`My master plan to honor the Italian people by learning their language and using it whenever possible is having its ups and downs. If I know I am going into a situation, such as talking with a ticket agent about my train ticket, I can rehearse what I want to say and deliver it with a fair amount of accuracy and nearly correct grammar. This seems like a great idea, but there is a problem. The recipient of my delivery thinks I know Italian and begins to talk back to me in rapid fire verse. I have no idea what he/she is saying and have to ask for an English interpretation. This happened this morning at the train ticket booth. I wanted to ask if our train was going to be late. I rehearsed "Il treno a Pisa retardo?", asking if the train would be late. My diction and word choice was good enough that he thought I was Italian and started to explain something to me. I had to confess that I spoke only a little Italian, "Io Parlo piccolo Italian". He switched to broken English and I was able to find out that, for now, it was on time.
What had prompted me to ask the question? While seated on the platform waiting for our train to carry us to Piombio where we would catch a boat to the Island of Elba, we were next to an Italian woman in her late 60's, very nicely dressed. Sally asked her where she was headed. She spoke no English. I asked her "Dov'e Albita, Lei?" Where do you live? She answered, "Abito in Roma." I could not remember the verb for "going to", so out came the iPhone and Google Translate.
As we struggled to communicate, both with smiles on our faces, enjoying the process, a young man of about 16, overhearing our attempt at a conversation, began to interpret for us. He was talking English in school and did a good job of crossing the language barrier and helping me with some Italian words. We found out she was headed in the same direction as we were, to the town of Grosso, about two stops before ours. This was good, because now we knew to follow her onto the train. We also found out that during the thunderstorm of the night before a fire had occurred in the Termini train station in the center of Rome and all the computers that displayed arrival times were down, causing delays on most trains.
About 20 minutes before our train was scheduled to arrive, our interpreter boarded a train and was gone. A few minutes later the announcer said something in Italian that caused our lady to groan and frown. She looked at me and said, "Dieci minuti retardo!" This I got. Ten minutes late. By now, the thunderstorm of last night had returned and the rain was falling heavily accompanied by thunder and lightning. Glancing down the covered platform, I saw the computer display had awakened. I walked down to see that next to our train, #11885, there was a 10' under the "Ret" heading. Ten minutes retardo.
I returned, and a few minutes later the announcement came "Treno undici Otto Otto cinque venti minuti retardo." This time I actually understood the train was now 20 minutes late. This was enough for Sally who had been needing to use the restroom, but was waiting to do so on the train. She made a dash for the station bathroom, returning with plenty of time. Twenty minutes later, our train did indeed rumble into the station. We boarded and were on our way north toward Campagnia Marittima where we would switch trains to get to Piombino and the ferry to Elba.
The ride was very comfortable. We had about a two hour and a half hour ride. I amused myself by checking the trains speed with my GPS app (50 mph) and watching our progress along the line on Google Earth. We had stocked up on groceries for the island, bread, pasta and cheese, so we had a little lunch on the train.
At Grosso, our sweet lady said "Arrivaderci" and exited our car to the passageway at the end and hence out onto the platform. A few moments later she burst through the door yelling excited, "Como si apre la porta!?!?" I had no clue what she was saying even though her eye pleaded with us for help. She repeated herself and two Italians behind us rushed to her aid and opened the outer train doors for her before the train left the station so she could exit the train. It typed into Google translate what she had said in Italian, after the fact, and discovered the reason for her fear. She thought the train would leave the station before she could get off.
At Campagnia Marittima we left the train on "binario 2", platform 2. We found our connection to Piombino on the display screen to be leaving in 15 minutes from binario 3, so we seated ourselves for the wait.
Once in Piombino we walked to the bigletteria to buy our tickets for the ferry to Elba. Once secured, had a Coke in the waiting room, then walked across the parking lot to dock #5 when we saw our massive "ferry" coming into port.
On board, we settle into a very posh restaurant in the bow, had some popcorn and a sandwich while seated at a table, then moved to the bar at the front windows to watch the progress of the ship. We could see Elba in the distance through the water streaked windows. Even though we were 30 feet above the waterline, the wind blowing strongly was whipping up waves and they were throwing spray to the upper decks as we pounded across the Mediterranean.
There was a family of three to our right and Sally started up a conversation with them. They were from England, although originally for Ghana. Victor, Velda and their son Zach. Zach is 22 and had just finished Law School in England with plans to become a solicitor. Victor is a businessman dealing with energy and Velda was a realtor, both having returned to Ghana 8 years earlier. They are super sweet people and we instantly took a liking to them.
Soon we discovered they were coming to Yosemite and were looking for ideas. Sally and I relish the chance to evangelize about the wonders of Yosemite and soon we were advising them about what to see. The boat was beginning to dock at Elba and we all had to rush to our exits. They had driven their rental car onboard and had to rush to the car deck, us to the doors on the deck below. Before parting, Zach and I exchanged V-cards, virtual address cards with all our information, agreeing we would get together on the island to talk more about their trip and what to see.
Once on the ferry dock, we texted Mark to let him know we were on the island and needed a ride to our campsite for the night. He messaged back that it would take him 20-25 minutes to drive to the dock from the camp. This was perfect for us, as we saw a supermarket just down the road and walked to stock up on supplies of fresh fruits and vegetable to complement our pasta.
Once we had connected with Mark, we began the drive back across the island to "Camp Lacona" on the south side. Mark is 29, from the Netherlands, with a degree in social work. He is a traveler, having been in Indonesia working with autistic and ADHD kids before he took this job on Elba running helping run the camp. He is quick to smile, very kind and adventurous.
The camp is at the neck of a peninsula, up on a hill above a campground. On the walk up the hill from the parking area amongst the trees we stopped at the bathrooms. He said there was a good view from here. The bathrooms are spotless, and true to his word, from the upper deck where the sinks are is a spectacular view of the beaches on either side of the peninsula, a sandy beach to the southwest, and a rock beach to the northeast.
On top of the hill he showed us to our tent tucked down in a corner. The camp accommodates 80 in tents and caters to school groups, although half their clients now come via Air B&B. We are ahead of the high season, so it is just Sally and I, Mark and his assistant Robin, a 22 years old beautiful and delightful girl from the Netherlands and a German woman, Katarina, and her 23 year old daughter, Ester, staying for 10 days.
There is a commons area tent, probably 15 feet by 30 feet with refrigerators, gas hot plates, sound system, tables, benches, two comfy chairs, racks for storing food, kitchen utensils and silverware for 80 and then tents scattered down the hill amongst the trees to accommodate 80. The wind was blowing strongly as we arrived, and Mark gave us a quick orientation to the use of the common area and kitchen in the tent. Soon we were boiling water for pasta, broccoli and cheese for dinner as Mark and Robin cooked next to us in the cozy tent, lively conversation about goals, aspirations, past experiences and more floating through the air along with the smells of cooking dinner.
What a delight!! We had high expectations of this tent experience on Elba, and it was living up to them all. We put some Pink Floyd on the sound system, enjoyed our dinner, then relaxed and continued our conversations. Mark and Robin cooked a mound of potatoes that could have fed 20, mashed them up with herbs and spices, fried up 5 hamburger patties and a quart of string beans and were soon devouring most of it.
The wind continued to buffet the tent as the sun set and we headed to our tent for the night. Fitted sheets were already on the mattresses of the bunk beds. We had to put the duvet covers on the quilts. With a power cord sneaking in through the back of the tent attached to a power strip, we plugged in the light so we could see, plugged in our iPad and phones to charge and then unplugged the light to sleep. This is going to be fun.