Our first free-camp was on the second night of our trip. We hauled our panniers by hand through the woods to a well hidden clearing and then returned for our bicycles, trudging through the brush in what seems retrospectively, a completely clueless endeavor. I remember laying in our tent that night thinking to myself, "What the hell have we done!?" The adventure we'd been planning for over a year was suddenly real and I wasn't sure if I was ready for it. Meanwhile, Tara had her own doubts as she tried to fall asleep beside me, cozy in our brand new sleeping bag, but terrified. She was convinced an angry landowner was going to show up wielding a shotgun and stand guard while we were forced to pack our things.
A lot has changed since that first night in the woods. Tara's confidence that we are safe to sleep almost anywhere has grown by leaps and bounds, I can finally cope with having wet gear for days on end, and we've both learned to enjoy/tolerate cold showers and washcloth baths. As tourist season dwindles into a distant memory, free-camping is increasingly becoming a necessity rather than a choice.
Upon entering Italy, it became our primary way of making a home. Here we are leaving this morning:
It wasn't long ago that we would regularly spend more than an hour searching for the perfect hidden site, hemming and hawing about the various merits of a section of underbrush or the quality and quantity of cover. These days we practically point to a location on our GPS and say, "we will camp here" and then do so. Today was one of those days. When we spotted a tiny road leading sharply down to the coast we decided the huge hill was no problem as we were sure to find a place.
After descending 50 meters in less than a kilometer, we arrived at a smallish, mostly abandoned harbor. I spotted a local fisherman and asked if we could camp under a nearby gazebo. He assured us it was fine and we set up quickly to avoid the inevitable onslaught of mosquitoes, or more simply (what we refer to it as): "bug town". When the sun set we were surprised that our out of the way location was actually fairly busy. Where before any activity outside of our tent while free-camping was a cause for concern, now it is a source of entertainment.
When an SUV drove all the way down the ramshackle pier near our gazebo and began using headlamps and strange green floating lights, we were enthralled by the possibilities of what might be going on. Of course visions of dumping bodies off the pier came to mind, largely due to watching too many episodes of the Sopranos and being in the notoriously mafia-influenced southern region of Italy.
Feeling like a spy, I set up the camera and tripod, trying to take night shots at 3200 ISO to determine what they were doing. Tara laid in the tent with a perfect vantage point of the harbor, trying vainly to open her eyes wide enough to somehow imbue herself with night vision. We spent the whole time whispering and musing about what horrible acts might be occurring. After about 30 minutes of stealthy observation, we decided they were fishing.
Shortly after, a new car showed up. Following some more quiet spying, we decided they were probably smoking pot. When our phone rang and I broke the silence to answer, the second car peeled out and left, probably as paranoid as we used to be when free-camping.
Then, yet another car came and shined their headlights down the pier. We were pleased to find that we had been correct about our first hypothesis: just fishermen enjoying the night air, their glowing green bobbers(?) swinging through the dark sky as they cast their lines.
Perhaps it is a testament to "simple living" but we were seriously entertained by all of this for over an hour. Then, like an old couple spying on the neighbors, we decided it was time for bed at the late, late hour of 10PM.