Friday, October 8, 2021

Bridge to the Moon is equally thrilling as the Flight of the Angel zipline

Basilicata turned out to be a great choice for a Southern Italy vacation for many reasons, not the least of which was two long, high, modern and adrenaline-inducing Tibetan-style bridges in Sasso di Castalda. A few days after experiencing the thrilling ziplines of Castelmezzano, we drove about an hour to Sasso di Castalda to experience a similar high on the Ponte alla Luna—the bridge to the moon—and the smaller but equally thrilling Ponte Petracca.

Ponte alla Luna, the bridge to the moon, in Sasso di Castalda

Both ziplines and bridges connect two hillsides over deep valleys, but while the ziplines take only a minute, the bridges must be crossed slowly. The advantage is that there much more time to experience the scenic beauty of the views from the bridges. However, all four members of our group found the bridges to be more frightening than the ziplines, which came as a surprise.

The fearless four take their first steps on the Ponte Petracca.
The reason, we concluded, is that on the bridges, we were responsible for moving ourselves. On the ziplines, we were fastened to the cables by trained and experienced employees, and they were the ones in control of our takeoff and landing. All the instructions we received about lying flat, putting our feet back and our hands behind us served as a distraction.

Wendy moves her carabiners
But to cross the bridges, we had to put one foot in front of the other on 6-inch rungs that have about 14 inches of space between them. We also had to either slide our hands along the railings or let go momentarily and move our hands ahead. We had to unfasten and fasten our carabiners when we came to a support cable. We had plenty of time to look straight down and consider where we were.

Because it was late September, we had to call to make an appointment. We were joined by about 15 other people, all of them Italians. We received some brief instructions, which I did my best to translate for our friends. It was important, the guide said, to step on the middle of the rung to minimize the swaying of the bridge. Then we stepped out onto the first bridge, Ponte Petracca, which is 95 meters long and about 30 meters high.

We were the last group to cross, save for two Italian women in their late 20s, one of whom had to be continually urged on by her friend. From the Ponte Petracca, we had a great view of the valley and the town—and also of the much bigger second bridge, Ponte alla Luna, with spans 300 meters and is 120 meters above the stream below. Knowing we had to cross that next added to our apprehension.

Lucy and Dave on the Ponte alla Luna.
“My first thought was that I was going to die,” Lucy said only half-jokingly. “Then I was thinking, just put one foot in front of the other. Whistling, counting the steps and singing distracted me from the thought of what I was doing and how far down it was.”

“I thought is was fun standing in line with other people who had the same looks of abject terror on their faces,” Wendy said. “I liked being able to encourage them across the bridges as, full of both fear and faith, they unhooked their carabiners and moved them around from one cable to the other.”

There was a trail back to the city for those who lost their courage after crossing the first bridge, and about two thirds of the way across it, Lucy said she would be taking that trail because the bigger bridge had a vertical climb on the second half. However, the guide told her the it was easier to go up than down, and Lucy continued bravely on. The Ponte alla Luna may have swayed less, or it may have been that we were just more confident and experienced, but we all enjoyed this crossing more than the first, stopping often to enjoy the panorama and to encourage each other onward.

“Every 30 steps on the bigger bridge, I would stop and look around, because that’s something we couldn’t do on the Volo dell’Angelo,” Lucy said. “It was a good experience to do something out of our comfort zones, and it was nice to do it together with the fearless four, the name I call our traveling group. One of the songs I sang while walking was “Today” (by the New Christy Minstrels).

Here are some of the lyrics of that song: “I can’t be contented with yesterday’s glory, I can’t live on promises winter to spring. Today is my moment, and now is my story, I’ll laugh and I’ll cry and I’ll sing.”

Afterwards, we stopped at the Terra del Sasso and shared some antipasto while we chatted with the waiter and drank a toast with the two Italian women who had crossed with us. The waiter, who was also the owner, said that he and his wife had planned to move out of the town before the bridges were built about four years ago. However, with the construction of the bridges, the town’s economy has improved so much that he decided to stay and open a restaurant. He also explained that the bridge to the moon was named in honor of Rocco Petrone, whose parents emigrated from Sasso di Castalda to New York. Rocco directed the countdown for launching the first mission to land astronauts on the moon, and he later headed the entire Apollo space program.

We enjoyed an incredible sampling of cheese and other appetizers at the Terra del Sasso.

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