I ones had a real extraordinary adventure in Sardinia, which might tell you a bid about its people. We went there for a late summer/autumn holidays in Cagliari with the family. since I am not the stereotype beach tourists, nor the sightseeing tourist, I decided one day to explore the nearby mountains (west of Cagliari, close to the rocky shore of the island). Unfortunately, I only had a Sardinia road map with me (on a scale of 1:1 000 000), no GPS (it was in the mid 90s), no mobile. So I started my mountain tracking from a small village, where the local bus dropped me off, and where some foot pathes seemed to run towards a chain of beautiful green hills. It was around noon already, but since it was already late September, the temperature was quite pleasant, there were sufficient springs with crispy water and I also had my rucksack filled with the local bread and cheese and tomatoes. I considered myself well prepared, and even thought that my fragmentary knowledge of the Italien language would be at least sufficient to understand the signposts along the tracking paths.
My first doubts arose when I recognized that there are no signposts for mountain hikers in Sardegna. And if anybody tells me that he found signposts for touristic hikers I can tell him for sure, that he has probably been in a fenced theme park, but not in the heart of real Sardegna.
So the nice path that I took went through a beautiful, aromatically smelling forest of pines and bay-leave, and mediterranian herbs on the ground. It was a pretty curvy path, and because of the trees around I also lost the orientation after a while. I was intuitively sure that the path brings me away from the coast line and closer to the chain of mountains in the heart of the island. But when I reached the top of the next little hill, I was shocked, because I suddenly found myself about 150 m above the coast line. This ment I had walked in the opposite direction that I thought I did. The beautiful little path through the hilly forest had completely fooled my sense of orientation. Needless to mention that during the entire 4 hours walk I did not meet a single human beeing at all. I can only imagine that this tempting footpath led directly to the rocky coast line, maybe regularily used by local people to collect lost goods from wreckened ships in the sea. But essentially, it was a dead end foot path. So I understoud I had to turn back, and make a new attempt with a better mountain map in the days coming. The next shock came when I found that (because it was already late September), the shaddows of the trees became suspiciously longer, and dusk started. Unlike in Mid-Europe, sunset can happed quite quickly in the mediterranean. I have probably been only half way on my way back to the village from where I started, and still another 2 hours to walk, when it was so dark that I could impossibly continue my walk. It was also new moon, so little help from extraterrestrial illumination. I pretty much declined to the idea that I would have to spend the night wrapped in a towel under one of the bay-leave trees. I already had spotted a place on the gras that looked sufficiently clean and comfortable, and were about to eat the last pieces of bred and cheese from my rucksack. When I looked around in the dark to find some pieces of wood for a camp-fire, I suddenly saw the front lights of a car driving slowly in my direction. I jumped on the middle of the path, and made some signs to show my desperate situation here in the middle of nowhere. The car, a sort of old jeep, of course stoped, and three Sardinians opened the windows and asked me something. I told them in English that I lost my way and that I am completely helpless. They opened the backdoor and ordered me to jump in. RESCUED, I thought and felt extreme relief.
The three man (I think they are correctly called Sards or Sardi in Italian) were heavy cigaret smokers, and they were talking to each other in a cryptic language (Sardu, which is more similar to Catalan than to Italian, hic.).
This was already exotic enough, I thought, and was expecting to get back to the near village soon to catch a bus or hitch-hike back to Cagliari. But in fact, the ride went now really deeper into the mountains, but the three men of course had no problem of orientation at all. After half an hour or so (it meanhwile was probably 9 pm), we arrived at a sort of disbandoned mountain cottage, where the car stopped and we all climbed out. Walking closer, it became clear that this was not a holiday cottage in the mountains, but it was a rather large ancient farm house, with barns and even a sort of stony tower overseeing the whole premise. But it was completely dark, except for a window through which I could see the glimmer of light, either from candles or from an open fire place. The three men now started to unload some cargo that has been in the back of the jeep, wooden boxes filled with pasta, fruits, tomatoes, oil, sausages, bread and bottles of red wine. The three men obviously were very familiar with the premise, and they were here for a business. My first thought was that this is the end of the ride for today, and I probably have to find a place here to sleep. But I was wrong again. One of the three men asked me to enter, and there I saw the “inhabitant” of the house, sitting next to the fireplace and intensively discussing with the three men from the car, pointing with his fingers again and again towards me and seeming somewhat nervous. But after the three men from the car calmed him down, he started to brew a coffee on his fireplace, which we all drank. After this I realized that the three man did not intend at all to spend the night there, but the delivery of the food was the only purpose of their ride to this mysterious place, and they soon made signs to me to get back to the car. When the car turned back, I could see the single men from the farm standing there in the pale light of a lantern, leaning on a long gun. Maybe he is a local hunter, and stays there over night to catch the best game early in the morning, I thought. But funny enough, after a 15 min drive, we arrived at another place, smaller than the first, just a large barn made of white lime stones. The car stopped again, the three man unloaded another set of food boxes, and there again was a single young guy who obsviously lived there on his own. This one seemed to be less nervous about the stranger that I was, he seemed to had consumed already enough of the red wine that was regularily delivered to him. He did not invited us for a coffee, but offered some apples, which we ate in front of the barn sitting around on an iron table. The men knew each other very very well, and it was more than a plain business of food delivery that held them together. They discussed some obvious important issues, and occasionally glanced over to my side, just to make sure that the impression in my eyes signaled sufficient innocence, indicating that the conversation they had in their local Sardi language was cryptic enough for me to not understand a single word. And they were pretty right. Meanwhile, it was around 10 p.m., the air turned cooler here outside in the yard of the premise in the mountains, and even the three locals seem to feel a bit chilly to hang around for longer. So it was time to say good-bye to the lonely barn-resident, who has been so generous with the apples, and to jump in the jeep and head back to the wild path through the forest. Now, finally, I could feel that we were probably heading back to the village. The driver had the engine in idle gear, and the jeep rolled downhill slowly, with the front lights only in dimmed mode. After 20 minutes we indeed arrived at the first outskirts of the village, where I had started my adventure tour about 12 hours before. The car stopped in front of a typical village farm house, and a young mother with a baby on her arms and two other young kids running around her said Hello to us, and exchanged cheek kisses with the three men, but not with me :-((
