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Diffidence, Hospitality and Hitchhiking in Sardinia

Lost in the Mediterranean, Tom Thum may have found the end of the road.

I arrived in Sardinia on the 1st of May without knowing a soul. I flicked through the guidebooks for a hour in the airport and, remembering none of what I read, arrived in Cagliari to stay with hosts from http://www.couchsurfing.com

When you couch surf with strangers it’s something of a gamble. You can make a reasonable guess from reading their profile that they’re not actually mean or dangerous or anything but it can be hard enough to make smalltalk with a stranger at a party for half an hour, let alone stay in their homes.

One thing my hosts were all unanimous on though was the impossibility of hitchhiking in Sardinia.

“No one will stop for you here. We’re a hospitable people once we get to know you but we’re quite diffident at first.”

I took their word for it and as I went exploring the island, I took buses and walked where there were none. As such I was startled one afternoon when a car pulled up beside me on a country road and spontaneously offered me a lift.

“You foreigners are crazy.” the driver assured me merrily, “No Sard would trek around like you with a backpack.”

My next host lived in a suburb of Cagliari and was a severe, serious woman who worked on planning permission projects for the local council. When she heard I’d been sleeping on a beach she laughed:

“You’re crazy! Just like my old friend, Gian Carlo.” And so saying she pulled out her phone and called him up – they hadn’t spoken in 15 years but a short conversation was enough for him to invite me to come and stay in his house in the hills.

Gian Carlo was a percussionist in his 50’s and had lived a full and vivid life despite his bifida of the spine and his current degenerate arthritis. He lived in a little house up a steep dirt road and powered his house with a car battery. He was my first Sardinian friend and hippie that he was, he represented the archetypal qualities of a Sard: proud, independent and kind.

“I don’t pay for water as I have the spring that runs to my house, a bit of petrol keeps in in light and I eat what grows in my garden. I’m free.” he declared.

I heard of a community a little further towards the coast and while waiting for the bus I stuck out my thumb and a car pulled over in minutes.

“You’re lucky I stopped for you,” the driver told me, “We Sards are a bit-”

“Diffident?” i suggested and his face lit up.

“Bravo!”

The Sards remain a mystery to most Italians who regard them as weird and they take some getting to know. Fiercely proud of never having been totally conquered over the centuries, their reserve have been the only thing that ensured their national survival.

It’s now 2 months later and I found a place to live in a valley ten minutes away from the sea. Sardinia has given me everything – friends, romance, even a Mongolian yurt at a bargain price. I don’t know if this is the end of the road for me or not but one thing is for sure – Sardinia has been anything but diffident to me.