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cinque terre: lost

September 7, 2009


March 25, 2009

When you travel, you encounter all sorts of people.  Some travelers are loners and keep to themselves.  Others are the life of the party.  And some are socially awkward.  It’s not a judgment (as I’m not always comfortable in social situations) so much as an observation.  One such person is “young guy from England”, with whom I made polite conversation last night.  He is the perfect example of foot in mouth disease, probably brought on by shyness (I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt), though he did border on obnoxiousness.  Why, just this morning, as Anna was writing postcards to her family, he said with a hint of disdain: “Postcards? Who sends postcards anymore?” (to the girl who clearly still sends postcards).  Then he turned to me, as I was confirming my hotel booking online, and said: “You appear to have an internet addiction problem”.  I told him I was confirming my hotel in Rome, to which he replied “Oh!  Don’t kid yourself!”  After which he stood there, with a smirk on his face, as if his diss was an invitation to a parley.  Like Kenny says, you got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em… I’m pretty sure this applies off the poker table as well. So I walked away.


I leave the hostel with a map of the back trails of Cinque Terre and start up the no. 6 to Volastra.  The path is steep then steeper still.  About an hour into the hike, I enter the forest, where bird calls become a little more haunting compared to the tra-la-la of those fluttering about the olive groves in the sunshine.  It is some time after this that I lose track of the red and white painted stripes, which mark the trail.  I somehow convince myself that I’m still on the path, just a little unkempt is all, so I keep walking for a good 10 minutes.  Brambles reach out and grab my ankles, the forest thickens around me and becomes more hostile with bushes whacking me in the face.  Whereas initially it was debatable whether I was on a path or not, it soon becomes clear that we’re not in Kansas anymore.  Beside me is a sudden drop into shrubbery and I don’t very well feel like breaking my face today, so I turn back on my steps.  Only, everything looks the same and I momentarily imagine myself from high above, a little speck in the woods of Cinque Terre.  “What the hell, Jeanine?  Look at yourself alone in the freaking back woods of Italy.  Smart.  Reeeeally, smart!”   I eventually do find my way back to the path and yonder to Volastra but not without a few scratches and bruises and a note to self to pay better attention to the signs.


From Volastra to Corniglia, the trail follows stone walls covered in moss.  How many men laid these rocks over how many centuries, I wonder?  The whole walk is strait out of Labyrinth.  I half expect David Bowie to appear in a tight sequined suit and ruffled shirt or to find a funky blue caterpillar in the cracks of the wall.


Out of the woods, women in skirts and socks tend to their gardens and men in blue overalls carefully guide their vines along wires.  The grapes grown here are for a sweet wine called Sciacchetrà. They are dried to the point of holding only a few drops of sweet juice.   Everyone has a patch of land along the cliff’s edge and it looks like a giant staircase down the mountain to the ocean below.


On my way to Corniglia, I make another wrong turn and end up taking the 7a north instead of the 5 all the way up to the 1.  And when I say up, I mean UP.  Like 300 vertical meters up.  Burn, baby, burn. I finally make it to Corniglia in one piece around noon. I grab a quick macchiato al banco and have my first experience peeing in a bathroom without a toilet.  I walk in and there is just a hole in the floor. I look behind the door for good measure.  Effectivement.  No toilet in sight.   What are you gonna do, right?  Ya squat…. and then you write about it on your blog.

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I decide on a whim to take the train to Vernazza for a bite to eat.  I miss the train by minutes and it is an hour-long wait for the next one.  So I say screw that and play a little game I like to call beat the train (I do it at home all the time with the bus).  So I boot it up (what feels like) the 5000-some stairs from the station to the historic center of Corniglia, then hike the 5km of mostly uphill trails to Vernazza in 45 minutes flat.  Booya!

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In Vernazza, I stop at la foccaceria, then find a secluded spot by the water and enjoy the most delightful lunch.  As I finish my last bite, I hear someone say “Scusami, permetti…”  I look up and there is Anna, scratched from head to toe.  We burst out laughing at the irony of the situation. We laugh even harder after she tells me of her own trials and tribulations of seriously getting lost in the woods and jumping down brick walls until she eventually stumbled upon a winery that let her use their washroom to wipe the blood off her legs then pointed her in the right direction.  Two people set off at different times on different paths and end up at the exact same secluded spot (where they both ought not to be) at the exact same time, all scratched up from misadventures in the back woods of Cinque Terre.  It is a true bonding experience. So much so that we decide to carry on.  Our tired and stinging legs do not deter us from hiking further.  We down a quick espresso at Blue Marlin then off we go to the no. 8 path to Monterosso.

On our way, I hear a man call out “You’re a machine!”  It was someone I had passed on my beat the train mission.  He said: “I’ve done many marathons and been passed by lots of people in my life but I ain’t ever seen anything like you”.  Ha Ha!  I guess the promise of wine and food lights a fire under a girl’s ass. En feu!

