Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Milan to The Leaning Tower in Pisa

Hitchhiking does have its challenges sometimes, as the next two rides would prove. We made it to Milan after a sickening car ride through the alps with a kinetic nutjob from England who drove like a psycho through the twisted highway to make the airport in time to pick up his best friend. Throwing up in the back of his convertible Mercedes wasn't a good option, but if he didn't stop NOW, or slow down, it was going to be game over for his fine, stitched leather. More to save his car, he did pull into a cafe where I could get my breath, but it wasn't for long.

He finally dropped us off at a wonderful little pensione, where we took a shower and washed our clothes. Milan, a city full of wonderful history and culture including Leonardo da Vinci's 'Last Supper,' was just too cold and gray, so we decided to continue the next morning and go south, a decision I regret now.

The next morning it was back to the highway and within minutes of sticking our thumbs out, a black Mercedes truck pulled over. The driver rolled down his window and stuck his head out.
'Pizza?' I asked.
'Oh, si, si, Pe-e-e-sa. No problema.' He waved us into the truck.

Mary Lynne and I thought he was alone, but climbing into the cab we noticed something stirring, and except for the hairdo, he could have been Quasimodo rising from his bunk wiping the sleep from his bulbous eyeballs. His tongue fell out leering at Mary Lynne getting in and I knew she wasn't aware of what she was beside. Yet. I also knew at this ride may be challenging, but not so challenging I wanted to get back out into the cold and thumb another ride.

The two-lane highway with its dusty, narrow shoulders twisted through high mountain bluffs overlooking the Mediterranean. Food wrappers, empty cigarette packages and newspapers filled the floor of the cab and the smell of moldy food and clothing inside the truck was nauseating, but we were getting to Pisa in good time. The driver, a dark-skinned, curly-headed fellow of about 40, chirped in Italian and I made do with my lack of language skills by adding vowels to the end of either French or English words and rolling them out: we got our meaning across. The ride was okay until we went to get out.

As we approached the exit to Pisa, I pointed to the shoulder and said 'stop here,' and stop being the same word in Italian as it is in English, I figured it was a no-brainer, but when I glanced over at the driver he was grinning, a sickening grin I was familiar with, a grin that meant I would probably have to pull out his hair follicle by follicle, break some teeth and leave some deep scratches in his face in order to get him to hold up, the same look I’d seen so many times in Quebec while hitching, the look that tells me I might have to shed blood if I want to continue my journey. I gestured again for him to stop but he laughed, while Quasimodo in the back giggled and reached forward and smacked his pal on the shoulder, high-fiving him for the attitude.

We were at a high elevation, cliffs, steep inclines and ocean on our right side, mountains that came straight down to meet the shoulder on our left. I stabbed my finger towards the ocean outside, demanding he pull over. 'If you no stop, the camione over there,' I shrieked, pointing to the cliff on my right. It was pretty clear what I meant, and I had to rev up the crazy in order for him to get the message, but he continued to joke with his sidekick in the back, joking about the fun they were going to have, until I suddenly lunged for the steering wheel and clung to it. I didn't turn it. But I might! He cursed, hunching over the wheel, protecting it, one hand out to push me back, the other prying my fingers off the steering wheel as I continued to cling on. A crazy woman! We went arm to arm in the front seat and when he understood my message that we were all going to die if he didn't let us out, he yelled 'ya, ya, ya,' braked and pulled over. But before we could jump down and say thanks for the ride, they seized our knapsacks and smashed them to the road so hard they broke open. We snatched them so the truck wouldn't also run over them and off they went, blowing the horn, waving, yelling out the window.

We laughed as we stumbled down the highway picking up our gear, but as we joked and argued about which one of them was cuter, three young men stopped in a Renault and offered us a lift into Pisa. What luck! From Lucca, a town close to Pisa, they knew just the right pensione for us girls, and for being all that, returned later with a pizza.