While staying in Lake Como, Italy over the summer, I had the greatest pleasure of being homed by my host mother’s college friends, Claudio and Elena. As it was my first time staying away from my host family while simultaneously being with a new family, I was incredibly nervous. Ah, silly me! How I could have ever thought it would be frightening staying with these two incredible people is beyond me.
The pair live a truly beautiful (if not completely new-to-me) vegan, self-sustaining lifestyle in the high hills surrounding Lake Como. I swear, it was exactly how I pictured every person’s home whom says they want to live “off the grid.” Their water is rain-caught, their home solar powered. They rescue horses from carriage companies that use the animals for tourism i.e., carriage rides.
We spent days hiking up in the hills (mountains?? I’m pretty sure my thighs thought they were mountains) and reached several peaks (separate blog post to come).
One particular afternoon, while Elena was attending a class on the medical and practical uses of herbs and plants in the wild, Claudio and I took a walk several miles up the hills to a point where we could see the Italian/Swiss border. While hiking, I had the most beautiful, open conversation with Claudio, both of us struggling to converse in the other’s native tongues, but nevertheless trying our best. Between my broken Italian, his (fabulous imo) English, and both our expressive gestures, we talked about politics, life, future goals, and the environment. To this day I can’t quite remember every word that passed between us, but I can remember the fulfilling, entirely uplifting weight in my heart and soul. It was unlike any conversation I ever had, and probably will ever have. There was no way to try and bullshit each other; we didn’t have the ability to even try.
What I do also remember, though again more the feeling then the physical words, was learning about a site of ruins we came across on our hike. Hearing Claudio speak so deeply about the history of these hills, a place where he grew up as a young boy and later worked to bring supplies to other likeminded people, was an experience in and of itself.
If I remember correctly, the old buildings were a small farm set-up, complete with an expansive well and grain silo. Farms like these, he had said, weren’t overly common due to the difficulty in mastering the roads, paths, and walkways around the hills. When we came up to Carate Urio, the small village where they both live, earlier that week, their car’s side mirrors were but a hair’s breadth away from the centuries old stones.
When traveling, it’s very easy to get caught up in the “mainstream” attractions. In Lake Como, it’s boating, eating gelato, sunbathing, and trying trendy restaurants. (I won’t lie, I did three of those things.) However, when you get a chance to really get off the beaten path, to speak with—and in my case, live with—locals, you get to see what a place is really, truly like. Hiking into the hills surrounding Lake Como was like visiting an entirely different place. No fancy cars, no expensive and outlandish fashion. Simply people who make their living off the land.