For more than 30 years, Mauro Morandi has been the only resident of a beautiful island in the Mediterranean. In recent weeks, his hermit hut has been a suitably isolated place to watch the global krona virus crisis develop.
And having been alone with his own thoughts for so much of his life, he has some insight into the isolation many of us now face in the weeks and months ahead.
Morandi, a former teacher, arrived in an accident on the island of Budelli, outside Sardinia, while trying to sail from Italy to Polynesia 31 years ago. He fell in love with the crystal clear waters of the pristine atoll, coral sand and beautiful sunsets – and decided to stay.
He took over from the former caretaker shortly thereafter and at the age of 81 he is still there, having acquired a reputation as Italy’s Robinson Crusoe.
Every night he sleeps in an old stone cottage and wakes up in the morning surrounded by mother nature. He enjoys exploring bushes and cliffs and talking to birds at breakfast as they fly in and out of his small kitchen window.
However, he keeps up with the news and learns first of Italy’s mainland closure against the spread of coronavirus and then the rest of the world.
In his lonely world, he says he currently feels like he is in the “safest place on earth.” He is also keen to share some tips on how to best meet self-insulation.
“I’m fine, I’m not scared,” he tells CNN Travel via his cellphone, which is his link to the outside world. “I feel safe here. This island offers complete protection. No risks at all. No one lands, not even a single boat can be seen sailing past.”
Budelli is known for its beautiful pink shoreline.
With permission from Mauro Morandi
Like many of us, Morandi’s main concern is for the well-being of family and friends – in his case living in northern Italy’s Modena, one of the most virus-affected areas in Italy.
“They have tough times,” he says.
Little has changed for Morandi since Italy’s outbreak of virus, except that he now has to wait longer for people to get him food from the mainland due to severe restrictions imposed by the government of Rome.
These have meant that occasional visits from tourists during the winter have also ceased. Over the years, he has become accustomed to day trippers, friends with them and sometimes sharing his meals with them.
“I get bored, so I kill time taking pictures of the beaches, wildlife and nature, editing photos and then sharing these on social media and Instagram,” he says. “I have many followers.”
The wild-bearded sea dog believes that the virus closure, if it continues, means tourists will stay away at least until July, but the prospect of a quieter summer doesn’t scare him.
Morandi has some tips for people who are now being forced into solitude in Italy and elsewhere by the pandemic. He says that a few weeks embedded inside is nothing to be upset about, but is instead an opportunity to practice some self-searching.
He speaks, he says, of experience. Although he has a whole island to himself, even Mediterranean winters can be tough and he spends many months in prison.
“I spend every winter closed in my house, for months on end I hardly walk across the island, but instead I kill time on the veranda under the roof. So what the hell, people can’t stay home for two weeks? It’s absurd.”
As Italy tightens restrictions on controlling the virus, dozens of Italians have been fined in recent days for leaving their homes for non-urgent reasons such as a walk in the park or on the beach.
From hikers to hermit
Morandi’s frame shackle home is in need of TTLC.
With permission from Mauro Morandi
“I read a lot and think. I think many people are afraid to read because if they do, they will start meditating and thinking about things, and that can be dangerous.
“If you start to see things in a different light and be critical, you may end up seeing what miserable life you lead or what bad person you are or the bad things you did.”
This introspection can, he says, ultimately be very rewarding. Morandi talks about his own transformation from an inveterate hiker who traveled all over Europe every year to a lonely island.
“I just didn’t feel like traveling anymore – no interest,” he says. “I understood that the most beautiful, most dangerous, most adventurous and joyful journeys of all are the interior of yourself, whether you are sitting in the living room or under a roof here in Budelli. That’s why you can be at home and do nothing difficult for many . ”
But, he adds, “I never feel alone.”
According to Morandi, most people do not consider themselves to be lonely because they cannot stand for their own business and the forced closure forces many to face this.
And, he says, while the current crisis provides an opportunity to reevaluate their lives, he doesn’t think many will make the most of it.
“I don’t believe in the healing power of humans to change,” he says. “Maybe some individuals will come, but the majority are too used to amenities and frenetic lifestyles.”
Meanwhile, time runs on Budelli as usual.
The winter this year has been milder, with spring-like temperatures and warm suns. The island’s habitat is still quite unspoilt. No pollution. Clear fluorescent turquoise water, lush wild vegetation, purple cliffs that resemble natural sculptures and healthy air.
“My cat died just the other day, she was 20 years old,” says Morandi. “Maybe this climate gives longevity.”
‘Everything I need’
Temporary visits from daytoppers have ceased since the outbreak of the virus.
With permission from Mauro Morandi
Budelli is one of the most beautiful islands in the whole Mediterranean. Dating back to prehistoric times when the earth’s crust was still being formed, legend says that it is a shard of the mythical, lost Atlantis continent swallowed by the sea.
But the island is not completely immune to climate change and nature’s destruction of man, says Morandi.
Not so long ago, a clear line of pink sand cut along the beach, made of light pink, orange and salmon-colored crushed corals, crystals, fossils and dead marine creatures, giving the beach a glittering strawberry shade similar to the sunset sky.
“Now the pink is almost gone, hard to see,” he says. “The directions of the winds blowing over Budelli have changed, the pink sand no longer piling up as before.”
Mayhem in mainland Italy allows Budelli’s caretaker to buy time over his own destiny.
The ownership of the island has changed several times in recent years. Since 2016, Budelli has been a state-owned national park, making Morandi’s role obsolete – a situation he struggled with while continuing to live there.
The virus situation is likely to postpone all decisions about his future at present, although his secret home is in need of a new restructuring.
“At the moment I have everything I need. There is electricity, although it needs a makeover, and running water, and an extra small stove for heating.”
Nothing to complain about.