As the story always goes in the Navy no matter where you go in the world, no matter which naval station you are stationed at, there is always somebody who knows somebody who you can get into contact with when you first arrive.This specific story is no different and a friend and officer Jon, stationed on my second ship out of Japan was best friends with a girl from the Academy, L, that is stationed in Italy. When I arrived there was a lot happening, trying to get my apartment set up and my house hold goods unpacked. She was also very busy with things and we didn’t meet up right away.
Then the perfect opportunity presented itself as she, alongside Jon, is an avid climber/hiker/outdoor adventurist, and is always hitting the road to go on some adventure around Italy. She has a foreign climbers group that she posts in telling people when and where she intends to have a trip.
It just so happened that I had nothing going on one of the weekends and was able to go! We were headed to Luna Del Maltese an elevated lake in the mountains only about 1.5 hours from Naples. It’s a pretty windy road and you have to go slow so that takes about 2 hours to get there, but the distance isn’t very far. It’s a very scenic drive but be prepared because the windy roads can make you a little motion sick.
By the time we had hit the road it was already 6pm and the sun would be setting around 8pm so we wouldn’t have much light when we arrived at the lake. There was no actual camp ground, so we were playing it all by ear, which was the best part of the whole thing, just camping on the side of the road essentially, something I have surprisingly never done before this.
Upon arriving, the lake was as still as glass and it was twilight out, with a good sized moon so we could see pretty well. We followed a few dirt roads in an attempt to make it around the lake but in the dark it was very hard to tell where to go. In the end, we did make it to the other side and we found an old dirt road that led down into an opening right beside the lake and that is where we decided to camp for the night.
As soon as we arrived we set up our little camp chairs, started drinking some beers, and fired up the hookah. L had just recently come from Israel on a work trip and had picked up some hashish while there, and it was so good. It had a minty after taste and when we sat down I could smell mint so I felt around on the ground and it turns out that there were mint plants growing right where we set up our tent. I will probably forever associate the smell of mint to my night sitting out under the stars, camping by an elevated lake in Italy, drinking beers, eating buffalo chicken dip, and smoking hookah. It seemed the perfect night out there.
Around midnight we decided that it was time for bed and crawled into our tents. I fell fast asleep and didn’t wake until I heard bells in the morning. It was faint at first and then started to draw closer so I sat up and looked around but couldn’t see anything inside of the tent (no windows!).
We had heard the bells the night before and it was obvious that they were tied around cows and sheep, but it was in the distance and on the hills surrounding us, not on top of us. I poked my head out of the tent and there sat about 5 sheep herding dogs right outside, just staring at me. I looked around and realized that our tents and car was surrounded by sheep! Golly, what did we get ourselves into?
Then in the back I saw a shepherd with the herd. The lead dog gave a few barks to alert his owner that we were there and sat waiting for him to arrive. There were two herds passing through one led by a woman and one led by a man. The man stopped to talk to us and he asked why we had decided to set up camp right where we were.
An Italian Refugio is normally somewhere in the area for most outdoors hiking/camping routes and it can be as small as a shelter built for sheep and cows when it rains, to a restaurant, to a full on bed and breakfast. This Refugio happened to be the bed and breakfast variety which was really good for us since we were able to start our morning with a cafe (even though I don’t drink cafe).
The owner of the Refugio became fast friends with us and we spent about 45 minutes talking our best Italian to him, well L and K spent most of the time talking and I threw in a few adjectives and random Italian words here and there (I’m not so good with my Italian as of yet).
He showed us a bag of Truffles (mushrooms) that are quite a delicacy in this area. Groups of people go out in the early morning with Truffle hunting dogs (back in the day it used to be pigs but the pigs scarf them up if you aren’t watchful) and they find mushrooms which they can sell for relatively high prices to restaurants. We would have loved to join in on the hunt but we didn’t know about it. Therefore we resigned ourselves to cafe, a nice chat with an Italian chap, and pouring over a map of the area for the best hiking route.
Our new friend was adamant that we not go up into the hills and we couldn’t understand the reasons why because that’s exactly where we were headed. He somehow convinced us to just take the hike around the lake route which ended up badly for us because we went down the wrong road and ended up at a dead end.
Afterwards we decided to go set up our little camp, this time directly beside the lake, and lounge around the rest of the afternoon.
Once we found our spot we kicked off our shoes, smoked an afternoon hookah, mixed some afternoon gin and tonics, and got delightfully lost in our books, and even played a little Frisbee.
At one point we even tried 15 full minutes of meditation, which is a very long time if you’ve never tried it before. Meanwhile, around us, some Italians had brought their horses down to the lake to play and they were freely running around which was very enjoyable to watch. The land was a bit swampy, it must have rained recently, and I decided to go back to my kid roots and just get plain filthy.
As the sun began to set we decided it was time for a small fire (even through our friend at the Refugio said we couldn’t have one) and L set to work to get the fire going so we could cook hotdogs in pitas with hummus (actually quite delicious, you should try it!) and smores.
On our final morning at Luna Del Maltese, we woke up, headed back to the Refugio for another cafe, and saw that some meat and cheese stands had popped up along the side of the road. After an extravagant breakfast, in which we realized we needed to eat and cook all of the food that was left since we were heading home, and afterwards we decided to buy some local cheeses and meats.
At the stands they were happy to oblige us with small samples and there was a particular cheese that I happened to try which gave me an instant allergic reaction similar to my uncooked egg allergy. My throat immediately began to swell and I realized in that moment I had neglected to bring the benedryl. And this was a sliver of cheese half the size of my pointer finger (thank god that’s all the bigger it was). I immediately told L and she said she had a medical kit in the back of her car and that there was benedryl in it. They ran ahead and I stayed as calm as possible because I didn’t want to freak anyone out even though as soon as the reaction began I triggered my very own adrenaline rush.
When I got to the car, L was frantically searching the kit and I took the Benedryl one minute later. The swelling stopped in less than 6 minutes. Crisis averted. BUT, I learned another travel lesson that is very important. Don’t take a food allergy for granted. Although I ALWAYS carry Benedryl with me and keep it in my car there’s always a chance I won’t have it when I have a reaction. It’s scary, but true. In fact, don’t tell my mother!
The drive back to Naples was uneventful and I became very sluggish from the benedryl and ended up sleeping most of the way.