Thursday, July 7, 2011

Faith Rewarded

I am a Red Sox fan. In 2004, after 89 years of World Series futility, the Sawx made an improbable comeback from a three game deficit in the American League Championship Series to beat their archnemesis Yankees and advance to the World Series, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals for the title. A few weeks later a documentary was released (a copy of which sits in my house in Washington, DC) chronicling their magical season. The documentary was titled "Faith Rewarded," a reference to the faith of Red Sox Nation, which carried them through eight decades of penantless seasons. I liked the title.

Yesterday we experienced our own version of Faith Rewarded.

* * *

Our agenda for the day was pretty simple. We were going to spend the morning doing a little work and then depart the Costa dei Fiori resort in search of another beach adventure. Having added Sardinia to our itinerary late in the game, only a couple of weeks before our departure from the States, we hadn't really done a whole lot of research or homework, but we had learned that the southern coast of Sardinia, south of Cagliari to Pula and beyond was dotted with numerous beautiful beaches. To help us make sure we didn't miss the perfect beach or attraction, we downloaded a guidebook to our iPad literally minutes before boarding our flight to Rome and spent some time aloft oohing and aahing over the terrific experiences the guidebook promised us. Only after our hourlong drive to our first destination, the pink sand beaches of Porto Pino (as the guidebook promised), did we realize the cardinal problem with many guidebooks. They tend to simply make things up.

The drive to Porto Pino looks pretty straightforward on the map, a short wide segment westward inland through the towns of Domus de Maria and Teulada before heading south to the coast. In reality, the straightforward route on the map is the only thing remotely straight about the trip. We headed west to Chia and, as instructed by the map, headed toward Domus de Maria instead of taking the coastal road from Chia. As we rose into the mountains the road began to gently turn left then right as we worked our way higher and higher. Before long the road became an improbable series of switchbacks, climbing higher and higher, with ever larger, thicker, higher and stronger guardrails along our right side, only partially obscuring the potential death plunge that awaited us if we somehow managed to breach the steel barrier. That possibility only flashed through our minds a handful of times, as the deserted highway would startle us with an oncoming vehicle appearing out of nowhere around a hidden switchback, squeeling toward us in our lane, doubling or tripling the 50 kph speed limit, and only a few times were we nearly forced off the road by an oncoming bus. The whole back and forth, which lasted a good twenty minutes but seemed more like an eternity was like San Francisco's Lombard Street on steroids, except without the nice landscaping and the distinct possibility that you could die.

When we finally passed through Domus de Maria (nearly hitting a young Italian boy in a bright red speedo who darted across the highway to retrieve his soccer ball - note to self, when you are miles of twisting highway from the ocean what possible reason is there for wearing a speedo? Is it really a good look that stands on its own merits?) the road began to straighten out but, like the rocking sensation one feels at night after having spent a day on a boat, our bodies seems to gently sway back and forth for the next 12 hours.

We passed through Domus and then Teulada (whose beach, a dozen miles down the mountain we had visited the day before) and finally to Sant'Anna Arresi, where we picked up the SS73 south to our destination, Porto Pino.

It was only a few missed turns and minor directional arguments later that we arrived along the coast, following the signs for "spiaggia," the word for beach in Italian and the promised pink sand beach of Porto Pino which was promised us. When we finally parked at the spiaggia Porto Pino lot (having, fortunately decided against the first lot we came to which was about a mile from the beach) we headed up the boarded pathway through some scrubby trees which opened onto the pink sandy wonder. Not.

