‘Self-reliance’ is a straight-up misnomer for my experience with Limone sul Garda. Less punchy but more apropos options include ‘Not-Starving in Limone’, ‘Not-Dying on a Mountain near Limone’, or ‘Not-Remaining Trapped in Limone to This Day’. I relied almost entirely upon other humans to accomplish these things, though I’ll say that it felt like bold self-reliance at the time (mainly because an amount of communication in Italian was occasionally required). I’m still surprised that everything turned out okay in the end, honestly.
Day 5: Arco to Limone sul Garda
My journal entry for this day begins thus:
That one hurt.”
This day would be my only thru-hike of the trip, strapping all my gear to my back and lugging it over and around mountains until I reached my accommodations in the village of Limone sul Garda. Though by road this walk is only 17 or 18 km (11-ish miles), the winding footpaths, ascents, and descents added a considerable amount of distance and time to the whole operation.
I got up extra-early so that I could hit the road just after sunrise and maximise my daylight. The day before, I’d bought a nasty grocery-store pizza, cut it up into bite-sized bits, and put them in a bag for ease of eating on the run. I also packed chocolate wafer cookies, water, teabags, and some plain oats for some reason. Just in case I needed porridge later, I suppose. You never know when you might get so hungry you’ll eat a plain porridge. I grabbed the Sticks Jagger & Astley and set out.
The walk from Arco down to Riva del Garda followed a road and was pretty uneventful, apart from the lovely sweet dog that I befriended. Riva marks the beginning of the Old Ponale Road, which was an important highway in the early-20th century but is now open only to pedestrians and cyclists. This stretch of the walk was super easy and scenic, and took me all the way down to the Ledro Valley in comfort.
Well, sort-of comfort. My bag was heavy, and my body was slowly disintegrating from several days’ unaccustomed mountain walking. I’m a Prairie Girl with Prairie Joints. No use complaining, though; I had hours to go and this was the easy part.
The road ended and I struck out on a mountain path, and would you believe I immediately got lost? I got so lost. I even walked several minutes in the wrong direction along a path I’d already covered, without realising it. Absolutely hopeless.
While lost, I found myself in the midst of a large group of Italian hikers, all cheerful and laid-back and decked out in the most fancypants walking gear available. I asked them for directions, and about 5 of them rallied together to interpret what I’d just said and to confirm that I had somehow found the correct path again. I thanked them and struck out ahead of the group, but it turned out that they were also on their way to Limone, and between my speed + hopelessness and their slowness + actual knowledge of where they were going, our paths crossed several more times. And finally – finally – I got to have some conversations.
One man who had hung back for a furtive pee that I’d pretended not to notice caught up and started chatting in Italian. I gave my go-to ‘mi dispiace, non parlo italiano‘ response, but as we carried on for a spell in silence, I realised that this wouldn’t do. “Parlez-vous français, peut-être?” I asked, adding with meek hopefulness, “Or English?” No, he only spoke Italian, but that didn’t stop us. He had learned some English in school decades ago, and had fun rattling off the few words & phrases he remembered. I practiced my terrible Italian on him, and we managed to ask & answer some mutually intelligible questions.
Other people caught wind that I was Canadian and gathered around, bombarding me with half-remembered English (“You…ehm…holiday?”) while I did my very best to answer in Italian and they gently corrected me. (Helpful tip from a classicist: when in doubt, put plausibly-Italian-sounding endings on Latin words.) It was great, though! They were so sweet! They clearly thought I was going to die on the mountain, being alone and laden and lost and unable to communicate, but they were very kind about it.
A number of people, come to think of it, are probably wondering if I ever died on that mountain. Being so absurdly prone to losing my way, I made a habit of asking everyone I encountered if I was on the right path, whether I believed myself to be lost or not. They would smile kindly and either tell me yes or give me directions, and then I would catch snippets of their conversation as they walked away: “Italianitalianitalian alone italianitalianitalian doesn’t speak Italian italianitalianitalian hope she has GPS…”
But I made it! Just as the sun was starting to go down, no less. 8.5 hours of spectacular mountain scenery (on a clear day!), including 2.5 hours’ knee-crushing descent on slippery cobblestone, later, I hobbled into Limone sul Garda brandishing a wad of cash for whoever could offer me the most calories in one sitting.
Everything was closed.
Limone is a very small town – overrun with tourists in the summer, so the infrastructure makes it seem big, but the wintertime population is teeny-tiny. And by 4:30 pm on a Sunday, not a single shop, restaurant, café, anything, was open. Even my AirBnB hosts were away that night, so I couldn’t beg them for food. I walked the length & breadth of Limone 3 times before I found myself back at my room, using the trickle of hot water from a Keurig machine to make porridge from my plain oats. I crumbled a chocolate wafer into it and sat on the floor laugh-crying at this absurd combination of hopelessness and resourcefulness that seemed to sum up my day so well.
Will Janet subsist entirely on coffee-water porridge for the remainder of her stay? Will the people of Limone have any patience for her terrible Italian?? FIND OUT NEXT TIME IN OUR THRILLING CONCLUSION…