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  • The guide book states the Vallona Canna hike starts 3 kilometres after the 4th car park driving from Piano Battaglia. Vague. But it’s our first holiday together and Claire and I, to paraphrase a Sicilian saying, are wearing our slippers until we find our shoes.

    We pose for photographs inside an abandoned shepherd’s hut with a head-torch and other regalia I’ve bought along to amplify my outdoor credentials.

    Soon the modern world evaporates. We follow on the hooves of languid cows as they traverse a misty narrow mountain path, their bells tinkling in a pastoral chorus. Every now and then we spot a splash of yellow paint on a rock or tree, and assume it is guiding us on a circular route back to that 4th car park.

    Hours later still following Van Gogh’s cadmium spit we are doubting the trail. At a bridge we come across a man (who bears a strong resemblance to the feared Corleonesi Godfather Totò Riina) listening to a mobile radio inside his battered Fiat Cinquecento. In broken Italian we enquire to our whereabouts. His hysterical laughter needs no translation. Totò, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

    I march up the river bank and try to hack a path through the thick, verdant brush. It’s not my finest moment. The compact vegetation kicks me out like the little bipedal scumbag I am. Come back with your machines big-brained ape, the bushes hiss at me like a bitter nightclub bouncer.

    ‘What the hell are you doing?’ Claire asks me.
    ‘Trying to get us home.’ I say. ‘The sun is going down.’

    We hurriedly try to retrace our steps in anxious silence with nothing but the narrow beam of my head torch illuminating the aimless path we’ve chosen. The mood too turns dark when I try to force a short cut by scrambling over a fence into a field of grunting pigs and shout-whisper at Claire to do the same. An awkward moment in a fledgling relationship.

    ‘I said climb over the pig fence goddamnit!’
    ‘I’m not doing it. It’s crazy’

    Eventually the beam leads us to an isolated agriturismo illuminated by a lone light. A desperate knock on the door reveals a friendly albeit confused face. Looking at our getup, the man says, ‘We are closed for the winter.’ Plan B. My foot goes in the door and we beg.

    Our begging continues over complimentary beer and stale cake. Maps are hauled out of dusty cupboards by the three gentleman present, garbed in turtlenecks and sport jackets.

    Stay they say, but we just want to get home, whatever that is.

    One of the maps reveals how far we are from our vehicle and our hosts have to stifle their laughter. A heated negotiation takes place and we surprise our easy-going selves in insisting somebody, anybody drives us to our car. No matter what.

    Finally, the one man we think we have in our corner, turns to us and asks, ‘Do you like jazz?’
    ‘Yes.’ We shout. And agree on a price.

    Three hours (and a lot of Miles) later our improvised taxi pulls up alongside a lone Punto parked naively on the edge of the SP54 provincial road. The closest thing we have to home.
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