Naples to Benestare

After the Bavarian police let us go, we crossed the core of the fascist axis in about 12 hours. The driver let us out at Naples central station, “Giuseppe Garibaldi.” Every town I saw had at least one main street named after Italy’s national hero.

On entering Naples, our driver had warned us “It’s like India here.” Our Indian co-passengers thought he referred to the town’s many South Asian inhabitants, but he meant the poverty. As he spoke, we passed a shanty settlement on an empty lot under the highway.
Public spaces are policed to shoo off the poor, but workers of the world plus their grandmas unite in every side alley to sell you fake veggies, bags, electronics, paper tissues, or to collect your garbage in modified baby buggies. Most locals are hardly better off. Those who are probably avoid the streets.

At first I feared my pockets might be picked, but tips from tourist guides are for those wealthy enough to waste money on shiterature written to tell you how to make the least productive use of your time. If you wear someone’s daily wage on your arm, what do you expect?

Except for one or two Arabs trying to sell me hash, people left me alone. The words “No money” work like garlic, I know from my time as a street vendor. The media depicts Naples a hotbed of crime, but it’s just hideously poor. Real criminals don’t scavenge the streets, they shop at fashion boutiques while five minutes away, old women sleep on rat-infested trash heaps. Real criminals tell stories about southern Italians’ “African blood” to explain the Mafia, while ignoring brutal economic inequality as the root cause of social evils.

I took a shoddy public bus to a southwesetern suburb and stood near the road out of town for some hours, hoping to hitch a ride. One or two people stopped, but they weren’t going in my direction. When I moved nearer to the highway exit, two cops stopped me. They asked for my  papers and said tramping was prohibited on the highway.

Before they left, one cop took an iPhone shot of my ID card. The officers found my picture funny (it features mostly hair) and drove off laughing. I’ve never seen German cops snicker like nasty schoolboys; they probably take themselves so serious because they’re overpaid.

My food was running low, and I had only 10 euros for the next 600 kilometers. A farmer with a Piaggio pickup gave me a bag full of fruit and a bottle of water, which kept me fed the rest of the day. By now my brain was steam-cooked, so I took the bus back to Naples without a real plan.

Every house in Naples is fortified. Nothing of value on the streets, no bikes, no scrap metal. After dark, the heat became bearable. I did not want to sleep downtown, near the harbor or the train station, so I took a tram out of town. After the last stop, I followed the road for an hour or so, until the working class suburb transformed into a chic marina. Disco music and neon lights polluted the sea view. Fortunately the town also had a train station with benches. The last train had passed, so I lay down to sleep.

The next morning, I entered the first southbound train. I hid in the toilet, because I had no ticket. Every three or four stops I switched toilets. In the second toilet, the flushing water was out and the bowl had no lid, so a creamy-brown dump seethed at me for about 30 minutes.

When I switched again, the conductor was waiting outside with two cops. Two other people, an angry, thin hair gel enthusiast and an older woman with a neon colored top and dyed blonde hair, had also been riding the forbidden seat. The cops escorted us out of the train and shooed us off the platform, that was all.

I was now in Battipaglia, just about 30 kilometers south of Naples. I tried all day along the outbound road to hitch a ride to Reggio Calabria. All it brought me was an old loaf of bread I found by the roadside. In the late afternoon, I took a bus to neighboring Salerno, a fancy tourist town. I stood by a road named after Garibaldi for an hour, but the drivers ignored me.

Fed up, I took the next train southwards to Sapri. I sat on the floor by the door, so the conductor would think I was about to exit. When he arrived, the door was stuck, and I helped him open it, so he did not ask me for a ticket. The second time he passed, he asked.

I offered to pay with my invalid credit card, which of course he couldn’t accept. He asked me where I was headed, I said Reggio Calabria. He told me I should buy a ticket in Sapri. Of course I did not. On the three-hour ride from Sapri to Reggio, the controller only spoke to me once, telling me to get a seat because I was blocking the door.

I arrived in Reggio at 11 PM on June 20, 2013. The window of the tourist office showed a map. Benestare, my final goal, was another 50 kilometers away – on the other side of a rather impassable mountain, but how to get there? I walked through the provincial capital for an hour. Except for two teams of sex workers, one black, one white, all business had ceased for the night.

I asked the African women if they knew the way to Benestare. They didn’t know, but they were very kind. One let me use her cell phone, while her colleagues hollered at the immodest cars of the discriminating johns. They asked if I had eaten or a place to stay. I must have looked very rotten after two days on the road. I said I was ok, because I did not want to bother them and spent the night on the tile floor behind a power hut in front of the train station.

I awoke at dawn. Looking closer at the map at the tourist office, I saw that a train from Reggio Calabria runs around the tip of the Italian boot and stops in Bovalino, which lies about 5 km from Benestare. This time I bought a ticket; the 90 minute ride cost less than 5 euro.

From Bovalino, a minibus runs to Benestare about three times a day. The driver dropped me off near the village payphone. The phone did not accept coins, but after searching around for an hour or two, I met a young woman who knew my friend and took me to his house.

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