Films do it; books do it: the physical journey as metaphor for an emotional journey that illustrates character. As movie-goers, we expect it. We don’t necessarily anticipate it will play out in front of us in reality as it did in Canyon Gorropu, Sardinia.
We had been told we must leave early and on time in order to get back for the start of the conference. Very few of us were there. Camera pans across front of white hotel. Two or three people stand talking. Another rounds the corner stowing a water bottle, a hat and a camera in a small backpack. In the background, away and below the tiled orange roofs of the hotel apartments, the sea lies like a blanket.
Our group of around eighteen, including two guides, eventually got away, ferried from Cala Gonone in two four-wheel drives. This is the road at the end.
Although we mostly knew each other by sight, we stood in a loose circle in a grove of unexpectedly large trees and introduced ourselves. Close-up of faces concentrating then pleasant surprise on one woman’s as the standby, nervous ‘joke’ about the test of names at the end, fails to materialise.
We set off along the ‘road’ which rapidly petered out to a path winding through the grass. Nature provided pleasing arrangements of rocks and flowers.
A woman squats with her camera aimed along the ground. Behind her the heads of the group can be seen disappearing below the hill. They are clearly aiming for the canyon which sprawls across the landscape. Words from the walkers catch in the air but nothing from which a distinct conversation can be constructed.
The cattle were surprisingly sleek. The stunted plants must punch above their weight in terms of nutrients.
As in the best of movies, the environment acted upon us. A bit of abseiling a difficult crossing over a nasty drop, squeezing in the dark beneath boulders poised to squash hapless wiggling humans – these can be scary experiences.
One woman became frightened to the point of tears when confronted with a bridge made from a single cable running along a rock wall which dropped to water.
Her fiancé kicked into gear. He wanted to envelope her in the protective mantle of their unity. But the head-guide saw it differently. To ensure her safety, he needed her to trust herself and to trust him. He needed the husband-to-be to stand aside – literally and figuratively.
It is an exquisite part of a relationship, that time of having professed your love and commitment, of being on the brink of a lifetime together. The lovers seek every inch of time together, every cranny of closeness. The intensity and sweetness is so poised that it turns excruciatingly when a threat looms.
This played out in front of us. We witnessed the anguish of this man being put aside from his love. It was raw, almost frenzied. He needed to be the one helping her. Masterfully, the guide disentangled the dynamic. Reluctantly the man backed off. Reluctantly, the woman stepped onto the cable. She was quaking. The guide created a safety net for her with his body without reducing her independence. Even if she’d lost her footing, she wouldn’t have fallen. They crept across. Her man called assurances that he was “there for her”.
She made it; they made it. Of course. She was upset but surely had to be pleased or even just relieved to find herself to be someone who could choose not to allow her fear to cow her and make her decisions.
In the meantime another situation was unfolding. A lone man is poised on the cliff above the water. He is sizing up the jump. Words are exchanged between him and the guides who are busy with the woman. They are telling him where to aim in order to avoid the lurking shallows and instructing him to wait and go on their schedule. Another man wades in to the pond with a long stick and rocks to show him the depth. A target area is agreed but the jumper wants his own timeline. The guides know how much walking is ahead and want to get on. He jumps. The onlookers let out their second collective sigh of relief.
In the brightness and hush of a natural amphitheatre, deep in the wilds of Sardinia, our cheerful, easy-going head-guide demonstrated the actions of a character responding to loaded events. He drew us together and impressed upon us the need to attend to his instructions and to do so promptly. Our safety was paramount and our pick-up time loomed. The talk revealed an aspect of our guide I had not previously seen.
The huge walls put our human lives into some perspective.
It was a wonderland of changing colours and sizes.
And all the while, the walls drew closer, the gorge narrower and deeper.
Flashback of ancient waters coursing along a river bed, carving out what will one day be a canyon traversed by humans who grapple with the time scale evident here.
Some expressed disgust and unrest at the animal carcass in the grotto we climbed through. (Our Woman of the Bridge negotiated this tricky passage well buoyed, Ilike to think, by her previous success.) We delighted in the deer-like creatures that shot through the canyon and scattered up the almost vertical wall behind us.
A sun-bathing frog provided a splash of colour.
It was hot. The boulders just kept coming. My legs scissored and squatted and folded and scrambled for hours and hours. What pleasure it was that day but what pain the next.
Towards the end of the canyon, the vegetation became more lush.
The exit to the canyon for us was the entrance for other hikers. We paid a fee of €5 (€3.50 concession). The walk down to the waiting vehicles was lengthy but the narrow path between dense bushes easily navigable. It was like a drawn out plot resolution – everything tied up, character arcs complete, popcorn consumed, audience content. It was still pleasant, and interesting points popped up (views of the river snaking below; a grove with a cold, shallow creek barely more than a wash of water over stones and grasses), but after an hour or so it began to drag. I was ready to leave the cinema but the film, the hike, went on.
It ended at the vehicles, parked in a lovely spot. Those not returning to the conference, stayed for a reviving swim – a chat in the foyer, if you will.
Close-up of hiking boots next to a pile of clothes. In the background, swimmers sport in a clear river. A young couple hold hands and chat to a guide.
For more information: http://gorropu.info/