Thursday, January 31, 2013

The first trail!

Hike up to punta mesco, semaforo
I am many things.  I'm a fast reader.  I'm a pretty good home cook.  I'm remarkably good with public transportation and maps.  I possess an utterly useless wealth of knowledge of obscure foods and spices.
This part required my hands.
One thing I am not, as I've mentioned several times before, is athletic.  Adventurous.  I never have been.  Where others may see a great workout and sweeping views, I see slow and impossible ambulance response times, killer bees, wild impaling boar, broken ankles and sudden heart attacks.

I'm a little clumsy and more then a little bit of a worrier, so I've had a long standing battle with the famous trails of the Cinque Terre.  It's mortifying.  The Via Dell'Amore, a paved, wide, flat 30 minute walkway that is more of a street then a hiking trail, is the only one I mustered the courage to putter through.  People visiting ask me all the time for recommendations, hike times, preferences, and after a while of muttering my way of of answering, I did what all good nerdy people do.

I googled it.


Instead of hiking any of the 30 or so trails that lace the region, I went online and spend hours reading other people's descriptions, looking at their photos and studying maps.  I became a fantastic liar to the point where people were asking me for information over the course of several days on return visits to the Cantina.  I could almost feel the hot sun on my face climbing a dusty old mule path, high above menacing rocks and crashing waves below, through old terraced vineyards that ran through the hills.  It became something of an odd joke, that people were taking my hiking advice considering I'd never actually mustered up the courage to do one myself.  Older folks with hip replacements, dads with children strapped to their backs, even women in low heels - I was constantly reminded of my own paranoia in the face of all of these people seemingly so carefree, so happy to climb up a mountain with no guardrail.

Then it happened.  The Via Dell'Amore that I'd done several times was damaged by a freak rockslide in October this year that sadly sent some Australian tourists to the hospital.  My faithful, easy little stroller friendly path was closed and that was it for me.  If I could get hurt there, it could happen anywhere.  It was time to do some hiking and see for myself.

Don't.  Look.  Down.
We decided to go up to Punta Mesco, which is the majestic mountain that hugs the right side of Monterosso, sloping up behind the famous giant that guards the last stretch of beach in the new part of town.  Manuel assured me that he did this part all the time as a kid, and my anxiety eased as we started up a paved road, then steep stone stairs.

About 15 minutes later, using my hands to help me feel my way up layered stone seemingly tilting out of the mountain, I glared at him.  Going up wasn't the easiest thing I've ever done, but it also wasn't the hardest.  It was quicker then I thought as well, as the hour I'd read about took us only about 30 minutes.  Oddly enough, I wasn't at all bothered about the height.  Once we got up, I finally looked out across the sea to the other villages on a crystal clear, warm, cloudless January day, and down at my own little village, snuggled into the nook underneath the shadow of the mountain.

It was more then worth it.

We had a short picnic lunch on top of the semaforo, which is a small structure built onto a high point of the mountain that was used as a stop light of sorts (semaforo means stoplight) to herald ships into the stretch of Ligurian Sea.  Also home to the moss covered, sun glinting ruins of a sanctuary to Saint Anthony, it was a beautiful spot to stop and bask in the endless blue in front of us and smile into the January sun.

The last part winds through the woods into Levanto.
Bolstered by my confidence in the hike up, instead of heading directly down, we decided to go further and hike all the way to the next village, Levanto.  I'd read that the hardest part was getting up to the semafaro, so I figured that the reset of it couldn't be any worse.  We packed up the remainder of our panini and fruit and with a deep breath, we headed onward.

Almost 2 hours later, I arrived happily safe and sound in Levanto.  We walked up and down the mountain with an incredible, breathtaking view (quite literally breathtaking if you were bold enough to look down - I didn't want to press my luck so far), and I wasn't hyperventilating of anything other then physical exertion.  The trail, though quite narrow in parts, had enough space from the edge for me to feel like I wouldn't fall into the crashing sea below, and though some parts of the path were covered in wet stones (it rained the day before), it wasn't incredibly difficult.  The rest of the time I was concentrating too much to really feel anxiety about the incredible height, and the other parts I was just looking out to the sea and sky in awe.

Friendly trail cat.

I felt comforted by the later learned fact that in January, the trails haven't been "put together" yet for the coming season, and were still a little rough.  Not that they ever get to Disneyland theme park status - though I now understand it's not as petrifying as I thought, it's definitely something to respect and take seriously.  You are still on the side of the mountain.  Don't wear low heels.  No matter who you are, hiking a mountain trail, especially for a novice, is something you want to take care doing.

Having said that, I was rewarded with a whole bunch of self-pride and even more great pictures.  As we climbed down into Levanto, the sky filled up with clouds.  We timed it perfectly.  Though I already thought where I lived was pretty amazing, this pretty much did it for me.  It's an incredibly special, unique, beautiful thing to live in a place laced with these old trails.

Sometimes, it's hard to see the small changes in my personality that have happened in the past few years here.  I never would have done this years ago - in fact, on my first trip to Monterosso eight years ago, I didn't.  I flatly refused.  We all change everyday, and aside from the obvious (like learning a foreign language), the smaller, more subtile changes may not be so easy to see.

Sometimes, it takes climbing up a mountain to really figure out how far you have come.

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