Andrew Terrill

The outdoor diary of a writer, photographer, and wilderness wanderer

Finding Flavio

ENCOUNTERS WITH STRANGERS in the mountains can be truly extraordinary. Such meetings are often more intense and meaningful than encounters back in ‘real life’. Here’s a story about one that took place decades ago – along with the heart-warming follow that occurred just last week.

The encounter took place on October 19, 1997 in the Italian Dolomites. This photo was taken the evening before, with last light shinning on the Pale di San Martino group. I had no idea that an emotional meeting awaited in the mountains rising ahead.

As you may know (if you’ve visited my website before) I went on a big walk across Europe 24 years ago. Because of its length – 7,000-miles – and its slow, immersive nature, it was the kind of journey that changed everything, including how encounters with strangers panned out. Many of the encounters along the way were extraordinary, but none more so than an encounter in the Dolomites with an Italian couple, Flavio and Graziella.

We met by chance beneath Monte Mulaz in the Pale di San Martino group, and spent a memorable evening and morning together. For reasons I didn’t at first understand, we bonded the moment we met, as though we’d known each other for years. We talked as old friends do all evening long, and then shared a magnificent sunrise the next morning from Monte Mulaz’s summit. When the time came for me to leave, I finally found out why we had connected as powerfully as we had.

The summit of Monte Mulaz, October 19, 1997.

Flavio explained that he had recently lost his brother – a sudden brain hemorrhage at 44, the same way his father had also passed. Flavio was soon to turn 44 himself, and his future was uncertain to say the least. Apparently, I greatly reminded Flavio of his brother – I had the same passion for the mountains, the same energy and spirit. I even had the same name! As Flavio explained his story, it felt as though we became brothers ourselves – and as though we had been brothers all along. The time we’d spent together had been emotional already, but after Flavio’s explanation the emotions intensified. Walking away was a difficult thing to do.

(For what it’s worth, my editor, Alex Roddie, described the chapter in my book about the encounter as one of the true highlights. Probably, I shouldn’t have given so much away here – but what the heck, I have! But hopefully the chapter is still worth reading. The words above give only the briefest of summaries.)

Graziella and Flavio, atop Monte Mulaz. The only photo I took of the pair.

A year after meeting Flavio, when my long walk finished, I discovered with horror that I’d lost his address. From my home back in England I searched for him, but had no luck. And then life got in the way, although I thought of him often. At the time we parted he gave me a small camping knife so that I’d remember him. And remember him I did, every single time I used his knife when cooking dinner in camp over the next two decades, which meant I thought about my Italian brother hundreds and hundreds of times. And I always wondered: was he still even alive?

Evening light in the Dolomites, October 1997.

As this website explains, I’ve written two books about my walk across Europe. Writing them got me wondering about Flavio even more. Finally, I began searching again. Three months ago I wrote to the Italian Alpine Club, wondering if they could ask their members to help with the search, but they didn’t reply – they never even wrote back. But then, on Thursday last week, an Italian approached me on Facebook, explaining he’d just read about my search in Italian Alpine Club magazine Montagne360! The magazine had shared the picture I sent them, as well as my description, and the man thought he knew who Flavio was. Turns out, he did! They were good friends.

Sunset from Monte Mulaz. Few mountains glow like the Dolomites. Their walls don’t just reflect the light, they become light!

The man put us in touch, and reconnecting was emotional, once again. Apparently Flavio cried when he learned by phone that I was looking for him. I’ll be honest, I may have shed a tear myself to know he was still alive and well! Finally, Flavio and I communicated via Whatsapp, catching up, sharing news and photos, although for me it was a slow process: translating English into Italian on my computer and then keying the Italian back into my phone, forever fighting my phone’s auto correct! Our next step is to set up a video call, so Flavio and I can speak face to face… although that hasn’t happened yet. But it will, very soon, with a translator’s help. And perhaps one day I’ll make it back to Italy, return to the Dolomites, and my Italian brother and I can climb Monte Mulaz again, together. It will be quite a reunion!

All in all, finding Flavio made last week a wonderful week. I hope this little retelling of it adds to your week too! Encounters in the mountains on long walks can be truly extraordinary – ‘straordinaria‘ as Flavio exclaimed numerous times when we first met.

I wish similar encounters upon you!

The end of an extraordinary week, a peaceful night out. February 7, 2021.
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