For breakfast, I drank my second cappuccino of the trip. This hot beverage to start the day is starting to grow on me. Today, I planned to hike the five villages while taking a short break in each for a swim or meal. Unfortunately, the last two hikes were closed from landslides but I would still get to walk the two longest and best of the four. Before beginning the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, I walked over to see Il Gigante, the muscular man carved out of a cliff’s rocks overlooking the beach and all the sunbathers. Onwards to the bottom the hill, I started my climb while trying to encourage other hikers to push forward. The brutality of the height and the rocky surface literally took my breath away but the scenery was beyond match. Despite the many hikers taking the same path, I found a sense of peace among the vineyards filled with lemon trees and grapevines as well as the aroma from rosemary and basil. While walking through those vineyards, I felt like a got a sense for what this area was all about years ago as hardworking marine towns living off of their wine and seafood before growing into a tourist hotspot. If that scenery wasn’t enough, the views of the sea and the pastel colored towns out into the distance would please anyone. I had seen numerous pictures of Cinque Terre before this trip and loved what I saw but wasn’t sure if what I would see in person would live up to the postcard-quality pictures. Cinque Terre definitely delivered on my expectations. Something about brightly colored homes covering the spectrum of the rainbow and quietly sitting on the sea is so much more majestic than anything Paris, London, or any of the other big cities of Europe could offer. Once in Vernazza, I took a break to wander the streets and ran into the girls from Boston/New York. After chatting with them for a short while, I explored the local church, the narrow streets, and looked up at the old castle that was used as a defense point ages ago. The town definitely revolves around the piazza that is directly connected to its marina but further away I found a restaurant to eat some trofie al pesto, which is a bowl of noodles typical of the region with their famous pesto sauce (if only I could find basil this fresh and pesto this delicious back home). Before leaving, I watched little Italian kids persuading tourists, young and old, to play with them; they hopscotched and jumped rope on their handmade obstacle course that was drawn onto the street by chalk. Back onto the path, I climbed up once again toward the land of Corniglia. More vineyards dominated the landscape along the trail and at the highest point I found the best view of this neighboring town. From my research, I read that Corniglia was not as impressive as the rest. However, this town raised up on a hilltop, bordering the cliffs to the sea below, was enchanting to the untrained eye. All of the towns are different in their own special way but Corniglia is especially different in that it does not cater to a marina with fleets of boats like the other towns. Since I was thoroughly parched from the advancing heat, gelato sounded incredible. With another recommendation from my boy Rick Steves (in case you don’t know, he practically has a monopoly on travel guidebooks), I found Alberto’s Gelateria. I ordered three scoops and started off picking one of my go-tos, frutti di bosca. Then, I got a bit adventurous; fig sounded appealing and then all of sudden I notice basil gelato. Basil gelato, as odd as it may sound, became a must knowing how plentiful fresh basil grows amongst Cinque Terre (forget flowers, Corniglia had pots of basil outside many of its homes). The basil was sooo good (I’m talking creme de la creme good; I could actually taste the authentic flavor of basil). The basil was so incredible I got another scoop of it along with a helping of miele, which is made from their local honey. I said ciao to the woman that scooped my gelato, for the second time, and joked that I might see her later on in the day. Since I couldn’t walk the next part of the trail, I took the train to Manarola. I had been looking forward to Manarola all day since I was promised cliff diving. Bypassing the piazzas, I found myself staring at a large rock outcropping in a marina with apparently deep water. I witnessed a few dare devils jumping off a part of the rock from 25 feet, which got me psyched up that much more. Then, all of a sudden, I saw a crazy son of a gun quickly traverse the rock starting from the water’s surface all the way to a small ledge of the rock that represented the apex. Higher than the original jump, he leapt off it into the water that had to be 35 feet below. I now stood staring down my opponent, ready to champion my fears. For my day out, I only brought the bare essentials: my camera, 40 euros, hostel keys, and a train timetable along with a waterproof sleeve. I stored everything into this waterproof contraption and stuffed it into my pocket since I was worried about anyone stealing them. I got into the water and, from there, climbed the rock to reach my goal. Looking down, I was worried about the highest jump since I only saw the one guy do it; so I leapt off the slightly shorter one. After surpassing that small fear, I climbed back on top of the rock to make the King Kong of cliff jumps. The height itself was not overly scary but the thought that I wouldn’t jump out far enough gave me the shakes. From this spot, there was little room to firmly stand since it was narrow, yet I peered over to heighten (no pun intended) every bit of my sense of fear of falling. Eventually, I had to take a deep breath and plunge to my potential death. The adrenaline rush of falling was incredible until I pierced through the water and felt my toes barely touch the bottom. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was imagining this bizarre encounter. That realization scared me into jumping the second highest outcropping next. While up on the rock, I told a guy about touching the bottom which, for a moment, gave him second thoughts. After that third jump, I looked at my waterproof sleeve and noticed droplets of water within. Once on land, I tried taking a picture of the cliff but the camera wouldn’t turn on. I ran around Manarola to get some new batteries but those didn’t do the trick either. After feeling on top of the world from those leaps into the water, my mood mellowed quickly and I developed a blank and displeased complexion. With 16 GB of available memory space, I had stored most of my pictures and memories on that card. I walked around hopeless with the odds that the photos could be retrieved having become a far off dream. The most picturesque town of all five with its brightly pastel colored homes looking down at the marina could not enliven my spirits. I got a dinner of spaghetti with a multitude of seafood, some of which I didn’t recognize, including octopus, lobster, clams, mussels, etc. to make me feel better (food- the perfect cure-all). Since I couldn’t let this immense displeasure ruin Cinque Terre for me entirely, I took the train to the last town Riomaggiore. I went for a swim in the marina after stuffing all my valuables into my socks and shoes. After cooling off in the water, I walked up to an area overlooking the marina and sat on a wall to dry off while I took in the beauty of the setting sun on this brightly colored sea town. After getting mostly dried off, I dug through my socks and shoes to pick out what I needed so that I could get dressed and continue walking around the town once more. As I picked out the second sock, believing it to be empty, the memory card, which I took out of the camera to dry, flew out and appeared to float in front of me for what seemed like an entirety. I lunged forward swinging my arms desperately trying to grasp my most valued possession. Despite all of my efforts, the card tumbled toward downwards, pinging off the rocky wall every meter or so before finally reaching it’s fateful ending. Having left the rest of my valuables sitting vulnerability as they stood, I ran down to where the memory card had landed hoping for the best. The card sat on a paper thin layer of water which may or may not have put the final nail in the coffin. I trudged back to where I left my stuff and saw the girls from Boston/New York. They were wondering what I ran after and I explained the series of unfortunate events that led to me scrambling around Riomaggiore like a mad man. After talking to them for awhile about each of our day’s adventures, we ended up getting wine at a bar overlooking the marina and the never ending sea. I ordered the wine Cinque Terre is most known for, called schiattera, which to no surprise was the most expensive but after what I just experienced I said screw it. This red wine supposedly has double the alcohol content of regular wines because of the process the wine markers use to isolate the alcohol from the grapes. Not noticing an overpowering alcoholic flavor, it went down smoothly with just the right of amount of sweetness and a touch of dryness (I don’t know wines so I’m just making this up as I go). They brought a free appetizer tray of mini sandwiches, chips, and veggies, including strips of fennel (kind of has that anise/licorice taste, which was quite tasty). We chatted about a woman they met in Cinque Terre who saved up a bunch of money before quitting her job to travel the world for a year; all three of us were very inspired by her. Everyone has their own constraints in life, increasingly more as one gets older, but if you want something bad enough in life you will achieve it. As long as you accept the sacrifices, nearly anything is possible. Also, the typical question of my future came up and I told them of my uncertainty but I am learning more and more that I want to interact with people more. As one last hurrah to gelato, we headed to a gelateria where I got pistachio, nocciola, and some fruitti di bosca. At the train, we went our separate ways and said our goodbyes. Finally, back at the hostel, people were in the room including the guy I met on the Manarola rock. Apparently, he told his friends about me touching the bottom of the water; I admitted that the legend was true. They offered to have me join them to go around Levanto but I was planning on leaving for Switzerland tomorrow and had yet to figure out anything (no hostels booked, no trains scheduled, and no city picked in which to stay). To say the least, I was doing some serious last minute planning and needed all the time I could spare. As I fell asleep, I had yet to book any hostels since the options were slim and expensive. I ended up letting future Anthony take care of it.
Day 39: A Leap of Faith