“Follow the path by the second star on the right, straight on till the morning light, then you can find your way, to the island that is not there…”
L’isola che non c’è – by Edoardo Bennato
What does being lucky truly mean? Rarely a single phrase is ever so open to interpretation. Is it luck that leads us to our Island that is not there? That grants us our wish? Or is it determination, our own ability to dream?
I have learned to wish for small things in life. Not necessarily easy things to achieve, but within the realm of what’s possible.
I have learned to set aside cumbersome wants, to avoid disappointments but also to prevent my days from becoming unnecessarily occupied by too much.
THE ISLAND OF MY DREAMS
Montecristo has always ranked high on my travel bucket list.
A place that over the years has only grown in charm and allure, courtesy of my frequent flights of fancy.
A mostly uninhabited island, far off the path of mass tourism, pristine and awe inspiring.
And then, the long walks overlooking the sea, gazing down on steep rocky cliffs that plunge into endless blue; its romantic quietness broken only by the lapping of the waves.
Over the years, I focused on other things, certain that the mysterious rocky outcrop could wait its turn; I was busy.
How human and fallible our certainties prove to be: everything is inevitably out of our control.
One day, a simple blood test changes your life. And all of a sudden, you are no longer sure of anything.
And thus, that island on your wish-list filed under for many, but not all, suddenly becomes for many, but not for me.
THE VALUE OF WORDS
Have you ever stopped to think about the power behind a phrase like never again?
It’s the secret ingredient that makes a cheap bar of candy seem incredibly desirable to a diabetic.
It’s the unbridgeable yearning for a voice, which now lays silent.
Never again is the cornerstone of great changes in our lives, be they for better or for worse.
This tooth will never hurt again, because I ripped it out!
This disease will never scare me again, because I survived it!
But let’s get back to our story and dreams that come true thanks to a pinch of willpower and a dash of courage. My illness is debilitating, it makes me feel perpetually tired and exhausted, and then there are days (regardless of whether I am near or far from my last transfusion) when I feel my heart racing for no reason.
In those moments, which feel eternal, I remember the advice of the doctors: “avoid any activity that could increase your heart rate; you are now living on an energy reserve.”
And then you wonder where you went wrong, since you are having trouble even just being there, lying comfortably on a sofa.
It was while pondering these things, while browsing here and there, that I found myself on the bookings page for visits to the Island of Montecristo, reading some basic information:
- Even though this is a magnificent island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, the routes proposed for the visit should be considered real mountain trails, involving a high level of challenge. The trails are defined by steep slopes and considerable elevation gains, over surfaces that are often slippery due to being wet and/or their very own natural structure…
Well, it seems my Montecristo train had passed me by.
I gaze at the void, let out a deep sigh and then, I see the Contact Us icon.
After a few minutes of doubt I mustered up the courage to pour my heart into an email and hit send… Turns out those who dare are often blessed by a stroke of luck: the right person received it.
The name of my second star on the right is Marino, a person who sympathised with me and trusted me from the very first moment.
And it was thus, that after months of emails, planning and reassurances that I could still tackle a trekking route – and perhaps even a dash of recklessness on my part – one Sunday in October we embarked for Montecristo.
ONE SUNDAY IN OCTOBER
The day prior, it had rained cats and dogs. Autumn was right around the corner and that weekend was our last available date before they closed for the off-season.
But on Sunday morning, the sun was shining: Jupiter Pluvius was on our side, and any help was key for the small, boundless adventure that awaited us.
I felt positive, happy and thrilled.
We departed from Piombino, stopped briefly in Porto Azzurro before continuing on to our destination: Montecristo.
Marino was the outstanding guide who was meant to accompany us, but due to unforeseen circumstances he was unable to join us; Tatiana would step in on his behalf.
I am still sad about not meeting my host in person, but I’m certain our handshake has only been postponed.
Instead, a wonderful new person entered our day.
Passionate, cheerful and well prepared, Tatiana is the travel companion you’d want to take on every adventure. Her smile is contagious and her conversations engaging.
Each piece of the puzzle was falling into place, the day was set to be memorable.
As our ferry lurched forward, the granite colossus appeared in all its grandeur: vertiginously steep cliffs, white rocks and turquoise shores. Suddenly, we scouted an immaculate beach and the docking terminal of Cala Maestra.
Our adventure was coming to life!
Once ashore, divided into groups with guides in tow, our excursions began.
Along the path winding its way upward, we were welcomed by a little orphan goat that was happily chewing on some grass just a few steps from us.
Have you ever met wild animals that, beyond their survival instinct, have yet to develop a well-founded fear of humans?
The main objective of Nature Reserves is to protect plants and wildlife, and we can definitely consider them successful when they become habitat to animals who are unafraid of human madness.
Montecristo is home to the only colony of Wild Goats in Italy: the first specimens arrived on the island in the second half of the 16th century.
Currently, the colony boasts around 250 specimens, which merrily go about in small herds, ignoring all rules and perpetually hungry.
UP, UP AND ABOVE
There are three routes available to visitors to Montecristo, with difficulty levels that range from easy – intermediate to difficult.
I was afraid I’d be having one of my NO days, when even a single flight of stairs leaves me breathless, but, in good theory, fear is something we should overcome.
Being particularly attentive and sensible to my frailty, Tatiana alternated a few steps uphill with long pauses in which she described in detail the island’s complete life and times.
For my part, I was driven by a strong will and the excitement that comes with discovering new things.
My old self would have tackled the hardest trail like a rugged mountaineer.
My new self has set aside futile competition and finds beauty in taking a series of small steps, one after the other, paving the trail to my own personal achievements.
WELCOME BACK, MY HAPPINESS
I can’t really say how high we climbed above sea level, but from up there I could look out onto an amazing landscape. I was higher than I could have ever dreamed of, and I had made it without second guessing myself, without hesitation.
Taking a deep breath, I reached the summit – my summit – but felt a need to push forward, onwards and upwards.
The air was crisp, full of the intoxicating aromas of wild plants. The blue that surrounded us was electrifying and the sandwiches that soon followed were the tastiest I have ever eaten.
That view will be forever etched into my memory, as a moment of pure bliss, of the same joy that only a few months earlier I thought was lost forever.
P.S. Special thanks to Marino, Tatiana, the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, and all of the people who made this small miracle come true.
Thanks to Emanuele who is always by my side and my brothers and friends who support me.
Thanks to the medical team that pampers me and compels me to always keep a smile on my face.
Thanks to Edoardo Bennato and his magical songs.