The beaches around Porto Pino are, apparently, known for their white sandy dunes, not, as far we could tell, their lovely pink sands. The beach at Porto Pino itself, however is known simply as being the most horrible beach in the world. Dark gray packed muddy sand, covered with lumps of some type of seaweed or pinestraw that distinctly resembled horsedroppings stretched as far as the eye could see, punctuated here and there with stands of umbrellas and chairs populated by singularly unattractive beachgoers. It literally set the skin crawling and we now started to realize why the parking attendant seemed apologetic in taking our money, saying something along the lines of "this is not the dunes. You can park here and go to the dunes later." We made a snap decision to cut our losses and not try to the make the best of this situation, opting instead for quick beach lunch at the nearby caffeteria/bar before heading up the coast to the white dunes, which one could see in the distance. Unfortunately the little beach bar rivalled the beach itself in ugliness and lack of appeal. No worry, we would find a bite to eat when we finally found one of the famed Sardinian beaches. We couldn't leave Porto Pino fast enough.
For the next hour we struggled to find an open snack shop or a beach, despite a number of false alarms. This seemed absolutely preposterous. How difficult could it be to find a nice beach along this stretch of Sardininan coastline. We were experiencing a Red Sox like draught of luck on this front, but we kept the faith.

And then our faith was rewarded.

As we were driving along the edges of a nature preserve, thinking the coast was a dozen miles or so inland we received a sign. In the sky, hovering above the trees in the distance we could see four enormous kites - kite surfing kites. And where there are kites there are generally surfers attached to them and, we deduced, there must be water. And it was likely there was sand, chairs, umbrellas and even a beach bar. Our luck had turned, our faith had been rewarded.

We were mostly right. The drive up to the beach at Is Solinas took us through a beautiful nature preserve and eventually ended at a parking area where there was a bar/restaurant. Unfortunately it was closed. No matter, on the beach there surely would be a bar with sandwiches to satisify our hunger, which was getting pretty advanced now that it was approaching the 2:00 hour. So we took our beach bag and headed through the scrubby preserve walkway for a minute or so before emerging onto a beautiful sand beach, a rather desolate natural beach, dotted here and there with a few familes and with a handful of kite surfers slicing through the water, occasionally launching themselves airborn over the gentle surf. It was a beautiful site, even moreso in contrast to the sheer ugliness of the beach at Porto Pino. Basic unadulterated, natural. That meant, however, no chairs, no umbrellas, no snackbar.

We hunkered down in the sand for the next hour or so, relaxing and counting our blessings for this beautiful setting even as our stomach rumbings became louder and louder. Finally we decided to pull up stakes and head back toward our little beach from the day before where we knew we could get a bite to eat and hang out until 8:00. So we bid farewell to the lovely Is Solinas beach and headed back toward Sant'Anna Arresi bound for Tuelada.

Passing through Sant'Anna we noticed a number of small bar/caffes but to no avail, for one thing throughout Italy is pretty much a constant. It is remarkably difficult to find a place to eat lunch if it is after 2:30 and all the shops in Sant'Anna were, true to form, shut tight as a drum. We did stumble across a gelato shop with open doors and decided to quell our hunger with a cup of ice cream. We were greeted by a very nice gentleman and when we asked him if the adjoining pizzeria could scratch up a sandwich for us he looked at us, cocked his head and said something along the lines of "you want something to eat?" Pause. "Accomodatevi." (Make yourself comfortable). Moments later we were enjoying perhaps the most delicious pizzas in the history of pizzadom. Faith, once again, rewarded.

After our fortuitous lunch experience we had only one final mistake to eradicate. Heading back to the beach at Teulada we were determined not to retrace our route through Domus de Maria (especially now that our stomachs were full of pizza and gelato), so we headed south to the coast and opted for the coast road. When we finally hit the coast we arrived at Porto di Teulada, where sandy beach after secluded cove unfolded as far as the eye could see. In the distance we noticed an impressive marina, full of impressive looking yachts and sailboats and decided to check it out. When we arrived I spied a bulletin board that included a flyer for daily sailing excursions from the port. Thinking I recognized the sailboat in the brochure tied up down the dock, I wandedered over and struck up a conversation with the young woman on board. Within minutes we were booked on the next day's sailing, for me a real dream come true. Faith rewarded again.

Only caveat - the ship's destination is Porto Pino.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

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