For more than 30 years, Mauro Morandi, a rebellious wanderer from Italy, has been the sole inhabitant of a blush-colored island in Italy’s Maddalena archipelago. He’s been living as a hermit, spending his winters collecting logs and reading books in his hut and his summers giving tours to visitors from all over the world.
But the past decade has been a difficult one for the Italian islander. The Italian government has been trying to evict him from the island, claiming that there’s no “contractual arrangement fit” for this kind of man. But Morandi has been standing his ground, and, luckily, he has a large group of followers backing him up.
After being alone with his thoughts for a large portion of his life (he’s now 81), Morandi has some valuable insights which he’s more than glad to share with the world.
Mauro Morandi’s unconventional lifestyle is a result of his rebellious nature. A lifelong nonconformist, Morandi first ran away from home at the young age of nine. He struggled to get along with his school’s rigid schedule, his teachers’ strict rules, and his parents’ overwhelming expectations.
As an adult, he felt extremely estranged from society. He tried to get himself involved by going to protests in the late ‘60s, but after several trials, he realized that he simply didn’t enjoy the format. “I stopped engaging in politics because I realized I was not made for armed conflict. I hate weapons,” he explains.
Mauro Morandi landed on the coral sands of Budelli Island entirely by accident. In 1989, he was attempting to sail from Italy to Polynesia when he ran into an engine malfunction that forced him to anchor on Budelli. Morandi hopped out of his catamaran and was surprisingly delighted.
Dipping his toes into the pink-colored sand, Morandi looked around him — at the pristine, crystal clear waters and lush, dense greenery. It was love at first sight.
Leaving his old life as a schoolteacher behind, Morandi felt he had enough of society, and as fate would have it, he washed up in just the right place to start anew.
Despite his blissful surroundings, Morandi was in no position to sit back, relax and soak in the sun. He owed money to the bank, so his first thoughts circled around to ways of making a living. “There were a lot of tourists, so I thought I could make some money taking them around the islands,” he says.
As it turns out, Morandi arrived at Budelli just in time. It was being watched over by a caretaker and his wife, who didn’t enjoy island life. “Some find it too crowded in the summer and too lonely in the winter,” Morandi explained. “But I don’t mind.”
Just weeks after his arrival, Morandi replaced the couple and became the island’s sole guardian.
When the temperature drops and tourists scatter back to their home countries, Budelli Island becomes an isolated stretch of land. And while most of us are too scared to be alone with ourselves (let alone on an island), Morandi says it’s his favorite time of the year.
“During winter, I could finally enjoy the beauty of this island by myself,” he explains. The cold season is when the sunlight hits differently, illuminating the sand in a way which reminds Morandi of some of his favorite paintings by the Romantic artist, Caspar David Friedrich.
Winters might not be loud with people’s chatter, but the punishing winds and crashing waves fill the airwaves with enough noisy sounds. Morandi has experienced weeks of stubborn rain and ever-growing storms but claims he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The rough side of nature is part of its beauty, and the Italian islander says he prefers the sound of thunder to a group of people. “My best memory here is a storm in 1991,” he reminisces; “The wind was so strong and made a howling sound that I have never heard before.”
Morandi’s daily routine depends on the seasons, which, weirdly enough, sounds obvious, yet most of us (apart from a change of wardrobe) live life in the same way, regardless of the temperature. But Morandi’s routine in the winter and during summer plays out drastically differently.
A typical winter day for him would be to wake up around 7:00 in the morning, make coffee, and begin his workday cutting up logs. After lunch, he wanders around the quiet shores and snaps photos of the ever-changing sky.
During high season (summer), tourists swarm to the island by boat, and Modani’s days go from hearing nothing but the sound of waves to hearing the ongoing chatter of excited guests. “In the summer, my life changes completely,” he explains; “I’m busy lecturing and giving tours of the island from dawn to sunset.”
Modani has arranged a separate hut for his educational lectures which he gives to a crowd of all ages. “Children are more receptive than adults,” he states. They love to see this type of Robinson Crusoe talk about the wilderness surrounding them. If needed, someone is always able to translate his words into English.
Morandi has become an expert at foraging for food: rosemary, leeks, asparagus, garlic, and wild herbs that grow in the shrubland of the Mediterranean region. Spring is the ideal season for collecting goods, as it’s when the island is in full bloom.
“Starting from the end of February, you get a strong scent of wild rosemary,” he says. And during the summer, the island is coated with wild white lilies whose unique scent is carried by the evening breeze right into his hut.
Morandi fishes, forges, and relies on his precious logs to heat him. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t rely on help every once in a while. Friends from a nearby island usually come by every two weeks or so to bring him groceries and different supplies.