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It is about half past three when Anna and I set out.  About an hour in, we manage to lose our way AGAIN and end up walking the main road to Monterosso.  Let it be known that we are two smart girls with a generally good sense of direction.  Trust me, after the perils of the day, we had our red and white marker radars set to FULL ON.  But the signs are  pretty ambiguous at times (which kind of counters the whole idea of a marking system).

By 5:00, the wind has picked up considerably, the sun is about to fold for the day and it is positively cold, particularly in shorts.  We gather our hoodies under our chins and persevere with the deal that should the sun set before we arrive at our destination, we hitch hike.  Eventually we find the path back into the woods, where we are shielded from the cold wind.  And just as our legs are about to turn to jello, we wobble into Monterosso and grab a train back to the hostel, totally wiped, with what must be 30km of hiking under our belts.

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Back at the hostel, we enjoy the most satisfying 5-minute-long hot shower this side of the planet and the best beer and chips ever to land on these papillae.  We then go out for dinner at some little restaurant on the main strip, where I feast on fresh anchovies al limone and penne al arabietta.  Anchovies are a specialty in Cinque Terre and holy sweet cracker sandwich, are they ever good!  These ain’t your Dominos Pizza anchovies, no sirry.

After a quick 10pm espresso, we go to La Cantina Bar for a shot of limoncino.  The only people in the bar are Matteo (the bar tender) & Gabriel (the entertainer) who is playing guitar and singing in a microphone for his audience of one.  Well, three, once we arrive.  And eventually a bongo player shows up to have a shot of whiskey and bang on his drums.  I tell ya, there’s nothing quite like being in a small coastal Italian town at 11pm on a Wednesday, listening to someone belt out an acoustic version of Fame “I wanna leeeeeve forever” with an Italian accent and bongos on the side.  I nearly died of laughter at the randomness of it all.  And then came  One Love by U2, where he emphatically pointed at himself when he said “sister” and pointed to me when he sang “brother”.  Classic good times!

We stay for 1/2 hour before heading to Trattoria Billy.   As we enter, everyone shouts Buona Sera.  The atmosphere is very cheerful, everyone is ubriaco (drunk).  Eduardo opens a bottle of red wine and leaves it on our table for us to enjoy.  Dario, the 24-year old chef with scraggly facial hair and an odd resemblance to Marky Mark in his later Wahlberg years, serves up an amazing apple torte, all on the house.  Eventually the crowd leaves.  They lock the doors and turn down the lights.  We sit at a corner table with candles, polish off the wine and tell them about our crazy adventures (me in English, Anna in Italian).  Before we know it, it is curfew time and we must leave.  Eduardo says “You should go to the hostel, get your bags and come back here. You only live one life, yes?”  You are right, cher Eduardo and it is very tempting… but for all your charm, I have an early morning train to catch and a lover to meet in Rome.  We do the 3 kisses on the cheek, we say our buona nottes and get back to the hostel right before the stroke of midnight.  So very Cinderella in Cinque Terre.

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(Anna Cox 2009)

We talk as we walk.
We were strangers when we started on our way,
but the route unravels things about us
that we didn’t even know ourselves.
We climb and climb.
Our stories feed our will power
and are stronger than our tiring limbs.
Silence worries us.
Each turn in the road prompts a new story.
We share smiles and tears.
The falling sun casts magical light around us.
The tree lined mountains give way to the bay below.
We are distracted by the view.
Blank, questioning faces in passing cars
bring our attention back to the road.
Our concern, though unspoken, grows.
We are cold and hungry.
Our pace quickens as darkness falls.
Our conversation becomes hastier.
We remember childhood tales of giants
as the path leads us downwards to our destination.
Our chatter gives way as we breathe relief.
We have made it.
We look each other in the eyes.
This journey has taken us farther than the miles we have walked.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2009 9:15 pm

    I shall hold you responsible if I by some twist of fate end back in this very charming area of Italy. Ahhh…. perhaps a glass of vino will help.

  2. September 7, 2009 9:59 pm

    you are a wonderwoman.

  3. September 9, 2009 11:52 am

    I have been to Cinque Terre twice, once by myself. This post brought back so many memories. I could go on and on with happened to me on my solo trip to Italy. Thank you and continue to enjoy Italy!

  4. September 9, 2009 12:01 pm

    Just perused a bit more of your blog and noticed your entries are from a trip in March…I guess you are home now. Change my “…continue to enjoy Italy!” to “I hope you return to Italy one day!”.

  5. wingedpaths permalink
    September 9, 2009 4:08 pm

    You and Anna are gorgeous, lucky women. What a fabulous adventure!

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