Davide Valacchi, blind hiker and expert guide
Posted on 29 June 2023 From Bologna Welcome
I am involved in sustainable and inclusive tourism and sports, i.e. those activities that are also accessible to people with various types of disabilities. As a blind person, it is very stimulating to devise and propose activities designed also for those who experience the same impairments as I do. Since 2021 I have been working for the Fondazione per lo Sport Silvia Parente Onlus in Bologna, since 2006 a reference centre enabling everyone to ski, cycle, run and enjoy the wonders of sport and nature.
The hills and the Bolognese Apennines have proved to be the right stage for our activities, which take place throughout the year in a territory that we never cease to discover
Being able to share this with others, creating mixed groups of people with and without disabilities who have fun and get involved while forgetting about differences, is a human and professional experience I find ever more rewarding.
I hope tomorrow's Bologna will focus on tradition and the preservation of authentic places. I have always been concerned about the risk of bending to the economic and commercial rules dictated by the market and business, so I wish we could exploit the immense heritage the peripheral areas of the Metropolitan City have to offer without distorting or corrupting their true essence, which is the only reason why they arouse so much fascination and interest in visitors capable of appreciating them.
By way of example, I wish I could rely on a public transport service (scheduled or by reservation) that would reach even the outermost areas of the Apennines, thus making them accessible to everyone while reducing vehicular traffic in areas where noise and car exhaust emissions prove noxious.
In spring 2018 I was planning a trip along with two friends that would take us on a tandem bike ride from Italy to Kazakhstan, with an article published in 'La Repubblica Bologna' on the subject. Matteo Brusa, who would later become a great friend of mine as well as a colleague at the Foundation, had read it and contacted me on Facebook to get to know each other.
Our friendship began with a spectacular tandem mountain bike ride in the badlands above Ozzano dell'Emilia (BO) that I will always remember. I had never done mountain biking before, so Matteo, in order to surprise me with adrenalin-fuelled emotions, rightly thought of catapulting me onto paths made up of extremely steep ramps with overhangs and noteworthy technical passages. I could feel the sharp, aerial crest of the gully turning into steep descents around us, zigzagging on a path that retraced the route of the ancient Flaminia Minor built by the Romans.
I had so much fun, being positively overwhelmed by fatigue and adrenaline, that from that moment on, tandem riding and trails would become my bread and butter.
The Foundation later sponsored my trip by supporting the project to promote tandem riding as a participatory means for visually impaired people, and upon my return my professional experience with them began.
One of my favourite places in the province of Bologna is undoubtedly the Randaragna Valley. Located just an hour and a half's drive from Bologna, the valley opens out shortly after the small hamlet of Molino del Pallone in the upper Reno valley. As you travel up the river bordering Bologna you will come across this secondary valley carved out by the Randaragna stream, for me a treasure trove of rare natural beauty.
The forests here are dense, sometimes creating a veritable tunnel above the road, preventing the sun light from penetrating. The chestnut tree dominates, and not surprisingly it was the progenitor of the ancient mountain economy of the area. The soothing quiet of the forest is occasionally interrupted by the roar of the torrent, which creates a couple of hidden waterfalls of astonishing beauty.
The forest poses such a varied sensory landscape for me, with its smells and sounds to be recognised and interpreted, that I do not perceive the lack of sight as a limitation, as I do in other environments.
Among the many favourite words, I would rather choose paciugo, which has a double meaning. It can either denote damage by liquids, often filthy, spilled or leaked, or a situation so tangled that it cannot be resolved.
In spite of my inextricable bond to my home territory, which is Ascoli Piceno, I can confidently claim Bologna to be my hometown, a city that has allowed me to achieve my dreams while feeling free and self-sufficient, something that is by no means taken for granted for a blind person.