But the young lady smilled at me, as if she could remember my face from the morning, when I might have passed her house with foolishly optimistic expression of a western traveller tourist who confused the Sardinian wilderness with a tourist ressort. When the three men went in, the lady made a resolute sign with her hand, as if she wants to swipe aways some dust from an imaginary table, signalling me to come in. Although it was already around 11 pm now, the kids were all awake still, joking with one of the three man who obviously was their dad. The lady left to the kitchen, and soon returned with a big iron pan full of heated up pasta in tomato sauce and molten cheese. We all received a deep plate and ate the pasta as it was served right from the pan. I remember that the pasta dish was pretty salty (most likely from the large amount of the salty type of Sardian chees), and if I would have served such kind of pasta somewhere else, I would not hesitate to complain to the management. But here, I was invited to the house of my saviors, so I praised the meal as good as I could (“Multo bene, multo delicato”). The people on the table laughed at me. I remembered some phrases in Spanish that I still knew from higschool, and without knowing that Sardi and Spanish have a lot of similarities, I tried to express what I thought would be my options for tonight. I probably asked something like “Por favor, puedo usar el telefono ?” and “Yo tengo que ir a casa en Cagliari”. The folks understoud me pretty well, showed me the old fashioned black telefon, and I could call our Italian host in Cagliari, who soon connected me to my family. They were of course very much concerned already, not having any clue what has happened to me on this wild island. Than the man who drove us in the jeep took over the telephone, talked to our Italian host to instruct him were they can pick me up.
After half an our, during which time I got a bit sleepy after all the food and feeling relaxed from the nervous up and downs during the last hours, a taxi arrived with my father-in-law and with the Italian host from our holiday ressort. I had to say “Muchas gracias” and “Arrivederci” or “Ciao” to my saviors and their families, unfortunately without exchanging names and addresses. I wrote down my data on the edge of a local newspaper, but felt that they for some reason were not very keen of giving me in exchange anything written down about their identidy. I thought that they are probably just from a more traditional, family focussed society, and therefore don’t see much purpose of socialising to close with strangers.
Finally we got in the taxi, which was desperately waiting for us in front of the house. While the taxi driver was chasing the car through the dark, curvy road back to Cagliary, our local host asked me how it all happened. He alternately shook is head and broke out in laughter about the story, before he explained to me what I really have been into. My saviors, the three men driving around the wilderness in the Jeep at night, where members of a family that had an issue with a blood revenge (locally called Vindicau, in other parts of Italy known as vendetta). What is quite funny here to mention, that there are Wikipedia articles about Vendetta/blood revenge in a lot of Eastern and Southern European languages, but non in English.
Although the tradition of vindicau has its origin hundreds of years ago, it still affects the social life espcially in Sardinia till modern times: There are cases of Vindicau between Sardinian families, usually originating from a dispute about land ownerships or access to water or some damage to farm animals by drunken hunters, which triggered a chain of escalating revenges, maybe beginning just with some strong argument, over mutual verbal insults, physical violence and finally murder. And such a chain of revenges can go on and on over generations. Usually the very acts of the revenge, in the form of a deadly attacks with knifes or fire-arms, are performed by the young, un-married members of the large family clans involved. The murderer usually don’t even try to claim innocence for themself, since they feel to just have followed a righteous, eternal obligation. To avoid long term imprissonment, however, they are then brought by their families to a remote shelter far away from the villages and towns. They live their very much on their own, only supported over years by regular visits from relatives. I have no idea at which time they can safely return home, without having to fear the police or deadly revenge from a enemy clan any more. But as long as they are up in the mountains living in their shelter, they are of course suspicious about any stranger who finds them and, with our without intention could reveal where they hide.
So whenever you plan a hiking tour through the heart of Sardinia, don’t be surprised if in a remote premise somehwere in the mountains you might meet a young man who is not very keen of socialising with you. He might even try to hide from you in the house, or runs away to hide in the forrest. Believe me, he is not a weirdo, nor a Robinso Crusoe. He is just careful enough to know that as soon as you make a photo with him, and you have a GPS tag installed, or even a GPS navigation tracking function installed on your smart phone, and you than post everything to your Facebook or Instagram account for the whole world to see, his safety can be very much endangered.
I for myself can now be pretty sure that writing about this incidence does not bring anyone in danger anymore. Everything happend about 25 years ago, and although the tradition of Vindicau or blood revenge is still very vital in Sardinia, the two young man there whom I met at night at their mountain shelters perhaps don’t have to fear revenge against their own person any more. Maybe they all live in their luxury villas with large families of their own now. But maybe, now in times of the Corona-Virus pandemic, they remember that there remains a good and safe place deep in the mountains, not only to hide from the policy and enemy clans, but from rather natural threads as well.