People don’t show up quite as often in the winter, which means that on some days, he’s left with nothing but some wild nettles sauteed in a little bit of butter. But don’t worry about him, he says that life on the island is well worth it.
Morandi’s cherished autonomy was challenged in 2011 when the island was put up for sale and later purchased by the Italian government. They made it part of a national park – La Maddalena National Park, and ever since, Morandi has been living in a state of uncertainty.
The government can kick him out anytime, a sad realization for someone whose sole purpose of living on the island was to escape the oppressive hold of Italian bureaucracy in the first place.
Before, Morandi used to leave the island twice a year to visit his daughters in Italy, but not anymore. He hasn’t set sail in years for fear of not being able to come back.
If Morandi has been doing nothing but good on the island, this begs the question — why does the government want him out? In 2016, the park’s president gave a pretty ambiguous explanation for it: “No one ignores [his] role in representing the historical memory of the place […] But it’s hard to find a contractual arrangement for a person in his position.”
The park’s president described Morandi as a man “enchanted by the elements, who decided to devote his life to contemplation…” We’re not sure how problematic a man like that can be. He’s living a quiet life on a remote piece of land and educating people who drop by every now and then.
If there’s one good thing that has come out of having the island treated as part of a park, it’s the technology (surprising, right?). Several years ago, a private company installed a wireless router in Budelli. Unaware of the recent technological advancements, Morandi had no clue what to do with it. “I didn’t even know what an iPad was,” he says.
Influenced by the tourists, Morandi was quickly updated on the (controversial) world of social media, and today he has accounts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. But he doesn’t use it to follow the latest trends. He uses his platforms to spread the island’s beauty.
Ever since Budelli became part of Maddalena National Park, the Italian government has been nudging Morandi to leave. He’s even received a notice of eviction once because of some irregularities with the way his hut was once constructed.
But the Italian islander isn’t intimidated by the government’s warnings and has confidently stated on numerous occasions that he’s “not going anywhere.” He knows how long legal matters can take until they’re settled, and quite frankly, he doesn’t really care.
While Morandi might not look too preoccupied with his living situation, some of his social media followers are. They started petitions to keep him on the island for good. One of them reads: “I would like that Mauro Morandi, former caretaker of Budelli, could stop living in terror.”
But the islander doesn’t really find that “terror” is the right word to describe his current state. “I’m not afraid,” he explains.
In any case, the petitions have proven to be effective. One of them has garnered nearly 20,000 signatures, effectively pressuring politicians to delay his expulsion from the island indefinitely.
During his first years as an islander, Morandi admits he was “more egoistic,” but now he wants to share every little bit of it with everyone around the world. While technology invaded Morandi’s isolation, he believes it was for the best.
He uses photography to share the wonders of his beloved piece of paradise, from golden sunrises to lavender sunsets. Morandi hopes that the bond he has established with people through his accounts will motivate them to care for the planet, wherever they may be.
Despite the islander’s slight aversion to people, he believes that interactions are necessary, especially ones that educate visitors about Budelli’s ecosystem. He believes that the best way to guard his environment is by informing people how to protect it.
Despite knowing a lot about the island’s indigenous plants and animals, Morandi isn’t claiming to be a botanist or biologist. He doesn’t try and lecture people about how to care of a plant. His talks are more about making people understand why plants need to live in the first place.
Morandi has been on the island for over three decades and has seen it change little by little. He says that summers have been getting hotter and hotter each year, and fewer fish have been swimming around the shallow waters. “I spoke to some fishermen, and they told me it’s because coastal water gets too hot, so the fish go deeper to look for cooler temperatures,” he explains.
Winds are also changing, according to Morandi. Usually, he says that westerly winds sweep the island, but now the breeze is coming from the east as well. “You can already see the impact,” he says. Winter storms have also been growing stronger with each passing year.
The picturesque island isn’t immune to climate change, says Morandi. Humans are slowly destroying the planet, and beautiful natural resorts such as Budelli are suffering because of it. Known for its sparkling pink shores, Budelli island is no longer as unique and peachy.
“Now the pink is almost gone, hard to see,” Morandi says sadly. With windier storms coming from different directions, the pinkish sand isn’t piling up anymore as it used to. Without its pink sand, Budelli, also known as The Pink Beach, or in Italian, “Spiaggia Rosa,” will no longer deserve that unique name.
Morandi’s attitude towards nature is the same one we have towards each other. He believes that when you start to love and appreciate someone, you begin to see their beauty. And vice versa, when you see someone as beautiful, you start to feel for them. “It’s the same thing with nature,” he explains.
“When you love a person, you empathize with them, you’ve become a part of her, and she’s become a part of you,” he says. As a result, we must adapt to nature and her forces instead of trying to change her to suit our greedy needs.
