shoes” because Alba said there would be a little, let me repeat that, a little walking. We donned our sneakers and bathing suits, grabbed towels, blankets and snacks, and were off on yet another adventure.
Once at Alba’s, one of her sons, Donato, helped cart us all to the river. We packed into the car and he followed on his motorcycle, guiding us to the spot where we would park the car, and make the short walk to the river’s edge. We began the walk, full of optimism and excited to jump into the cool waters, as it was quite warm that day. After about five minutes of walking and no river in sight our optimism started to falter, and it was only a few minutes later that it completely evaporated into the abyss when we saw the mud. We figured all we had to do was cross this one strip of mud and then we would be rewarded with the beautiful river, so we trudged through. Purtroppo, that was not the only strip of mud; in fact it was the smallest and shallowest spot that we would encounter. As we trudged on, the mud became thinker, deeper and full of mosquitos and other water dwelling insects. Our “good shoes” that we supposedly built for walking became prisoners of the mud, so we thought that taking them off would help us get through at a quicker pace, but boy were we wrong.
With all my will and determination I tried to push myself a little farther, my bare feet clinging to the rocks buried beneath the mud, until I could no longer hold on. Most of the group had moved on, but Regina and the wonderful Clement So lagged back with me as I moved slowly, trying to protect a hip injury that I had been nursing for a few weeks. I was dreaming of the beaches in Salerno, and in that brief moment cursing Alba (whom we all love and respect dearly) for sending us on this farfetched goose-chase through the mud, in search of a river that did not seem to exist. And it was in that precise moment that Donato returned, whipping around the corner on his motorcycle to rescue Regina and me from the mud (which I still believe to be some sort of supernatural, super sticky, special southern Italian mud).
Petrified of motorcycles, I politely declined Donato’s chivalrous offer to rescue us from the mud, but with another slip on a particularly sharp rock, I grabbed his shoulder and hoisted myself up. Regina climbed up behind me, and there I sat nestled between the two of them as we started to drive out of the mud. “Lento,” Regina kept saying, indicating to Donato that we wanted to drive slowly, as I held on for dear life, my heart in my throat. We whizzed passed the group, under what we thought was an electric fence (of course) and finally arrived at the river. Shaking, I dismounted the motorcycle and immediately dove into the cool water.
In the end the river was quite nice, once we got through the mud and mosquito ridden shallow waters, and we had a lovely afternoon there (if you can call an hour an afternoon). For in typical southern Italian fashion, just as soon as we were starting to enjoy ourselves, the storm clouds rolled in. Worried that we wouldn’t make it back to the car in time, Regina suggested that we all rode back on the motorcycle with Donato, one or two at a time in order to expedite the almost two mile trek. As I hopped back on the motorcycle for the second time that day, once again petrified for my life, I couldn’t help but laugh: of course this would happen to us, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We ended up making it back to C’era Una Volta—though not before the storm, soaked to the bone, and encased in the magical mystery mud—and all we could do was laugh. We had survived yet another crazy Italian adventure and save for a few bruises and scrapes we had come out just fine. I don’t think we will ever forget our trip to the river; I know that I won’t, and if there’s one thing we all learned it’s that next year we are going to the beach in Salerno.