Jun 23, 2011

Italian Adventures Part 2: Cinque Terre

Thank you Rick Steves.  Apparently these five little coastal towns were an undiscovered spot until the guidebook guru happened upon them.  Since his discovery, thousands (and I mean THOUSANDS) of Americans pour into these villages each year. I'm a traveling hypocrite: an American and a tourist, who doesn't want to see A SINGLE American tourist when I travel. We managed to avoid most of the crowds. There was so much we loved about Cinque Terre - like the hiking! 

Don't be intimidated by the camel-back packing, boot-wearing hardcores. We did the sentiero rosso (more challenging red path) in keds. And though you might curse my name all the way up 1200+ feet of stairs, you'll be glad you did it when you get to the top and are meandering among mountain-top villages, ancient abandoned homes and manicured vineyards. 

We crossed paths with Sergio hiking from Manarola to Corniglia. (you MUST do this!) Though he was returning from a Sunday morning fruit-finding excursion, he seemed more than happy to snap a quick photo. After chatting about where we lived, how adorable he was, and what he'd been up to that morning he reached right into that basket (chocked full of oregano, basil and fresh fruit) and handed us some delicious apricots. Italians will rob you blind and give you the shirt off their backs.  Anyway, they were delicious.

he's adorable, right? 

We loved eating.
Every night at Trattoria dal Billy - this is what Italian food is meant to be. Fresh ingredients, simple preparation, no fuss and unbelievable flavors.  I'm still dreaming about my sea bass. The view wasn't bad either.

We loved adventure.
After conquering an accidental 5-mile excurion in sandals the day before, we were feeling REALLY adventurous. We decided to take our chances finding Guvano, the locals-only, clothing-optional, "secret" beach.  With nothing but vague instructions - "take a narrow staircase, ring the bell at the industrial looking gate..." - we set off. Everyone I spoke to seemed very protective of this "little slice of beach heaven." (thank you NYTimes for the blatant HYPERBOLE). The first response: do you have a flashlight? the water is too rough today. it's dirty.  But we continued undaunted. Then again: do you have a flashlight? it's difficult to get there.
In retrospect, important questions like:
why would we need a flashlight?
do you have one we could borrow?
what do you mean by dirty?
would have been appropriate follow ups. We just assumed this brotherhood of locals was set on protecting their magical place. Why would we let them discourage us? We're American tourists and "we can do anything!!!" (at least the Senegalese think, right RS?) So we pressed on.

"On" took us to an abandoned train tunnel, where the need for a flashlight became readily apparent after we round the first bend. Dripping water makes loud echoing THUMPS. Utter darkness induces silent sobs (HELLO worst case scenarios. my mind is going wild... angry homeless people, sink holes to the center of the earth we could slip into, oncoming trains we'd never see...) The screeches and rumblings of speeding trains in adjacent tunnels send chills up my spine. After 15 long black minutes, we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our pace quickens. I fight the urge to sprint. Mainly because I have one hand on Kate's shoulder and the other around Matt's waist in a death grip and I'm not willing to let go. (remember, I slept with a lamp on until high school.)  At this point, a curious pair of headlights is speeding toward us from behind and I'm sure we're going to die on these abandoned tracks, meters shy of our destination. Matt does his best to lie - "It's just a flashlight" he says. We emerge as the headlights catch up to us. Two unkempt rastafari yell "ciao ragazzi" and all that leftover death-defying adrenaline explodes - I sob. As our eyes adjust to our surroundings and we explore Guvano, it becomes very clear that "clothing optional" actually means "rastafari nudist colony." I guess I didn't learn those nuances on study abroad. After trying to find a nice location to take in some sun (in suits), awkwardly stepping over jagged rocks and naked bodies, then carrying on a conversation with a very tan, very naked middle-aged man who offered to show us a spot on the beach, we retreated.  And instead of risking my life in the tunnel reprise, I negotiated* a price for our safe return in those speeding headlights - a scooter truck.

Worth every penny.

 Those real friends of ours from Part 1, well, they were real sports about this one too.
(*agreed to whatever they asked of me)


You, Me and Little Mr. B. said...

You really should be an author. I'll help you edit! :) You captured my attention immediately and I felt like I was there. How scary! Proud of you for being so adventurous. Glad you got out safe and sound. Looks like you had a beautiful time there. Start writing a book!

Rebecca Smylie said...

Americans CAN do anything!!! We can run away with the best of them. So jealous of your trip. Though what does this say: I saw that pic of the pizza and thought "that looks so good" and then said, "I want Chipotle so bad right now." You can take the American to Italy...

kimmy girl said...

you have the best life ever! seriously, a year in london...traveling like its your job. JEALOUS. now come back and get a manicure with me.

Alison said...

youz be looking real good in those shorts! HOTTY PANTS!

I won't justify the rest of the opulence in these pictures with a response because I'm too jealous!

Lindsey said...

So yes, I'm thinking a trip with Alan to Cinque Terre needs to be planned. Loving your pics/round-up!

And you look beautiful, by the way.

Kristen said...

I want to go there really badly.