The Pink Beach became famous after it was featured in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1976 film, Red Desert. The movie put a spotlight on this beautiful shore, and many people flocked to witness in person the unique crystals and fossils scattered around.
The blush-colored sand became an instant attraction, and tourists would take handfuls of the island’s gems with them back to their homes. By 1994, such actions were taking their toll on Budelli, whose shores were now turning white. For a while, people were banned from stepping foot on the island, and Morandi was more than glad to enforce it.
Morandi endures long periods without any direct human contact. As much as this might sound lonely to you, Morandi sees it as the perfect opportunity for introspection, something he believes many of us should practice more of.
Morandi loves spending his days sitting on the beach with nothing but the sounds of the crashing waves and cooling winds to break the silence. This isn’t unusual for humans to want to spend long stretches of time on their own. Scientists have long argued that solitude has the potential to generate creativity and, more importantly, authenticity.
Solitude is typically thought of as something “sad” or “scary.” At least that’s what we’ve been taught in certain societies. “Solitude can be stressful for members of technologically advanced societies who have been trained to believe that aloneness is to be avoided,” Psychology professor Peter Suedfeld wrote in Loneliness: A Sourcebook of Current Theory, Research and Therapy.
But many cultures around the world advocate the importance of being able to sit still with our thoughts. And when you think about it, if you can’t enjoy spending time with yourself, why would anyone else enjoy your company?
One of Morandi’s favorite ways to pass the time is by reading, and he believes that many of us skip that practice because it causes us to think. According to him, thinking isn’t something all humans enjoy. “Many people are scared of reading because if they do, they’ll start meditating and thinking about stuff, and that can be dangerous,” he explains.
According to Morandi, it’s dangerous because when you begin to think critically about your life, you could end up realizing what a sad life you’ve been leading up until now. Or what a bad person you’ve been these past years.
But all of this introspection can, he argues, be highly rewarding. Morandi speaks from experience, as he transformed himself from an aloof wanderer who hopped from country to country in Europe to a solitary and stable islander.
“I just didn’t feel like traveling anymore, I had lost my interest in it,” he reveals; “I understood that the most beautiful, dangerous, adventurous and gratifying journeyof all is the one inside yourself, whether you’re sitting in the living room or under a canopy here in Budelli.”
Morandi hopes to never leave the island. “I hope to die here and be cremated and have my ashes scattered in the wind,” he says. The 81-year-old islander thinks it would be an honor to reunite with the Earth in such a way. “We’re all part of the same energy,” he explains.
Morandi’s view on life and death is similar to how the Stoics of ancient Greece used to think about our place in the universe. They had a word for it – “sympathiea” – the feeling that the cosmos is a unified living organism in constant flux.
Morandi knows every rock, tree, and animal species on the island and has been educating people about its ecosystem for nearly three decades. If there’s a reason Budelli has remained a marvel of nature, it’s probably thanks to him.
His exact responsibilities as the island’s caretaker were a little ambiguous at first, but after learning nearly everything there is to know about his home, he’s become an essential asset on the island, educating its visitors on how to treat it with respect. “The caretaker has remained in the heart of every person that has walked on this unforgettable land,” one of his followers stated.
Located near Sardinia, Maddalena Archipelago National Park is made up of seven islands – La Maddalena, Caprera, Spargi and Spargiotto, Budelli, Razzoli e Santa Maria and the Isles of Nibani, Mortorio, and Soffi e Camere.
Of the seven, Budelli is considered the most intriguing due to its strawberry shores. The park’s pristine landscapes have been attracting visitors from all corners of the world, which makes it even more important to have someone like Mauro Morandi around.
Budelli’s peach-colored sand derives its unique hue from pink microorganisms that live inside the island’s shells. The corals and shells are then gradually reduced to powder by the shifting waves that wash them onto the shore to create a mesmerizing blush sand.
Other pink beaches across the globe include Horseshoe Bay Beach in Bermuda, Elafonissi Beach in Greece, Pink Sands Beach in The Bahamas, and Pink Beach in Indonesia. While some of these shores are a bit challenging to reach, they’re well worth the trip!
All in all, Mauro Morandi says he has nothing to complain about. Winter, summer, it really doesn’t matter much to him. The island’s guardian is content in every season. “For now, I’ve got everything I need,” he insists. “There’s electricity, even if it needs a makeover, and running water, and an extra small stove for heating.”
In a world in which silence makes us uncomfortable and being with ourselves is often pitied, Mauro Morandi can teach us all a valuable lesson: When you feel connected to nature, you’re never really alone. Is this sentence a bit of a cliché? Yes. But is it an important reminder? Yes.