On the way to hike Monte Maggiore, we came across Mario hauling wood with his two donkeys on the edge of a windy mountain road. Below us were rolling green foothills, dominated by the pretty medieval village of Rochetta, jutting out on a huge plug of rock.
We slowed down to find out more. Mario beamed at us, stumped out his cigarette, knocked on the car window and invited the boys to sit on the donkeys. They had thick winter coats which were steaming in the cold air. The boys clambered on to the makeshift pack on their back – made of an ox yoke, inner tyre, cushions and rope – and they were oblivious, enjoying a rest in the sun.
We chatted and found out the donkeys are very special to Mario’s family; his wife gives them vegetables over the kitchen door and presents at Christmas. A chainsaw was buzzing in the woods above us and after a few minutes Mario said goodbye, leapt on the back of one donkey and then lead both of them up a near vertical karst slope to collect more logs.