Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 46 - Villafranca - Ponzano Superior - 33km

Monday morning - the shop that should be open in the afternoon is in fact closed all day and the sky is leaden. How much more bad luck can we have? Paul and I discuss the options, look in the local yellow pages, decide that we will walk to Sarzana where there are two shops to choose from and resolve to do the trip in one go if the weather holds out. Oh for a crystal ball.

The first half of the journey is 100% uphill, but on tarmac and predominantly minor roads. It is tiring, but we manage it without too many intervals and once again we congratulate ourselves on our improved levels of fitness, which should have alerted me that something would go wrong shortly after.

In Bibola, a village perched on the pinnacle of a mountain higher than anything else around it, we admire the view, ooh and aah over the winding streets, take photographs and then look for the way down, as indicated by Pisoni. In the space of five minutes we find out that there are some vital gaps on his map (unusual for Pisoni) and when we ask a local resident for directions he says that the only VF he knows is absolutely impossible for cyclists and not much better for walkers. As an alternative, he suggests the main road, which we politely decline, so he directs us down a different route, which sounds tough but feasible. As we descend, everything he says seems to be supported and when we see a Club Alpino sign directing VF-ers back to Aulla, but saying nothing about Sarzana where we would like to be going, we feel marginally happier because we have clearly spoken to someone who knows what he is talking about.

When the going gets tough, the tough should have enough common sense to give up, but where Paul and I are concerned, common sense must have been removed in the womb, so we keep plodding on. The gravel track we have been directed towards winds up and up and up, without a single hint of the downs indicated on Pisoni's map after Bibola. Then, just as our doubts peak to panic, we meet a hunter who confirms that the track will, eventually, bring us down to Ponzano Superior, a village between us and Sarzana. Nevertheless, he warns us that it climbs steeply over the ridge we can see towering over head and is a long, long way. I wish people wouldn't say that kind of thing, it just makes me want to give up before I have even begun.

Two hours and many wrong turnings up unnecessary hills later, it is seven o'clock and we have only just found a Club Alpino sign down to Sarazano, which also tells us that it will take one and a half hours more. And, true to Club Alpino form, the track is straight down a perpendicular rock face. I am scared, tired and utterly determined that next time we I will ensure that we have detailed maps of the area with us. No doubt I will forget and will make the same mistakes all over again, but angry mutterings often provide energy where exhausted legs cannot not.

We stagger into Ponzano Superior at eight o'clock, with no other alternative but to go onto Sarzana (about 5kms more) for accommodation. Then, as start to freewheel miserably down the first reasonable hill we have seen since leaving Bibola, the rain sets in. But just as I am about to hurl abuse skywards, Paul spots an Albergo on the right and we roll in. A lucky find for everyone concerned.

It is strange that often the pain of climbing and scrambling passes under the pleasure of the achievement or the atmosphere of the village that you suddenly discover. Conversely, when the maps don't work and the signs disappear or lead you over a wild cliff edge, the pain just gets worse.

We battled our way over the mountain between Aulla and Ponzano Superior to be able to offer walkers a safe and attractive alternative to the crowded main road below. Hopefully now we have a clear view of the right way or at least a known way, others won't suffer the same stresses. Frustratingly, a couple of days later, we meet up again with a super-fit Italian couple who tell us that they just stuck to the main road as the mountain was too difficult. The Albergo in Ponzano Superior was an Italian take off on Fawlty Towers. With Basil being played by a chubby and rather senile Italian gent, Manuel by an Oriental girl that had trouble with the concept of menu, a window that fell off its hinges, rain blowing in most corners, but none the less it served us well...although it was 60 euros including a breakfast that we pigged on.

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