Monday, June 9, 2008


Kim and I load our backpacks with everything we need for a 2-day hiking and camping trip; the dress shoes, books and shampoo find a storage locker. With packs on our backs and SPF 50 on our faces, we wander down roads, up roads, across roads, slowly winding south through Tuscany. Brick and stone give way to cyprus trees and grape vineyards. Soon we're walking along the narrow shoulder of a winding backroad, oceans of green spread in both directions.


Its night time, and we've pitched a tent in an olive grove off the side of the road. I characteristically worry that we'll get caught; Kim characteristically does not. We leave our belongings unattended and walk 2 kilometers into the nearest town. Its too small to offer a restaurant, but we find olives, feta, toast crackers, two tomatoes and a box of white wine at a grocery store. We talk about our favorite childhood games and imaginary plots while we walk. Its raining as we return to the grove, and we race each other up the muddy hill, pretending our tent is our super-stealth fort. We dive into it and giggle as we lay out our picnic. Kim sniffs the boxed wine, pronounces it exquisite.


We arrive in Siena and wander into a cafe for an Italian cappuchino. Kim's calves have the slighest twinge in them from our hours of walking. We feel good. We ask the barista if she knows of any cheap places to stay. She not only gives us the name of a cheap hostel, but she asks her associate, a Yugoslavian man named Ishmael, to walk us to the bus stop and make sure we get on the right bus. Ishmael wears a denim jacket over denim jeans. He is missing several front teeth, and those that remain are brown. Though he does not speak any English, he sees our reluctance in accepting the first hostel recommendation we're given. He walks us to an official tourist information stand so that we can independently confirm that everything the barista told us is valid. Then he walks us to the bus stop, and directs us to the Number Ten.


We befriend three brunettes, each with long unkempt wavy hair, who carry us back to Florence in their lime green VW bus, with its mantra, "l'amore," painted on the front passanger door.

Yellow and clay-colored handkerchiefs with frayed edges hang off the driver and front passanger seat. A cardboard rainbow, frayed blue scarf, dried lavendar and a Native American dreamcatcher hang from the twine behind the front seats the holds the curtain. Beads and a felt frog dangle from the sun visors.

Kim and I sit barefoot in the back, next to a woman in a tye-dyed dress who is breastfeeding her naked baby boy. Rainwater leaks through the plastic moonroof, falling onto our backpacks. The interior paint has chipped off the door, revealing what appears to be a thin layer of plywood. A half-eaton melon sits in a clay bowl inside a wicker basket on the floor.

The driver tells us of her trip to America: a stopover in the D.C. airport en route to Mexico City.

"They were very cold," she says, "and they had very large drinks. One liter cokes."

A beautiful girl with ink henna on her hands looks at us from the shotgun seat.

"I do not think you drink one liter cokes," she says. "You are not...." she motions with her hands to indicate a wide torso.

She unwraps a guitar from a hemp bag and begins to pluck. The three brunettes sing soft Italian songs through the rest of the ride.