Residing in Ragusa, Italy, veteran guide Gabe Del Rossi knows the ins and outs of Italy like only a true local ever could. He has been known to serenade guests as they climb through the Dolomites or impresses them with his knowledge of four languages. Below Gabe has shared a behind the scenes look at a day in the life of a Trek Travel guide in Southern Italy.
The bus stops in Bari, but I don’t understand where I am. The light of the rising sun prevents me from spotting the train station. “È lì,” the bus drier tells me. “Right there. You’re on the other side of it.” I couldn’t recognize where I was because I was on the other side of the thing I knew.
A new point of view in a familiar place. My day began by taking a bus from Sicily, through Calabria and into Puglia — all beautiful areas, but the night ride is something unique. As my friend Fabio would later say, “You cross southern Italy by bus and you expect nothing to happen? Anything could happen!” This is not the Fabio that belongs on a romance novel cover. He is from Monopoli, Puglia and studies medicine. He helps his father with their taxi business, and he helps his friends get out of trouble. Friends like me.
Anything can happen, that’s why we travel to southern Italy. It’s a far cry from the Piedmont palazzos and the Tuscan villas. But that is part of its allure. I drag my bags into the station looking for the train headed for Martina Franca. There is no sign. There is no conductor at 7:00 in the morning. I have to make an educated guess: small town, small train, small track. Maybe a track at the end of the station? The back of the station? The back where the bus dropped me off. I double check the big yellow time tables that are on the walls and, sure enough, my guess pays off. I’m on my two-and-a-half-hour train ride to Martina Franca – about 70 kms away.
I pass out. The rocking of the train helps me catch up on the sleep that I couldn’t get on the bus. At around 9:30 I get a text from Sonja, my colleague who was kind enough to pick me up from the station: “I’m here.“
I drop my bags in the back of the van and we head for breakfast. Sonja is a light-framed, two-handed cappuccino drinker. We head straight for the bar and get three cappuccinos and one café macchiato, for the two of us. We wash that down with a few mezzatonda: a pastry popular in Puglia’s Murgia filled with cream and blackberry jam. That will do it. I’ve had my coffee and pastry fix. Let’s get to the bikes.
The ride to our base is simple. About ten minutes away from Martina Franca in a couple of trulli: those characteristic cone-topped houses. Historically they were a means of tax evasion. Now they house Sonja, myself, and our other colleague Diane who has been working on all kinds of trip details such as written instructions and .gpx files. She’s happy to see me.
There is something uncommonly romantic about tuning bikes in the front yard of a trullo pugliese. Between each prep, I look around me and appreciate my surroundings at every wretch stroke. I live in southern Italy, and there is something familiar about this part of the world. It is a very comfortable place where the people and environment make you feel at home.
At lunch we go for a ride. The rolling countryside is alive with the feel of spring. The orange blossoms are blooming and at the top of every small ride sits another trullo. We stop for some simple focaccia for lunch: ham and local caciocavallo cheese, or broccoli and local mushrooms. We keep it light since we still have a few kilometers until we get back to our trullo. And then it’s showers, time to organize the trailer, upload the routes to the Garmins and a few other tasks before the day is done.
The afternoon sun presses down. It is usually warmer in the afternoon around here. The morning will often bring rain and the late-day sunlight just makes the rest of the day humid. But not in our trullo, where the temperatures stay cool throughout the day and night. So cool in fact that we have to turn on the heat in the evening. A strage fact for Riccardo (the owner of the trullo) since most people don’t ever ask for heat in Puglia.
It’s six o’clock and just a few hours before dinner. This is also the time that Diane shows her true colors, namely “crimson” , “brink red” and randomly “rosé.” From her stash of red wine Diane pulls out a negroamaro, and a primitive. Naturally, it would be a sin to be this far into the soul of Puglia and not know its wines. And six o’clock is a great time to get to know them well. We chat and relax as night falls upon us, nibbling at sundried tomato paste, tarralli, and local cappocollo from just down the road in Martina Franca. Sonja whips together a fantastic salad with local veggies she had gotten earlier in the day and there is our evening: three bottles of wine, salad, and fresh meats and cheeses.
By now the sun has long disappeared and the moon and stars sitting clear in the night sky tell us tomorrow will have spectacular weather. I shuffle into my bedroom and begin to organize my clothes. Day one begins and I’ll be unloading ten bikes by myself. I’ll need to make sure I have a clean pair of clothes on when Diane arrives with our guests. Sonja is on picnic duty and judging by her salad tonight I think our group will be blown away by her magic. In this region of southern Italy, it is the element of surprise that is so appealing. “Anything can happen.” Yes it can, and it does. There is no pushing or stress. Everything works out as it should, whether it is an impromptu bike ride, another slice of focaccia (thank you, grazie!), a surprise three-bottle night, or a four coffee morning. No one is held to conventional standards here. Just enjoy.
Ok. Shirts folded. Pants ready. Now all I have to do is organize my route guide and make sure my phone and GPS are recharged for the morning. Done.
Time to set the alarm for 7:00. Before you know it, 7 will be here…..